Tag Archives: Tower Records

Why Godin is Wrong about e-Books

In a previous post in our blog, you read this quote from Seth Godin, who proclaims that the e-readers have killed the bookstore.   His rationale for this is that heavy users have already switched to the electronic format.   Here is that quote:

If you want to know if a ship is going to sink, watch what the richest passengers do.  iTunes and file sharing killed Tower Records. The key symptom: the best customers switched. Of course people who were buying 200 records a year would switch. They had the most incentive. The alternatives were cheaper and faster mostly for the heavy users.  Amazon and the Kindle have killed the bookstore. Why? Because people who buy 100 or 300 books a year are gone forever. The typical American buys just one book a year for pleasure. Those people are meaningless to a bookstore. It’s the heavy users that matter, and now officially, as 2009 ends, they have abandoned the bookstore. It’s over.

One of the heaviest user types for book sales is a school system, which authorizes and purchases thousands of copies of approved textbooks for student use in multiple grades.  The evolution of how students access, read, and study these books is already underway.  They are now involved with electronic books at a very young age, and this trend will continue.

This is hardly the typical in-store customer for a commercial bookstore.   While it is certainly true that many collegiate students purchase their textbooks from internet sources such as Amazon, B&N, and others, these are not lost customers to the bookstore.

Seriously – how many times do you really think a customer in a bookstore asked a clerk, “do you carry Texas History for 7th graders by McGraw Hill?”  How many times do you believe that a customer asked, “I need the sixth edition of Introduction to Psychology,” for my PSYC 1301 course?  If there have been such requests, the clerk would escort them over to the counter where he or she would look up the book and ask if the customer would like to order it. 

Hundreds of thousands of textbooks roll through systems such as these throughout the country.  And their use is already evolving into the electronic format.  But, these are not the books in a typical bookstore.  Nor are they the types of books that customers waltz in to purchase.  These bookstores were not built for the purpose of serving customers who purchase textbooks. 

In essence, these heavy users are not lost customers to a bookstore.  They were never customers in the first place.