Where goes Starbucks, there goes the plan for bookstores.

Did you ever think you’d pay 5 bucks for a cup of coffee?

This past month at the New Jersey Romance Writers I heard an editor use the comparison of instant coffee versus brewed coffee when discussing eBooks and print books.  She pointed out that when instant coffee first appeared everyone thought brewed coffee was dead.  Brewed coffee is still around.  Her point:  print won’t die because eBooks are here.  I agree.  But I take it a step further.  Not only is brewed coffee still here, Starbucks appeared.  They made buying a cup of coffee an ‘experience’.  Really, is a cup of coffee at Starbucks that much better than McDonald’s?  But you can’t get that extra-mocha, whatever, whatever, whatever (I get decaf, black, I’m boring) at McDonalds.  And it’s like, way cool, to be able to stand there and say all those words, like I really know what it means and really like this stuff.  I’m too intimidated.  We used to chew the instant coffee from our LRRP meals when I was in Special Forces while we were deployed to stay awake.  I think I might order some grounds next time I’m at a Starbucks.  Of course, I never go there and there’s isn’t one here on the island so . . .

I digress.  So Starbucks blossomed across the country, like zombies with aprons.  You can’t cross a street without hitting one.  But then the economy, like, collapsed.  Bummer.  And people have had to cut back.  And, well, $5 for a cup of coffee, started to seem like, of all things, an extravagance.  So Starbucks has been hurting (join the club).

Let’s talk bookstores.  First there was Amazon.  Mail order book retailer.  There were grumbles when it first appeared on the horizon back in the days when men were men and the sheep ran scared.  It took a slice of the market.  B&N also opened an on-line store.  Overall, though, the brick and mortar stores and the on-line stores co-existed, much like, well, the Borg and the human race.

But then came eBooks.  A murmur in the distance as long ago as, well, January.  Now it’s a roar.  Borders isn’t solvent.  B&N is for sale.  Indies, first besieged by the chains, then the on-line retailers, are now attacked on all fronts and those hardy few who have survived so far, must feel like:  Can’t a human get a break?

Back to Starbucks.  Some smart people over there, right?  So what do they have planned to combat their eroding sales?  They’ve come up with a two-pronged approach, which has a single concept at its core:  go local.

It seems counter-intuitive for a national chain to go local.  But what is becoming apparent in retail is that niche is the future.  For Starbucks, they’re going to serve alcohol.  But not Bud or wine in the carton.  They’re serving local brews and local wines.  And the décor of each store, rather than being cookie-cutter same, is going to feature local artists and furniture.  They’re going to cater to, well, the local people.  They’re reinventing the ‘experience’.

I submit where goes Starbucks, there might be a path for bookstores to survive.  Serve plenty of alcohol.  Well, no.  Well, actually, why not?  Become a gathering place for like-minded people.  But the real thing is:  Niche is the future.  Not only will indies have to adapt to their area, but for chains like B&N to survive, they must specialize and localize.  One size does not fit all.  All books do not fit all.

The Espresso machine is a lifeline.  Books will be printed in the stores.  So anyone can walk in with a thumb drive and print out their Great American Novel and give it to mom and pop and sell three copies to friends who really like them and put up with them.  But it’s a money maker.  Rack local authors.  People who would come in and hang out in the store every so often and talk to readers and interact.  Rack books about the area.  So if someone wants to know about kayaking in Puget Sound, because they happen to be in a bookstore in a town on the edge of Puget Sound, they can find a book about it.  We have to break away from the single buyer in NY determining what goes in every bookstore around the country.  We have to get back to local buyers, who have the pulse of the area, who know the readers, determining what goes on the shelves.  Make apps where you can sell eBooks by local authors and about the local area.  Mirror your physical store on-line.

I’ve led blogging about the future of publishing with eBooks and bookstores, because the key to the future is understanding that the retail outlets for books has fundamentally changed this year.  When the outlet changes, the business has to changes.  And that means us, publishers and authors.  So the next posts will cover what we have to do to not only survive, but flourish.

So the next post is for publishers.  We must become like Jean-Luc.  When the Borg had him.

Last Novel Writer’s and Warrior Writer Workshop for 2010. A few spots still available.

Nov 13: Houston Area Romance Writers: Full Day Warrior Writer Presentation

Nov 14: Houston: Warrior Writer A-Team Workshop

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About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on November 1, 2010, in The Publishing Borg, WDWPUB and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. “I beat the Borg with it.” Wonderful Clip and sound information. It would be interesting to see the stats on local markets for local fiction writers vs global markets. Thanks for a great article while drinking my cafe con leche!

  2. The sad fact is that bookstores, do two things that hurt themselves. For example, Barnes and Nobles started getting rid of their community reps as a cost-cutting measure, which is going in the exact wrong direction.
    And many indies don’t want to rack genre fiction, especially romance. When you cut out a genre that sells 56% of all fiction, that’s simply not a smart business move. Local stores should ally themselves with their local RWA chapter, not alienate it. I’ve been told flat out by indie owners that they “don’t do your type of book”. Turning away product that sells is never a smart retail process.

  3. Starbucks will be serving local brews? Yes!!!! :)

    I agree with everything you’ve said Bob–especially the local/niche appeal–except one thing. I don’t think that it will ultimately be cost effective for stores to have POD capabilities right there in the store. Even with the decreased cost of the printers (and they will continue to go down), the supplies and paper and skill needed on such a small level would be prohibitive. I DO see the niche stores selling more consignment books, as well as the traditionally published books, but for cost/benefit I still see self-published authors providing their own stock. I might be wrong, and it will be interesting to watch the whole situation shake out.

    I think the only thing we all know is that we don’t know where everything is going to be one year, three years, five years from now.

    re: your comment on romance and indies. Yep, you’re right. I’m stocked in very few indies. My own big indie will only order two copies of my new book. Why would I want to send my readers there, when my local Borders (which is really good about the local author focus) will put up a display with my new books plus my backlist? I don’t get it. The only indie who really supports me is a new and used book store near my mom’s house, and they do go out of their way to hand sell me. It might be because my mom is one of their biggest customers :/

  4. Jenni Holbrook-Talty

    There is a Borders a mile from my house. They are very kind to local authors. One of the girls that works there is always talking up the local authors and loves it when we come into the store.

    I’ve always been baffled by the whole “we don’t stock romance” thing. It sells.

    And as far as Starbucks and Local Wines and Beers. OK, the finger lakes has a tone of good wineries, but Genesee Beer? In a local Starbucks? I think that is an oxymoron.

  5. Brilliant blog as usual, Bob. Thanks. And those coffee beans taste much better when you buy the ones covered in chocolate. Just don’t leave them where the kids can find them. :)

  6. Interesting blog. Also, I can picture you going into a Starbucks and asking for a tablespoon of coffee grounds. And walking out crunching. : )
    Your views on going local are similar to what I heard at a Palm Springs talk a week ago. But that was more about marketing and promotion of a book. The editor/author claims starting local and showing your face, being passionate about your work, spreads word of mouth advertising and can’t be beat. She claims social networking takes second place. If Starbucks is thinking of the niche market and going local, we might be going back to the days of the Beatnik and the coffee shops and poetry readings. Except they’ll be author readings if we writers have any say in the matter. Better go practice my finger snaps.

  7. At the 2009 PNWA Conference I stood up and asked a panel of editors what they thought of the Espresso book machine. Only one had heard of it and she dismissed it.
    I am excited by the whole concept (makes me squee like the breakfast-making machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and hope some machines are made with glass fronts so we can watch the process.

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