Last night, my family was having dinner at a friend’s house, whose daughter attends the same school as my own. Our friends were lamenting their volunteering for the annual school book fair, held in the Fall. It is a good effort, encouraging reading among the children, with all profits are turned over for the school library’s acquisition budget. Although a long way off, however, it already seemed daunting.
Traditionally, the school has partnered with Scholastic, which makes their list available, and a set of books are physically delivered and then sold on site. If titles run short, more are Fedexed during the week in which the book sale is running.
No one wanted to replicate that again this year. Scholastic titles are usually not literary landmarks, and their commercial partners (e.g. Disney) produce overly commercialized tie-ins. The decision had already been made to partner with a Bay Area independent bookstore, but this brought up interestingly complicated logistics.
Obviously, the bookstore would have to select – curate – a set of books that would be offered to the kids across the school’s grades (K-8, in our case). How would the books get there? What if some titles ran short? Who would return the unsold? Control the inventory? Run the actual merchandising during the week? Amass the wish-lists by the school teachers so they could benefit from parental donations? Entice volunteers to staff the booths for 4 whole days? It seemed crazy.
So we began to try to re-invent it. Why not simply have display copies available on-site for people to browse? The bookstore (Hicklebee’s in San Jose) already supports rudimentary wishlists. Why not create an online ordering form? Let the kids browse the titles, generate lists of their preferred books, and then allow parents to order against the list per each family’s budget? The revenue would be collected by the bookstore, and the books could be sourced and shipped direct to the School, or alternatively collected at the bookstore and driven up to the School, for local distribution.
For this to work, the bookstore would have to support a custom ordering page against a set of chosen titles, with orders aggregated and then released to a fulfillment agent at the conclusion of the weeklong booksale. It shouldn’t be that difficult … is it? In general, the more finely granular selling of books is something that we should be trying to support by not just Amazon, or Google, but independent bookstores. Hicklebee’s is a member of IndieBound — do they provide support for this kind of merchandising?
Somewhere in this is a vision for how we “break-apart” the bookstore. For as long as it is desirable to sell paper books, we need to figure out how to take advantage of networks and the far deeper reach that point of presence can mean in a web 2.0 world. Local customization of a bookstore to a school — that should be easy.