Did you notice how shops have changed?

by Paul Browne

Related link: http://www.firstpartners.net/blog/location/dublin/2005/12/30/did-you-notice-how-…

5 Years ago, you could walk into Waterstones bookshop in Dublin and see 8-10 sections filled with computer books. Walk in today and you would be lucky to see 1-2 sections, less than a quarter the number. The titles still being covered are the ‘mass market’ items - Word, Excel , Access, Microsoft Office. No longer can you find the items of specialist interest - JMX, Aspect Orientated Programming, Ajax and the like. Even slightly more mainstream books on Oracle and Enterprise Java are getting hard to find.

What is going on? Remember how the dot com boom promised to revolutionise retailing and that old fashioned retailers were doomed? It turns out that a both online and offline retailers are thriving. Specialist areas (the long tail - as explained in this post) are migrating online. Mass market hits (such as Sharon Osbourne’s and Will Young’s biographies) stay in the shop, where you’re more likely to buy them as a last minute present or impulse purchase.

From on online retailers point of view (e.g. Amazon), computer books are a perfect product. No ‘bricks and mortar’ book shop is going to be able to stock all the books I need. Given that for a worldwide population of 6 Billion people, I'm guessing that less than 20,000 copies will be sold of an book such as Java Messaging Service (JMS), even for a popular title from O’Reilly. This translates to about a quarter a copy a year for even an above average bookshop in Dublin , Belfast or Drogheda. Bundle them up into an online bookshop however, and 20,000 copies is a very nice market.

This process, far from being the death of traditional retailers is proving their renaissance. Companies like Tesco and Argos are mastering true Clicks and Mortar techniques. They can devote previous shelf space to high volume, high profit goods, while direct their ‘do you have this in pink in a size 20′ queries to their online store. Maybe not as convenient for techies in search of the latest knowledge fix, but 3 days wait for a book is better than not being able to get that book at all.

Are you seeing that same trend in shops in your area?


2005-12-31 06:32:03
Explaining the decline
I spent the last eight years working in the book trade, four years in bookshops and four years at the head office of a major book retailer (not Waterstone's, incidentally). For the last six of those years, I specialised in computer books.

Over that period, there's been a decline in sales of computing titles through high street retailers. I can recall discussing these with salespeople from a number of publishers, and an idea which came up often was the 80:20 principle. At the professional end of the market, 80% of books are sold through online retailers and 20% through the high street book trade. At the most basic, consumer end of the market, the equation is reversed.

This idea was being floated around 12-18 months ago, and if anything has changed, I suspect it's that the internet book trade has gained market share. The glory days of high street booksellers being able to shift 150 MCSE study guides etc. have long gone.

The other factor is that at the same time that this has been going on, sales of basic guides have been declining as well. My gut feeling is that software is becoming increasingly easy to use, and that users are more sophisticated - so they're buying fewer books. The effect that this has had is that booksellers are no longer stocking slower-selling specialist titles, which were in effect subsidised by the faster-selling consumer titles.

All of this adds up to a decline in sales, which most retailers would use as reason for reducing the space available and devoting it to faster-selling, more profitable lines.

Of course. it should be noted that this is just one person's view of the market, and it's based on anecdotal evidence and my recollection of the market - not on any up to date figures. I'd be very interested in any other perspectives on this.

2005-12-31 07:58:41
Good to see it isn't just me ...

It sounds like you have a good angle on this - nice to know it isn't just me noticing the change!


2005-12-31 11:57:09
Similar trend on the other side of the pond...
In the States, we have a simiar trend, although I have noticed that Borders Book and Music continues to maintain a large selection of books on computer programmer. Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, has dramatically reduced the amount of space devoted to computer programming.
2006-01-02 02:18:19
Another angle on this, from the BBC
This article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4566526.stm), on the BBC website says that record shops need to sell 2 copies of a CD per year to make it worthwhile to stock it.

Perhaps this is the same for bookstores?