POLL no.1-Conclusions

Posted: July 28, 2011 in polls

A couple of weeks ago we were in an independent bookshop when Mrs Crime Scraps saw a book she liked but it was priced at £25.00, we gulped and went home. Later we guiltily purchased it online from Amazon for £15.00! 

Therefore I was not particularly surprised by the results of the Crime Scraps Polls no.1 which showed that 33% of those that voted had bought the last book they read from Amazon. 

21% had borrowed that last book read from the library, and 12% had purchased it from another online retailer. 6% used either an independent bookshop or multiple chain bookstore such as Borders or Waterstones. With only 12% of the market, and although my sample was small I think we are representative of the book reading public, the long term viability of small independent bookshops or chains similar to the recently closed Borders is problematic. It is common sense that as financial pressure grows during this long recession readers will rely more and more on a shrinking library system, and the cheaper on line retailers. 

Borders with its cafe in the bookstore seemed to us so innovative and friendly when we stopped in Lancaster County PA, after driving still jet lagged from our friends house in the Poconos back in 1993. I don’t remember anything like that in the UK at the time, although there might have been in London.

Why did Borders fail?  I have read several articles on this subject, and some of the reasons were not specific to the book trade. Retail is difficult a disaster, at the present time and some shopping precincts in English towns look semi-abandoned. But Borders made several mistakes.

1] They failed to keep up with technology, the growth of internet sales, and the move from print books to e- books. They were outpaced in this field by their major rivals Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. When they did wake up they could not catch up with the advantage held by the leaders.

2] There was an inability to control costs as a result of opening too many big stores on 15-20 year leases. There are many businesses in the UK that have made the same mistake taking prime high street positions that require enormous turnover merely to cover the rent, business rates, and stock purchase overheads.

3] Their sales of music CDs and DVDs fell off a cliff, which was predictable if they had looked at the progressive closure of music stores in the UK. 

Borders were copied, and then left behind by their rivals.

I still enjoy the experience of browsing in a book shop, but when the price differential is huge it is inevitable that I purchase the vast majority of my books on -line, and it seems I am not alone. 

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Comments
  1. I’m a guilty online buyer too Norman, though I make an effort every now and then to buy from my remaining local ‘indie’ store – when I’m feeling flush with cash. But it’s a rare thing – not even 10% of the 150+ books per year that I read.

  2. Well, things have become SLIGHTLY better in Denmark lately. Now most new books cost 24-30 pound, not 35 like a few years ago. But even paperbacks are not availabe for less than 8-15 pounds until they are so old everybody has borrowed them from the library already. And though I realized a small language area like ours cannot compete with England, but in Sweden they did the right thing years ago by publishing a monthly ´crime pocket´ for 4-6 pounds. Obviously, it is easier to market new crime writers that way because most buyers are willing to take a chance with them.

  3. Sorry for the grammatical rubbish; this is still early in the day for me 😉

  4. Norman – You have outlined very neatly what happened to Borders. And it explains why so many people buy online. I do, too. Like you, I feel somewhat guilty about it as I love bookshops and would like them to stay in business. But the reality is what it is. When the price differential is that great, most people, I think, do the same thing. I sometimes go to secondhand bookshops, but otherwise I don’t.
     
    And by the way, Lancaster, PA is about 1/2 an hour from where I grew up. Small world….

  5. Norman – You have outlined very neatly what happened to Borders. And it explains why so many people buy online. I do, too. Like you, I feel somewhat guilty about it as I love bookshops and would like them to stay in business. But the reality is what it is. When the price differential is that great, most people, I think, do the same thing. I sometimes go to secondhand bookshops, but otherwise I don’t do a lot of onground book shopping.
     
    And by the way, Lancaster, PA is about 1/2 an hour from where I grew up. Small world….

    • Norman Price says:

      We drove through Lancaster County [buying an Amish Quilt] on the road to Gettysburg, and then on to Harper’s Ferry. On the return journey we stayed in New Holland, and visited Ephrata Cloister and Hopewell Furnace Nat’l Historic Site. You may not have as much history as we do, but you look after yours very well.

  6. kathy d. says:

    Gosh–will we all be selling our souls (or maxing out our credit cards) to Amazon in the bigger scheme of things? I buy from Amazon only out of desperation, when a book is not available at the library or at Book Depository or if is less costly at one of their sellers’ outlets or with the super-saver in shipping costs.

    Now with my library system barely buying new books, certainly a bare bones of global crime fiction, it is a big dilemma. I haven’t figured out how to deal with this yet, other than looking for used books, sharing books with friends, or buying from Amazon only if I find a good price.

    It’s all about the big fish gobbling up the smaller fish — mergers, acquisitions, or financially squeezing out the other stores. I was shocked and dismayed when a large Barnes and Noble which was a few blocks from my house closed a few years ago. It had a cafe and a great children’s book department as well as a huge selection of mysteries. But the rent was high and the CEO’s decided that store wasn’t profitable enough.

  7. Ken Mahieu says:

    I agree with your comments about Borders, and I’d like to add a few additional observations. During its last two years, Borders was really floundering in the US. Every week I would visit my local store in suburban DC and it would have a new look. Often, huge displays of children’s toys would be the first thing the shopper would see walking in the door; next week the focus might be coffee products. They seemed to be constantly searching for a new identity, a new gimmick. It appeared to me they lost sight of their mission.

    I also think there was a certain inevitability in what happened to them. Last year the e book market surpassed print and there was no way that a retail focused operation would be able to compete against Amazon and others in a “commodities” market. Borders failure was its inability to adjust to this basic market restructure.

    My last point is that I think some reader comments are unfairly harsh attacks on Amazon. Amazon thrives because they do what they focus on very well, and there is a huge market for their product. From Amazon I can get a book instantaneously for my Kindle, or I can get a print copy direct from them or a partner that no one else inventories. They are not the big bad wolf, nor the problem here. The market is determining who survives and who doesn’t. Bookstore failures are largely the result of poor management and/or an inability to adjust to changing market conditions.

    Ken

  8. Norman says:

    Ken-I agree, surviving in retail business is all about making adjustments.

    During the 1950s my father’s main business was in the sale of paraffin for heating stoves, and the sale and servicing of camping stoves for the people of South London who in huge numbers went hop picking in Kent for their summer holidays. He realised in about 1955 that with increasing wealth people would be in future be holidaying in Spain, and certainly not using paraffin heaters, so he abandoned a major part of his business, and successfully moved into household supplies.

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