Kindle or Kobo EReader: Good for small shops, bad for the big boys.

It seems counter-intuitive, but the advent and adoption of the ereader may very well give small bookshops a much-welcomed boost in the arm.  With hardcore readers using the Kobo ereader and other devices to devour new titles with unheard of fervor, the market for big box bookstores begins to shrink.  Why buy a physical book when buying it online & uploading it into a handheld device is cheaper, easier?


Of course, this phenomenon seems to apply more to bestsellers rather than titles that have been on the shelves for a while.  Some e-readers do include a selection of classics (Beowulf, Great Expectations, The Count of Monte Cristo), but from what I’ve seen, these are largely ignored — mostly because people already own or would prefer to buy a print copy.  It’s this preference for older/rare print and paper books that may very well keep the independent bookstore alive.

No, I’m not suggesting that every single store stock up on antique books.  What I am saying, though, is that now would be a great time to start focusing a little more on a specific genre or two; carrying titles that wouldn’t translate well into the e-reader medium.

kobo ereader

A good place to start would be graphic novels.  Yes, I’m sure there are booksellers out there that equate graphic novels to literary porn, and I’m not here to convert anyone that’s dead set against selling them in their store.  But, if you’ve already set aside shelf space for a few, consider a sizeable expansion.  It would be wise to read one or two, as well — Neil Gaimans Sandman series and George R.R. Martin’s Hedge Knight I & II are both brilliant reads.

If graphic novels aren’t your cup of tea, then I’d suggest specializing in hobbies, crafts & cooking.  E-readers are great for travel, but does anyone really want one on the counter while trying to make Coq au vin for the first time?  Be a little picky, too, and offer what you feel are worthwhile titles.  Your’s can be the shop where everyone in town comes to grab that hard-to-find Julia Childs cook book — you know, the one that’s worth $100.  Or you could make a name for yourself in the geek community by selling things like Zombie Needle Point & Cross Stitch.

wrestling book kobo ereader

My experience has shown me that non-fiction titles aimed at specific readers are almost guaranteed sellers.  And the more specific & esoteric in nature, the more profit there is to be had.  The owner of my favourite reading hole once aquired  a pamphlet on basic pagan beliefs.  Initially, he had listed it at only a few dollars, only to discover it was actually worth $40 — the price it ultimately sold for.  Again, some of you may have an aversion to peddling literature of this kind, but there are plenty of other distinctly-flavoured books you can offer that will help keep you in the red.

Well, those are just a few off-the-top ideas.  The main thing is to find what works for your business model.  And if what you’re doing is already working, then keep at it.  But, when it looks like the giants of the book world (Borders, in particular) might be the verge of destruction, the dwarves and hobbits need to be ready to carve themselves a niche out of the ruins.

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  • The title on this post was misleadng. The article itself was saying, I thought, that while in general the e-readers are bad for small shops, maybe we can shift to smaller niche markets and somehow stay alive. Or did I miss something?

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  • And comment I will.

    Right, I can see now how the title may appear confusing, even misleading. So, I shall attempt to clarify.

    Yes, at first glance the e-reader appears to be a death stroke for the traditional brick & mortar bookshop. Why spend $10 on a mass market when you can download the same novel for $8 or less, plus have the convience of being able to carry around hundreds of other books with it?

    But, from my research, it appears that people fill their readers with mostly bestsellers — and bestsellers are the bread and butter of the mega bookstore chains. If people continue to rely on e-readers to meet their pop culture reading needs, then the big boys may very well be forced to stop carrying physical copies in the stores. Sure, that would still leave them with hundreds of other titles to offer, but their physical locations wouldn’t be able to generate anywhere near the same revenue.

    Eventually, this could lead to the closing, or right-sizing (a.k.a. closing larger locations and significantly reducing square footage)their brick and mortar stores. Doing this would greatly diminsh their holdings in the print & paper book market share, opening it up to smaller stores & chains — those brave enough to stay open, that is.

    By specializing in genres & mediums that translate poorly onto the e-reader, offering special editions, signed copies, limited prints, etc…small brick & mortars would not only keep their doors open, but actually thrive.

    True, this is a hypothetical scenario which hinges on the premise that people will continue to purchase physical books. But I’m an optimist and believe that the printed book still has a long life ahead of it.

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    • This is basically the premise of “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, where the internet is basically shoving more of the demand for megahits onto what was once the B and C list… and making viable things from the D list all the way out to the Z list.

      Anyway, to stuff further down the list, weird occult/new age/alternative stuff always sells well for us. The weirder the better.

      Foreign language also sells well for us and a lot of foreign language titles never make it to English at all, let alone an ebook version.

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  • It seems to me–my own experience is–that small bookstores were beaten at the best-seller titles long before now. Online discounts deeper than my wholesale price means I can’t compete in that part of the market, and so I’ve never tried, and I don’t see other independent bookstores here in northern Michigan flogging new best-sellers, either. Cheap e-books haven’t changed the landscape much in that regard.

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