Is This the Price?

I own a hybrid full service bookstore in a medium size town in a time when bookstores are rare gems of the world. Daily I hear about the joy people have when they stumble in. Some are passing through from one place to another and others have lived in the town for years but are making it through these doors for the first time.

It is usually only a matter of minutes that their joy begins to fizzle. I hear an outraged voice from between shelves, “Is THIS the price?” Sometimes they are talking to me and sometimes they are only talking to their companions. Sometimes they want me to hear, to justify the grossly over priced new book in their hands.

Retail price is dead.

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But where does that leave small locally owned businesses?

Most businesses are dealing with retail and wholesale prices and finding the right profit margins to stay open. Books do not have a suggested retail price, they have a retail price that is set by the publishers. This price becomes the millstone around the necks for many independent bookstores. This retail price determines our wholesale price.

When a customer looks at Amazon, what price do they see? Do they see the retail price crossed out, grey, and tiny or do they see the large price right next to it?

My reality for most new books is the realization that Amazon is selling at wholesale price or lower. When I buy from a traditional distributor, I pay more than an individual can purchase the same book for on Amazon.

What does that mean for me?

I no longer carry most new books. This is disappointing to many people who are excited to find a bookstore, but competing with Amazon is a huge burden. I have select titles that I curate and provide to the local community. I focus on titles that they would be unlikely to find on their own.

What does that mean for my customers?

It is hard to tell customers to spend more money with me when budgets are already tight. My suggestion to them is to be kind and understand that I do not set the prices of new books in my store. And if they can pick select items occasionally to focus on purchasing at local businesses it can be a win for all parties involved.

Having a hybrid bookstore means that I carry both new book and have a large stock of used inventory primarily supplied through a trade in system. New books are hand selected based on the interests of customers and staff favorites. Each book, both new and used, must be assessed beyond the quality of the storytelling or writing. It has to be more than just a good book.

For each book we consider the potential future buyer and the price they are willing to pay. Used books in particular provide me with a better profit margin, but I am limited to the selections brought in by the members of the community. I am able to supplement these offerings with particular new titles, especially backlist items, that aren’t available for the impulse purchase at Walmart or you don’t know to look for on Amazon. This supplementation feeds into the cycle of books as they are traded in and become used stock.

The price point of the used inventory has also fallen victim to the death of retail price. We use the conventional used book pricing scheme when assigning value to the books in our store. We start at a price that is half of retail price. But retail price is no longer a concrete starting point for many of my customers. Not only are my new books grossly overpriced, but my used books are priced closer to a new discount priced book from Amazon.

Is this the price we pay for convenience and low prices?

Is there really a place for small business in the future?

Small bookstores provide the human element that can be lacking from the online or big box shopping experience. They can connect readers with new books through tangential recommendations. Small bookstores also serve as a gathering place and create opportunities for community engagement. But are these benefits worth the higher price?

These issues should be on the minds of book lovers and authors as the future of book acquisition and consumption continues to change. These issues are on my mind every day.

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Eastern 100%Megan O’Sullivan has owned Main Street Books in Cedar City, UT since May 2012. This year marks the 24th year the bookstore has been in business. She considers herself a bibliophile of the most extreme case. She has been obsessed with dystopian literature, Chris Pratt, and noodles, but is currently pursuing an interest in culinary history and the social conception of food.

Be Authentic: Build Your Brand

The job of an author goes beyond finding people to read the books; the job of the author is to create fans.

Connecting with that potential fan base has so many facets it can be overwhelming. As a writer you often forget it is your job to network and market your skills. This can be done well before you are published. Using social media to engage in authentic interactions, establish communities, build a brand, and present yourself as an expert can create fantastic opportunities. Though social media isn’t the only way to create fans, you will want to think about what will work best for you and how to utilize it before you are too busy with publishing deadlines and life emergencies.

It is my job as a business owner and your job as an author to establish ourselves as experts. There are many things for which you can and should be known for. In 2012 I bought a full service bookstore in my community. It was my job to prove to the loyal customers that I was an authority on the books held within the walls and get each and every one of them to believe and invest in my ability to find and recommend quality titles for them. It is up to every person and every author to establish what it is that they can do to build a brand and create a feeling of expertise. I needed these loyal customers to become my fans and talk about me beyond the bookstore and let others in the community know the books had been left in good hands.

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Over the years my expertise has shifted. When I was first blogging, before The Hunger Games came out, people on Twitter turned to me to define dystopian fiction and give recommendations. Next I worked in a school, my expertise was focused on connecting students with books that would interest them and fell within their reading level.

Now I connect my customers with titles they are looking for and ones they didn’t know they wanted on a daily basis. As I reconnect with my academic pursuits, I see new avenues to connect with unique aspects of myself and opportunities to become an expert in new topics.

Building a brand is about identifying the knowledge you already have and combining it with the things you already do and then sharing those experiences with the world. Does your brand have to do with your writing life, your day job, your previous life, or your academic pursuits? For many writers, being an author isn’t the first iteration of their life . Before I was a bookstore owner I was a book blogger, mother, homemaker, and an avid reader, each of these aspects of my life provide a rich resource from which I can draw my expertise.

Take some time and think about what makes you uniquely you. Is there a way that can be cultivated into your personal brand. How can you use this aspect to establish yourself as an expert? Being authentic is about showing all sides of yourself, maybe even some of your flaws. It can be difficult to talk about yourself when you really want to talk about your book or events you are attending, but that can end up just feeling like a sales pitch. How do you relay your authentic self in person and online?

Every time you use the internet you are building your brand, whether you intend to or not, now it is time for you to cultivate that image rather than hide behind it. Don’t be afraid to expose yourself, your flaws, your emotions. It doesn’t mean you have to put every aspect of yourself online, but be aware of what you are sharing and why you are sharing it. How does how you are using social media, or a blog, or even just talking to colleague help build a brand and establish you as an expert? Do you know how to grow the perfect tomato? Prune roses to perfection? Bake flawless banana bread? It doesn’t have to be something big, but how can you authentically own it? I am really good at untangling things (especially necklaces) and though it takes time, I am usually successful. Maybe there is a way to cultivate that skill into my brand. I am not sure I want people mailing me their necklaces to untangle for them, but it is good to be known for something.

Identify what you are good at, talk about it online and in person. Show all aspects of yourself, not just the best aspects. Build your brand. Be an expert. Ready. Set. Go.

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Eastern 100%Megan O’Sullivan has owned Main Street Books in Cedar City, UT since May 2012. This year marks the 24th year the bookstore has been in business. She considers herself a bibliophile of the most extreme case. She has been obsessed with dystopian literature, Chris Pratt, and noodles, but is currently pursuing an interest in culinary history and the social conception of food.