Gamestop is doing something bookstores only wish they could get away with

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The article does a pretty good job of explaining things, but for those of you who don’t game here’s another stab at it.  Gamestop not only sells physical game discs, it also has a robust trade-in program that is effectively a money printing factory for the company.  They’ll ‘buy back’ a disc when a customer is done with it for usually 10% of the value, or offer about 50% if they take trade-in credit.  Then they resell the used disc at about 90% of the new cost.  So you can buy Alien Invasion Buffet 17 for $59.99 new, or $54.99 used.  This program is apparently a third of their revenues, so they have a vested interest in working with it.

Gaming has been shifting to pure digital for a while now.  It’s becoming less common for gamers to have actual physical copies of their games.  Console or PC, they download them directly to their systems and start playing.  Obviously, for a brick-and-mortar store uninterested in innovating, this is threatening.  Gamestop is sort of the mini-WalMart of game selling.  They Bigfooted console manufacturers and insisted any console sold through Gamestop, that comes bundled with a game, has to be bundled with a physical disc rather than a download code.  Gamestop’s reasoning is many of those physical copies will make their way back to Gamestop as trade-ins, where they can resell them for almost pure cream.  And, if the customer doesn’t want the actual disc lying around, they either buy from Gamestop and resell the unwanted disc, or they buy from somewhere else that still provides the digital download.

I wonder if we’re going to see Gamestop’s console sales dip because of this?  I’m not expecting a steep decline, but it just makes me curious as to how many digital-preferred customers might leave Gamestop without the console over this issue.

The only difference between gamers and readers is gamers don’t have this odd and perverse romanticism with the physical.  Gamers just want to game.  Some readers like to place actual printed books up on a pedestal like they’re holy objects.  Further, some of these readers get extremely agitated over the concept of someone focusing only on the content (the actual story or text) rather than sharing their love of the pages, the binding, the cover, the creak of paper and leather and glue, the musty woody smell of a book, the feel of it, etc…

We’ve already seen this play out in other industries.  It’s curious what gets clung to and what doesn’t.  No one runs around pining for 8-track tapes, or cassettes, but there’s a certain (minority) segment of music lovers who idolize vinyl records in the same way physical book lovers worship the printed page.  Never mind that most of the music market is downloads, and even the once mighty CD is fading away; record lovers still lament the loss of the popularity of their 12″ discs.  Movies are beginning to shift in the same fashion.  It took longer, but it’s starting to be a real thing.  DVDs and Blu-rays are beginning to fade in the face of downloads and streaming options.  Oddly, though, no one seems really attached to those discs.  I suspect that over the next ten years or so, we’ll just see movies on disc just quietly slip away without the sort of kicking and screaming printed book lovers are producing.

Here’s the thing that book lovers, those who prefer the physical, need to understand.  Progress always wins, first.  And second, actual books aren’t really going to disappear.  They’re going to become the minority format, but they won’t go away.  My prediction is Print-On-Demand will fulfill most of the printed market.  That’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.  The same content that’s supplied digitally with all the digital advantages is just tweaked a little bit and made available in ready for POD printing.  When a printed page lover happens across the content, they choose that option, the book is run off, shipped to them, and they’re happy.  Everyone wins.

Except, for some reason, we’ve got a number of readers who see anything less than the abolition of digital as some sort of capitulation.  You see this in book forums, and in discussions where people connected with publishing or reading congregate.  Some of them get very irate over the concept of digital reading.  If the person in question is a bookstore owner, I guess I sort of see why they’re so upset.  What I don’t understand is why they have to act like a toddler about it.

When a toddler’s parents tell the kid to go to bed or eat the vegetables or clean up their room, sometimes the toddler pitches a fit.  They vent their displeasure and anger in a display of emotion, hoping (immaturely) this will prevent the unwanted circumstance from coming to pass.  Some parents occasionally do bend, but I think any parent knows what usually happens is the parent wins.  Because, annoying though it may be, the parent’s right.  Bedtime is what it is.  Vegetables are good for you.  Rooms have to be cleaned.

In the same fashion, there’s no point in pitching a fit over progress.  Bookstore owners screaming and crying over digital books doesn’t change that they’re a thing, change that readers have begun to adopt them, change that they’re very likely to become the dominant format.  The bookstore owner has a business that’s invested in selling the physical.  Too bad.  I get that they’re unhappy, but that doesn’t change the future.  Crying about it is a waste of time, and makes their faces all puffy.

What I do recommend is they figure out some way to adapt to the future.  POD would be a good option, it seems to me.  They could set themselves up with a POD printer and advertise as the walk-in/walk-out bookstore; whatever you want, we’ve got it in less than ten minutes.  Amazon has pretty fast shipping, same day in some big cities, but there are times when someone wants something now.  POD bookstores could fill this need, positioning themselves in a niche that needs serving.  Customers would call up or walk in, wait a few minutes, and leave with the book hot off the press.  That’s a business that might have some relevance going forward.

Another thing bookstores could do is try to integrate themselves into their communities.  Focus on local authors, or a certain genre, and serve the hell out of it.  Schedule author appearances, discussion groups, curated lists that help readers find their next book.  Things like that are a value-add that could allow a bookstore to maintain relevance.  Yes it’s harder than simply ordering, unpacking and packing boxes, and stocking shelves; but if it’s that or fold, and if the owner’s determined to stay in the printed book sales business . . .

But what needs to stop, what makes me wish for the stores to fold up even faster than they already are, is all this screaming and crying over how digital is bad, how digital is wrong, and how real readers read real books.

Bullshit.

Customers have a funny way of deciding for themselves what they want, what they love.  Insisting digital reading be banished is the toddler pounding their fists on the floor.  It changes nothing.

Adapt or die.