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Troy

Would you Sacrifice to Support an Indie Bookseller?

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A recent post about a book on Black Unity prompted this question.  

 

Here is the setup for the question:

 

One of the most significant changes I've made to AALBC.com is that I've designed the site so that I can send readers to any site to purchase a book.  Right now, by default, I send readers to Abe Books, Amazon, Books-A-Million, BarensandNoble.com, and Indiebound (a consortium of independent booksellers).  I even provide a link to one's local library.

 

I also direct readers other Black owned booksellers; right now, for example, MahoganyBooks is running a sale on Kimberla Lawson Roby's new book, Sin of a Woman.  For some publishers, I send readers to the publisher's website.  Check out any of "Buy" links for the books published by Black Classic Press, or Just Us Books.

 

Of course, it should be obvious by now that I can also sell books directly.  Well, the way it would work is that I would collect payment and have the book shipped directly from the distributor.  

 

The problem is that people only buy from Amazon.  Sure, some people buy from B&N link but the numbers of B&N sales are so small--I don't even factor those sales into my bestsellers list. and no one by from the other retailers I link to...not a single person ever.

 

Now if you thnk this is only because Amazon has the best prices--think again.  Amazon does not aways offer best prices (always price shop).  

 

I've offered a popular book for sale directly, that was autographed and priced LOWER than Amazon.  Amazon did not have autographed copied and I beat them on price., but still people still bought the books from Amazon!  This was before Amazon offered their Prime service, so getting sales away from Amazon is today is exceedingly difficult.

 

The result is that Black owned booksellers, both online and in physical world must fight against Amazon's dominance.  I'm afraid we are losing the battle. But it is not a battle we can wage alone.  Readers must join us in the fight.

 

I argue it is a fight we must wage because what we have gained in terms of low prices and same day shipping does not make up for what we will lose.  Keep in mind, there is also no guarantee that Amazon will continue selling books at a loss once all of their competition has been eliminated or marginalized into obscurity.

 

What is the benefit of an Indie bookseller?

 

The personalized service, curated selection, and passion for books offered by independent booksellers simply can‘t be replicated by an algorithm. Someone who knows you, understands your culture, maybe even your financial position is not available at Amazon.com.

 

I've actually sold books to people on credit--told to send me the money when they got ;)it, because I knew the book I was giving them was something they needed.  I took their word they would pay me.  Of course, I've given away countless number books too--thought I probably should be selling more of these.

 

I visit books store all over the country.  As a bookseller, I'm always amazed to discover a writer or book I was previously unfamiliar with.  These books are simply undiscoverable on Amazon, their algorithms don't work that way.  Amazon is designed to extract as much money from you as possible. In business school well called that "maximizing shareholder wealth."

 

Independent booksellers are mission driven and have a passion for what they do.  Mine is celebrating Black culture.  We are also keenly interested in helping you to be as entertained, enriched, and informed from the books we recommend. As a bookseller, my biggest joy is not how much money I make off the reader, but hearing from them how much they enjoyed a book I turned them on to.

 

Readers typically value this service, but I don't they truly appreciate how close we are to losing it  Today we have far fewer bookstores and websites than we did 10 years ago. Many of the ones that remain are struggling.  Even AALBC.com is in a constant state of fighting for survival.  As a result, my ability to sell books and maintain this website is greatly constrained. 

 

Obviously, the services provided by indie booksellers don‘t come without a cost.   But unlike Amazon, we are not bolstered by Wall Street investors who don't mind us selling books at a loss to gain market share. We must actually generate a profit from the sale of books, collect sales taxes, and do all the other thing you'd expect business to do.

 

It is not unrealistic to envision a time, in the near future, that Amazon will be the only place to buy a book written by a Black person. We already know B&N shelves are not overflowing with books written by Black writers. Many people simply do live near a Black bookstore (there are less than 80 Black owned bookstores in the US).  

 

If Amazon owns Black book sales we will not be exposed to the best books; We'll be exposed to the books that make the most money for Amazon.  Perhaps it will be the books that Amazon published and are promoting, or maybe it is the book with the largest marking budget.

 

If we allow Amazon to be the only place we can buy a Black book, we will be severely underserved, if not harmed culturally.  We simply can not allow a fantastically wealthy and powerful corporation, which is solely motived by money, to control our stories, our history, our very culture. 

 

Question: If you truly value the services provided by indie booksellers

 

Are you willing to support us by paying the full retail price, traveling to our stores, or waiting a few days it to have it delivered?  

 

 

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I always try to buy directly from authors or independent book sellers. Additionally, I think part of the problem is black authors ONLY selling their books through Amazon or B&N (all the big names) with no options to sell directly through their website with the monies going directly to their bank account, no one taking a cut. Not only do authors need to sell through their websites, but readers need to buy directly from authors and independent black book sellers. If authors don't stop going to Amazon to sell their books, readers won't either. There needs to be this sort of simultaneous action that allows for the change to happen. Readers and authors are far too trusting when it comes to Amazon, which, like you pointed out, doesn't always give the best price for books. 

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I'm not a "bestseller", great review, "award-winner" kinda reader.  So, it doesn't matter to me what any bookseller such as Amazon/BN promotes, I read what interest me .   

 

I think You @Troy and I both agreed we often hear of books through news articles placement.   (Do you remember that conversation - I think it was a facebook conversation some time back when I was on facebook the first time. )  

 

When I do, hear of book through an article or in conversation,  I go to the author's website first to buy.  In fact, I just linked to a book and its website here on my profile.  Today, was the first time I actually went to the author's website and could only purchase the book there. woo-hoo!  

Mostly,  I haven't been successful. I'm not sure why authors aren't selling directly from their  website.  It's so easy to sell direct now since there are so many ways to collect money online.  

 

When I publish my next book, I will sell direct and most likely through lulu distribution (since they're the printers) BUT I'm NOT distributing through amazon and I'm NOT distributing digital.

 

But I digress,

 

Next I do a search engine query to see where I can purchase the book.  Since I purchase  mostly out-of-print books I find them on ebay, abe's books  and other spots or via Amazon.  

 

I remember you mentioned you had a bunch of old books, and I just don't understand why you didn't sell those on here.   I'm in the process of selling gently used and almost new books from my website. 

But in answer to your question, Yes I'd buy from indie booksellers! 

 

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I'm wondering if the indie booksellers are using their blogs to promote little-known books.  Writing articles focusing on the benefits of a book / using a news hook as a tie-in to books they're selling could be a win - win. 

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It is also worth mentioning that I also emailed this question to every bookseller, online and offline, for whom I have contact information (over 100 people).

 

I'd hoped to get some feedback from them, but I guess I have to post this on Facebook to get a response. Maybe that last bit was a little snide, but that is what it feels like lately... Still, I refuse to post what I wrote on Facebook to get a reaction.  We simply can not achieve Black unity and empowerment on the platforms of those who oppress us.

 

Mel, There was much more Blogging going on 10 years ago.  The challenges are numerous but the biggest one is acquiring the engagement to make effort required to run a Blog worth it. It is difficult to justify the time and energy if no one reads the blog or buys the books recommended....  

 

But, it would be helpful to hear from a bookseller, who operates a physical store, what they think of your idea, which seems like perfectly sound advice.  However please define for our lurking readers what you mean by, "news hook."

 

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4 hours ago, Troy said:

But, it would be helpful to hear from a bookseller, who operates a physical store, what they think of your idea, which seems like perfectly sound advice.  However please define for our lurking readers what you mean by, "news hook."


We bloggers are short on time but have to spend a lot of time writing articles.  So. I wrote this post for my blog " Long on Words, Short On Time; Pitch to Your Inner Editor  in it, I give 10 steps to complete to create a story idea pitch to yourself for future article development.  It's an attempt to get the blogger to form blogging "muscle memory" for content production. 

 Step  7 is to how to use a news hook in the intro of the blog post ...

 

A News Hook ties your author and their book into a national news story and/or event.  

In addition, a blogger can use a news hook for SEO to  continue to generate traffic . In January of this year, I  followed up on "Nasty Woman" the poem Ashley Judd performed at the Women's March and it's the number 1 search term that brings visitors to my site,  

So here's one way booksellers can use a News Hook in their article:

 

  • Make even the most staid topic provocative, titillating, timely and SEO friendly by using a News Hook. Hint: Check out a social network trending topics such as Twitter or Google.

Today,  after 21 years, Fox News dropped its “Fair and Balanced” tagline – now pitching news stories to the executive producer should be a breeze. But for the rest of us who want to remain unbiased but provocative; even the blogger with 1 follower can pitch a story idea to our inner editor to get the best story in print.

 

 


 

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The internet had changed commerce to being transactions rather than relationships. You can buy a house or find a partner online. 

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The following is a reaction I received via email.  I actually met this respondent, Deborah Day, during the Sacramento Black Book Festival last month.  She is a bookseller, publisher, and author.

 


 

Hi Troy,

 

This is a great article and I will post it on Facebook.  You are so right.  We as Independent Booksellers can compete against Amazon, when we really look at all the benefits we have to offer our customers.  Knowing our market and community needs, can help us greatly provide the best offer, whether it's product, price, selection or delivery to "get the business". And our market footprint should be local, national and international.  And since, there are only 80 owned black books stores in the U.S., there is no threatening competition among each other.

 

My belief is that we need to do all we can to build and protect our markets.  If it is our creativity that birthed the book and the business, then we should profit the most from that effort.  Yes we can write, illustrate and produce our own books and tell our own stories, but the other important factor is that we must also control the distribution.  This is why our Independent Bookstores are so important online and in our communities.  We need to keep our eyes on the ball and not loose our grip on this market.  It's not just Amazon's dominating presence and practices eroding our market share, but there are other undercurrents online that threaten our businesses that include hate cyber attacks and corruption.  Now I am not totally against Amazon, because I buy books from them too, but only if I can't get a book from the publisher or a distributer, and I need a book quickly to complete an order.  But, I didn't like it when Amazon started allowing resellers to undersell publishers with the same new or used book.  Because, my book, "Mindful Messages", got stolen and bootlegged on Amazon and I lost money.   Now I am seeing many black authors, bypassing Amazon and selling their books direct from their own websites. Which can be successfully done with lots of social media. 

 

Like someone said, "We are who we have been waiting for."  And when we have the right conscious mind, we will seek each other out to do business with one another. And we will go out of our way if need be, to support one another in sustaining black businesses.   And we will recognize the importance of the full circle of exponential economics and it's impact on empowering our communities.  And then and only then will it be an ever continuing reality. 

 

Deborah Day

Ashay by the Bay

 


 

I'd heard about bootlegging up books for year, but Amazon has really created a major platform for selling knock off products, including books.  Debirah said she wanted to sue, but Amazon was not helpful at all. 

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1 hour ago, Troy said:

I'd heard about bootlegging up books for year, but Amazon has really created a major platform for selling knock off products, including books.  Debirah said she wanted to sue, but Amazon was not helpful at all. 

Yes! This is exactly why I won't put another book on their platform... I probably sold a lot more but if Amazon is printing out my book and selling it - how will I know?  So I'm not going to worry about it - if my book is gains some interest then folks will be willing to buy from me... And if indie booksellers pick up my book - I will promote them too but I'm no longer putting my books in digital format format for someone to bootleg - that's ship has sailed.   

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@Mel Hopkins to be clearer, I'm not saying Amazon is reproducing books and reselling them.  I'm saying that their platform is used by others who do.  For example, it is trivial and apparently legal for anyone to take a book in the public domain and sell it on Amazon.  The problem is books, like music are easy to copy, so any book, including new ones, are bootlegged and sold on Amazon.

 

Keep in mind you don't have to make you book available in digital format for it to be copied.  You can just scan the book and published scanned copies.  More sophisticated folks will run the scans through OCR software and republished a newly formatted version.

 

Amazon makes the money off the transaction and the bootlegger incurres all the risk. In the old days, a company that did this sort of thing was put of of business. Remember Napster?  A company like Amazon (with Kodi over Fire), and Google (download any song from Youtube), is Napster on steroids and covered in teflon.

 

Because of Amazon and Google dominance, it is virtually impossible to run a book website as a business.

 

I commend you for refusing to publish your books on Amazon Mel.  If every author/publisher chose to do this, I can't image all the wealth that would be hared more evenly among the people that create the value.

 

It floors me that any writer would post a thing on Facebook, for free, when Mark Z is making billions off your content.  Bezos is on track to become the first person to be worth $100B-100 Billion dollars!

 

Mel I recently added a book I saw on your website to your AALBC.com site: https://aalbc.com/books/bookinfo.php?isbn13=9light_attend I changed the way the site is designed to highlight went book are available for purchase directly from the author.

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1 hour ago, Troy said:

Mel I recently added a book I saw on your website to your AALBC.com site: https://aalbc.com/books/bookinfo.php?isbn13=9light_attend I changed the way the site is designed to highlight went book are available for purchase directly from the author.



Thank you, Troy! I saw it! It looks great!  Please let me know how the distribution works through AALBC.. Once I publish,  I'd be more than happy to drop ship books to the buyers that are sold through AALBC... You're  beyond generous with your space and time - and I want to  support through sales too! 


Edit: Wait  - when I publish, maybe you can just have the buy direct from AALBC and you just send me the ship-to, my royalties via paypal and shipping cost (I'll let you know if I do free shipping too)  and I'll send you copy of  the tracking number (I usually ship USPS priority mail envelope)??? OR  somehow we can determine the sale came from AALBC and we can settle on your percentage??? 

And to be clear on my part, I can't prove it but I'm not letting amazon off the bootlegging hook!

 

Yes, it is easy for others to grab my digital and bootleg but specifically related to amazon, so many people have told me they purchased my book SWADM through amazon, yet it's not reflected in my royalties ...same with my digital short story.. My daughter bought several copies for her friends - I saw her receipt but it never showed up on my statement.   So even if create space isn't printing - which I believe they are what stops them from not printing if they already have the digital copy.    

At least if I sell physical copies there's a paper trail...

 

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With all of these websites there is very little transparency.  If you sell a book through me, you can use Google tag manager to traffic and click and fulfilled order, because it would be physically impossible for anyone else to sell your book through this site.

 

The drop shipping option works best for me.  I send you the order and money you handle the shipping.  Alternatively, I could drop ship through Ingram. This would be the strategy I would use, in general, to fulfill book orders directly to readers, by passing Amazon.

 

You'll make more money per book if I drop ship to you, but again their is the lack of willingness for reader to by from their won versus Amazon.

 

I'm actually going to set up my website to fulfill orders orders directly. I will consider removing Amazon as an option if the direct sales justify it. If I practiced what I preached I would be like you Mel and boot them altogether, but the problem is too many of our author's books are only available through Amazon. 

 

 

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Also here is a bit more detail as my take as an online Bookseller; Black Book Websites Need Love More Than Ever.”

 

The crazy thing, in this environment just to stay alive I have to spend more time dealing with things that have nothing to do with books sales including; website development, maintenance, and upgrades; SEO; marketing; research; ad sales, content creation, including video, articles, editing; even managing this discussion forum is non-trivial.  

 

If Google focused on returning the best search results rather than front running those results with their products and if Amazon did not exist, we would all be wealthier and more enriched.  I know, I said we'd be better off without Amazon. That sounds almost sacrilegious, right?

 

A last Friday Amazon announced they were buying Whole Foods.  The government does not seem to care that Amazon will not stop until they are the only ones selling everything.  

 

In the short term, as long as we can get stuff, we don't really, need a few pennies cheaper and a few minutes faster; we don't mind the longer term adverse impact of a monopoly, less choice, higher prices, lower wages, and overall f'ed up situation.

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1 hour ago, Troy said:

If you sell a book through me, you can use Google tag manager to traffic and click and fulfilled order, because it would be physically impossible for anyone else to sell your book through this site.

Thank you for making me aware of this transaction.  When we finally have our meeting - would you teach this concept to me?  Is this something that would need to go into our webinar?  Can other independent authors do this too?

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Yes, of course I can show you. As I build out the facility to order books I'll create a video to demonstrate the tag manager.

 

The problem with Tag Manager, is that it is too technical for the average person to use.  The geniuses at Google think it is simple, but the average person can't make heads or tails out of it. It is worth mentioning but it should probably be a standalone session.

 

I'll work through this as I build out my ordering system.

 

But anyone can do it as long as they have a google account.

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Look at what I just found on the web:

 

What is happening to black stores everywhere

The fact that black-owned bookstores are closing everywhere is not necessarily a negative reflection on the owners. One of the biggest problems in America right now is that people are not reading as much anymore. The National Endowment for the Arts stated as far back as 2004 that “…literary reading in America is not only declining among all groups, but the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young.” If reading is on the decline, bookstores are no longer a viable business.

Other factors

There are, of course, other causes for the close of black bookstores, such as a weak economy, rise in rent costs for bookstore owners, and bad business management. But the largest, most contributing factor appears to be also the most disturbing factor, and that is the lack of interest in reading books. Even web sites that feature books by African Americans and about the African American culture are suffering.

With other sources of information available now through technology, black and white bookstore owners are facing a tough business environment. Some have suggested that, instead of just books, bookstore owners need to be creative to get people in the door by selling other products they would be interested in. Others have speculated that black bookstores have added to their demise by focusing just on the black community and need to expand their products to include books of interest to a wider community.

 

Now I actually know the Brother that said this I visited his stores in Brooklyn, NY and Longwood, FL. 

 

They actually linked back to the AALBC.com!  Amazing!  I always like that Brother Desmond Reid!

 

The original article may be found here: http://blog.blackbusiness.org/2015/05/why-50-black-owned-bookstores-left-country.html#.WVO292jyuHs

 

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Guest Mother Rose

I am the owner of an African American bookstore in Sacramento, CA, called underground books.  We recently hosted our fourth annual Sacramento Black Book Fair and had the pleasure of meeting Troy Johnson when he spoke at the event.  The book fair features prominent African American authors and panel discussions on topics such as "Black Books Matter:  The Truth of Our Many Selves," which was also our theme this year.

 

 Something we hear frequently from the attendees is how important having a Black Book Store in the community is.  While it is a struggle to keep our business afloat at times, we feel that we offer a personalized service to our customers that can't be found elsewhere.  We are constantly trying to add services that will improve both our bottom line and the customer experience.  Walking into our bookstore and seeing thousands of books by our people and about our history and culture is such and important experience for the people of our community - especially our children!  

 

We now sell books online and regularly have book signings, art talks, a monthly event for neighborhood children, and panel discussions related to events in our community - you can't find that at Amazon! 

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Mother Rose!  Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here.  Underground Books sets the standard as one of the finest indie bookstores in the country.  

 

I just added your store's website to my database of bookseller websites: https://aalbc.com/booksites/index.php?store_name=Underground Books  Does you website have its own domain?  Something undegrounboostore.com.  If so please provide it, I used http://underground-books9.mybigcommerce.com/ 

 

 

 

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Guest Denise

I always do. I purchase books once a month from a black owned bookstore. 

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Hi Denise can you name a few of the stores that you like and why.  I like Mother Pearl's store, Underground Book (video above) in Sacramento, CA's historic Oak Park.  I also like Oakland Marcus Books (see video below).  While I often complain about the lack of stores, I also try to remember to celebrate and patronize the great ones we still have.

 

 

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On 7/4/2017 at 11:03 AM, Troy said:

I'm afraid the poor quality of my mike will hurt the impact if the video.


@Troy Are you kidding?

 Hobby Lobby executives  paid 1.6 million dollars for clay blocks with wedges carved in it (ancient clay cuneiform tablets that had been smuggled into the United States from Iraq.) ... allegedly because they're collectors of biblical artifacts.  They have since agreed to pay 3$ million fine and return the 5500 artifacts they smuggled out of Iraq.  

All this to say, if we are interested, nothing will deter us from your presentation!

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Mel I do indeed wish you are right, but my experience tells me we are collectively pretty shallow. How you look matters more than what you have to say.  They say never judge a book by it's cover but unfortunately we do--20 years of data tells me that (read: authors book cover DO MATTER).

 

Now of course, I think the information I communicated in the video is very important, but I also understand a more polished presentation would have also helped too--perhaps a great deal. I'll know for sure once I share this with my mailing list a get more information about the video's stats. So far too few people have looked at the video to draw any conclusions.  Right now the average viewer watched the video for 3:17 minutes which is actually pretty good because I communicated the main points in well before the 2 minute mark.

 

goog_stats.jpg

 

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