Promotion for authors: an evaluation of Chuck Wendig’s post

I’m coming out of hibernation for this one. I’m busy writing Shifting Infinity. Yes, I’m getting there. Yes, it’s slower than I wanted, but such is life. Supanova happened. And it’s cold. Is it ever this cold in late April?

Anyway, today Chuck Wendig posted about promotional techniques for authors. I often like Chuck’s posts, even if only that he’s one of these writers who can throw fucks around without impunity. Heh.

But this? There is a good deal wrong with it. Go read it yourself. This link opens a new tab, so I’ll still be here when you come back.

So. Promotion for authors. He collects in his post a random assortment of techniques and attaches his emotional evaluation to them, and I think this is where he goes wrong.

About promotion for authors, I’d like to make a few points:

  1. Not all techniques work the same for everyone
  2. If you’ve never tried a technique, you really shouldn’t be commenting on effectiveness
  3. Almost all techniques can be made to work to some degree if you work hard enough at it, but that said,
  4. There are vast differences in ROI (Return On Investment) for each technique, both in the amount of time necessary to make it work and the amount of money it takes out of your pocket

I’m finding that as soon as you start talking about ROI and money, writers turn off or flee to some sort of morally superior high ground. Marketing or promotion very often moves in the boundary of what’s considered annoying. Each person has different thresholds of what they find annoying. When you want to sell, and I mean, when you ACTUALLY want to SELL stuff, you should probably try everything at least once, even if it involves doing something that wouldn’t entice you as customer.

Guess what? Selling stuff isn’t about you! It’s about other people.

Finding the techniques that work for whatever it is you’re selling to whomever you’re trying to sell it to should involve experiments. Excluding things that are legal and common practice because you have some sort of aversion to them is not just silly. It’s dumb.

So I will be taking Chuck’s points in this post and try to evaluate them for ROI, audience reached, immediate sales and long-term potential.

 

Point #1: Endless Spambarfing

Wrong, Chuck, wrong. Even the title of this segment implies a judgement. Don’t judge until you’ve tried it. Yes, it’s annoying, but many people do it. Does it work?

Well, I tried it. Once, I paid some “what the hey” money to a company that “spambarfs” on your behalf. Another time they picked me up without my knowledge. The tweets go out in a big batch, and it’s amazing how many accounts are set to auto-RT these accounts. It goes out for months. And months. Yes, I kinda apologise for this.

You can easily do this yourself. Set up a Twitter account, gather thousands of followers, and sign up for one of those tweetbot services. Send a tweet every hour about your books and Bob’s yer uncle. Other accounts will RT it. Don’t have to do a thing anymore.

Does it work? Yes and no. The first two tweets are usually effective. The rest is a big echo chamber. Save yourself the money for these services and simply hand-write something about your books maybe 1-2 times a day. More often is really not effective in my experience. Plus it devalues your account. Everyone who wants to chat on Twitter has fled your account long ago. If you want to do this, set up a separate account for it.

Cost in time: 5 minutes to tweet something about a book of yours every day. Much more to set up a promotional account

Cost in $: free if you do it yourself, otherwise you need to buy a service

Audience: limitless, worldwide

Short-term effect: a few sales for the first tweet of a series of tweets, none for the repeats, so you’re much better off limiting tweets

Long-term effect: zero. You have to keep doing it. But it’s free and you can automate it if you want. But it’s more effective if you do it by hand and keep the engagement with your account up

 

Point #2: Thunderclap

This is basically an extension of point #1, but it ups the annoyance factor and concentrates the tweets.

Give this one a miss, and not just because it’s annoying. It usually costs money and there is very little evidence that it works. I could see it working if there is a good cause attached to the sale.

 

Point #3: Guest posting

This can be fun, but it’s highly limited to the following of the blog where you’re posting and the relevance of their audience to your work, and the tendency of their audience to buy books, or just to buy stuff full stop.

Cost in time: an hour or so to write the post

Cost in $: free if you are a friend of the blog owner, but other blogs charge, or they’ll ask you to buy ad space

Audience: limited to the blog’s audience, worldwide, but it may or may not be your audience

Short-term effect: anywhere between nothing and a handful of sales

Long-term effect: little, unless the post is controversial, but in that case people will be reading the post, not buying your books. There is a very clear distinction between the two. People who run popular blogs don’t necessarily sell a lot of books.

 

Point #4: Book blog tours

This is a series of blog posts hosted by others, usually coinciding with the release of a new book. They can be a great deal of fun.

Cost in time: an hour per post, plus the time to ferret for blogs and communicate with their owners. This is time-intensive stuff. Thinking up new things to write is also really draining

Cost in $: free if you do it yourself, otherwise I’ve seen as much as $500 charged

Audience: limited to the audience of the blogs, worldwide

Short-term effect: nothing to a handful of sales per post. It depends on genre and the nature of the blogs. Are they blogs where people come looking for books to buy?

Long-term effect: limited

 

Point #5: Bookstore tours

Chuck says “the mainstay of author promotion”. Really? Are bookshops the main places where people buy books? Are they the main places where your audience buys?

Cost in time: travel time, time at the shop, often a preparation visit or call to the shop

Cost in $: free, but the shop will ask 40% of sales if you bring your own stock. If you bring your own stock, you’ll probably have to pay for it, and you may have to pay for travel, and any time you’re travelling, you’re not writing

Audience: extremely limited to the 2-100 people who will turn up

Short-term effect: a few copies. Maybe. Or 50 if you’re really popular. Which you’re not.

Long-term effect: very limited

 

Point #6: Conventions

Cost in time: travel time, time at the convention, time to prepare for panels

Cost in $: HUGE. Convention registration, (air) travel, accommodation for at least 3-4 nights. Con hotels are rarely cheap, and you get most out of it if you are in the same hotel as the other guests. And any time you’re travelling, you’re not writing

Audience: limited, local, almost exclusively writers

Short-term effect: You could hire a table and sell books. But then you can’t go to the panels that you’re not on. You might sell enough to cover your costs.

Long-term effect: meeting people is the most obvious benefit of going to cons, and the potential long term effects are why you might want to attend a few, other than that cons are a shitload of fun and above all else, a social event.

 

Point #7: Newsletters

Cost in time: little. You set it up once, after that new subscriptions happen automatically

Cost in $: free if you shop around. Once your mailing list reaches more than 1000 subscribers, you might want to move to a paid service simply because it gives you more options

Audience: people who have already engaged with your fiction. These are the best people to sell stuff to

Short-term effect: every time you send out a notification for a new release, a number of people will buy.

Long-term effect: this audience is yours, independent of retailers or publishers. These people are awesome. This is where you find your reviewers, your ARC readers and you first sales for every new release

Notes: you’d be stupid not to set up a newsletter, even if there are only 20 people on it. It costs nothing, it’s completely non-annoying, it runs in the background and increases if you sell more books or give away books. What more do you want?

 

Point #8: swag

Bookmarks, little gifts, whatever

Cost in time: preparation time, making of graphic files

Cost in $: you can spend whatever you want. It’s easy to spend hundreds

Audience: limited, because you need to either see the people in person or send it to them both also cost time and money

Short-term effect: no one really knows, so don’t go overboard. It’s probably a good idea to have business cards and/or bookmarks to give out so people can check your website later, but I’d stop at that

Long-term effect: as long as people keep this stuff. How long does the average promo flyer last in your house?

 

Point #9: free copies

Cost in time: you write A WHOLE BOOK and then you give it away for free? OMG *dies*

Cost in $: nothing, if ebooks.

Audience: limitless, worldwide. I’ve had several free runs where I’ve given away more than 50,000 books. The number of zeroes is not a typo.

Short-term effect: if your free book is part of a series, and especially if there is a cliffhanger, a percentage of people will buy the rest of the series. The more books you give away, the more people will buy.

Long-term effect: you can keep doing this for years and the effects will last for years

Notes: free samples are as old as the first human commercial interactions. If you give away ebooks, the ROI is incredibly high, but you can make it more powerful with adding paid adverting

 

Point #10 buying ads

Cost in time: making the ad. Maybe an hour, one-time setup.

Cost in $: you can spend any amount, and this is where you have to be 1. well-connected, to know which are the latest places that deliver value, and 2. careful

Audience: the world is your oyster

Short-term effect: the sky is the limit. Or you can sell nothing, so do be careful and see what works, because some things really, really work and other places overcharge

Long-term effect: you have to keep buying ads, but once people are fans, they will buy your other books

Notes: A publisher has a promotion budget. Don’t, however, treat ad money as a box to tick. Investigate the sites and methods that deliver positive results. You can really ace your sales with paid advertising

 

Point #11: earnest sustained outreach

Cost in time: you have to be present somewhere. Blogging and speaking at cons and stuff.

Cost in $: free

Audience: limited to whoever cares about an author’s blatherings.

Short-term effect: not sure. You’ll sell a few books to people who read your blog and like the type of books you write. Those are probably not the same crowd.

Long-term effect: being nice, or should I say, not an arsehole, definitely helps in being invited to speak and such things. I also think this is highly overrated. Authors like to think that people read their books because they are interested in them as a person, but no. People read the books because they’re interested in the books.

 

Which brings us to point #12: write the best book you can

Totally agree. This is why people buy your books. So write the next book, and write it well, and don’t waste too much time with stuff that has a high cost in time. Spend money if you have it, but guard your time like hell. Write your next book and then determine how you can best get the word out to as many people as possible with as little as possible time spent for the amount of money that’s within your ad budget.

For me, that is:

  1. Mailing list
  2. Twitter/facebook/website/blog
  3. Paid ads

I go to cons because I enjoy it. I go to bookshops because I want to buy a book.

Promotion for authors: an evaluation of Chuck Wendig’s post was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

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Kindle Unlimited: a few observations

This is a post for writers.

Some background:

In July 2014, Amazon rolled out its Kindle Unlimited program. For $10 a month, Kindle owners in the US, UK, and some European countries can “borrow” as many ebooks as they want. I don’t have a Kindle and if you’re interested in this feature, I suggest you go to the Amazon website and check it out.

In short, it’s a subscription service.

For authors, any book that is enrolled has to be exclusive to Amazon. For some, mega-selling authors, they sweetened the deal with a “winners” pot of extra bonuses and they dropped the exclusivity requirement.

A lot of self-published authors reported big losses in sales numbers in July (I didn’t, but I seem to be in a minority). These were authors who were in KU and ones who were not. The theory went that all readers were sucked up by the program. For a while the top sellers were putting on a brave face.

Amazon bestselling author H.M. Ward broke the ranks by posting this

And then Joe Konrad added his voice

In short, it seemed that KU caused widespread carnage amongst self-published writers.

Well. Maybe. Or maybe not.

My sales have suffered absolutely no effect whatsoever. In fact, KU has been a nice little bonus to me.

So what have I done and what are my thoughts on the program?

I had a couple of short stories that I was thinking of bundling. I put them in the KU program for three months for a look-see. People “borrowed” these stories. I’d previously found it impossible to sell single short stories. I decided to add some stories that had never sold a single copy on Amazon before (short stories used to do OK on B&N but that’s no longer happening). Some of these stories feed into novels. People are clicking on the links in the back of the short stories, so I presume some sales come from them. The amount of money involved is not huge, but I’d call this a win because previously these stories were making me precisely $0 per month.

But would I put any of my full-length novels in it? No way! Why should I take $1.39 for a “borrow” when I can get $3 for a sale? I think that best-selling authors who fell for this had the wool well and truly pulled over their eyes. Maybe Amazon promised wonderful marketing. Maybe. But I’m always astonished by people who only ever expect growth, and whose outlook for the future does not include the possibility that they’re already at the top of their current game, and that there is no more growth in their current readership. After all, who still buys Twilight today?

Ironically, the whole KU affair also illustrates why, as a writer, you need to stop relying on Amazon to market your book and take control of your audience. If you plough through that thread on the Kindleboards, you’ll see people musing on Amazon’s rationale for introducing the program. That they introduced it to crush similar subscription services seems to be a popular opinion, although, by requiring exclusivity, Amazon seems to have ended up with an infinitely inferior product to, say, Scribd.

This raises the question? What actually is KU? To which my answer would be: an excellent place to stick pay-per-read articles and short fiction.

Another thing that frequently comes up in these discussions is that Amazon isn’t interested in selling ebooks, or books even, but wants to sell everything. And here we arrive at the single most important reason why as a writer you should list everywhere: because the full sentence should read:

… because they want to sell everything to people in America

If you’re not in America, Amazon doesn’t want to know about you. They charge quite exorbitant postage to deliver the littlest things. I tried to buy a $15 piccolo stand a few months back. They were going to charge me $35 for the cheapest delivery option. What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Want to sell everything, my arse. I’m not in America so Amazon doesn’t give a shit about me as customer. See also the anaemic presence of Amazon’s AU store, where we can buy ebooks only with less choice for inflated prices.

As writer, you should list everywhere, because the majority of people who read English are also not in America.

You should stop relying or spend huge wads of time figuring out how to game store algorithms, because they only need to change one line of code in their site software and you’re Dead. In. The. Fucking. Water.

Take responsibility for your own readership.

Spread yourself widely, and yes, listing widely includes having some short stuff in KU

  • Set up and maintain your website and blog
  • Set up and maintain your mailing list
  • Offer some freebies across all sites. Don’t get me started on the inability to make books free on the Amazon site by simply entering $0 in the price field, and Amazon’s inane tendency to randomly un-free titles, especially in the non-US stores. Get my stuff at Kobo, people. Please. they’re nice and reliable.

Kindle Unlimited: a few observations was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Observations on the Dutch SFF market

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(Image because no post about anything to do with the Netherlands can get away with not having a totally cliche tourist shot)

Last week, Amazon announced the creation of Amazon.nl, the Dutch store. Previously, people in the Netherlands were buying at either the US or UK Amazon stores and paying a $2 “delivery charge” (pleaseplease don’t get me started on this BULLSHIT).

It’s quite a coincidence, because just last month I published a Dutch version of This Peaceful State of War, just for fun (see here on Amazon.nl or Kobo. Also on Google Play).

Anyway, as you may remember, I was there last year, and I thought to scope out a few bookshops to see what was on offer in SF/F. I was shocked. SHOCKED. The offerings in SF/F in Dutch bookshops are SO EYEBLEEDINGLY APPALLING, the only time I found a locally-published book, I bought it. ONE FRAKKING BOOK*. Most of the stuff (I mean–the other three books on the shelf) was translated George R R Martin and Robert Jordan. Holy crap, what was going on there?

So I decided to poke around a bit, to see why this is.

I came across Theo, a SFF fan in the Netherlands on Twitter (@uitgeverijmacc) and he was kind enough to answer some questions.

First, his comments about the “scene”:

SF in Holland…

Well, we used to have very good SF writers in Holland in the seventies and Eighties. We had Felix Thijssen, who wrote a series of books for young boys about an astronaut who was trying to find a new place to live for humankind, because the earth was heading towards the sun. The Adventures of Mark Stevens. Really enjoyed those books. In Belgium there still is (it’s almost Holland) a very good SF writer, Eddy Bertin. A very nice man. But he doesn’t write much anymore.

At the moment there is not much SF in the Dutch bookstores. Tais Teng is one of the few who really writes very good SF novels. The man has such a vivid imagination and is a fantastic artist. He made the cover of some of our SF novels (http://www.uitgeverijmacc.nl/index.php?page=science-fiction) the Perry Rhodan novel Groeten van het Sterrenbeest is from his hand.

Perry Rhodan is the longest running SF book series in the world. A pulp series which started in 1961 in Germany and its still running. The first Dutch translation dates from 1971.

Thomas (Olde Heuvelt) is also a very good writer indeed. He earned his success in the USA and England. But he writes mainly fantasy/thriller with a bit of horror.

On the other hand, there are a few small publishing companies in Holland that start to make a difference. The big companies don’t do a lot of SF anymore, but the costs for the smaller companies are a bit different and modern techniques make it easier to publish for those companies.

We, (Macc Publications, http://www.uitgeverijmacc.nl) have several new SF writers. Peter van Oosterum wrote a very good medical SF novel, het Rupert Jones experiment (The Rupert Jones Experiment) and we translated Jeff Carlson Plague Year in Dutch (Het Jaar van de Plaag)

And there are a few new SF authors coming up.

I myself wrote a few short Perry Rhodan SF stories. One of them is published in Terraanse Vertellingen (Stories from Terra). This novel contains a collections of original Dutch short SF stories. And within a few months there will be another collection of short Perry Rhodan SF stories published in a, for Holland unique, fanbook.

So there is a lot going on, but it is sad that we have to work hard to get them into the bookshops, because there are some very good novels on the market who deserve more attention.

OK, so obviously there is plenty going on. But then why are the bookshop SFF shelves so incredibly sad?

I asked him some further questions:

It would seem to me that POD technology could make small print runs profitable which would benefit local writers over foreign ones. So why all the translated bestsellers and no local talent?

Local talent is mainly for the smaller publishers in Holland, yes. A bit like I do. The bigger company’s just want to do the big ones, but they are beginning to feel the heat.

Also, POD is getting a problem over here. There are POD publishers who benefit from the lack of knowledge. They ask a lot of money, and make books that are to expensive and with no editing at all. So a lot of those writers are very disappointed and did not have a fair chance. The books could have been a success if they would have went to a decent publisher.

Yup. Vanity presses are a problem here, too

Small presses could do very well in this environment. We have a similar situation in Australia, and small press is doing quite well. Why is there none of this fiction in bookshops?

The distribution in Holland is a bit expensive. There is one company left who takes care of everything, so it is a monopoly really. So it is not that easy to be distributed when you start your business. On the other hand, the bookshops must notice you. Because a lot of readers buy there books online, the bookshops are going through a difficult time. They just don’t have the money to buy new books for their shops.

This looks like distribution is a killjoy. I don’t know what their returns system is, but since the shelf stock is so terribly conservative, I bet the conditions for shops are terrible.

Why do bookshops keep so little SF/F on their shelves full stop? Either English or Dutch, there just isn’t any on the shelves.

Some of them do. There are shops that are specialized in SF/F, but not many. If they want to survive, they must have what they sure they will sell. And that is not SF. On the other hand, if you give it no attention, you won’t sell it.

Where do Dutch genre readers buy these books?

On the internet (www.bol.com) And there are quite a lot of SF and Fantasy conventions throughout the year with thousands of visitors. (Elf Fantasy Fair, Castlefest, keltfest etc…) Every big and small publisher is there with his books.

Is the book trade somehow so stifling that nothing gets through?

Yes, it is a bit. Well, The internet is killing the normal bookshop, and that’s a shame.

That’s a problem worldwide.

So it seems that there is a small industry, that SFF gets sold online and at cons. A lot of fans read in English and get books in the same places everyone else does. It seems to me that the self-publishing movement is yet to really take off, but maybe the presence of Amazon will make that easier. I don’t know. If you’re familiar with some other issues that stop SFF being sold in shops in the Netherlands, please let me know in the comments.

* The ONE locally-published book I found was Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. He also writes in English and is a Hugo nominee. I saw on his website that this book will be out in English in 2015.

Observations on the Dutch SFF market was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

My Earnings From Self-publishing 1 Oct 2013 – 30 Sept 2014

Another year has gone by. I did one of these posts last year, and thought it would be fun to update it.

Why?

Several reasons:

  • Not all self-publishers are Hugh Howey or Bella Andre or any of the other names that you’ll find in the top of various genres. In fact, most of them aren’t.
  • There is still a real and not insubstantial amount of money to be made from self-publishing, even if you’re a complete nobody like me. The truth for writers like me is that this money is more than I’d be able to get from selling my book to a publisher. Traditional advances in Australia are $3000. I wouldn’t see myself sell more than two books a year to a publisher year after year.
  • Few people talk real money and real numbers. I like being real, so I put my numbers on the table, warts and all.

Several things happened in the past year:

  • Most importantly, Kobogate. Remember that last year most of my income was from Kobo? No more. I think it went like this: In October, Kobo changed their website. The company they hired were clowns and they goofed up the categories as they were listed on the sales pages. Despite many complaints (my Icefire Trilogy was listed as Religious fiction FFS), they couldn’t fix it. (My theory: the IT company had signed off on the project and they had trouble getting them back). Then Erotica books were inadvertently passed onto resellers as Children’s books. The proverbial hit the fan. It affected all sales at Kobo, including mine. In my best month, I sold almost 200 books there. I’ve not sold more than 100 per month since.
  • A new player entered the market: Google Play. Sales there are increasing.
  • I never sold anything on Amazon UK, but that has changed. Don’t ask me why.
  • I moved most of my listings at B&N from Smashwords to D2D. This increased my sales there a lot.

I also published “some” new books since last September:

That’s SEVEN books. It looks a little more impressive than it is, because some of those books were already written. I’ve been committed to writing and completing series. The Aghyrians series is now done. I may or may not write a prequel. It is also mostly written, but would need a fair bit of salvage. At the moment my priorities are the Ambassador series and For Queen And Country. The latter is a slightly different beast from what I’ve written before: it’s a big story, the books are fairly short, 45-60K, and they’re episodes rather than complete stories. There should be at least two more volumes in the coming year.

Some observations on selling and marketing for self-publishers:

  • If you want to have decent sales, you absolutely have to write series or at least related books
  • You make the first book free and advertise it (by the way, Ambassador 1 won’t be free in the forseeable future, so you don’t need to wait for that)
  • Books that are not part of series sell poorly. Yes, when I get some time I’ll write the sequel to Shifting Reality. I love that book to bits, and the only way to get it selling better is to write a sequel. I realise how ass-backward this will sound to any regular publisher. Self publishers often report that a series doesn’t sell much at all until there are a number of books available.
  • Unless you hit the jackpot, there is no magic bullet. Each release increases your sales a little bit. Having a number of series and publishing them on all platforms is important. You see people buy all of your books one after the other.

So, the numbers:

In the past year, I sold 3876 books. Total income: about $11,000 (a bit fuzzy due to currency issues).

Vendors:

  • Amazon – 1823
  • Kobo – 872
  • B & N – 640
  • Apple – 381
  • Smashwords (retail site) – 55
  • Google Play (listed there in December) – 51

 

Bestselling titles with copies sold:

  • Dust & Rain 873
  • Blood & Tears 749
  • Trader’s Honour 483
  • Soldier’s Duty 363
  • Watcher’s Web (before I made it free) 328
  • Icefire Trilogy 207
  • Innocence Lost (before I made it free) 193
  • Ambassador 1: Seeing Red 157
  • The Far Horizon 78
  • Willow Witch 69

Now this may not sound very impressive, but consider this:

Total income of series from publication to date:

  • Icefire Trilogy (complete, last book published May 2013): $13,000
  • Aghyrians series (complete, last book published July 2014): $5000
  • Ambassador series (not complete, 2 books out, ebooks only): $700
  • For Queen And Country (not complete, 3 books out): $300

Income shoots up when a series is complete, and books keep selling every year, adding to the total income vs. investment for each book. It’s not a once-off payment. Therefore, the bigger your stable of books, the better your overall sales will be. Investment in series takes a while to get going, but keeps on delivering as long as you get downloads on that first free book.

So that’s it for this year. Meanwhile, if you’re asking how I know all this, I’d like to plug the program Trackerbox, which eats all these damn spreadsheets and spits out numbers with the click of a button.

My Earnings From Self-publishing 1 Oct 2013 – 30 Sept 2014 was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

The future of shopping

A real-life post, but it does relate to books, I promise.

Christmas has come and gone and this means we’re in the biggest shopping time of the year. Many shops survive on the rush to Christmas and then the post-Christmas sales. I don’t like shopping, but today I had reason to venture into our local shopping centre and it was… rather quiet. Retailers are reporting OK, but lacklustre sales.

The reason I ventured into the shops after buying vacuum cleaner bags was that it is high time to replace my bikini. When you use it a lot, even chlorine-resistant swimwear doesn’t last all that long. Two years tops. And since the last time I bought a bikini, something has changed. See, I’m not a frilly type of person, and I’m definitely not for a floral bathing suit. I want a sporty bikini that has a reasonable chance of staying in place when one gets dumped by a wave. Sand in unimaginable places is enough to deal with, thank you very much. I don’t need to worry about my bikini top as well.

And–here comes the weird thing–none of the shops had any non-frilly, non-flimsy, chlorine resistant swimwear, not even the sports store. Last time I bought a bikini, there was plenty of choice.

So when I got home, grumpy, I decided to look on the internet. Guess what? Lots of choice.

So, do we have a Borders moment here? Borders who used to stock loads of interesting books until the rot set in and they just stocked the most popular ones, and often not even those? And then they went bust.

The clothing stores have obviously worked out that people buy these things online, so they don’t even bother stocking. The retailers I found online–most of them local, and a fair number made their clothes locally–didn’t look like their wares were carried by any stores.

This is similar to what happens in book retailing. I bought a couple of books in a bookshop the other day. It’s worth mentioning because I haven’t bought anything in a physical bookshop for a long time. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to, but that the books I wanted simply aren’t available in shops. Some perhaps could be ordered from publishers and distributors, but others–especially the specialist scientific books which were POD–probably not.

In any case, it would be much easier and cheaper for me to order the books myself through ABE. I strongly feel that the word “easier” is the operative here.

A lot of people have a quaint attachment to bookshops. They are cute and interesting places, and I wouldn’t really want them to disappear, but given the fact that they don’t often have what I want, what is the future for the bookshop? Or, for that matter, for the clothes stores, or non-fresh-food retail in general? We want more choice than local shops can provide, and we want it now. Some people advocate asking shops to order on their behalf, but that’s not a solution; that’s charity. And a pain in the butt besides.

I see retail diverging into two streams: high-volume popular items and specialist shops. The specialist shops will probably still do a lot of online trade and their shopfront will double as office. But that probably puts them under the line at which their income is going to pay the horrendous rent in shopping complexes, so the specialist shops will become backyard and warehouse-only operations.

The same with specialist clothing stores. They don’t need a shopfront.

So, does anyone need a shopfront, really? Anyone at all? Now there is a scary thought.

What about all these giant shopping complexes we’ve built over the past decades? When are we going to convert them into housing estates?

Or, will the shopping centre management lower the rents so that interesting shops can once again populate these palaces of materialism? Will we perhaps see specialist shopping centres?