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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Embracing the Digital Age

Some of you who know me will recall last November when I suggested reading the "Brave New World" report produced by the Booksellers Association of the UK and Ireland. The earlier report gave a good overview of much of the digital industry, key trends, some action items for stores and associations, as well as other information. I suggested it as "required reading" at the time, particularly a subset of the chapters. That report is still available by clicking the link under the "Title Waves" section on this blog.

About two weeks ago the Booksellers Association released a follow-up report from their taskforce on the topic. The new report is entitled " Embracing the Digital Age: An Opportunity for Booksellers and the Book Trade". I have placed a link to this report in the "Title Wave" section of this blog as well.

This new report is very much worth your time to read if you are a bookseller today. It is a much shorter and strategic-action oriented report. There are notable overlaps with some of the recommendations and directions of our own digital content strategic planning taskforce. Of the ten key proposals outlined in the executive summary, at least 8 directly connect with some of our discussions in various areas of NACS. The report is effectively and clearly written and well worth your time to peruse.

The aspect of the report I found most interesting is the concept of developing an "enhanced trade infrastructure" to support bookstores in the digital space. We have other initiatives designed to support that concept as well, such as a new project with Caravan being supported by the NACS Foundation -- but more on that in a subsequent posting. The new report identifies ten proposals for improving the trade infrastructure among stores for digital. To quote the report briefly, these proposals are:

1. Websites. A bookshop must have an integrated on-line presence with the capacity for financial transactions, or it is not realising its full capability in selling books. These websites have two prime functions: as trading systems allowing customers to buy online and as community notice-boards.

2. Customer-facing information service. A new information service should be developed to allow booksellers to mix information from the professional bibliographic databases with elements from publishers' marketing sources to present titles on their websites in a more appropriate way to customers, and where the customer does not leave the bookseller's website.

3. The bookshop as the hub of the local community. The use of digital techniques will raise the profile of the bookshop as the essential information centre in the local community.

4. A title alert system for account customers. A title recommendation system should be developed, to alert customers to new or backlist titles recommended by the bookseller that reflects the customer's buying interests and allows them to browse the title online before buying.

5. A grid system for categorising bookshops. The trade must develop a categorisation system for booksellers across the country to allow the efficient targeting of digital marketing messages and information.

6. Enabling booksellers to sell digital content. Faced with a proliferation of digital content, many consumers will need advice and guidance from a source they know and trust. This will provide an opportunity for booksellers to extend their relationship with their customers in the digital world.

7. Market research. There should be a programme of research so that the changing patterns of consumer behaviour can be understood and monitored.

8. Getting the digitisation message accepted. The positive message about the digital opportunity must be sold to the book trade via regular newsletters e-mailed to booksellers and publishers to keep them up to date with developments; in addition, there should be trade press briefings, a series of trade forums, and a major conference early in 2008 to debate and agree the proposals in the report.

9. Training. Booksellers will need to develop their specialist skills (e.g. digital marketing; advising customers on digital content).

10. Experimentation. The trade must be prepared to undergo a significant period of experimentation.

To learn more about each of the proposals, please check out the report using the link provided under the "title wave" section of this blog.

We plan to reach out to the BA of UK/IRE early this year to see how we might collaborate on achieving some of these proposals. I am interesed in hearing from potential partners interested in working with us on some of these initiatives -- or from stores who have ideas on how we might help accomplish some of these goals.

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