Tchotchkes, Latte and Books

If you follow publishing news, you will have read about Indigo expanding into photography. According to Indigo head, Heather Reisman, there is an opportunity here.

Sitting here in the backwater of Neustadt, peering out into the world, I cannot help but wonder if, in fact, Heather Reisman isn’t missing an opportunity rather than finding one?

Agreed booksales at Indigo have been sliding. But, then again, Indigo have done two things to assist in that sales slide.

First: Indigo having almost demolished indie bookstores, have now completely capitulated to the fast-buck wonder books. Just take a look at Reisman’s own book recommendations on Chapters’ Community. There are very few titles there that aren’t from big houses and big names with big sales. Which makes one wonder, does Heather even like literature?

Take a look at what is stocked on those very expensive Indigo/Chapters/Coles/SmithBook shelves. Those same titles from big houses with big names and big sales. But what about the sleepers? What about the local, regional titles that might draw in customers? What about assisting staff to educate themselves about these wonderful books from small and indie publishers?

There is, unfortunately, a very pressing reality that the real estate these books occupy must pay, pay well, and pay often. And so the cycle of doom begins.

Couple that to the fact that to compensate for lack of buyer interest (could it be the fast-buck wonders aren’t working?), and therefore income, Indigo are slowly but surely reducing their non-revenue-generating footprint (books), and replacing it with something that may generate revenue (tchotchkes).

But notice I do say may. I fear the existing giftware and toy area may very well suffer from the same fate as those fast-buck wonder books, and that is a degeneration of quality for quantity.

Hence the expansion into photography. The new vision for Indigo, despite Amazon now having a distribution centre in Canada, is to offer up studio photography, print centres and what Reisman calls, “affordable, unbelievably well-curated art.” Art? Excuse me, art? If anyone really believes that, I can show you the corner of a gas-station lot filled with paint on velvet you might like to acquire.

And in doing so Indigo becomes less about books, and more about the ubiquitous, mass-produced tchotchke hawker, leaving customers asking, “Where are the books?” Especially in light of the fact in most Canadian communities, if you want to purchase a book, you do so either from the Indigo chain, or online, because Indigo has systematically out-sold, out-presenced the indie booksellers with pockets too shallow to stand up against a giant.

Now, the way I see the Canadian bookseller galaxy unfolding, is that someone, either in Indigo or several indie bookstores, are going to finally find themselves struck by lightning. Juice to the brain. Epiphany.

Espresso Book Machine.

Makes you want to smack yourself upside the head, doesn’t it?

So, if real estate has to pay for itself, and you are still a bookstore, and want to be able to sell that book-hunting customer the volume for which they’ve been panting, doesn’t it make sense to fork out the considerable cash for an EBM, be able to offer one of hundreds of thousands of titles from all over the world (in fact have a virtual bookstore), do so at an affordable price, with excellent print quality, and offer that much-desired book within less than 10 minutes?

Then sure, you can have the tacky tchotchkes and ‘well-curated art’ and the soy-non-fat-double-latte-frappe-mochachino-erastz-coffee vendor, and listen to the sound of that cash register receive debit and credit card swipes.

And your faithful, loyal and expanding bevy of customers will still recognize you as a BOOKSTORE, because you sell books, right there, front and centre, window-featured through an EBM. Doesn’t matter that there actually aren’t whole lot of books on shelves. The books are all stored in that wonderful miracle of technology, the EBM.

The question is, will Indigo receive that zap of epiphany or will it be the indie bookstores?