Online book-selling – a growth opportunity, price is NOT the only driver

Australian book-sellers have got it particularly tough at present – as Borders troubles partly reminds us – publishers are not willing or able to respond fast enough to the intense price competition from overseas, GST continues to put them at a disadvantage, and free freight offered by players like the Book Depository makes Australian postage rates for the average book-seller appear  almost extortionist.

Yes, it would be sweet if the current BISG investigation resulted in some of these issues being effectively dealt with. But book business people are generally good at simply accepting that their future is in their hands, and more than ever before it is time to explore more fully the opportunity for growth that online book-selling represents.

1. Customers especially know best – those book-sellers who do well regardless of the trends are usually independent and are exceptionally good at listening to their customers, and selling them more of what they want. Riverbend and Readings are two of several that come quickly to mind, both have vibrant and relevant online stores to complement their bricks&mortar base.

2. Specialization means advantage – one of the criticisms of Borders recently is that what they offered was not much different to Kmart’s book sections, but were a lot more expensive.   Many people love lounging in a Borders store, with a coffee or not, reading a favorite author. But that was not translating into sales, being a destination is good, but it must be grounded in a form of specialist interest(s) that prompt people to spend. Again, the Indies are good at this.

3. Current advantage gives leverage – many stores have the simple advantage of a good retail location, or a well-known brand. Established stores with these types of strengths may have more leverage online than they realize. Growing an email list, and an online customer base does add competitive advantage and value to the business over time, even if it is not the main source of revenue.

4. Online represents multiple propositions – events, partnerships, book-inspired ventures, multi-media products, can all form the myriad of products and services a bookshop might consider offering their customers, with their specialist interests in mind.

5. It must be slick – Amazon and The Book Depository have set the benchmark for ‘slickness’, you have to be confident you can come close to their standards of ease of online use, if you are serious about exploiting these opportunities online.

Price is a major driver, that is true, but when a bookshop gets these other types of drivers right, their customers are less inclined to seek out a few dollars in savings.

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