Strategies for Independent Bookstores
Itâ€™s a war in the book trade
Part 1 of a 36-part article
by David A. Rozansky, Publisher, Flying Pen Press
Readers, Writers & Royalties columnist
April 16, 2009
Copyright 2009 David A. Rozansky
Independent bookstores today are fighting for their lives on a bloody battleground. They are under siege from all directions. Amazon is undercutting their prices and offering an unbelievable selection. The chain stores buy in such large numbers that they can offer sales that independent bookstores cannot match. Big box stores offer 24-hour-a-day convenience in addition to cheap prices, and the Internet is available everywhere, anywhere, all the time, offering more information than the full capacity of the U.S. Library of Congressâ€¦for free.
What is the independent bookseller to do?
Fortunately, there is a lot the independent bookseller can do.
I am always watching the trade, with an eye for independent businesses and working writers. It is not easy, but in my studies this year, I stumbled upon a book, The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. I had enjoyed Greeneâ€™s previous book, The 45 Laws of Power, and like the earlier book, The 33 Strategies of War is full of historical anecdotes that support his basic rules of competition and power struggles.
The 33 Strategies of War clearly explains the ultimate rules of war, gleaned from thousands of years of strategy thinking of the top minds, from Sun Tzu to Napoleon, from Churchill to Rommel. These rules are how the game of war is played. They are the basic elements of strategy.
The beauty of strategy is that it tends to be universal. What works in war works in most any form of competition, to one extent or another. We are fascinated by war because so much is at stake, so much glory, so much horror. But in milder arenas of competition, it is still wise to apply the same rules, such as attack from a position of strength, or to do what the opponent least expects.
With the rules in bookselling changing so rapidly, and the stakes being so high, I found this book to be quite enlightening. With an eye to how the rules can be applied to the book trade and my own business, I have found that they can easily be applied to retail, even to the strange and backwards world of book selling.
In this series of articles, I will interpret the rules in The 33 Strategies of War in applications that will assist independent booksellers to help them in their challenges and their struggle for success, or in many cases, the fight for their very survival.
As the title suggests, there are 33 strategies, and all of them can be applied by the independent bookseller. Thus, I will have 33 articles, plus an article to cover the bookâ€™s preface, which has numerous concepts that are important to note. With a summary at the end, this makes this one of the longest serialized articles I have ever posted on the internet, a 36-part tome (including this introduction). But for those small stores and larger independent businesses out there, I think this will be a vital series to read at a critical time of flux and business threats.
The basic premise behind this series is that the Independent Bookseller is at war. The enemy may be different for each booksellerâ€”Amazon, a bookstore chain, discount stores, the Internet, the public library, television, the other independent bookseller in town, etc.â€”but there are basic strategies that can allow even the smallest Mom and Pop shop to succeed in the face of gargantuan competition from any or all of these competitors.
Here are the names of the war strategies that are covered in The 33 Strategies of War. I will cover them all in this series, and show how they can be applied in the book trade by the independent shopkeeper:
Prefaceâ€”Spirit of the Warrior ("Book Warriors", April 19, 2009)
1. Polarity ("This Means War!", April 20, 2009)
2. Non-Repetition ("Don't Repeat Your Victories", April 22, 2009)
3. Presence of Mind ("Hold Your Head On", April 24, 2009)
4. Death-Ground ("In Book Wars, It's Victory or Death", April 28, 2009)
5. Chain of Command ("The Chain of Bookstore Command", May 2, 2009)
6. Controlled Chaos ("Controlled Chaos,", May 5, 2009)
7. Crusade ("Book Crusaders", May 8, 2009)
8. Choose the Battles ("Choose Your Book Battles", May 15, 2009)
9. Counterattack ("Be First to Go Second", May 26, 2009)
10. Deterrence ("Go Crazy!", May 31, 2009)
11. Nonengagement ("Turn the Other Cheek", June 4, 2009)
12. Grand Strategy ("Keep Your Eyes on the Prize", June 10, 2009)
13. Intelligence ("Know Thy Enemy", June 29, 2009)
14. Blitzkrieg ("Book Blitz", October 22, 2009)
15. Manipulation (article forthcoming)
16. Center-of-Gravity (article forthcoming)
17. Divide and Conquer (article forthcoming)
18. Flanking (article forthcoming)
19. Surrounding (article forthcoming)
20. Maneuver the Enemy (article forthcoming)
21. Diplomacy (article forthcoming)
22. Exit Strategy (article forthcoming)
23. Misperception (article forthcoming)
24. Doing What They Least Expect (article forthcoming)
25. Morale High Ground (article forthcoming)
26. Guerilla Warfare (article forthcoming)
27. Alliances (article forthcoming)
28. Baiting (article forthcoming)
29. Fait Accompli (article forthcoming)
30. Propaganda (article forthcoming)
31. Infiltration (article forthcoming)
32. Passive Aggression (article forthcoming)
33. Terrorism (article forthcoming)
It is my intention that the independent bookseller who reads this series will become a better competitor, and survive well into the 21st Century as a leading seller of books in their community, however large that may be.
This is just one article in David A. Rozanskyâ€™s column, Readers, Writers & Royalties, a blog column about the book trade, from writing and publishing, to selling and reading. This series of articlesâ€”Book Warsâ€”is an interpretation of the strategies listed in Robert Greeneâ€™s The 33 Strategies of War. His next article will focus on the bookâ€™s preface and explain the warrior spirit and how it can be adopted by the independent bookseller.
David A. Rozansky is the publisher of Flying Pen Press. He has been in publishing since 1987, and has more than one million published words under his byline. Flying Pen Press is at http://www.FlyingPenPress.com. He is available for speaking on the subject of writing magazine articles, public relations, marketing and book-length material.