HummingbirdDigital Book World has carried a long piece on Hummingbird Digital Media, a subsidiary of American West Books previously covered by Chris Meadows which hopes to ensure that “anyone can sell ebooks and compete successfully with Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble.” What is especially interesting, though, is that this time round, “anyone” means indie bookstores. And this gives a good opportunity to consider all the ways that indie booksellers can sup with the digital devil and benefit from ebooks.

According to Hummingbird’s own blurb, their platform allows you to “create a free branded storefront with access to 100,000s of titles in minutes.” Furthermore, according to their information for booksellers, “depending on the publisher, you’ll earn in the neighborhood of 12-23% on the retail price of every book sold from your storefront. Every penny will be deposited to your bank account automatically. No checks, no envelopes, no hassle.” Hummingbird also lists off all kinds of other benefits, including email list-building and customer loyalty programs, that ought to be the stock in trade of any savvy bookseller. And their publisher partners include the likes of HarperCollins and Macmillan, so I don’t think that participants will go short of popular titles.

Now, bookstores might prefer to sell paper copies of their wares over the counter, but an own-branded ebook offering still seems like it would get them some additional sales, so long as their local brand and customer loyalty is sufficiently strong. It’s not hard to think of some well-known bookstores that fall into exactly that category. Look at City Lights, for example, which has long flown the flag as both bookstore and publishing brand. If a supermarket chain can wheel out its own branded ebook reading client, why not a bookstore? And the fierce loyalty of many readers to their friendly neighborhood bookseller, and positive hostility to big chains like B&N – and, naturally, Amazon – should be just the thing to parlay into a small but focused franchise that can still keep a local book vendor afloat.

Chris Meadows isn’t exactly gung ho for this approach, seeing as such a solution has been available – and unused – via Kobo and the American Booksellers Association. (The founder of Hummingbird also suggested publishers should try to “compete with Amazon,” which Chris feels makes even less sense.) However, if all that isn’t enough for bookstore owners, here’s a few more ideas on how to lever your current strengths into the digital era:

  1. Sign up with Hummingbird. (See above. Already covered that.)
  2. Publish local titles/authors through Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon has explicitly positioned KDP for years now as a platform for publishers as well as would-be self-published authors. Why shouldn’t a local bookstore position itself as a publisher for interesting local authors or subjects, and then produce ebooks via KDP, scoring “up to 70 percent royalty on sales” worldwide in the process? If this involves promoting local authors, said bookstore then has an added hook for in-store promos. If it involves promoting local landmarks, legends, sites of interest, etc. then the event or location-based opportunities could be even greater. Even if it means getting in bed with The Enemy.
  3. Run local promotions as an Amazon Affiliate. If you sign up for the Amazon Affiliate program, you can do in-store promotions and still earn a small affiliate from any ebook sales, so long as the promotion steers your customers to buy their ebooks through the appropriate link. This can be special promos – again, levering local authors or local ties.
  4. Go the whole way and do it yourself. There is absolutely nothing to stop an aspiring bookstore publisher pulling together its own ebook publishing operation, with minimal tech smarts. The resulting wares could go out through Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, etc., or go online through a completely standalone platform. Once again, local bookstores should be able to build enough local interest to attract a following – if they have the skills, dedication, and savvy.

So there’s just a few ideas on how indie bookstores can dodge the ebook bullet, catch it, and load it into their own piece. I’m sure there are others out there. Lock and load, people.



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