Many experts, scholars and lovers of the book trade have prophesied that the book market is following the path of the music business, notably with the rise of technology. If this idea is true, then the collapse of chain-giant music store HMV should serve as a huge wake-up call to the publishing and bookselling industry. Everyone involved in the publishing market should take the advice of Sam Husain (CEO of Foyles Bookstore): “Let’s not leave it until its [sic] too late”.
Husain wrote a letter to The Bookseller to present some strong home truths about the publishing industry. One of the main concerns is that publishers are basing their bookseller discount policies upon the volume of sales made and are neglecting the value of intangible assets. The consequences are that online retailers and supermarkets are enjoying much higher discounts than bookstores are, leaving the industry in an infinite loop: the bigger the discounts online retailers and supermarkets gain; the lower the prices they can offer to customers; the more customers they are attracting; the bigger the discounts they are gaining and so forth. Unfortunately, bookshops are travelling in the exact opposite circuit.
The publishers’ discounting policies make logical business sense for the here-and-now when considering the UK economy’s fundamental short term ideals. However, it is huge worry that publishers are failing to examine the broader prospects of the industry as a whole; in this case the future seems frighteningly formidable.
As a result, bookstores are being forced to plan for the future. The main attempt at a solution is diversification, for example some branches of Blackwells have incorporated coffee shops onto their premises (eg, the Leeds branch has a Costa Coffee). Another chain to differentiate is WHSmith, selling a large range of stationary, gift cards and snacks- although I have heard several people criticise this business model, with suggestions that the branding is confused.
Generally, people are neglecting the fact that bookstores offer an invaluable service to society. Bookshops surround the public with reading materials, with the presence of physical shops and with advertisements that ultimarely encourage adults and children to read. Bookstore assistants provide a point of contact for information about books, whether that be facts about educational reading or recommendations for pleasurable reading. The touch, scent and feel of browsing bookshop shelves is a much more pleasurable experience than browsing on a none-atmospheric screen. It is an underrated fact that bookstores offer more than simply an outlet for book buying.
If the industry is not somehow reformed and bookshop revenues continue struggle, the stark reality might just leave society with the old cliché, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’