bookstore-closedSo, if I don’t rely on bookstores to sell my books, on whom do I rely?

 Your audience. Remember, you’re trying to reach your book-buying audience, not distributors, bookstores or even Amazon, they’re all just links in the chain that tie you to (or keep you from) your book-buying audience. Ten years ago, traditional book distribution and marketing systems were a necessity. Printers shipped books to distributors, distributors warehoused books and delivered them to bookstores, bookstores sold books to walk-in retail customers. If you wanted to reach your book-buying audience, you paid bookstores to set up displays and paid to advertise in magazines or on radio or television. You hoped and prayed that members of your book-buying audience would see the ads, walk into the bookstore, run into the display, pick up the book and walk to the cash register. That was the technology back then; it was how books were sold. Bookstores sold the books they stocked, which, in light of the total number of books in print, was extremely limited; they stocked based on what relatively few books they thought would sell best plus those the publishers ‘incentivized’ (paid) the bookstores to display The books available to consumers depended on bookstore inventories. Publishers and Distributors pushed the books they wanted on the market to bookstores, bookstores pushed their inventory to consumers; consumer choice was limited to the books pushed through the system.

This traditional pre-21st century book marketing and distribution system are still alive … in the same way dinosaurs were still alive as they watched glaciers push into their grazing grounds. The old system is still breathing, but its fate has already been sealed. Not much future in that.

Technology has allowed a few things that have completely turned the traditional book marketing and distribution system on its head, forcing either a dramatic adaptation or certain extinction.

  • The Internet has allowed online vendors to sell books directly to consumers without having a local brick and mortar bookstore. Consumers don’t have to get in the car, drive to the local bookstore and hope the book they’re looking for is one of the lucky 0.1% in stock. Without the overhead expense of local retail stores and an almost unlimited variety of inventory (30 million book listings), online vendors can offer consumers almost any book they could want at a cheaper price, without the vendor or the consumer leaving home.
  • Printing and fulfillment technology has allowed authors to publish and distribute their own books without ‘permission’ from publishers.
  • E-book technology has made printing and shipping books an ‘option’ – consumers can buy e-books online and start reading them in about 45 seconds. No printing, no warehouse, no delivery van, no bookstore, no problem.
  • The Internet has also allowed consumers unlimited access to topics, reviewers, and authors. No need to ask a bookstore clerk (who probably doesn’t know anyway) his thoughts about a particular book, just read the online reviews or send the author a Facebook message!
  • The same access consumers now have to authors, authors now have to consumers. Remember our healthy-meals soccer mom author? Now she can join the ‘Healthy Eating Moms’ or ‘Busy Soccer Mom’ Facebook group, or comment on the most popular healthy-meals/soccer mom blogs to reach her reading audience directly.

These technology changes have allowed the most dramatic, most disruptive, tectonic shifts the book industry has ever experienced. Of all the facets of the book business, technology has either allowed or made obsolete, these are the two most fundamental:

  1. Technology has changed the force that moves books through the system.
  2. Technology has allowed the content creator (the author) direct access to the content consumer (the reader) and vice-versa.

To you, the author, and to your ultimate consumer, your reader, these two technology shifts mean everything. They put each of you in total control of the book-buying transaction and experience  – everyone else is just a middleman.

Next week I’ll explain how these tectonic shifts in the book business work and how it puts you and your reader together and in control.