Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Barnes & Noble For Sale: What Authors Can Learn

I have debated whether to post anything about Barnes & Noble, the largest book retailer in the United States, putting itself up for sale.  After all, this is a blog designed to help authors promote and sell books; it's not a blog about the publishing industry in general.  Besides, I like B&N.  They have been good to many of my authors.  However, I think there are some important lessons that authors can learn from the problems currently being faced by B&N.

Even stock analysts disagree about why B&N is actually putting itself up for sale.  B&N says its stock is undervalued.  Stock analysts say it's actually overvalued.  An article in the Wall Street Journal blames B&N's "too little, too late" approach to selling books online and offering an e-book reader for sale to its customers, and Amazon's dominance in that market.  Whatever the cause, there are some important lessons authors can take away from the situation at B&N.

1.  Stocking thousands of titles on a shelf doesn't mean they will sell.  Many authors are under the impression that "if only my book was on the shelf at the bookstore, it would sell."  If that were true, books would be flying off the shelf at the major chain bookstores, and they aren't.  They wouldn't need the "discount" table at the front of the store, either.  Those are books that aren't selling.

2.  Authors need to target many different venues with their books, not just bookstores.  Just this morning an author emailed me in a panic because the distributor is currently out of stock with their title and a clerk at a bookstore (yes, it was B&N) told them they were "losing sales."  I checked Amazon, and the title was in stock.  In this instance, B&N may be losing sales, but readers can get this title elsewhere.  If B&N's web site took backorders for books, like Amazon does when it is temporarily out-of-stock, they would lose fewer sales.  Lesson learned:  if authors are depending on only one venue to sell their books, they are losing out. 

3.  Authors need to keep up with current trends.  When it comes to marketing and selling books, the industry is constantly changing.  Who heard of the Kindle, Twitter or Facebook five years ago?  Today, they are common household terms.  Five years from now there will be new technology and other ways of selling and promoting books.  Authors need to keep up with those changing trends if they hope to compete in a marketplace which saw one million books released last year.   Some experts think B&N learned that lesson too late.  Don't get caught in the same predicament.  Do your homework and find out where fans of books like yours are getting their book recommendations.

4.  Authors need to target their niche.   Sometimes, bookstores aren't the best venue for selling books.  Authors of military-themed books may find gun shows work best for book sales.  Authors of Sci-Fi and Fantasy books might target comic-book stores.  Authors with devotionals might see the most success at gift shops.  Bookstores tend to appeal to a very general, broad audience.  If your book appeals to a very narrow, specific audience, will you find most of those readers in a major big-box bookstore?

When the dust settles, I'm sure B&N will be just fine, although under different management.  The B&N of five years from now may look much different than it does today, and that could mean other opportunities for authors that haven't even been thought of yet.  Perhaps the independent bookstores will rebound, offering additional venues for authors.  Perhaps there will be a new way of authors to plug their books online.  We may even see a different type of retailer that sells books that isn't technically a bookstore.  Whatever happens, authors need to roll with the changes.
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