Following a strong holiday season, indie booksellers are looking for ways to keep the good times rolling. One significant obstacle is the strong holiday season that e-readers have also enjoyed: according to data released by Amazon, they sold more than 4 million Kindles in December alone, and the Nook has been so popular that Barnes & Noble is considering making a stand-alone company out of the Nook side of the business. With more e-readers on the market, that means fewer customers for brick-and-mortars.
Or does it?
At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., they’ve embraced the new dynamics of book consumption by creating an e-reader concierge service that offers, as described in an announcement on their blog, a “one-on-one opportunity to learn the ins and outs of reading digitally and independently” with “one of our specially trained e-book concierges [who] will show you how to find, purchase, and download your favorite e-books from bookpeople.com.”
Though they don’t sell any e-readers in the store, BookPeople made a concerted effort this holiday season to remind customers that BookPeople sells e-books too (through Google eBooks), and that they’re compatible with most e-readers—“most” meaning “not the Kindle,” which BookPeople gently urged its customers not to buy in a blog post from November titled “A Few Things You Should Know Before Buying An eReader.” Elizabeth Jordan, BookPeople’s head buyer and inventory operations supervisor, told PW that “we really felt like we needed to do more to capture new e-reader owners after the Christmas season, and that the best way to do that was to bring them in and show them how to use their new e-reader and still support us.”
Announced on December 21, the program has been “very well received,” according to Jordan: “We’ve had numerous appointments in the store and have also answered lots of questions on our e-books email account.” Jordan describes the feedback as great: “Customers are psyched to have a source to answer their questions. And we’ve been overwhelmed by how important it is to our customers to keep their business with us even as they migrate to a digital reading device.” Nooks make up the majority of the e-readers they’ve seen come into the store.
Jordan also reports that e-book sales have “definitely spiked in the time since Christmas,” though they still make up a “miniscule fraction” of BookPeople’s business.