In the Face of Diminished Retail Shelf Space

According to an article published yesterday in Canada’s Quill & Quire, Indigo’s new business strategy may have far-reaching consequences. Not only has Indigo decreased the floor space it allots to books to 50% (which begs the question: how can you call yourself Indigo BOOKS and Music, when half your inventory is giftware destined for garage sales and landfill?), but it now will return books to publishers within 45 days, depending on sales performance. Just how that sales performance is defined is not exactly clear, but this indie publisher doesn’t require clairvoyance to understand that Indigo will be shelving best-sellers and blockbusters only, thereby cutting out the mid-list, growth-potential titles and authors.

This development becomes compounded when you consider the following:

1.       Indigo & Amazon decimated indie booksellers across Canada (and the US) and so availability of the vast majority of what’s being published will only be accessible online or publisher direct.

2.       If major and mid-sized publishers are unable to bring their books to market conventionally, this will force three issues:

a.       Publishers more and more will refuse new authors or work that doesn’t scream best-seller.

b.      Publishers more and more will turn to POD and online distribution methods, cutting out retail distributors, and thereby rely upon online sales for the majority of their titles, reducing the potential of returns and warehousing an inventory.

c.       Publishers will move more and more toward digital sales as a response to the problem of inefficient offset runs.

As a result, I can see retail book wholesalers refusing to take on new, small presses, thereby cutting off an enormous selection of very good books about which the general public will never know. That will only exacerbate the situation among mid to indie presses, driving them more and toward unconventional marketing methods.

And because of publisher response, indie booksellers will have the following choices to make:

1.       Continue to parrot what the major chains are doing and watch the demise of your bookstore.

2.       Or, seize this opportunity to support those brave mid, small and indie presses and stock your shelves with books unavailable elsewhere, backing that up with innovative author tours (Skype virtual tours), promoting unique titles, environmental responsibility and business savvy. If you build it, they will come.

This entire climate, I predict, will continue to further fuel authors to venture into self-publishing, thereby driving the POD and digital book movement.

Overall, Five Rivers isn’t looking at Indigo’s decision as another chunk of the sky slamming into our parade. Sure, we’ve experienced unprecedented returns from Indigo. But we’ve adjusted quickly, adapting our marketing policy, so that we’ve focused on online print and digital sales, driving traffic to those venues rather than focusing on bricks and mortar stores, which, I’m sorry to say, seem to be going the way of the music and movie stores. If you’re an indie bookstore and interested in working toward something dynamic and creative, contact us. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy doing business can be.

Unlike Cormorant and Arsenal, we’re not overly concerned. We never bought into the long tail of publishing, always thought it was a ridiculous way to do business and to bring books to market. And if reviewers and awards committees continue to cling to this outdated mode of publishing and book marketing, well, we’ll just bypass them and continue to develop that grass-roots movement that’s very alive, very well, and doing just fine, thank you.

It takes time to build a thing of endurance and worth. Here at Five Rivers we understand that. And we intend to be around for a very long time, working innovatively with authors and booksellers alike. So, go ahead Indigo: reduce book space to half; don’t stock anything of real interest and quality. The rest of us are here surging into the vacuum.