Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Booksellers Unite

Here in Seoul things are just the same. That's to say the first question - of a planned 10 to be asked within an hour and with serial translations - was something like ' as small and medium sized independent booksellers how do we complete with ebooks?' Bookselling for these retailers in Korea is little different than many other countries and there are increasing worries about what they sell, to whom and in what quantity.

We never got through the 10 questions but we did exceed our time slot by 30mins; however, I don't believe our suggestions about building community, looking at POD machines such as the espresso machine, selling ebook content and many other suggestions really alleviated the booksellers' concerns about their future.

Books in Korea have price controls but eBooks do not and booksellers here are beginning to feel marginalized and excluded as the business inexhorably migrates to eBook content. As this happens they face an economic disadvantage on pricing and in a marketplace that is relatively small changes often produce significant financial consequences. During the conversation, the theme of our discussion was so familiar to me, having listened to similar concerns from booksellers in the US, UK and Australia that I wondered at the opportunity for some international convention. Sharing concerns and ideas could produce a collective improvement in independent book retailing across the world. It would certainly save a lot of time.

Having said that, as the final set of questions from the group of 10 retailers dealt with ideas about 'other products' and 'other retail options' they should explore I wondered whether the answer isn't more basic. Doesn't success come down to individual ingenuity, the willingness to experiment, building real connections with customers and an understanding that reliance on a single solution is tantamount to failure? The best examples of independent book retailers from Readings in Melbourne to Northshire in Vermont to Hatchards in London all depend on a combination of strategies to survive. Some work out and some don't and that's the lesson we tried to impart to our South Korean hosts.

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