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RC&D #5 Get in the Bookshelf Business

December 15, 2008

empty bookshelves

When publishing companies get into acquisition mode, they typically buy or partner with other media companies with overlapping distribution—TV, video, other types of publishing formats, touring events, music, etc.  But if publishing companies must depart from their core competencies, they should run to the most natural, yea even, obvious adjacency available to them—the vehicles that physically convey their books…



The secondary business reasons for this alignment are compelling enough:

  1. Design innovation.  Book people should be in charge of bookshelf design—for both retail and consumer environments.  Particularly in non-bookstore retail channels, book shelf design seems to be conceived by beer distributors—not people who know books.  True innovation in bookshelf design (can you say you’ve ever seen that?) will likely never happen without the financial interest of booksellers controlling it.  And as publishers continue to add value to books with changing formats and value-adds (like video, music, toys, extra books, clothing, and digital) the bookshelves will need to keep up.  Otherwise, booksellers will hear what they too often hear already:  “We don’t have a place for your books.”  Creatively, book design is already stifled by the merchandising vehicles that others have developed.  Publishers need to take responsibility for the inadequacies of their customers’ merchandising vehicles, rather than whine about retail’s lack of innovation.
  2. Cost efficiencies.  If publishers were aligned with the manufacturing and distribution of bookshelves, they could not only control more book placement, but the costs associated with it.  A marriage of disciplines could create holistic, turn-key sales opportunities for both publishers and bookstores:  the books and their shelving come together. 



But the PRIMARY reason for publishers to get into the bookshelf business is for Reader Creation & Development. 

Dolly Parton's Imagination LibraryBooks from BirthDo you know what the Number One contributing factor to a child learning to read (and complete high school)?  Answer:  parents who themselves can read and have educations.  If a child lives in a home with a Non-reader, he or she will likely become a Non-reader, too (Nat’l Commission on Adult Literacy, page 5). 

This reality is one reason why monthly direct-to-the-home literacy programs like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Tennessee Governors Books from Birth Foundation are so critical—they put books into the homes of children within 6 months of their birth every month until they enter school.

Because family literacy and family economics are so tightly intertwined, homes often have no home for books; that is, bookshelves.  Without bookshelves, even free books that walk right in the front door are lost and without priority. 

cyclical illiteracy

Armed with information, the Baylor University Center for Literacy runs a terrific program called Books for the Border targeting the lowest income counties in Texas (Texas has several of the country’s poorest counties) placing bookshelves with starter kits of books and bibles in homes–for adults and children.  But Baylor can only target seven counties in the country, and as we’ve noted before, illiteracy-driven poverty is far more pervasive than that one neighborhood.

If publishers jumped into the bookshelf business while getting serious about creating readers, they could help place libraries in every home in America, yeah even the world.  Working together with schools, churches, and literacy non-profits, America’s book industry could develop creative programs that make book centers as important as dinner tables—a place where the family can learn to delight in reading. 

And, ultimately, they could sell more books.  

(And, yes, I think continuity program sales would be a natural next step.) 

#6–Never Tell the Whole Story

© David P. Leach and Consequential Value, 2008

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 22, 2009 5:50 pm

    That’s not going to happen! ,

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