Amazon to Close Bookstores: What It Means for Indie Books

amazon paperback

Amazon started as an online bookseller. However, despite these roots, the e-commerce giant has decided for now to fold on their physical retail bookstore chain, Amazon Books.

As first reported by Reuters and later covered by Publishers Weekly, Amazon announced that it would close all 24 of its physical bookstores. The internet giant opened the first of these 24 bookstores in 2015, its premier location making its debut in Seattle. Over the next few years, Amazon opened Amazon Books shops in 12 states, Washington, D.C., and the United Kingdom.

Bookstores aren’t the only locations that Amazon is closing. The company is shuttering a total of 68 locations, which include the aforementioned bookstores, supermarkets, cashierless convenience stores, pop-ups, and locations within its Amazon 4-Star department store program.

Despite these closures, Amazon plans to shift laid-off workers and other resources to soon-to-open locations at its grocery store subsidiary, Amazon Fresh, as well as Amazon supermarket acquisition, Whole Foods.

The withdrawal from book retail is a telling admission of defeat for Amazon, as the company’s success had contributed to the destruction of many book retail stores, most notably Borders. Moreover, it’s yet another sign that success in the online space doesn’t automatically translate to physical retail, even for one of the world’s largest companies.

Who wins from Amazon Books’ loss?

Even as Amazon momentarily forfeits its efforts in the physical retail spaces, other parties will walk away as winners: independent bookstores and self-published authors.

Independent bookstores will benefit from Amazon’s retreat for several reasons. The most straightforward one is competition: while Amazon will continue competing with the indies with cutthroat low margins, broader selections, and fast Prime delivery, at least the e-commerce website won’t be butting heads with indies within the brick-and-mortar sphere.

This windfall is significant for independent bookstores at this point of the pandemic. With the omicron wave plummeting, even the most restrictive places in the US are seeking to lift the last of their COVID-19 precautions as consumers flock back to physical retail spaces. So while Amazon Books won’t close overnight, news of the program’s impending end will give its indie competitors an edge during an anticipated surge of in-person shopping.

Amazon Books’ failure also reflects well upon the strengths of independent bookstores. Amazon attempted to break into retail by leveraging Big Data, a wide selection, and even showcasing Amazon reviews.

However, none of Amazon’s online strength seems to replace the personal, local touch of independent bookstores. What independent bookstores lack in scope, they make up with depth, being more equipped to cater to their neighboring communities than an international chain like Amazon Books.

It may sound less intuitive why self-publishing authors may benefit from Amazon Books’ demise. After all, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program has been integral to the careers of many self-published authors.

However, self-publishing authors share an advantage with independent bookstores in that indie authors have better access to independent bookstores than big retailers.

Amazon may help self-published authors better in the electronic space, where shelf space is limitless, and the cost of “stocking” an e-book is microscopic. However, this is a different story in brick-and-mortar stores, where major book chains only have so much room for books and usually only stock traditionally published titles.

Furthermore, self-published authors have more barriers to getting big retailers to give them the time of day. You can’t walk into a Barnes & Noble or an Amazon Books store and ask the owner if they can buy some of your copies to sell.

Independent bookstores are a whole other matter. As indie stores survive and thrive based on personal relationships, most are willing to talk with local authors. This opens up opportunities for both parties: you get the chance to have your self-published book sold on an actual bookstore shelf, and they get to show off their commitment to regional authors.

At an independent bookstore, a self-published author has the chance of being featured on a window display or front-door table, and indie bookstores are always looking for local authors to host book signings and other author events. None of this can be done with a big player like Amazon Books.

It’s unknown whether Amazon will reattempt physical bookselling in the future. But for now, the smaller players in the book industry have one less giant to worry about.

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From the Archives: “Self-Publishing Authors Can Get Their Books on the Shelves of ‘Traditional’ Bookstores”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: April 27th, 2011 ]

Even with the recent changes in the book publishing industry, a “traditional” bookstore presence should still be a goal for authors who want this. Why? Well, with this presence, authors are able to target an audience that is passionate about books. Think about it — people have to leave behind the comforts of their own home to go into a bookstore. Most likely they are there to purchase a book. If your book is on the shelf, yours may just have a chance at being the book they buy.

How can you work toward getting your book into that bookstore, though? Is it a matter of luck? Can self-publishing authors make the cut? The good news is that even if you’re not necessarily on a “lucky streak”, it’s still possible to successfully target placement in “traditional” bookstores. However, you must have a solid plan in place for doing so. Here are a few action items to put on your list as you get started:

  • Make sure your book is fully returnable. If your book cannot be returned, there is great risk involved for the bookstore. For example, if they stock 10 copies of your book and only 4 sell over the course of a year, they are losing money. If the book is returnable, though, the store can simply send the book back that doesn’t sell. Think of this return-ability as a type of “insurance” for your book.
  • Offer a sufficient trade discount. What’s sufficient? Typically that will be around 50-55% (or higher). Of course this does cut into your profits, but a higher retail margin gives the bookstore more incentive to stock your book on their shelves. No incentive? No cigar.
  • Build proof that your book is desirable. This is probably the most difficult (though not insurmountable) part of it all because authors often have a bias view of their book. However, the best indicator of a desirable book is exponential sales figures. If the amount of books you sale doubles, triples, quadruples, etc. month-after-month, that is something that can work in your favor. If you aren’t a professional marketer, you may want to seek the services of a book marketing consultant. Make sure they are able to help you draft a marketing plan and go forth on planning your publicity.

After you’ve done all of the above, you must put together a proposal to submit to bookstore contacts. You can find others specifically on their websites, but Barnes & Noble can be reached here:

The Small Press Department
Barnes & Noble
122 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Other bookstores can be found through Google. Another popular site for locating independent bookstores is Indie Bound.

Do you know of any other bookstores that are small press/self-published friendly?

by Wendy Stetina

When Wendy first posted this article back in 2011, the publishing industry looked rather different––and in many ways, it looked to be stumbling down the path to utter self-annihilation.  Borders, once a behemoth of the bookselling industry, went out of business in 2011, leaving many readers and authors questioning what––if any––place the brick and mortar bookstore held in the future of their industry.  In the heated discussion that followed in the post’s comments section, various Self Publishing Advisor subscribers pointed out the rise of online retailers as the cheapest and most effective sales platform for indie authors.  In response, SPA moderator Elise L. Connors wrote that “[T]his post wasn’t written with the intention of persuading authors to go after bookstores. It was actually written to let authors who are going after that avenue know that they shouldn’t give up on that ‘dream’ because of the current landscape of the industry.”  (The italics are mine.)

It’s true that Amazon has continued its meteoric rise to the top of the bookselling industry since 2011, and it’s also true that Amazon’s expanded offerings to self-publishing authors have captured much of the market and spurred much public dialogue about the world of indie publishing.  It’s true that Barnes & Noble’s online presence, the Apple iBooks Store, and a whole host of social media platforms and numerous self-publishing companies have sprung up in recent years to diversify and stabilize the market.  And while there have never been so many ways to buy and sell a book as there are in the year 2016, it is true too that ebooks and e-readers have done nothing to lessen customers’ appreciation for the pure tactile pleasure of a brick and mortar store.

Even Amazon has come around to seeing a street presence as importance, as evidenced by the launch of the first Amazon Books shop (in Seattle) last year.  Yes, it seems mostly a kind of marketing gimmick, but it’s one that works.  As one skeptical self-publishing expert learned, even the store’s critics often walk away with an Amazon Prime Membership or a physical book or two.  (These are true stories, people!)  There is, apparently, nothing that quite beats the “instant gratification” of beholding actual physical books on an actual physical shelf.  And while the jury’s still out on whether Amazon Books stores will do anything specifically geared to boost sales of self-published works––like installing Espresso Book Machines, for example, or offering curated collections of Print on Demand (POD) editions of Kindle favorites––one can’t help but notice the wide swathes of shelf space dedicated to Kindles in pictures of the interior.

amazon bookstore

And Amazon’s not the only company with a brick-and-mortar presence that can make a difference for indie and self-publishing authors.  In fact, many independent bookstores and even larger chains like Denver’s Tattered Cover go to great lengths to boost sales of local indie authors.  On my last visit to one of Tattered Cover’s several stores, I stepped inside the doors and made my way toward the coffee bar––only to find my progress impeded by a series of low bookshelves that blocked out the cafe’s seating area.  These shelves were the first thing every customer sees when walking in that store, and they were positively packed with self-published books, placed there on consignment.  (If you live in or near Denver and are interested in knowing more, visit their website.)

 

But ultimately, I’m not here today to defend the bookstore as a vital place to sell your books.  I’m here to help those of you who already know you want to get your book into a bookstore somewhere … to do so with the least amount of fuss.

To return to Wendy’s original post, most bookstores now either mandate her first point (“Make sure your book is fully returnable“) or take any guesswork out of the equation by relying on a consignment model (as with Tattered Cover, above).  And Wendy’s second point holds true: when an author is given the option, it’s a wise idea to “Offer a sufficient trade discount.

In many ways, however, Wendy’s third point is the most important.  Aside from keeping your name and work in the public eye, simply by virtue of placing your book in a bookstore, there are several ways you as an author can help “Build proof that your book is desirable.”  Most bookstores have stringent standards for the self-published books they stock: the title in question must dots its is and cross its ts in that it must have an ISBN, a cover that exudes professionalism and sound design sense, and so on.  Striving to meet these standards in order to appear on Barnes & Noble’s or Tattered Cover’s shelves can only do good things for the “desirability” of your book on a larger scale.  I guarantee you that an attractive, professional-looking book will sell better online as well as off the shelf.

Last but not least, a fantastic way to sell readers on the value of your book is by building relationships with them––and one of the best ways to make contact with your readers is to host events … at your local bookstore.  If you pursue hosting such an event, many bookstores will offer additional opportunities to feature your works within your stores, especially since good attendance at your event will likely translate into a solid spike in general sales for them.  (More foot traffic always equates to more sales when it comes to a brick-and-mortar bookstore.)  And the flipside of the coin is also worth examining: if you have already managed to clear a bookstore’s consignment standards, they are more likely to agree to partnering with you on hosting such an event.  Readings, Q&A sessions, and book signings are fertile ground for the indie author!  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.