In today’s Morning Links was a great essay from Michael Kozlowski on the ‘death’ of the indie e-bookstore.
Books on Board was killed by the agency pricing model, and a failure to innovate and provide better customer experiences such as mobile browsing and more refined search algorithms, Kozlowski alleges.
His conclusion, in particular, jumped out at me:
“Indie bookseller websites are less about just selling books in the traditional sense, and more about reaching the largest audience you can. There is room in the industry for smaller players, but they have to be savvy. Opening up a Facebook Book Store, developing apps, making a HTML5 reading app to run in parallel with your purchased content, cloud storage, and social media remain viable. A static WEB 1.0 website is not enough to sell books anymore.”
It struck me that this prescription doesn’t just apply to indie e-bookstores; it applies to authors, too. Take something like Rowling’s Pottermore site. Isn’t that, at its heart, simply a very topic-focused indie e-bookstore? And isn’t she doing just fine with it?
Here is where the health of the retail sector should worry authors, though—discoverability. Sure, anybody looking for the Harry Potter books can go to a search engine and put it in and find the Pottermore site, no problem. But Rowling is a big enough name to get away with that. A smaller author could set up their own website and sell directly off it too, but their battle is going to be getting people to know to come there. Readers won’t find you by putting your name into a search engine unless they know your name in the first place.
That’s where bookstore websites—not just author webstores, but full-service vendors who sell a variety of titles—can be crucial for building an author brand. Even in this digital age, there is something to be said for browsing. I get many of my books these days off of browsing lists—the new releases page at Kobo and the library, the Amazon best-seller list, BookBub newsletters or even the ‘people who bought this book also bought … ‘ suggestions at Amazon. Once I have a book in mind, I may go to any number of places to get it, depending on price and availability and other factors. But I have to know about the book first, and I won’t learn about it from a random author website unless something happens to send me there first.
So, for that reason, the failure of Books on Board is sad. It’s one less channel where people can discover authors, and if too many of those channels go away, it will make getting one’s book out there even more of a challenge than it is now. We all have the capability now to self-publish websites as well as books these days. It’s easy to set up a store and sell your own books, from a technical standpoint. But the cross-pollination of a browsing experience—even a virtual one—is still valuable. We need the bookstores for that.