Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bestsellers, Ebooks, Ebook Bestsellers

How exciting was that umpteenth "How amazing are ebooks? Really amazing!" piece in the New York Times yesterday? Together with the news that the Times will start tabulating ebook bestsellers as well as integrate the lists somehow should probably further marginalize physical books. The #1 ebook for the first list was James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge's Tick Tock. I link to the physical book; before I looked closely, I thought Patterson had written the book with Ke$ha.

That and the news that Apple is upset that folks are trying to work around their 30% take for ebooks leaves me a bit concerned about our foray into the ebook market, particularly when I heard at the Winter Institute that accessing indie-downloaded ebooks off Nooks and Sonys was rather difficult and our best chance was with the iPad and assorted cellphones. And of course the Kindle system is officially closed.

I think that Apple looks at Ipads and thinks, "Why is this not working like the iPod, where we get virtually all the music downloads through our Apple store? Why, indeed. Let's plug some holes." But the problem is that I don't really understand what Apple is asking--are they saying that for the Kindle app to work on the iPad, there has to be an option to buy the ebook through the Apple store? I suspect that's the case. But you can imagine that if there ever is an indie commerce app, users will think that they are supporting their independent bookstore and that we will get a percentage of the sale, even when they buy the ebook through the Apple store. But they won't. I've heard this is already an issue with the Google app.

Really, you'll have to buy your ebooks through our website (slow mo) if you want to support us (see below). Unless some incredibly talented app designer takes pity on us and puts something together. But that person would have to be pretty smart and generous. Currently I feel like I'd be Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, futilely chasing the ebook Roadrunner.

In any case, talking to booksellers has led me to this conclusion regarding selling the Google Editions--not a lot of work, but also not a lot of sales at the moment, unless you aggressively discount. I disagreee with some booksellers that aggressive discounting will build market share. That customer who is not your physical book customer didn't have loyalty when you offered service, ambience, community, events, so why would they respond to anything but price on the web? Well, there's pity. That can work. I also throw guilt around a lot. It makes me very popular.

I'd say more, but I feel at this point I'd get caught in the argument equivalent of an Escher drawing. This is one of the reasons I've held off opening our website to ebook sales through Google editions; our goal is still April 1st. Yes, Google is working with indie bookstores, but only those that use the ABA website program.
Can I talk about something else? Our bestseller lists this week were very event and special-order driven, and didn't seem to indicate anything in particular. I decided to look at paperback fiction for the month of January.

1. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
2. Tinkers, by Paul Harding
3. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
4. Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
5. The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
6. True Grit, by Charles Portis
7. The Girl who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson
8. The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman
9. The Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
10. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

A customer got mad at us for having Suze Orman on our new paperback table, instead of some book in translation that I don't remember the name of. Orman was supposed to go on our New Year's resolutions table, but I still got defensive about it, as I am known to favor a segment of "Can I afford it?" It's tough trying to please multiple constituencies!

PS--we had a good day yesterday. But don't forget that we close at 4 pm today as you will all be home watching the Super Bowl (am I allowed to say Super Bowl or do I have to say Big Game if I am a commercial enterprise, but am not selling something but just mentioning it in a non-commercial way?) while I finish Wolf Hall for our book club discussion tomorrow at 7 pm. Thanks, everybody!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've been holding off on buying an eReader because I worked for Schwartz long enough to suspect how much the digital editions could potentially hurt independent bookshops. But I'm also a huge tech nerd, so it's been hard to resist. Furthermore, we live in a teeny tiny apartment that is on the verge of being overrun with my books, Shaun's books, and Jessie's books. In other words, LOTS OF BOOKS. I'd love to save a tree or two, not to mention several feet of shelf space, by buying new books in eReader formats.

If you're going to open up the Boswell website to eBooks, I am so there, Daniel. Of course I'll also drop in to check out the remainder tables and buy lots of birthday and holiday gifts, and also books that we know we'll just want in book form. But I don't care if it's slow or a little bit clunky to download the Google books. If I know you guys are getting a cut, this is a no-brainer for me.

Laura Williams