Generating Retail Traffic

For the past several months, booksellers have been complaining about slow retail traffic. Publishers have complained, too, of course. But not all retail stores are experiencing this problem. Some are thriving.


Last night, I got a taste of this. While on the road, I visited the Apple Store inside the South Coast Mall in Costa Mesa, California. It was about 7:30 p.m. When I entered the mall, it seemed very quiet—almost deserted. Until I got to the Apple Store.

The store was small but packed. I could barely squeeze in. It was almost like an upscale bar. People were jabbering away and laughing. I never seen so much energy in a retail space.

Despite being packed, there were plenty of sales people wandering the floor. When I was ready to “check out,” I tapped one of them on the shoulder. He greeted me and instantly started processing my purchase. The whole transaction took less than two minutes.

As he finished up, I asked him, “Is your store always this crowded?” He answered instantly: “Always.”

I laughed and said, “I hope you are not paying rent. The mall should be paying you. You guys are the ones generating the traffic.”

He replied, “Don’t think we haven’t thought of that!”

Other sales people were actively engaged with customers, answering their questions and pointing them to the various products. They were very knowledgeable and excited about what they were doing. It once again made me wonder what might happen if a bookstore would invest in this kind of staffing and training. Maybe fewer customers would walk out of the bookstore frustrated because they couldn’t find what they came in for or didn’t want to stand in a long line to buy it.

But then, as a publisher, it began to dawn on me. The retail experience was important, but that wasn’t what had drawn these people to the store initially. No, “It’s the product, Stupid.” People come to the Apple store to experience cool products. Take away the products and the traffic dies.

So what would it take to create books that have the “wow factor” that Apple products have? I’m not sure. Certainly, we can improve the content. But we also need to improve the presentation and delivery. So many books are just boring. But do they have to be? I don’t think so.

What if, as publishers, we reinvented the book—just as Apple reinvented the cell phone? Or think of it this way … if Apple had a book publishing division, what would their books look like? How would they deliver their content? I’m not sure, but I don’t think they would be satisfied until they created something that was truly awe-inspiring.

I don’t know if this is possible with books. But until we try, we need to stop complaining about the traffic. Apple has raised the bar, not just for computers, but for all products, including books.

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