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Bookstore War: Books & Books vs. the Open Book

(Posted from The Publeconomist, published 8/17/10)

This nonsense really ticks me off. Check out the linked article from the New York Times on the recent problems that have resulted from the opening of Books & Books around the corner from the Open Book, another independent bookstore, in Westhampton Beach, NY. Basically, the Open Book was there first, and had the monopoly on local indie bookstores. Barnes & Noble and Borders are both in the area, but for customers seeking the local bookstore experience, the Open Book was the place to go.

Then comes Books & Books. Ever since it opened in July of this year, the Westhampton Beach indie bookstore scene has been engulfed in chaos. Suddenly long-time customers of the Open Book are being asked not to shop at Books & Books. Other local stores are taking sides. The NYT article claims that an old woman went as far as to walk into Books & Books and scold the employees.

Let’s get real. The Open Book needs to quiet down and deal with this new competitor. By playing the victims, they’re doing everything wrong. What they should be doing is figuring out a way to innovate and re-brand themselves so that they can become a stronger local player in the competition against not only Books & Books, but also B&N, Borders, and the growing e-book market. Instead, all I see is that they’re whining because they no longer have the local monopoly.

Get over it. I think that the introduction of Books & Books to the neighborhood is the best possible “kick in the ass” that could happen for the Open Book. When local firms don’t have any competitors, they start to slack. They grow stale. They stick to old business models, and don’t investigate new way to innovate. Now they’re faced with a nearby competitor, and no longer have any competitive advantage in the neighborhood. It’s time to find a new competitive advantage, or else risk the death of their business.

I hope that the Open Book creates a great story here, worthy of the best books in its inventory. I hope that the managers and employees sit back, take a look at the neighborhood, their store, and their business plan, and figure out ways to grow stronger. Maybe this will be hosting local events. Maybe it will be changing the lineup of books in their inventory to appeal to different niche markets. Maybe they can aggressively seek author signings, or host exciting fundraisers that will help to develop and expand the store.

Another great idea for local bookstores would be to get in touch with up-and-coming authors, especially if they’re members of the local community, and cut a deal so that the bookstores get a cut of all online e-book sales as long as they prominently promote the paperback/hardback version of the book in the store. And if you think it’s a crazy idea, then take this from me, a book publisher: I would absolutely love if a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) bookstore contacted me and offered to promote my paperbacks in return for a cut of e-book sales. I’d be thrilled to help keep LGBT bookstores alive and kicking, and help them find ways to profit off of the changing landscape of book sales.

The NYT article ends on a sad note, quoting a prediction that the Open Book won’t make it through the upcoming winter. I truly hope that this prediction is incorrect. I hope that the Open Book puts up an epic fight, and figures out a way to not only survive, but to flourish.

Anthony DiFiore, Publisher

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all good

The more independent bookstores that can open and cater for local needs, supporting local authors and the community, the better for all authors. And I agree, competition is healthy and productive and constructive and and and... It forces businesses to take better care of customers by keeping a keen eye on what they want and catering for their needs and wants in a proactive manner. All my best to both bookstores! Go for it!

Thanks for your thoughts on an interesting and positive development in the publishing industry - even if only a small part. It's all good!

Q