Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Are ABA's Members Ready For Another eRelationship?

The American Booksellers Association (ABA), has already walked away from one ebook marriage it said would solve all its members wishes and no sooner has the divorce papers been filed , it now appears to be teaming up for a new marriage based on Kobo. Is it a shotgun wedding , a marriage of convenience, or simply a marriage on the rebound?

The last relationship engaged with close to 400 stores but failed to work out. Now the same stores have another ‘arranged marriage’ with yet another suitor, but will this fair any better?. Maybe the Google relationship was destined to fail once the honeymoon was over and the reality sunk in. Just as the BA may have discovered in the UK, Google may have had different ideas about what they wanted, or expected from their partnership.

So stores are expected to simply flip from Google to Kobo , start to sell not just ebooks but Kobo devices and become overnight Kobo disciples. The ABA may be excited, Kobo may be excited , but are the stores really geared up to support it? 

In early 2011 we wrote two articles on the UK’s bookshops approach to selling ereaders and ebooks, we have since seen WHS dump Kobo POS displays and await the Waterstones  Amazon in store experience. We accept that Barnes and Noble offered a good in store experience but they were committed and it was their own show.

We must remember that the ABA stores will be basically selling other’s devices and the files will be sold by the service provider. They will not control prices, nor the overall experience and they will receive a commission for what some suggest is potentially handing over their customers to others to exploit. Some would say that it’s like inviting the fox into the chicken hut.

We would ask many questions, some obvious others not so and presume everyone signing up will have the answers:
·         Tax who owns the problem/issue and are equipment sales separated from file sales?
·         Are equipment sales based on sale or return or firm?
·         Who trains the in store staff?
·         Who provides the customer service first and second lines and is it online, offline or by retailer
·         Do stores train all staff or selectively will there by an expert on stand at all times?
·         Will stores sell proactively or passively?
·         If pricing is set by provider how do stores handle competitive questions?
·         DRM is a challenge, but can the customer play a kobo file on kindle, Nook, Sony or must they have a Kobo device?
·         How will staff handle questions about Google?
·         Must customers buy all their files for same store and if not, where else can I buy them and will they then appear as disparate accounts within the Kobo platform?
·         Who owns the customer data?

The important question is, how do stores handle questions about Kindle, Nook, Apple, Sony etc?

These and other questions can be thought through and can be negated, but we must remember this is not within one organisation, but across many different ones and the consumer is likely to be exposed to multiple experiences.

However, the experience maybe tested further with another ebookstore , Zola, setting its eyes on the same market opportunity and claims to be already in discussion with the ABA and have 50 stores signed up. Others such as Copia also can’t afford to be left outside. 

So is the KOBO agreement exclusive, or open to all? If it is open to others and how do the ABA plan to level the experience?

We wrote the Brave new World report some 6 years ago and at the time we strongly believed that there was an opportunity for book retailers to join the ebook marketplace. However, apart from exceptions such as Barnes and Noble, few rose to the challenge and those that did often stumbled and instead of collaborating to jointly develop and hone the opportunity, they choose to compete. Some would suggest that its somewhat ironic that they now find themselves at the same place, but without the same control. Instead of rising to develop their own offer, under their associations, they chose to ‘white label’ others with all the implications that strategy delivers. 

No comments: