Over the past year I noticed that there is a very strong subset of sellers who are ready to graduate from the AAA bases, from eBay and its ilk but have, as yet, no better place to go. By and large these are specialized on-line dealers who are a cut above the herd, they want a place to sell that shows off their wares yet gives them greater independence and flexibility than any the existing models.
So far that next thing has not arrived. But in the year of Facebook, Twitter and an increasing emphasis on social media, can a new, more direct and coherent marketing model for the small but specialized bookseller be far behind?
Disorganized and Technically Weak
Looking at the demand for a better mousetrap it puzzled me that existing bookseller organizations seemed dated or technically inept. I was also mystified that none of them had been able to capitalize on the fast growing ranks of sellers. Most of the benefits that come from joining them are not the kind you can take to the bank.
Yes, it's hard to organize book dealers, because above all book dealers value their autonomy. Yes, it’s true that when you go into this business it's more like entering some screwy religion than it is about making money. Sometimes I even feel that the business chooses you, more than you choose the business. That said there are zillions of small independent sellers and more coming onboard or moving up a notch every day.
Coming in 2011
For one bookseller’s opinion of what’s in store for 2011 I turned to Gene Alloway, one of my favorite forecasters, who has both an open shop and an online presence as Motte & Bailey in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Here’s what he says:
“This is to me the year we are very much at the mercy of the market. A great deal is up in the air regarding the government budget, real estate, banking, and jobs. For many of us, the middle class is our main source of clients, and all of the above affect that group more than others.
“I also think this is the year of direct selling. Good booksellers do this already, but an increased emphasis on this - the direct seller - client relationship - will pay dividends in both sales and stock.
“Rising postal rates, more cheap sellers online, and fees & low postal reimbursement levels from online sites will lessen profits through third parties.
“A focused approach will be most successful, as we have found in 2010. We went to more shows focused on a single subject (such as medieval history, or even an antique gun show), rather than book shows, and it helped move books, and secured for us better sources for stock. It also helps drive sales to one's own website, where we list books first for some time before listing them elsewhere.
“Unless one has a sizable shop and/or one with a great deal of foot traffic, focus will be key as well. It will be important to identify those subjects that are most productive, and give them greater room for display and stock. No small shop can be all things to all readers, so choosing defined subject spaces and developing those will be important for time, space, and financial management during a difficult financial year.”