Business partnerships maximize resources and leverage each partner’s audience and strengths. Could business partnerships save the bricks-and-mortar bookstore as well?
This article is part of my Bookstore of the Future Project in which I’m asking a simple question and posing it to authors, book bloggers, publishers, and store owners:
In the age of ebooks and ecommerce what should bookstores look like in order to stay relevant and solvent?
The answers, both disturbing and hopeful, will be compiled into a series of articles. As I research the state of bookstores today, partnerships have come up many times and there may be some good ideas to be found in the discussion.
What do Successful Business Partnerships look Like?
In an ideal business partnership, the audience for one product or service is predisposed to like the partner product or service, and both businesses benefit. Here are a couple to think about:
Hawaii 5-0 and Chevy: If you have ever seen an episode of Hawaii 5-0, you know the show has a partnership with Chevrolet. All of the 5-0 detectives drive Chevy vehicles, with the showcase car being Danny’s Camaro. The cars get almost as much screen time as Alex O’Loughlin’s bare torso and the show’s dialogue often includes a casual remark about low gas consumption or sweet cornering. But the real impact is off-screen. Not only have Hawaiian Chevy dealers gotten a boost but there are dozens of blogs and articles about the show’s cars and tie-ins, all of which is good word-of-mouth for the Chevy brand.
High Street fashion designers and Target: The capsule collections by big name designers like Missoni, Philip Lim, and Prabal Gurung give everybody a boost: the big name designer is able to reach a wider audience with a highly profitable venture, Target differentiates itself from competition like Walmart and Kohl’s, and customers get labels they could not otherwise afford. In fact the capsule collections have proven so popular that the Target website actually crashed in 2011 when the Missoni collection premiered. Here’s an article from Target about designers competing to be part of the trend.
Land o’ Lakes and University of Minnesota: There are many examples of collaborations between universities and businesses out there but this internship story resonates because the school and the business have roots in the local community. Internships are amazing partnerships; students seek out schools that give them great internships which are resume-worthy work experiences. Those students have a head start when job hunting after graduation. The businesses get to evaluate potential hires without a high cost or commitment. A win all around.
Business Partnerships for Bookstores?
The bookstore with a partnership might look a lot different than a space with only books in it, with a few cards or bookmarks thrown in for good measure. Here are a few examples the book industry could build on:
Books and Fashion: Both Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are trendy, upscale stores with a dedicated fan base. Fashion is the main product line for both stores, but a shopper will also find home goods like quilts and painted knobs in Anthropologie and funky chalkboards in Urban Outfitters. And both carry books geared to their shopper demographics and the overall vibe of the store. The Urban Outfitter in Cambridge, MA, had a terrific collection of humor, art, and design books when I was there last year, and Anthropologie stores can usually be relied upon to have cookbooks, shelter, fashion, gift books, and journals.
Books and Museums: The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is one of the best places to go for aviation-themed books. The bookstore in the Udvar-Hazy Center of the museum in Dulles, VA quickly sells out of titles and it is not uncommon to walk by empty shelves. Across the pond, the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge University, UK, is part think tank, part museum, and part bookstore which features books by and about polar explorers. Most of the titles are hard-to-find or unique books that are sold both at the institute and online via the institute’s website.
Books and Hotels: As this New York Times article shows, people who stay at hotels might want something to read. While the article talks about a library, a capsule bookstore can also cater to that audience. From my own experience, one of my own favorite bookstore discoveries was the shop-within-a-shop at the Sheraton Bijao Resort in Panama.
Why Not Partnerships?
If business partnerships are such hot stuff, why don’t we see more of them in the book industry? The answer might lie in the traditional ways most print books are distributed and the volume of books that big distributors want a book retailer to purchase. A retail space that is a partnership of products like books and fashion, won’t have the sales volume a big distributor would want.
Could independent authors and small publishers be the logical answer for partnerships? Yes, but only if book quality matches the non-book partner’s wares. Plus, everyone must have the patience to deal with multiple producers rather than just one big book vendor.
Read all of the Bookstores of the Future posts in the #noticed category