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No, Facebook (Still) Won’t be the World’s Largest Bookstore

8409459848_16893fa777_hSo DBW decided to beat a dead horse this morning. They published a piece by Jason Illian of Bookshout which revived the old meme that Facebook is the next killer ebook retailer.

Don’t underestimate what Facebook is and what it is becoming. Facebook is the world’s best discovery platform, and it makes money by going after digital content that keeps people spending more time on Facebook. And after video, there is a clear line to ebooks.

As dominant as Amazon currently is in ebooks, the retailer’s major weakness is discovery. More often than not, users have to find a book somewhere else and then go to Amazon and purchase it. There are additional, unnecessary steps in their process, and the company has no easy way to remedy it.

Facebook, on the other hand, could solve these issues almost overnight. No one has a crystal ball to see what Facebook will do or when it will do it, but there are a number of signs that point to a future in which books are found, purchased and shared on Facebook.

I responded in the comment section of that post over on DBW, and after I published the comment and realized it was over 300 words, I thought it was worth reposting on this blog.

So here’s an edited version of that comment.


“Facebook is the world’s best discovery platform, and it makes money by going after digital content that keeps people spending more time on Facebook. ”

eBooks won’t keep people on Facebook. Once bought, people will leave Facebook to go read the ebook. But more importantly, there really isn’t much money in ebooks, not like there is in advertising, so this isn’t worth Facebook’s time.

But this is worth the time of authors and publishers, yes, some of whom have been selling ebooks on Facebook for years and years. For example, in late 2013 the Japanese publisher Fantasista launched a full ebookstore on Facebook using mixPaper’s whitelabel platform. There are even older examples of authors selling ebooks from stores on Facebook.

This really isn’t a new idea. It comes up again about every six months or so, and it’s always the same old hopeful expectation that Facebook could kill it in the ebook market. And so far that hasn’t happened.

I first started tracking this meme in July 2014 when Facebook launched buy buttons. (They haven’t amounted to much, have they?) And then in November 2014 a pundit suggested that Facebook could replace Amazon as the world’s biggest bookstore. The general consensus in indie circles at the time was that people didn’t want a store cluttering up their social network, and that’s probably still true.

Yes, I know that DBW is talking about FB selling the ebooks, but my point is that FB already supports sales, including through the “shop” page option that Facebook launched in July 2015. Has that lead to a lot of ebook sales?

Given that there are people in publishing who still don’t know that you _can_ sell on Facebook, much less that retailers have been operating on the social network since 2009, I would say no.

Frankly, this is one of those ideas which everyone thinks is great, but has yet to amount to more than a niche retail opportunity. And that won’t change until someone comes up with a really good reason why consumers would want to buy ebooks on Facebook, and then convince consumers to change their habits.

And I don’t see that happening. Do you?

image by Sarah.Marshall


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fjtorres April 5, 2016 um 1:24 pm

They’re really committed to their old ways, aren’t they? Even when trying to move forward they still think the same way: "stock it and they will come", as if just listing the books and putting a cash register next to them will produce a Pavlovian "gotta have it!" impulse.

No, it won’t work.
Not without a centralized review system, not without an adequate search engine, not without a viable recommendation system. And even with those…
People go to Facebook to gossip and network.
They go to Google for information.
They go to Amazon (and Walmart, eBay, etc) for shopping.

Deal with it.
No magic bullets, no shortcuts.
Want to sell? Build a store.
Then make it a good one.

The first part is easy, the second? Not do much. Just ask S&S.

Nate Hoffelder April 5, 2016 um 1:45 pm

It could be worse.

On Sunday Joe Wikert recycled one of his own story ideas, and I was the only one who noticed.

fjtorres April 5, 2016 um 3:30 pm

I didn’t notice…
…because the moment I see curation I move on as fast as my car can go.

"Curation" is middleman speak for "I will sell you what I want to sell you and you will take it because I say so". Except that these days we no more have to buy "curation" any more than we have to buy what they want to "curate" us into buying. Even Reader’s Digest isn’t doing all that well.

All these contortions they go through instead of accepting the book selling is going back to basics: Authors. Stories. Readers voting their wallets.

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