How Can A Product Manager Bring A Bookstore Back From The Dead?

Do bookstores even still exist?
Do bookstores even still exist?
Image Credit:

As a product manager, one of the things that we like the best is taking on a challenge. However, there has to be a least a chance that we can be successful. If someone came to you and asked you to make a book store become successful in this day and age, would you take on the challenge? I mean, are bookstores even still around?

Say Hello To The New Bookstore

It turns out that (1) bookstores are still around, and (2) a number of independent bookstores are doing just fine, thank you. A great example of a bookstore that seems to be making its own way is a New York City based bookstore called “Shakespeare & Co.”. This bookstore was purchased in 2015 and the new owner and product management team then proceeded to shut the store down.

What they then did was to turn the store into the new owner’s dream bookstore. The team had a good understanding of what people really want out of a bookstore and so they decided to change the bookstore’s product development definition. What customers are looking for is a place where y can hang out, they want to have the ability to talk with other people about books, ultimately what they are looking for is a form of intimacy that they can’t find elsewhere. However, and this is where the product management team comes in, with the new store there was the realization that the store had to be productive – they had to make money in order to keep the doors open. In our always-on, cell phone driven culture, this could be a big challenge.

The team went to work making some significant changes to the way that that the store was designed. One of the first things that they did was to reduce the amount of space in the store that was dedicated to displaying books. They next aggressively edited the range of books that the store would carry. The thinking was that if it was not going to sell, then it did not need to be taking up space in the store. Finally, they went ahead and installed a café so that visitors could relax and dine with a good book. All pretty standard stuff right? It’s what they did next that really shook things up.

What Does The Future Hold?

What sets the Shakespeare& Co bookstore apart from any other bookstore that you may have been in is the presence of a desk-sized device called the “Expresso Book Machine”. What this amazing device has the ability to do is to print any book that you select from its database and have it in your hands in five minutes or less. Very clearly what this means for the bookstore is that they can fulfill their customer’s needs for a very large number of books without having to take up precious floor space in their store with copies of those books. This is exactly what can be added to a product manager resume.

It was not all that long ago that bookstores had been pretty much written off by just about everyone. The thinking was that they would be going out of business because there was no way that they could compete with the two major market forces in the world of books: Amazon and their seemingly limitless supply and the arrival of electronic books that could downloaded over the Internet. However, things have now started to change. For one, the wave of purchases of electronic books has started to ebb and fewer and fewer of these types of books are being bought. The goal now for bookstore product managers is to come up with a way that the store can be configured so that it can compete with the Internet without having to match Internet prices.

The way that the product managers see it, Amazon is not their primary competition. What they need to do is to create a space that will keep attracting their core customers. They believe that customers will come to Shakespeare& Co. because they care about more than just the price of a book. When they arrive, they want to be greeted by name, they want the sense of community that only a bookstore can provide them with, and they probably also have a craving for culture that they just can’t find online. A bookstore also provides something that no online seller can – the ability for buyers to be hands on.

What All Of This Means For You

Just a few years ago with the success of Amazon and the arrival of electronic books, you would have been hard pressed to find a product manager who was willing to go to work for a traditional bookstore. However, it is now looking that that’s all starting to change.This is exactly the type of thing that gets covered in a good product manager job description.

The bookstore has been reinvented by product managers. Gone are a lot of the fancy book displays that took up room but didn’t result in that many sales. They have been replaced with a more carefully thought out inventory of books that have been selected to move quickly. The arrival of new technology like the Expresso Book Machine allows customers to request almost any book, purchase it, and then leave the store five minutes later with the book in hand. Ultimately it is the sense of community and the feeling that customers get when they come to the bookstore that will keep them coming back for more.

Understanding what book shoppers are looking for and then delivering it has been the key to the success that product managers have had with this new generation of bookstores. Amazon will always be able to offer lower prices, but if the product managers can turn the bookstore into a destination that their customers want to come to, then they should have no problems moving a lot of books out the door.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What would be a good way to get people to come and visit the bookstore for the first time?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just exactly what does a product manager job description say that we have to do? Yes yes, we are responsible for creating our product development definition, managing it, and delivering our product. However, is that where things stop? Could it be possible that we also have a responsibility to go out and find new customers for our product? Generally we think of this as being a sales job, but depending on the size of your company and the complexity of your product, this might be a task that the product manager has to undertake.