Starting in January, Random House will be selling new copies of out-of-print books via a new e-commerce website called the Random Collection. The site will start with 750 titles, will be searchable and allow for feedback from booksellers and other customers on suggestions for future titles.
Some, like Joseph Esposito at Publishing Frontier and Mike Shatzkin at IdeaLogical, have suggested that this plan doesn’t work if the goal is brand-extension. (I’ll let you read those posts as Esposito and Shatzkin have very different opinions on why that is). Mark Bertils at Index//MB also points out this might not be an effective B2C strategy as it is “a half-stride towards an ebook delivery system but it is a full step towards nothing”. This is me wondering if we’re all hating on our new cow because it’s not outpacing the dolphins.
As last year’s Turner-Riggs study on the shape of the book market in Canada points out, remainders and used book sales are making up an ever-increasing chunk of consumer book spend. Using POD technology as a B2B strategy allows retailers to have new editions of titles that would not otherwise be available (or would be available at a much reduced price in a secondhand edition).
Who’s to say the success of Random Collection depends on brand recognition from consumers? Instead, this could be a foundation for an efficient supply chain for otherwise unavailable titles and the collaborative monetization of backlist titles otherwise sold through only a handful of online retailers (sight unseen).
The consumer gets: a familiar purchasing system in their local bookstore and no risk in the condition of the book they will receive. The bookseller gets: no warehousing or stocking fees and a commission on a sale of a new book, rather than a lost opportunity. The publishers gets: some dollars on a sale that would otherwise have gone to an edition already in the supply chain.
Is B2C branding really the most important thing here?