by Rebecca Cantrell
Here’s my problem (and I suspect I’m not alone): there is TOO MUCH to do. I twitter. I Facebook. I do physical book tours. I do virtual blog tours. I check in at goodreads and shelfari. I blog. I read and comment on other blogs. I have a newsletter. I go to conferences and book festivals. I review books. I help out organizations. I judge major contests. I do TV (a couple of times). I do radio (likewise). I get great reviews (and bad ones). I read about marketing. I try to reach my niche. I check through my google analytics web site data. It’s exhausting.
And through it all, I have a sinking feeling that I’m not doing enough, or I’m not doing enough of the right thing. To make matters worse, I have no direct proof that any of those things work. Nada. It’s all “indirect.” Maybe I wouldn’t sell any books at all if I didn’t do all that stuff. Or maybe I could stop doing half or all of it and sell just as many. No one knows.
I’m tired and I’ve decided I’m abrogating responsibility to someone else. I’ve figured out what they need to do. What I want is for someone to invent the Right Place for readers. Readers will find the books they like, really like, and buy them. Readers will be happy. Writers will be happy. Once my books are in there, I know they’ll find readers who love them.
In the olden days, that place was bookstores, and sometimes it still is. There are many wonderful bookstores staffed by people who know what their customers read and like and can recommend books they’ll enjoy and set up events for writers and readers to mingle (Poisoned Pen in AZ for one, Book Passage in San Francisco, M is for Mystery in San Mateo, The almost late Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, Kona Stories in my hometown). I go to those stores whenever I can and I buy as many books there as I can afford. If they don’t have what I want, I ask them to order it. Sadly, it’s clear that not enough people do. More and more indie bookstores go out of business every year. Even the two biggest chains, Borders and Barnes & Noble, seem to be floundering.
I want the web analog. I want a giant online bookstore (and, yes, I have heard of Amazon, B&N.com, etc. Bear with me). How to build this online paradise?
Make it about me. Like Netflix. When I go to Netflix, it tells me what I just saw and how much I liked it. It gives me Top Picks of things I might like based on the bajillion movies I’ve actually rated and watched. It’s a small, manageable list. I can see it all at a glance. And, dang nab it, it’s usually right. I can scroll through the list if it’s not. Or scroll down and see more movies tailored to my preferences that are sorted by category (comedy? Here’s 5 you’ll like. Thrillers? Ditto). It doesn’t have a ton of things to look at and click on (although it’s still too busy).
When I go to most bookselling web sites, in contrast, it’s all about THEM. What books they have. What books they like. What books they want to sell me at a discount. I’d be old and gray if I actually browsed through all that. I don’t want infinite choices, at least not all at once. There’s too much. I don’t want to wade through One More Thing. I’m tired, remember?
Pop up that predictive software. Instead of “Customers who bought what you bought” at the bottom of the page, that should be my home page. Sure, I can choose to browse and look at all your other stuff, but I don’t have to. Yes, I know that Amazon has a “My Amazon” section, but it doesn’t captivate me like Netflix.
Start aggregating stuff. It’s not just about books. It’s about the love of books. Help me connect to other booklovers all in one place. Give me the top 10 mystery blogs. The top 10 mystery reviewers. Discussion groups. You get the idea. The content is all there already. Filter it. Curate it. Use your knowledge of books and bookselling to help me get what I want, not what you think I should want.
Simplify your design. I have a tiny netbook computer. When I go to bookselling web sites, do you know how many things I can click on without even having to scroll?
At B&N it’s 48, Amazon, 30. It’s overwhelming. Netflix comes in with a more manageable 18, although that’s still too busy. Apple, financial juggernaut of design? Only 10.
How about it indies? Amazon? Barnes & Noble? Google? Apple? Santa? Can you build this place for me and all the other readers out there? I know you have the technology. Build it so I’ll have more time to write and more time to read. Or, build it because it will help you sell more books (I like it when you sell books, even if they’re not mine).
I really want dialogue on this, Oh Gentle Blog Readers. What’s YOUR dream online bookstore look like?
(One of these days I also want to talk about online conferences, like the wonderful conference put on by Poisoned Pen last year. But that’s another post.)