Optimism greeted a presentation by former Perseus Books CEO-turned-bookseller Jack McKeown at last month's BEA. He was discussing a survey that looked at how independent booksellers can recapture what McKeown calculates is $260 million a year in "leakage" (missed business) as well as examining the impact of e-books on an independent's business. Booksellers like Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place Books in Lake Forest and Ravenna, Wash., found it "reaffirming" to hear statistics that confirm what he and other bookstore owners feel in their gut—that book buyers want to shop in independents and that physical books and e-books are not a zero-sum game. "Out of the people who have been keeping us in business," said Sindelar, "their habits don't seem like they'll be changing dramatically."
The data from the survey, conducted in April, can be viewed at Verso Advertising (www.versoadvertising.com/beasurvey). It reflects a third drilling down (after two earlier studies) of the buying habits of those 18 and older based on 9,300 respondents from a pool of 110 million Internet users across 5,100 Web sites. Subsequent surveys will be conducted quarterly. At the ABA's Winter Institute, McKeown had discussed findings from two earlier studies that indicated that 28% of the U.S. market, or 62.4 million people, are avid book buyers who read five hours a week or more. Two-thirds, or 41 million people, are part of the boomer, silent, and Eisenhower generations. More importantly, while 27.3% of avid buyers said they prefer to shop in independents, the market share for independents, lower than 10% according to most publishers, told a different story. In the new survey, McKeown identified three factors—discount, selection, and proximity—that could bring market share in line with mindshare, or the awareness of a brand—by helping to increase the number of store visits by avid readers.
As McKeown and Verso president Denise Berthiaume ready their own bookstore, a Books & Books affiliate to open in the Hamptons on July 1, McKeown says that the surveys "if anything, accelerated our decision to open a store. That and finding a location." The surveys also reaffirmed his belief that e-books are not a displacement technology, particularly in the short term. Avid book readers who own e-readers are splitting their purchases among print and e-books, the survey found. As for growing market share at Books & Books Westhampton, McKeown says that he and Berthiaume are giving "strong thought" to discounting based on survey data that a 15% discount could produce a 4% bump in sales overall. The other two factors—selection and proximity—McKeown plans to address virtually by going after the 12 million indie customers the survey identified who want to give their e-mail addresses to independent booksellers. McKeown is planning to market books online on behalf of all five Books & Books stores and to create newsletters specifically tailored to different types of customers.
For Sindelar at Third Place Books, the survey provided fresh impetus for creating a frequent buyer program and for discounting a broader selection of titles that better reflect the store, instead of New York Times hardcover bestsellers. However, not everyone viewed the survey data as a call to action. "We're not making any changes based on what McKeown said," notes Geoffrey Jennings, corporate counsel at Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans. "Capturing mindshare sounds attractive. It happens one customer at a time." Jennings also questioned the notion of buying loyalty through discount.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher views the survey as a roadmap to a stable bookselling future, although he did note similarities to earlier ABA efforts under BookSense to close the gap on book buyers who identified themselves as independent book buyers but only bought four out of 10 books at an indie store. "The overarching message here," says Teicher, "is that there are still people out there buying books and there are opportunities. In a world with doom and gloom there are ways in which our members can compete."