Do You Think Book Selling is Headed Towards Monopoly?


When I was a little girl, I loved playing Monopoly with my sister. Collecting those green houses and the cards with purple or yellow strips at the top. I loved getting my $200 when I passed "Go." And I loved the little metal playing pieces, especially the dog.

The point of the game was, of course, to win.

In the world of book selling, I wonder if there's a game of Monopoly going on. And I wonder, is there going to be one clear winner in the end?

I've been having this conversation with various book sellers and book promoters like Hearts and Minds, Eighth Day Books, Elliott Bay, and Englewood Review of Books. I will continue to have the conversation with them as the months go on, particularly as part of my work with The High Calling, where we're interested in the idea of keeping the game open to multiple players, rather than having The Win go to one major book seller like, say, Amazon.

We are interested in this because good business usually needs multiple players. There is something inherently unsettling about a monopoly. We are interested in this because we like the humanity and passion we see behind businesses that really are "more than a bookstore," as Hearts and Minds claims.

Right now, I don't have any grand ideas about how to make this a better game, but I'm playing around with things like IndieBound. Today, I am also showing Elliott Bay how I can make a widget that will send people to their store, so to speak.

My page on IndieBound also showcases the other booksellers I'm in contact with, see?

Indie Bound

We'll be continuing this conversation at The High Calling and behind the scenes. But I wonder...

• what do you think about the book selling landscape right now?
• do you think it's okay to have a monopoly?
• if you don't think it's okay to have a monopoly, what tempts you to promote One Big Winner over others? (I have my reasons, but I'd love to hear yours.)

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Blogger Maureen said...

Just joined IndieBound.

We still have several great bookstores in the area, Politics & Prose and Kramer's, though getting to them requires a trek into D.C. Many indies here have shuttered. Some of the bigger ones remaining, like B&N, are stocking increasingly fewer titles and copies, especially poetry, which means I have to order, which in turn means I call first and don't physically go to the store unless I'm already nearby on another errand.

I buy a lot of books, as does my husband. The savings on shipping and sales taxes are considerable when we use online. We do, however, frequent indies in whatever towns we're visiting, including those locally, and frequently make purchases. We spend hours in bookstores. Meeting a proprietor who really knows books is a great pleasure.

I also order directly from authors when I'm able to.

One thing I like about Amazon is its links to other businesses. For example, I wanted to contribute to a Kickstarter project and found I could do so easily through my Amazon account, meaning I don't have to create one more account that has my personal information.

One thing that no one online only can provide is the personal/hands-on touch, which has always been a hallmark at Politics & Prose and used to be when Borders (now deeply in trouble) first came here. The opportunities to talk books, meet people who give readings, etc. - those are important to me, and a reason I support what the best brick-and-mortars still do. It's become rare to walk into a bookstore and find someone who knows exactly what you'd like, where it is on a shelf, etc. That's the "more than a bookstore" part I relish.

I once worked in a bookstore, in the 60s-70s when the business was different but still hard. I sent back to publishers a lot of books with covers torn off. So many discards (the books should have gone to countries where people need books). Now, I think, it's crazy not to have print on demand, for all the right environmental reasons and for business.

I know no one who thinks it's ok to have a monopoly on anything; yet the market goes where needs and desires are met in cost, time/convenience, selection, etc. To compete you always have to try to go one better and hope it sticks (it doesn't always, as Google's earliest attempts at a FB-like social network show). It helps to get out first and set the model, or how to take the existing model and make it better.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Byron Borger said...

Thanks, dear, dear friend, for this good piece and your good efforts. You know there are so many other questions and concerns---not just the "monopoly" piece, although that is a fabulous way into the conversation. I'm too exhausted now (after another day of booksellin') to say anything other than I know I speak for many when I express appreciation for this step towards supporting real live bookstores.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Faith Hope Cherrytea said...

definitely not for monopoly. one thing that drives them more business is the monetizing feature of blogging - becoming an affiliate- which is easy income for those who choose this partnership. and buyers are not going to be thinking about costs as they're thinking about convenience...
great topic!

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl Smith said...

Such an interesting conversation. Until this post, I was completely unaware of the online resources you highlighted (you go girl for creating those widgets!). Much food for thought here, L.L.

By the way, we played Monopoly twice in the last week. I won the first time. Winning is much more fun than losing.

10:23 PM  

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