Is Amazon killing or saving the Bookshop?
Every publisher has one eye open where Amazon is concerned. Their business model is fierce and many book publishers seem to be concerned that they will drown under the weight of Amazon but the online retailer shocked everyone when they opened their brick and mortar bookshop back in November 2015. They plan to open 400 physical bookshops in the US (Reuters, 2016) and are selling their books at the same price as they are selling them online, making their pricing strategy competitive.
Amazon have been competing with the publishing industry with low book prices and their various eBook services. They have been worrying the industry for a while and whilst many publishers were resilient in their efforts, the online retailer shook even the largest and oldest publishers too.
But why are they so worried? Amazon have reinvigorated the bookshop. Their move into brick and mortar should be an encouraging time for publishers because physical book sales have been increasing. The Bookseller (2016) reported that for 2015, the unit sales of print books rose 2.8% having followed a 2.4% increase in 2014. Digital book sales are currently in decline, which is also rather surprising for those that advocated a digital usurpation. James Daunt says that they are taking Amazon’s Kindle out of Waterstones as they virtually receive no profit from keeping stock of them there (The Bookseller, 2015)
The top 5 UK publishers experienced a slight decrease in their eBook sales in 2015, which suggests that although the digital world took a fast and upward ascent, the overall digital project is plateauing. Of course, this won’t always be the case, technology is advancing more quickly than at any other point in history and this will continue on in the future.
The Bookseller’s feature editor, Tom Tivnan, was quick to suggest that the falling eBook sales had something to do with the digital revolution not being all that it was cracked up to be (The Guardian, 2016). Although this does seem to be the case at first glance, does the fall in eBook sales have anything to do with high eBook prices? Is this where Amazon swoops in with their physical bookshops that have books with online prices and customer reviews (accessible when you scan the barcode of an Amazon book with the app)? Perhaps this means that Amazon are winning the fight with an excellent pricing strategy – especially after opening their flagship shop in Seattle University’s campus and targeting the price-conscious, Neophiliac student.
However, are low prices all that book buyers want? Waterstones have received more attention from book buyers since they introduced their Café W in 28 of their shops in the UK and several independent bookshops have expanded into coffee shops. Foyles recently reported that their profit margins have increased since their relocation and redesign of their bookshop on Charring Cross Road, London. The bookshop has seen a 10% increase in its sales since 2014 (The Bookseller, 2016) and have since opened up shop in Birmingham, Bristol and a couple more in London. The bookshop and printed content is far from dead yet. This may be the case for newspapers and magazines as more and more are shutting their pages and presses, such as The Independent, whose last printed page was 26th March 2016.
Publishers and booksellers must seize this opportunity to diversify and differentiate themselves as competitors to Amazon and utilise their strengths and imagination. It may be that what consumers are looking for is that cosy nook where they can drink coffee and eat cake. Enjoying a book has become a larger experience than just buying it and bringing it home. There is a culture surrounding books that is comfortable and inviting and maybe Amazon have yet to embark on this journey but booksellers should grasp this opportunity with both hands.