Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Valiant Bookstore vs. The Big, Bad Amazon Monster

Click for larger image.

Yowch.

Okay, let me get this out of the way right now. Bookstores aren't going anywhere. They're just not. Yes, Borders going bankrupt was a freaking big deal, but so was Circuit City. You don't see people running out to shutter their local Best Buy or hollering about the end of name-brand consumer electronics as we know them(!) Borders had questionable business strategies, and the other bookstores, both chains and independents, are happy to fill in the gap.

Judgmental Bookstore Ostrich, FTW
However, that doesn't mean there isn't a need to keep up with the times.
Amazon, for one, is a beast that will never be squashed. It will always be there, looming over us, selling cheap books. Every month seems to bring a new outrage, a new tactic used to undercut brick-and-mortar stores for the benefit of the almighty Amazon. My personal favorite was the app over the holidays that could read the barcode on any book and then automatically offer the same book on Amazon for a lower price. Oh yes, my boss loved that one.

Of course, Amazon excels at being cheap and at selling ebooks. Of course it excels at being cheap, people. Even American minimum wage help costs, as do the expenses of owning a physical location (property taxes, electric bills, yearly fire inspections, etc.) As a virtual store, Amazon does not need to restrict itself to using $7.25-an-hour help (instead, it can use even cheaper foreign techs), nor does it need to worry about paying its utilities or fixing a broken pipe or calling an exterminator. As for ebooks? Even cheaper! Now it doesn't have to worry about paper or ink or that pesky shipping.

So what do we do? We evolve.

Amazon has the Kindle? Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million roll out the Nook.

They offer discounted prices? We offer sales, coupons, and free shipping for members (and that's free shipping at the same speed as the $70/year Amazon Prime shipping).

You want to pick up notebooks, CDs, DVDs, bookmarks, novelty gifts, headphones, or angry Birds paraphernalia? We've got you covered!

And I can say without fear of being biased that there are things that bookstores can offer that Amazon can't. Amazon is a machine. It's a mechanical entity that crunches data. We remember you. You're the wannabe "cool aunt" looking for that perfect kick-tush book for your nephew. You're the out-of-towner with a love for Westerns. You're the fifty-something well-spoken sci-fi nut who just wants to stand by the register and discuss Red Dwarf all day.

We also cater to a hard-wired fact of human nature: procrastination. Sure, you can pay Amazon to ship a book to you in 1-3 days... after their warehouse gets the order together, so maybe it won't be 1-3 days. And what if you can't wait 1-3 days? What if you need it NOW? What if your kid has to go to a birthday party tomorrow morning and, oops, you forgot to get a gift! Or what if your book club is meeting in half a week, and you haven't even bought the book, much less read it?

Tada! We're right here! One of my coworkers, handy-dandy shelvers all, will walk you physically to the book and place it in your hands. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

So, bottom line? We'll change. We'll adapt. But we ain't goin' nowhere, baby.