It’s not the books, it’s the experience

Today, a simple statement of the obvious: it’s not the books, it’s the experience.

I know I’m saying nothing new here, but sometimes obvious things need stating to wake us up, so I’ll spell it out: today, people can buy books anywhere; and in a world where books can be bought online or at the supermarket, bookshops are superfluous. Like coffee shops. I mean, who in their right mind is going to pay £1.95 — or whatever the price is at your favourite café — for a coffee when they could make one at home for 10p?

But they do.

Because what they’re buying isn’t the coffee, which is gone in a moment, their money quite literally flushed away just a few minutes later: they’re buying the experience.

It’s an experience that Amazon, Eden and their ilk will never be able to match; yet they thrive whilst we go into decline. We have a product that — for the price of three or four coffees — people can keep for ever. But whilst they’ll spend their money on coffee and cakes that are gone in a moment — products that they know don’t represent value for money compared to the price they’d pay if they ate and drank the same things at home — they’re reluctant to spend their money in our shops. When it comes to books, apparently, the home experience is better.

The shops that survive will be the shops that see this and change — not into coffee shops (though I’m sure having a coffee shop helps), but into shops that offer the same sort of buzz. Shops that deliver more than a product that can be bought anywhere but an experience that makes the product price irrelevant.

No: bookshops are — or should be — no more superfluous than coffee shops. But it’s our call to communicate that to our customers. Has your shop got what it takes? Have you? And if you have — what’s your formula?

4 thoughts on “It’s not the books, it’s the experience

  1. A starter for ten – a one stop shop, so you can buy a commentary, a CD, some candles, cards for forthcoming Christian events, a gift for the husband/wife, all of your Christian needs in one place BUT not with the atmosphere of the supermarket, pick up, put in wire basket, proceed to checkout, pay up and go, BUT in an atmosphere of friendship and help where you can also enquire about that book you saw reviewed but can’t quite remember the title, get it tracked down and either buy it then or get it ordered for early delivery. A priest said to me recently that he mourned the loss of the SPCK Bookshops because whenever he went in one, even in a strange city, he always felt “at home”.

  2. I totally agree with Phil that it is about more than just books, that it’s about the experience – though I do think you can’t say it’s not the books because it has to be those as well or else it’s not a bookshop and even with the best atmosphere if you don’t have anything they want you won’t make a sale.

    I agree with Carole too that it’s about breadth of range and good service.
    However I don’t think it’s enough to just have the range of stock – though that’s one very big element – and I do wonder if it’s enough to just be a ‘christian bookshop’, but even if it is I think it is about having more – and yes not just coffee.

    These are just my thoughts, am I in a better position that any of the rest of us, not sure about that but so far I’m hanging in here and it seems to be working even in a time of downturn so here’s my thoughts (cause as we all know here I am the shy retiring and insular type ;0)

    I think it’s about having community and heart and a spirit of inclusion.

    I think it’s about being a little mad, a little strange and a lot committed – not just white jacket committed but committed to doing what you do with passion, flair and inclusion. Sharing what you love but not in a shove it down your throat sort of way but in a hey want to join me cause you can see it’s fun sort of way, and this is not just about core christian outreach though that get’s achieved, this is about core community outreach regardless of faith so that the faith barrier stops being a barrier and is instead just a door through which you can pass.

    So to me it’s about going to that rather expensive but lovely coffee shop and being part of that community and them being part of mine, about working with them and sharing business cards and leaflets – and also with all the other indie businesses locally, and yes don’t get me wrong sharing in and being part of all the other Christian Communities as well, but not them alone.

    In some ways it’s about reaching out to my competitor and saying can we be colleagues, can we share our experiences and grow beyond our usual boundaries, can we be community too! In some ways it’s about not seeing them as my competitor anyway but someone I can share something with and in so doing I grow – think of it like tithing and growing the harvest :0)
    It’s about looking at my adversary and instead of seeing them solely as adversary seeing them as a potential friend or someone who can benefit me instead of just hurt me. When I do this I grow strong and their strength becomes mine too :0)
    It’s a stunningly valuable gift and insight this last one and perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever learnt.

    But for me it’s about having more than just christian books and gifts, but having the general things too that cross both and all boundaries so you are opened up to the wider community. You know it’s a subtle but lasting message that one because I think it says, ‘you know what, being christian isn’t special, it’s certainly not exclusive, but it’s integral to the being and fabric of me and my shop – so much so that it’s not the first thing you notice about us, it might even be the last thing you notice but it’s the one thing that makes all the difference, cause it’s the thing that gives me the passion and makes me that little bit different!’

    But then that’s just philosophy, but it’s the philosophy that makes the ethos, and it’s the ethos that makes the ambience – so perhaps we should talk philosophy a bit more in the shops, along with talking about the books we read in our bookgroups in shop, along with the arts and crafts we enjoy at the white table in the middle of the shop…

    • Thanks Melanie – wonderfully put, especially the bit about about being a little mad: with you all the way there 🙂

      Perhaps a better post title would have been “Beyond the books…” rather than “It’s not the books…” — but I’ve found hyping it up always gets a better response… 😉

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