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1 April 2013

Discoverability seems to be the word on everyone's lips at the moment in the book business.  By this is meant how people find books and it's evident from recent research that bookshops play a very important part in this. This may not be a great comfort to them, as it must be incredibly irritating to be used as a showroom for internet retailers from whom the customer often ultimately buys because they offer the lowest price.

It may however offer bookshops a way forward, if they can continue to attract book-buyers through the door with a wide range of well-chosen stock and a good events programme, as many of the best booksellers across the UK and US already do.

According to recent Bowker research, bookshops sold more books at higher prices than internet retailers did, and accounted for the majority of the sales of children's books. Male buyers were more likely to use bookshops, with the result that terrestrial booksellers' shares of genres such as history, horror and thrillers were strong. And high street bookshops scored over internet retailers in book discovery. Fifteen per cent of book buyers looked inside the books on the tables and shelves in bookshops, while only 7% used facilities such as Amazon's Look Inside.

These findings not only reinforce the strategies that various booksellers have been pursuing, but also emphasise the value of bookshops to the industry. Jo Henry of Bowker estimated that the demise of bricks and mortar bookshops would result in a loss of £450m in sales. Both the UK and the US show the danger of loss of bookshops to the whole book community, as large numbers of book-buyers stopped buying altogether when Borders closed. You might have thought that readers would find somewhere else to browse, but a substantial proportion stop buying books at all.

The two most commons sources of discovery are browsing and this and previous readership of the author or series were the two most important factors for book purchase, with the price and blurb ranking third and fourth. Interestingly this is reversed round for self-published books, where the price and blurb are the two most important factors, the cover the least important.