Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Letter From America III

I was honoured to be invited to speak in Minneapolis at the National Association of College Stores (NACS) Innovate 2008 conference. The focus was about how the members could gain competitive advantage through technology. Campus stores are being squeezed by many and also face lots of new digital challenges.

The issues that face all campus stores are many and complex but are no different to those facing all bookstores. There are many questions:

Who are their customers?
How do they engage with their community?
Are student customers for life or just for a short time and why can’t they retain the customers past student life?
What do their customers want?
What is the size of their market and their percentage of this?

Once they have established where they are they have to decide where the want to be and how they get there. It is not about digitisation nor is it about technology – it’s about retail. The campus store is not dead it is merely changing and adapting to new opportunities. Will it survive – I believe so but it will be different and will be built on its existing relationships with its community and its publishers.

The following are the digital recommendations I left them with to consider:

1. Adopt Digital Drop Ship as the model to engage all bookstores into an effective channel for all publishers. Some would argue that the aggregators do this today but look at the exclusive models and demand more. You need an inclusive, integrated and independent model that is inclusive not exclusive and builds on the relationships you have today not one that merely put someone else between you and your supply.

2. Widgets. Ask yourself how you can maximise this within your environment to sell more books. You could even use them in-store to qualify stock you don’t carry. If I am right and they become ubiquitous, how are you going to manage them? I believe the association has a clear role to play to make sure the right widgets are created and distributed to its members in a way that they can be fully exploited and increase revenues today. Don’t wait for someone to sell you the package do it yourselves. Solutions here need to offer both development and be built to be ‘out of the box’

3. E Inspection copies. I believe you are integral to the process today and going forward. If you aren’t plugged into the process, where will the sales go? Only by working collectively and with others will the real benefits on offer here be realised. After all the reviewers are your customers, the students are your customers and the books are what you should be selling, so why wouldn’t you work with others to secure it?

4. Print on demand offers much but is a significant change. It may work in one store but not in another today. However if you became the first movers and viewed it as a local resource could it secure a bigger market. If you wait someone will do it first. That may be a competitor, a print shop, a library, even a coffee shop. What being a follower mean to your business and community relationships.

5. 508 is my last suggestion. This is not an individual store option today as much as a co-operative one which could provide high visibility, take away a painful exercise for publishers, provide a real service and relationship link to the thousands of disability officers and the solution is not difficult not expensive.

You can read the full presentation at http://www.value-chain.biz/Brave%20New%20World%20ii.htm

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