Showrooming books

Reports of a business dispute between retailer Barnes & Noble (BN) and publisher Simon & Schuster have been circulating for a few weeks now. BN is said to be looking to increase the revenue it receives from publishers for "showrooming" books; Simon & Schuster feels the proposed terms are too onerous.

Negotiations take place in private, so the dispute isn't perfectly understood. The retailer does seem to be asking for additional consideration for giving books prominent display in its stores. I wonder if that's the best or only tactic to employ here.

In its January 2013 issue, DM News featured an article, "Use showrooming to your advantage", by Dianna Dilworth. While we tend to focus on the impact of Amazon on bricks-and-mortar booksellers, showrooming is in fact a widespread retail challenge.

Dilworth captures Michael LeBeau, founder and CEO of Weld Media, advising retailers to "replicate what consumers are doing on their own in the store." Dilworth explains:

For example, consumers shopping for a stereo may go online to read reviews, then look at their social networks, and then go to search engines to compare prices. He recommends that retailers do this for consumers and put tablets in stores that feature this information.

“What if a retailer aggregated all of that information on behalf of consumers?” LeBeau asks. “Now I don't have to do that research on my own, which makes it easier for me.” If retailers take on this strategy, they also should optimize their product and pricing mix so showrooming consumers will make the purchase while in their store.

Although there may be examples, I've yet to see a physical bookstore that made it easy to look up information about the professional and popular assessment of a book, something Amazon does reasonably well. Certainly there are plenty of tablets in any store trying to sell you a Nook, but they're not integrated with the (book) browsing experience.

There are ways that BN could make price comparisons a feature, not a bug. Rather than use corporate resources to keep up with Amazon (or others) on price, BN could introduce an in-store search function with an "instant coupon". Doing so could give BN the ability to keep the price-sensitive customer without discounting the entire store.

Something similar could be built for inventory. Let customers tell you (easily) "I searched for this book and had to leave without it." Collect enough of those alerts and your store managers and book buyers become smarter, too.

This isn't to say that BN doesn't need better terms, or that publishers shouldn't be thinking of ways to sustain a retail presence. Terms alone, though, won't stop showrooming, and they are unlikely to stem the tide for very long. We have to adapt to the ways that people shop.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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