Saturday, February 12, 2005

Across the Bow, Pt.1: RETAIL

"Why don't publishers open their own retail outlets?"

A decade ago the Doubleday Bookstore still resided on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan (where, I'm told, William Faulkner worked briefly circa 1921); and my understanding is that there were other Doubleday Bookstores scattered across the country. These did not, however, sell only Doubleday books. I've no idea to what degree the publisher oversaw, or was involved in, the bookstore operations, nor at what stage it was decided to shut them down. Nor do I know what led to the closing of the McGraw Hill bookstore on Sixth Avenue in 2002; nor the small store Harper & Row had in its lobby for many years. But not so very long ago Manhattan was dotted with booksellers bearing the colors of one publisher or another.

At the present time I'm aware of no publishers who serve also as their own principal retailer. It's interesting to note, though, that as the country's largest retailer of books (Barnes & Noble) is blurring the lines by publishing more and more books under its own imprint each year (think they get favored placement and a discount on front-of store promotion rates?), the publishing industry seems to be gearing up to return the favor by offering consumers the option of buying direct. This option has always existed--individuals are always free to call a publisher's customer service department and order a copy of a particular book. But what we're certain to see going forward is a less passive approach--publishers actually reaching out to consumers in a variety of ways (online, initially).

My understanding is that W.W. Norton, the last of the "major" independent publishers, was the first to actively pursue this line of direct-selling; in the last few months we've heard of similar initiatives from Bertelsmann and HarperCollins.

It'll be interesting to see whether B&N has the gumption to get up on its high horse about how this sort of "direct to consumer" selling represents a conflict of interest, given its own most recent expansionist proclivities. And won't it be ironic if B&N, in seeking to protect its market share from publishers' direct-selling initiatives, winds up aligned, this time, on the same side of the table as the Independent Booksellers whose ranks they've had such a deleterious effect on?


Anonymous said...

Chronicle Books has its own shop in the Metreon Shopping Center in San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

my understanding is that there were other Doubleday Bookstores scattered across the country.There was one in San Diego's Horton Plaza ca. 1988.

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