My experience speaking to bookstore owners!

Last week I met few of the bookstore owners/managers in Bengaluru to check if they are willing to keep my book- World Travel in Low Budget - for sale in their bookstore. While my books are available for purchase online (all links here), having it at a traditional bookstore would have given following added advantage
- Be able to reach out to prospective readers who are not net savvy
- Convenience of being able to flip pages, read a bit, buy and carry home instantly (instead of having to buy online without touch n feel, pay shipping and wait for delivery)
My books on display for sale at Total Kannada, Jayanagara, Bengaluru

Almost every author I had interacted earlier had hinted that it won't be an easy task dealing with bookshop owners. Most of them would reject outright while others might ask for insane discounts or take forever to pay you. Knowing this, I still wanted to experience it first hand, to get a sense of what it takes to get a book on the shelves of a bookstore.

Thus I visited 3 major bookstores/publishers in Bengaluru and met key person responsible for accepting new books, two on my own, one accompanied by Dr Pavanaja, who had written foreward for my Kannada book. As expected all of them refused to keep my book in their bookstore.

At all 3 stores, my book was denied in 5 seconds flat. They take 2 seconds to check number of pages, 1 second to check MRP, 2 seconds flipping through the pages to check paper quality while calculating a per page price. As per book store owners anything less than 70-80 paise a page is good price, anything above 1 INR per page is too expensive. My book was priced almost 2 rupee per page which was a strict NO-NO for them. No reading table of contents, no reading a few pages, no assessing of potential benefits to the reader or value of the content. I was advised a book of 110 pages should be priced at around INR 70-80 and I should give them 40% discount to enable them sell it.

These publishers have published 100s of books over the years and have sold 1000s of copies, so whatever feedback they give holds some merit. They are speaking from their decades of experience selling books in their book stores. I don't hold any grudge against them.

If I am to put myself in the shoe of these traditional booksellers, I can see below points:
1. The space in their shop is limited, so they need to be judicious as to which book to keep. They are mostly relying on their decade long experience of selling books-based on pricing, category and number of pages- to make this decision. If these factors of a book doesn't impress them, they are not keen to spend any further time reading the book.

2. The concept of self-publishing and online selling is very threatening to the existence of physical book stores. Authors are no longer dependent on a traditional publisher and a physical bookstore to bring out their book and sell it. Being able to publish at our convenience and sell online implies physical book stores are only an additional option, not the sole way to reach readers. Publisher-seller nexus that sells books without revealing real number to author is also under threat. Naturally being sidelined angers bookstore owners who find it more convenient to deny any and all self-published books.

3. Trust factor: If a reputed publisher publishes a book, book store owner can be assured of some due diligence and professional work behind the book. With hundreds of self published authors around, book store owners won't know whom to trust. Certainly they are not willing to spend some time, read and assess a book on its merits either.

4. High Pricing:
Even if bookstore owners are willing to sell, there are some challenges.
Self-Published Print-on-demand books cost a lot more compared to cost of printing same book in bulk by a large publisher. Almost 2x. Higher pricing means less probability of a customer picking it up, lesser margins and more waste of a bookstore's space and time. When a book is available online customers often have another option so might buy online later if it is a bit cheaper. A physical bookstore's main advantage is its ability to let people feel and read the book a bit before purchase and instant delivery compared to several days taken in online option. But bookstore owners don't see this opportunity and prefer not to touch self-published books.

If I had opted for a traditional publisher instead of print on demand, it would have its own set of challenges- such as no online sales-support, limited to zero physical distribution etc. Read my detailed analysis here.

Even as an author, it is a painful process to personally deal with bookstore owners- trying to get their appointment, trying to convince them to accept the books for sale, tracking sales, collecting payments, providing fresh supply- unless there is a huge volume or profit per book is significant- these effort intensive activities are often not financially viable. Only a large publisher with strong distribution network can do this effectively. Listing online is a lot more convenient option, though it incurs extra shipping cost and more waiting for the reader.

It is important to reach right audience.
Further, as an author it is important for me to reach right audience. My book provides lots of cost saving tips about international budget travel. Only those who are interested in travel and who have some probability of planning an international trip will benefit from this book. By paying INR 220 such readers can save 1000s of rupees on each trip, providing instant ROI. When I am providing tips worth thousands of rupees, I do not intend to compete on a per page pricing. Someone who has no intention of going abroad will NOT get any value from this book, irrespective of price. If such a reader picks up the book just because it is cheap it will not serve anyone's purpose. If they later provide negative publicity- saying book wasn't useful for them- it causes more harm than good. Thus for my book on budget travel I need readers to be aware what they are buying and purchase only if they see a value in what the book provides. I would be happy to sell to 10 right persons most of whom are likely to make use of tips given in the book, than sell to 50 people most of whom may never use any of the tips. Bookstore owners unfortunately are unable to provide this clarity to readers- they just store the book and hope those who walk in pick up a copy (mostly based on price)- online it is easier as people can read reviews, description and take their time to make a purchase decision.  I don't want to sell for a loss, I don't want to adopt any unethical means to trick people into buying and I won't give in to anyone's blackmailing tricks. Whatever sells respectfully I am fine with that.

I have submitted 3 copies to Central Library in Cubbon Park and 2 copies to Govt library in South End Circle. People in Bengaluru should shortly be able to read my book for free by visiting these libraries.

For now my book is available online only. Order your copy from any of the options below.

Jan 2020 update: Total Kannada bookstore in Jayanagara 4th block, Bengaluru has accepted my books for sale. You can pick up a copy from there, without having to pay shipping charges or wait a week for delivery.

Book Purchase Links

English Edition
Kannada Edition
Amazon India
Notion Press
Flipkart

 
 

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