Here’s how a local bookseller tried to get my future business

In my recent counter-tirade against the emotional outbursts that booksellers are frequently guilty of when they should be discussing retail strategies, I mentioned that the last time I contacted a local bookstore to offer feedback on what I want as a customer, I was ignored. I thought it might be nice to publish that email publicly, so you can see that I really wasn’t a jerk when I contacted the store, and that I seriously wanted them to know that I was ready to give them my business.

I sent it to them nearly three and half months ago, so I’m fairly certain they’re not going to respond at this point. To me, it’s a perfect example of how a local bookstore can fail at building a relationship with local customers who want to shop locally but prefer ebooks over print.

Here’s what I wrote:

I briefly stepped into McNally Jackson this past Saturday, and although it was too crowded for my tastes, before I left I glanced over a couple of tables at the front of the store. I found a trade paperback of science essays titled Future Science that I wanted.

But here’s where the problem comes in, and why I’m writing to you: I wanted it in ebook format, because if I bought books in print these days I’d essentially turn into a third Collier brother. But I couldn’t figure out a way to buy it in ebook format while in your store.

I looked up at the register to see if I could ask about this option there, but there was a line of about five customers waiting to buy printed books. That’s great news for you, but not so much for me since I already wanted badly to get out of there.

I thought about asking the woman at the Espresso Book Machine, but she seemed busy, and not at a register.

I looked around for some sort of signage or instruction about how to buy a Google Books digital edition from within the store, and I couldn’t find it (maybe I overlooked it?)

So here’s what I did. I left the store, and literally before I crossed Mulberry Street I’d used my phone to buy the Kindle edition from Amazon.

Now to be clear, I didn’t buy the Kindle version because of price, or because I hate bookstores, or because I’m naive about the financially precarious state of indie booksellers. I’m pro-McNally Jackson, just not to the point where I’d buy a format I don’t actually want or need just to help a business I don’t own.

I wanted to share some thoughts about this with you:

  • I wanted to buy the book right then, while it was fresh on my mind, not later (for instance not from your website when I finally got home hours later).
  • I’m not a Kindle fanatic. I know how to strip DRM and I can easily adapt most of my ebook purchases to suit my needs.
  • I’m price conscious but, unless there was a price difference of 50% or more on the Google Books edition over the Kindle edition, I would have bought the Google Books edition as a show of support for your store. (It turns out, the price for both digital editions was the same.)
  • It was the physical, face-to-face encounter with the trade paperback that prompted me to make the purchase, so I feel that you should have received that sale.

So I’m at a loss as to how I can help support you. I’m a frequent book buyer, and I want to support McNally Jackson, but there’s no real place for me as a customer in your store right now so far as I can tell.

I realize I’m probably still in the tiny minority of your current customers, and this isn’t meant to be a rant. But if you can figure out a way to let people like me browser [sic] the merchandise and then leave your physical store with a digital edition instead of print, you’d be my first and pretty much only bookstore in Manhattan from now on.

Here’s what I got in response:

 
 
 
 
 
 

And that’s why I don’t feel bad for buying my ebooks from online retailers that aren’t connected to this bookstore.

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