Inside of publishing, there is tremendous concern around the declining number of physical bookstores and limited shelf space. And for good reason—authors and publishers want to sell more books. As such, they need visibility and distribution to do so. Bookstores are also communities where readers naturally congregate, discover new books, and connect around content. Without them, publishing is clanking along like a dryer full of army boots.
Despite the fact that Barnes & Noble will soon shutter one-third of its stores, the future is anything but bleak. There’s a case to be made that great books and authors will ultimately get MORE visibility in the digital space. Agile publishers will have MORE distribution outlets and partnership opportunities than ever before. To do this, we have to see ebooks for what they really are. Rather than thinking of ebooks in the same vein that we view physical books, we need to look at them as valuable content that should not be bound by the same marketing, distribution, and promotional rules that apply to physical books. Just like their price point changes, so does our ability to distribute and sell them.
As new platforms emerge, new opportunities unfold. Corporations and organizations that never viewed physical books as a channel to market, now embrace ebooks as part of their future due to their ability to increase sales, strengthen brand awareness, increase customer loyalty, improve employee morale, and more at a much lower cost.
Humor me while I oversimplify some of the opportunities. (Note: company names are just examples so we can freely imagine the possibilities.):
– Imagine Nike or Under Armour giving a consumer a free ebook about marathons with each purchase of shoes $100 or more. All consumers who redeem the book could automatically be added to an online community of runners who also bought similar shoes and are reading the book to spark more conversation. Heck, the author or an athlete could also participate in the book conversation.
– Imagine getting an ebook on How to Build Tree Houses Like a Pro the next time you buy lumber at Home Depot or Lowes. Instead of getting instructions, clueless dads everywhere could read and ask questions of one another around the book and related topics.
– Imagine buying a Costco or Target branded ebook gift card while standing in the checkout line. Each card could be coded to associate the book purchase with a specific store and provide the retailer valuable knowledge about its customers.
– Imagine scanning a code on the kids’ meal bag at Chick-Fil-A or McDonald’s and getting a free ebook on the mobile device of your choice. You could build a library of kids’ books on your phone so your young readers could take their books anywhere. Sure beats the plastic toy that breaks a day later.
– Imagine watching the movie World War Z at the theater and seeing a code on your ticket or other movie-related promotions that allows you to buy the ebook on your device with a discount since you paid for the movie.
– Imagine buying a physical copy of Dwayne Wade’s book on fatherhood and being asked upon checkout if you’d like to receive the ebook for $1 more with access to Dwayne’s interactive online group of fathers and basketball lovers. Would you pay a little more to get a lot more?
These are just a few of the possibilities available today, with many more to come that will push the boundaries of creativity and innovation. These new marketing and distribution channels benefit not only brands, but also the entire publishing ecosystem. Authors gain more visibility and relevance through the association of ebooks with physical promotions. Publishers open up thousands of new distribution outlets and partnerships, creating new revenue streams, and readers start buying more books nearly everywhere they go.
Yes, it will be a shame that there are fewer traditional bookstores where we can shop, but their closing will not be in vain. They will fertilize the ground for a plethora of new opportunities that everyone can enjoy.