High street vs. online book selling

Last week, I wrote about the perceived threat to the publishing industry from self-publishing (here). This week, I wanted to look at another issue facing the sector – the decline of the high street bookstore in favour of online super-sellers such as Amazon.

One of the main issues facing high street bookshops is that the simply can’t afford to compete with Amazon on prices. There are a number of measures and initiatives being put in place to combat this (see here for more info on something Waterstones is trialling), but the fact is that books are generally cheaper online thanks to low overheads and running costs of e-sellers.

There are notable exceptions to the rule, and impulse buyers, author signings and loyal booklovers with a preference for seeing and feeling a book before buying have and will continue to ensure that bookshops remain a feature on our high streets. However, these shops are increasingly facing even more competition. Major supermarket chains in particular are starting to encroach on their territory and are also able to offer popular books at cut prices.

One fear associated with the decline of bookstores is that readers won’t have the same capacity to discover new books, resulting in falling sales and a shrinking market. While I’m a proud supporter of high street book stores, I’m feel that this is an area where social media can really come into its own. For a while now, Twitter has been a great source of information and a major platform for conversation. Bloggers and professional reviewers are constantly pouring out a stream of opinion about new books and trends, which should help to drum up enthusiasm for a book prior to its publication and beyond.

Author John Green, for example, showed just how effective social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube can be in driving sales in the run up to the launch of The Fault in Our Stars. Extensive vlogging, tweeting and audience engagement activity led to massive pre-orders, and the novel topped the Amazon best sellers list before Green had even finished writing it.

Hopefully, moving forward the industry will find a happy medium that works for everyone and every business model – and that continues to do so for the foreseeable future.


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