Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Man Who Took on Amazon and Saved a Bookstore

This story was published by Forbes magazine back in May this year but is posted again now on this blog to celebrate the Harvard Bookstore's 80th birthday.

by Phil Johnson, Contributor

Certain business ideas seem doomed to fail. You can walk into a restaurant or retail chain and know instantly that its days are numbered.
That’s the gut sense I had when I learned that someone new had bought the Harvard Book Store – a comforting oasis for bibliophiles and casual browsers – just a few blocks from my office in Cambridge. In a town where independent bookstores have been folding faster than Starbucks can open coffee shops in China, this naïve optimist embarked on his new venture in the dark days of the recession, under the shadow of Amazon, and as e-books began their zenith rise.
Jeff Mayersohn, the new owner, elicited my sympathy, but I also wanted to get to know him. I respected his mission, even if I didn’t quite believe in its future. So, Jeff shocked me a couple of weeks ago, when he told me with a certain amount of pride and pleasure that he has been seeing double digit sales growth month by month over the last year.
I wanted to know how he managed to survive, let alone prosper, in the age of e-readers and the mighty Amazon. Over coffee, Jeff shared his original insight that led to his strategy for buying the store.
A former technology executive with a passion for reading and books, Jeff saw – like everyone else – that the digitization of content was destroying the neighborhood bookstore.
Imagine for a moment what it would feel like if people walked into your company and used the lobby to call your competitors and buy their products. That’s standard consumer behavior in a bookstore. People browse, find a book they like, pull out their smart phone, and order online.
Making an intuitive leap, Jeff wondered if the opposite could be true? Maybe access to the vast universe of digital content could also save the bookstore. Maybe the bookstore, while limited in inventory, could evolve in the digital world and become a destination where people had access to every digitized book ever published.

Phil Johnson is the CEO of PJA Advertising 

No comments: