Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lorem Ipsum on the shoals

From BoingBoing:
Lorem Ipsum books, a bookstore in Cambridge, Mass, is up for sale. Cambridge is one of the great bookselling towns of the world, and Lorem Ipsum was founded as a project by an MIT Media Lab grad named Matt Mankins, to explore sustainable business-models for brick-and-mortar bookselling. Now Mankins has moved to NYC to be CTO of a big magazine publisher, and he's taken to Hacker News to solicit buyers and ideas for the store (which is losing money).
BoingBoing readers -- those happy mutants -- are book readers; accordingly the comments thread at the BoingBoing post contains many suggestions and observations for the new or current owners of this or any other independent bookstore:

  • put in a bistro and salad bar, coffee or tea shop
  • sell books for delivery on multimedia devices and CD
  • RENT books for delivery on multimedia devices and CD, with limited duration and expiry
  • install a 3D printing station or otherwise invest in attracting the hackerspace crowd
  • "some of the best book stores I've been in -- and return to -- are small, enclosed, and meandering. It's like there's a secret waiting around the next corner and usually, there is a great book I've never read around that corner. Cozy chairs are a must too." [A nod here to the cozy -- alright, chaotic -- Diskovery Books]
  • allow for increased inventory turnover without incurring additional stocking and warehousing costs, by moving stock at professional, academic, and hobbyist conventions 
  • convert the store into a pay-toilet location, and offer books for sale to those who need something to read whilst using the facilities
  • raise prices ("You're not running a table on a street corner, don't stock or price like you are. There's no reason to be selling used books for less than half their retail price.")
  • lower prices ("Raggedy old paperbacks should be cheap, like $4 or less.")
  • do not let your enthusiasm for retail innovation blind you to the barriers you are erecting between customers and a sale -- such as when you cease in marking books with prices, and instead expect the customer to calculate the price as some multiple of the cost of a locally-sold sandwich (!) or to speak with the counter staff to get a sale price
  • engage with local bloggers and content providers, and rent them shelf or counter space to market custom branded products and promotional items
  • rent the space for events every night of the week, at $100 a pop (staffed by a local university student doing their retail or book industry internship)
  • take a fee for recommending book services freelancers to customers looking to have design, editing, production, or writing work done
  • become a specialty procurer rather than vendor of mass product

That last hits home for me especially. As a book buyer I rarely had a reason to stop by Lorem Ipsum -- their inventory was too run-of-the-mill to attract devotees of the odd; too low-market for antiquarians and bibliophiles; and too static, with insufficient turn-over, to attract someone like me who has specific literary and scholarly interests, and who will be looking for titles related to particular topics. The staff, on the few occasions I spoke with them early in the store's history (and before they moved shop to their present location), were not themselves book people, and didn't command the same kind of knowledge of books and their inventory that would have made me a more committed customer. For which expertise I mourn the closing of Avenue Victor Hugo...


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