Monday, March 10, 2008

Seattle's Big Three Influencing Book Sales

Yesterday's New York Times had an interesting article by Julie Bick titled "Book Lovers Ask, What's Seattle's Secret?"

Ms. Bick points out that Seattle is the home of Amazon, Costco and Starbucks, and she argues these three have a huge influence on what Americans read.

Books by relatively unknown or foreign authors become best sellers by dint of their anointment at the hands of Amazon editors. A forgotten older paperback, recommended and featured by the book buyer at Costco, can sell more copies in six weeks than it did in the last few years combined. Almost every book Starbucks stocks in its coffee shops sells more than 100,000 copies in its outlets alone. That pushes most Starbucks selections into the top 1 percent of all books sold that year, without counting sales in other types of stores.

The article quotes Albert N. Greco, a marketing professor from Fordham University, who says that consumers are continuing to edge away from bookstores in favor of buying their books at specialty shops, big box stores and the Internet. He says that, "In the last two years alone, sales of consumer books sold through such nontraditional outlets grew by more than $260 million."

A Seattle book promoter said that New York publishers are seeking ways to get their books noticed by Amazon, Costco and Starbucks.

Each of Seattle's Big Three takes a different approach to the sale of books. Amazon relies on its database and its programmers to create individual lists based on what customers have bought previously. It creates algorithms and then offers customers suggestions of books to buy. They also accept ads from publishers. And, finally, they publish lists of bestsellers by genre.

My own Bad Girl has not been off the list of Amazon's top 100 Single Women Reads since it debuted in September. It has gone as high as #2, spent a lot of time at #4, and has sunk as low as #60 in the last six months.

Starbucks sells one title at a time, promoting it for several months.

Costco has a "small, hand-picked" list of 250 titles it promotes. But an appearance in one of Costco's 383 warehouses can guarantee big sales. They've sold so many books that authors now stop off to sign books in their warehouses. "Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, and Bill Clinton have signed books in Costco warehouses."

Trends such as these are making it tough on both the large bookchains and independent booksellers.

Read the whole article here.

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