Bookselling Innovation That Will Save the Industry

E-books, e-readers and e-booksellers are all the rage in publishing reporting. Amazon announces that Christmas Day 2009 was the first Christmas where eBooks outsold their print counterparts. Kobo announces a new global strategy.

Actually, forgive me. We do hear a lot about independent booksellingbut only when a bookstore shuts down. Or is having trouble staying open in tough financial times.

A friend of mine mentioned the other day how upon becoming pregnant, the immediate response of many people she talked to was to tell her horror stories about other pregnancies/births. (Note: this may or may not be the first time bookselling in Canada is compared to human gestation.) Just as healthy, happy pregnancies aren’t that interesting (because they are so common), we hear very little about the successful booksellers that continue to chug along every day. We hear even less about booksellers that are harnessing new technology to serve their community, both reader and publisher, even better. So today, I celebrate the bookseller.

Proposal: a new technology can be considered successful if it provides benefit to a group or an individual that outweighs its cost. This is not a frivolous declarationif it’s too expensive, too hard to learn how to use, too labour intensive to maintain or just plain annoying, it’s not going to catch on. So what are the successful technologies we’ve seen pop up in the last five years in bookselling?

Supply Chain Innovation

  • In Store Print On Demand: Both Todd Anderson of University of Alberta and Mark Lefebvre of McMaster University have installed Espresso Book Machines in their bookstores to great success. They are using in store print-on-demand for the most literal translation of just in time delivery I’ve ever heard of…you literally wait for the book to be printed right in front of you. Other use cases for these machines are short-order print runs for small publishers and custom created course packs for profs on campus.

    Mark Lefebvre is speaking at this year’s BNC Tech Forum about how and why Titles is transitioning into a different kind of bookstore.

  • RFID: we haven’t really seen this yet in Canadian bookstores but booksellers in other countries, notably the Netherlands, are using item-level RFID tags to keep track of stock in store and in transit to make it easier to find books, order and re-order books and generally smooth out the supply chain.

    Marshall Kay of RFID Sherpas is talking about RFID and how the US and the UK are starting to examine its use in book commerce at the BNC Tech Forum 2010.

Collaborative Commerce

  • BNC Prospector: independent booksellers across Canada are using a module of BNC SalesData called BNC Prospector to share business intelligence. With a really inspiring ‘we’re all in this together’ perspective, retailers from different areas of the country create small aggregate groups wherein their peers can check out what’s really selling in stores like theirs.

    It’s still anonymous, it’s still protects each store’s individual talents but it provides indie stores with the kind of analytic power that big chain stores have been utilizing for years.

  • e-catalogues: while this project is still in the early days of development, booksellers have already played a major part in the discussions of what an online catalogue for Canada could and should look like.

Online Marketing and Geocaching

  • Discoverability Online: combining the weight of independent bookselling recommendations with the speed and convenience of online access makes for a powerful bookselling force. has created an online destination (as well as mobile apps) where readers can find independent bookstores near them, check out recommendations compiled from a whack of indie retailers and peruse bestseller lists generated exclusively from indie stores.

    Len Vlahos is going to come to Tech Forum to talk about how and why this kind of online marketing for bricks and mortar stores is changing the way booksellers find and keep customers.

  • Discoverability Offline: if you haven’t heard of geocaching or urban adventure or some other buzzword filled tag (there’s one now), you should start paying attention now. I’m predicting that this combo of online and offline marketing is going to be the next Twitter (yesI did just say that). At their best, projects like Foursquare are the most democratic and genuine example of crowdsourcing I’ve seen on mobile apps.

    People use their devices to check in at places, give ratings, recommend specific products and to-do items and just generally share their impressions of a city with their online community. Shudders abound among those who prize privacy above all elsethat said, if you’re a business owner, you’re going to want to know who’s coming to your store and what they think/do while they are there.

    There are already tons of bookstores and libraries appearing in Toronto’s Foursquare, added both by users and by the stores themselves, I’m sure. Offering promotions to those who are frequenting and recommending the place is the next step…