Independent Booksellers need a Blue Ocean

I heard a story on NPR a couple of weeks ago that struck me as truly unfortunate.  (What just struck me as I wrote that line was that I listen to NPR a lot.  And, I get a lot of ideas from all their great programming.  Go figure)  Anyway, the story focused on the American Booksellers Association’s formal request to The Justice Department to launch an investigation into unfair pricing practices of best sellers by Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.

The letter starts with a mission statement about the ABA that reads: “A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible”.  Well, I suggest the ABA, and its member independent book sellers need to forget about Amazon, Walmart and Target and redefine its mission.  In case the ABA hasn’t been near a computer with an internet connection lately or driven further than a mile from their offices, the execution of that mission has pretty much been assumed by the adversaries its going after in this letter, both on-line and in the ubiquitous super centers within a stone’s throw of….well…everything.

So within the boundaries of the 2 minute story on the radio, I came to the following conclusions.  And if I can figure this stuff out, certainly the smart people at the ABA can come to the same conclusion.

1. This tactic by the ABA is just plain lazy and uncreative protectionism ripped from the playbook of the mid twentieth century old economy laggards such as the American steel industry.  We see where that got them.

2. Nobody likes a whiner.

3. The ABA is missing a golden opportunity to create a Blue Ocean.  For those not familiar with Blue Ocean Strategy, here’s the highlights.  In short, a blue ocean is a completely new marketplace that you create for your business, rather than competing in a Red Ocean – the existing market or industry where the water is bloody from intense competition and a continuous drive towards commoditization.  An example of a company that created a blue ocean is Cirque de Solei innovating a completely new category; part circus, part theatrical stage show, totally new.

ABA needs to let the big guys duke it out in the red ocean and create a unique market, not based on selling books, but on creating a superior artistic and literary customer experience.  How about taking a page from the gallery world?  Or, put a new, more intimate spin on the Barnes & Noble reading room concept.

There are a myriad ways independent book sellers could focus on the reader’s experience as opposed to selling books, creating Blue Ocean.  Oh, and I’m guessing they would sell more books at higher margins than they do today.

What unique experience would draw you away from your laptop and into an independent book seller?

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