“We need to disrupt the current system and build something better.”
A New Concept for Indie Bookstores
The board chair of the Independent Book Publishers Association presents
a radical plan to sell indie books
by Peter Goodman
store’s exploitation of big
data, and by personalized
customer accounts, man-
aged at home or at the store.
2. IndieBook is 100%
wired and plugged in,
filled with electronic
touchscreen kiosks for consumers to access their own
personalized accounts, featuring dynamic
displays curated by the neighborhood
retailer. Large, brilliantly colored screens
serve up covers and snippets and videos,
with a buy button at the end.
3. IndieBook is based on POD, the only
sustainable printing technology that
makes sense for small-scale indie publishers and self-publishers. Books are
printed within five to eight minutes.
Hundreds of thousands of titles are available with no inventory shrinkage, no
transport costs. There is a ton of work to
be done on devices like the Espresso Book
Machine, but reliability, speed, flexibility, and cost can be improved over
4. IndieBook is multimedia. It provides
access to print books, e-books, magazines, movies, music, personal screeds,
whatever content the consumer wants,
much of it available for immediate
download or print.
5. IndieBook is participatory. The store
must be a gathering place, a locus of
events, happenings, tastings, workshops,
panels, and community actions. Is there
a hot-button issue in town?
Load an LED kiosk with rel-
evant front- and backlist
titles. Let local writers print
up custom copies of their
memoirs, cookbooks, first
6. Finally, IndieBook has no
returns! Fewer books are displayed. Everything else is available on
demand. So bring in the offset-printed
bestsellers and big books with big names
you know you’ll sell through. Otherwise
use POD. Make everything accessible,
not just what publishers are willing to
sell returnable with free freight.
We need to disrupt the current system
and build something better, so that every
publisher of content, large or small, has
a chance to connect with an audience in
a communal retail space at the local level.
The selling point: indie booksellers
selling indie books. Put that Espresso
machine right in front! And then market
the hell out of it.
We need to acknowledge that consigning small independent presses and
self-publishers entirely to Amazon is just
not a good thing for our culture or communities. And then all of us—
booksellers, publishers, distributors, printers,
authors, and customers—need to come
together to work out the details. Build
IndieBook and the buyers will come. ■
During my term as board chair of the
Independent Book Publishers Association
(which is more than 3,000 members
strong), I’ve become acutely aware that
thousands of books published each year
by small presses and self-publishers are
unavailable in independent bricks-and-mortar bookstores. These books are in all
genres and fill significant gaps in vital
and arcane subject areas. Many are brilliant and beautiful, as good as anything
the majors produce. So why can’t you find
them in your neighborhood bookshop?
Often it’s because their publishers don’t have distributors that can eliminate the inefficiency of
single-title ordering and billing. They
can’t get distributors—because they
don’t publish enough, aren’t big enough,
are too unknown, or don’t offer returns—
or aren’t interested in getting them. As a
result, bookselling today has become
highly selective. But it may also be economically and environmentally unsustainable (consider the cost of returns).
I envision a new kind of retail bookselling environment, IndieBook, and I
offer it here as a kind of thought experiment. We are not there in terms of scal-ability, technology, or structure, but we
could be there soon. IndieBook is first
and foremost a physical retail space.
Locate it wherever you think a bookstore
will do well. Here are some important
criteria for its operation:
1. IndieBook is community and consumer driven, focused on local interests as
informed by the store owner, by the
Peter Goodman is publisher of Stone Bridge Press
and outgoing board chair of the Independent Book
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