On Publishing Perspectives, Rachel Aydt has an interesting story about a bookseller who has decided to try to make use of the Internet in an unusual way to sell more books. Roxanne Coady, owner of R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut, has a personalized reading recommendation and subscription service called Just The Right Book.com.
The service works by having prospective readers take a survey to find out their tastes in reading, and then the bookstore staff selecting a personalized recommendation. Survey takers can then subscribe to a tiered subscription system, with prices ranging from $85 per year for quarterly, mixed (hardcover and paperback) selections to $385 for monthly hardcovers.
Coady developed the service after spending two months interviewing publishing-industry executives and designers to get an idea of where the publishing world was going and how she could best keep her business afloat. As a result, she decided to leverage the expertise of her experienced bookselling staff to sell books in the Internet era.
Of course, the approach does have one slight problem: nothing says that people have to buy that recommended book from her store.
While Just The Right Book is currently 2,000 subscribers strong, the numbers show that in the last two months alone 15,000 website visitors have taken the quizzes. The discrepancy between the number of subscribers to quiz takers might be alarming, but for the following encouraging fact: a survey revealed that 50% of the quiz takers were prompted to acquire that book in some way — just not through them. For Coady, this drove home the belief that their book selection service is indeed a valuable one, but that other business models based on the fact need to be tested out. “Maybe we become a book selection service that people will pay $1 a month for, or $5 a month for, rather than the place where people purchase the book?”
While neither Coady nor Aydt bring up the idea, I think that Coady should consider looking into how her store could take advantage of Google Books’s program to let bookstores sell e-books. Perhaps Coady could offer a less expensive tier of her service that would get subscribers e-books rather than hardcovers or paperbacks. It would give consumers the instant gratification they want, save on shipping costs, and mean she could take at least some advantage of the growth in the e-reader-equipped market base.
Regardless, this idea reminds me of what Waterstone’s managing director James Daunt said about leveraging the book-suggesting expertise of Waterstone’s staff. It seems that recommendations from skilled human beings could become a hot niche as it becomes harder to move physical books, or get people physically into bookstores.