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Five Lessons from the Book Industry

As I was deciding what to write about this week, I came upon an article from The Nation called The Amazon Effect. In it, Steve Wasserman explains the many ways that Amazon has successfully challenged and remade the book industry–from distribution to publishing to the very way we read books. Though the book industry and scrapbook industry have some pretty big differences, several lessons from the article are useful to scrapbook businesses.

1. Nearly one in four people on the planet are online and the Internet resists the limits of geography.

Every offline business needs some online presence. Start with an up to date, easy to navigate website. Your website should include your hours, contact information, a visual of what your store offers at a minimum. Make it easy for visitors to sign-up for your electronic newsletter (this is not optional). Make this information easy to find.

2. Bookselling in the United States had always been less of a business than a calling.

Is your business a business, a calling, or a little bit of both? I think many people enter the industry as a calling rather than a business. If it’s a calling, you need to start treating it like a business if you want to remain in your calling.

3. The appeal of holding a physical book has diminished.

I am a paper scrapbooker. I might make one digital scrapbook a year – maybe – and that’s typically as a gift. For me, scrapbooking is a way to get off of the computer. That being said, the appeal of holding a physical scrapbook (whether made with paper or digital supplies) has diminished. People are less likely to print their photos anymore, let alone put them in some sort of scrapbook. Personally, I want physical scrapbooks, but fewer and fewer people do. How can the scrapbook industry adapt to this?

4. Chain stores can offer lower prices. Customers care more about price than whether the clerk “knows” the customer. Publishers need to prove their value to readers and authors.

As a customer, I need to know the value you are offering me. What is the value in me coming to a class at your store? What is the value of me coming into your store? What is your mission? What is your customer service mantra? Can you show me how to use different products? Why should I support your business? Make sure your customers know the value you offer them that they can’t get elsewhere.

5. Is selling competing goods worth it? Target stopped selling the Kindle because the Kindle includes a price checking app undermining Target.

Years ago, I visited a scrapbook store and they were selling pre-paid vouchers for Shutterfly books. Another store was promoting a direct selling digital scrapbook platform. Make sure the goods you are selling are not undermining you and your business. No, I don’t think paper-based scrapbook stores should ignore digital. But the point is that you need to carefully consider whether carrying a particular product furthers your mission or undermines it.

I realize that not all readers of Scrapbook Update are offline local scrapbook stores, but I think most readers would agree that offline local scrapbook stores are very important to the industry.

They help introduce the hobby to new scrapbookers.

They give scrapbookers a sense of identity as scrapbookers.

They provide a local community for scrapbookers.

Customers have adapted to Amazon’s method of consuming books. Now it’s up to non-Amazon book industry people (e.g., bookstores, publishers) to figure out where they fit. The scrapbook industry faces similar challenges.

Before I leave you today, I want to invite you to email me (stephaniemr at scrapbookupdate dot com) your questions about the business side of scrapbooking. Please use the subject line “Readers Questions.” Also, let me know your place in the industry (e.g., online store owner, designer, customer). I plan to answer your questions in future columns. And don’t worry, you will remain anonymous. Thanks!

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20 Responses to Five Lessons from the Book Industry

  1. Addie June 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Rapid change can be terrifying, and the book industry certainly changed rapidly! But just as vinyl tablecloths didn’t replace grandma’s lace, or Ikea undermine love of antiques, electronic reading material won’t diminish the joy of a physical book. In fact, it may increase the love of those old books with beautiful illustrations, handled and read by many people over years. There’s always a market for and a love of the old. What scares people, I believe, is something becoming old, and that has to do with our own personal fears of aging.

    • Stephanie Medley-Rath June 14, 2012 at 6:47 am #

      Absolutely! Change happens and everyone just has to figure out where they fit in the new way of doing things. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Erika @ Scrapbook Obsession Blog June 14, 2012 at 3:50 am #

    I enjoyed this article. I agree that real books vs. e-books/online book selling is similar to LSS vs. digital scrapbooking/online scrapbook stores. I’ve been watching the scrapbook industry for many years now and seeing how it’s changed. These are not changes I like for the most part – because I’m a paper scrapper who’d prefer to shop in person – and a traditionalist at heart. But you’re right – LSS owners need to adapt if they want to stay alive, even if it goes against every fiber of their paper-lovin’ being, LOL!

    • Stephanie Medley-Rath June 14, 2012 at 6:51 am #

      I don’t think it is just an LSS issue, because a lot of aspects of the industry have also changed and those things that have not changed will change. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Gab June 14, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    I really enjoyed reading this post – very thought provoling

  4. Gab June 14, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    Oops, that was meant to say “provoking”

  5. Pamela McGillin June 14, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    I am a consumer. I spend money, but I get the most “bang for my buck” that I can. Whether this means shopping at the giants (Michaels/Joann’s/AC Moore), online or at my LSS. Each one offers me something different. The giants offer me a few product lines and tools and are always far behind whatever trend is going on at the moment, usually at the best price, often with 1/2 price coupons. Online is harder, I won’t pay for shipping if I can help it and I must say that I’ve been disappointed with products once I received them. My LSS is expensive, even on sale or clearance, it’s still by far the highest price point. Why do I go to my LSS, I’ll give you three reasons.
    1) I can see/feel all the merchandise. Sometimes I see sample layouts that the staff have done using the products.
    2) Matching that exact color or finding just the right embellishment. They actually have a great deal more variety then the giants.
    3) Events. All day crops, $5 Friday night crops, free use of tools that I wouldn’t buy for just one project and membership to use very specialized tools that I would never buy.
    So in the end I always use all three sources for material and inspiration. LSS that want to stay alive need to have service & teaching as their number one priority, because as soon as I’m in the door, I’m spending money that I didn’t intend to spend since that new paper/ribbon/flower is just so pretty… Whereas, when I shop at the giants, I’ll come back for the product when I have a coupon.

    • Stephanie Medley-Rath June 15, 2012 at 7:24 am #

      Thanks for commenting! Sounds like each method of shopping offers something different for you.

  6. Katrina Guy June 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Good article! I am (to date) only a paper scrapbooker. I still go to three great scrapbook stores, especially for their markdowns! If I want something in particular and don’t want to drive and do the “hunt,” I buy from eBay. I can have it the next day. Often the postage is paid and the price is less.

  7. Stephanie Medley-Rath June 15, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    Thanks for commenting. I don’t think I’ve ever bought scrapbook supplies from ebay. I had never considered it before.

  8. Nicole Martel June 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    I actually have a nook and I have down loaded several books and read them, but I’ve stopped using it because I love the feel of the actual book in my hands! However, I do love buying books from Amazon because of free shipping and low prices :)

    • Stephanie Medley-Rath June 18, 2012 at 7:39 am #

      Thanks for commenting! What gets you into a physical bookstore? I like fiction, some children’s books, and some reference books in ebook form. For books I use for research, I like print because it is still difficult to highlight and take notes in ebooks like I do in paper books.

  9. Lisa m Zepponi June 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    Loved this article!

  10. RitaQ June 19, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    Just a comment/note to any LSS owners out there… I am now primarily a digi scrapper but ‘back in the day’ I used to visit (& purchase from) my LSS often. However, most of my supplies just sat unused, too pretty to use (LOL) or I got stymied in the creation process. Yes, the store did offer classes but not my style. I finally realized that I am a very clean & simple scrapper (I’m a lover of all things Cathy Zielske).

    My long-winded point… when I approached my LSS about possibly incorporating some teaching or something digi-wise into their class store/offerings, I was flatly (& almost rudely dismissed) with a ‘that would put us out of business’ comment. Needless to say, I have never stepped foot into that store again. Sadly, if they had offered some kind of PSE / scrap-style classes, I would’ve been there in a heart-beat. Plus, I would have been happy to create some hybrid layouts (again, Cathy Zielske-like).
    … just a thought

    • Stephanie Medley-Rath June 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      I really think that the future for many types of businesses is education and community building. I think digi classes in most LSS would be difficult to sell. A store can keep other types of classes at a lower price point knowing they will most likely sell merchandise, too. LSS would either need to charge a higher price point for digi classes or figure out a way to sell something along with the digi class to keep the class at a lower price point. What do you think LSS should do to make digi classes profitable? I agree, they are needed, but I’m stumped as to how to make them profitable. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Melissainsc June 25, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    What an interesting comparison. I’m a librarian who works with our digital resources so I’m very familiar with book industry trends when it comes to digital media. I would like to point out that there are some significant differences between paper and digital media. Paper media (books and scrapbook supplies) fall under the first sale doctrine which means that once you purchase the item you can use it, re-sell it, lend it or give it away as you prefer. Digital books are not sold but licensed so you are restricted from altering the file in any way, sharing it except within certain extremely narrow parameters, giving it away (for all practical purposes) or reselling it. Digital scrapbook supplies are not as tightly bound by license agreements although there are some. They are not device or program bound as most e-books are at present and they are generally much more affordable than commercial e-books (which are generally far overpriced for the actual value to the consumer of such highly restricted products).

    I don’t buy e-books and I cringe when I think of how much money the library has to spend to add e-books to their collection. I do buy digital scrapbook supplies because I feel that the value is reasonable and I am willing to pay and use them fairly (as in I don’t copy and share files or use them for commercial purposes without a license to do so).

    Ugh. Sorry about the rant. As you can tell, this issue certainly gets my blood up.

    I also think your comment about scrapbook stores being places for community, learning and events is really interesting in that it is exactly the transition that libraries find themselves facing. We are currently renovating and expanding one of our branches. There will be more space but not more shelves nor a larger book collection. There will be more meeting space, more class and event space, and more computer space and access. Libraries are struggling with this transition to digital media as well. Where we still have some leverage is in the research end of the equation. There are still resources that are not even available for individual purchase or subscription and still many ways in which the trained library staff brings added value to the activity of research. I’m not sure if there are good ways to do the same sort of thing in the scrapbook industry but it seems to me that there are some possibilities for some interesting out-of-the-box ideas here.

    • Stephanie Medley-Rath June 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      Thanks for sharing. There is some digital content that is program restricted. To my knowledge, I can only use digital content from Creative Memories with their software (though I can use other digital content with their software, too. If that makes sense). And there are some restrictions with some of the electronic die-cutters. But, you are right, there is much less of this in scrapbooking compared to the book industry.

      I hadn’t thought a lot about libraries, but now that you bring them up, they do provide a similar space that local scrapbook stores provide. I use my librarians for research purposes all the time. I don’t think we are using our local scrapbook stores in quite the same way. I could be wrong. But like you say, there is a definite need for out-of-the-box ideas. Thanks for commenting.

  12. Nicole Beasley-Becker October 7, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    I work in a direct sales industry for scrapbooking and paper crafts. I have been doing this for the last 6 years and have noticed a significant change in what my customers/friends want in scrapbooking. They have tried the digital and enjoy it but always end up back to wanting to paper craft. The issue is how time is taken up. In today’s world, there are so many other distractions and things to do, especially with all the technology. What happens is that many of these people simply don’t make time to sit down and scrap book. Facebook has become the new scrapbook. If you look at the new timeline etc, you can post pictures of different events into the timeline and comment on these pictures. It is a quicker way of scrapping without figuring out the paper and embelishments etc…. So they go this route and feel satisfied. If they do scrapbook, it is to create albums for gifts, or photo based gifts to others. There will still be a market in the LSS industry, but that market will be relegated to either very big cities as a niche market, or in small towns up North where there is not much else to do over the winter, but even those will be minimal. Social Media has taken the place of the need to document the pictures and events that have taken place.

    My role now, is to offer workshops that people can come to in order to create gifts or home-decor.

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