Category Archives: Bookselling

When the Selling the Main Product Isn’t Enough

W. Witch asked some entrepreneurs about reviving independent bookstores and recorded her conversation with one strong entrepreneur and author.

Books can be bought cheaply and efficiently from too many people other than the independent bookstores. They, the bookstores, need to figure out what they can provide OTHER than books, while still revolving AROUND books, that CANNOT be provided by the others—and figure out a way to charge for THAT.

Service and recommendations aren’t enough, so how does a bookseller figure out where the frontier is in order to cross it? Ask readers and consumers what interests them.

That sounds like a long, hard road with many potential detours. For my part as a non-businessman who doesn’t understand making money, I’ve wondered about the profitability of an audiobook kiosk in a store which would allow a person to purchase and download audiobook MP3s to his player. Perhaps that would best fit a travel or tourist market in which customers don’t necessarily have all of their resources on hand to buy audiobooks through a website.

Another idea I’ve had is personalized dedications printed in nice editions of classic books. A store could work out a system with a local printer to have preprinted or custom printed dedications available as well as fine editions of popular classics (or maybe any nice book) for people to select and personalize as special gifts to students, visionaries, and book lovers.

And I won’t repeat my store marketing suggestion: Overpriced Books (Got Money to Burn? Spend It with Us.)

Adaptation: How to Keep Your Bookstore Running

I’m sure location is almost everything to running a successful bookstore. At least, that’s my conclusion from Frank’s comments about his store on this thread. But after location, adaptation may be the next big piece to running a successful store.

Tudor Book Shop and Cafe in Kingston, Penn., is celebrating 30 years, and they don’t sell books alone. The cafe started 10 years ago and now makes up 20% of their sales. A store partner says, “Throughout November, we held trunk shows to create some excitement; one featured Folkmanis puppets, and another, jewelry. We need to offer different things than the chain stores”–things like hand-made jewelry, crafts, and stationery.

Bookstore Closings

After reading these articles on independent bookstores closing their doors, I’m wondering if small towns are not the best place for small box booksellers.

Via Books, Inq., New York City’s Coliseum Books is closing: Competition is killing independent U.S. bookstores. The owner says, “Chain-store sales and the Internet are far more practical. People will go to places closer to them. Places like Barnes & Noble.”

Can you blame anyone for doing that?

Also in New York City, the landlord raised the rent on Murder Ink, “the oldest mystery-themed bookstore in the world,” and has forced it out. The owner, Jay Pearsall, says, “I was a little outraged that a well-run bookstore couldn’t make it in the best book-buying neighborhood in the world, but there’s no business model that can work.”

I wonder what the blogosphere’s role in small business America is. Do we generally support or undermine high-service, select-quantity booksellers? I know of two new independent bookstores in my area, both downtown though in different towns. Are they fools waiting for a pit to fall into?

Books as Decor for Strong Impressions

Here’s an article on buying intellectual books for home decorating, giving visitors the impression that the buyer has a formidible mind or at least keeps very good literary company. This reminds me of a story, which I believe Ravi Zacharias tells, of browsing a used bookstore and overhearing a man in overalls ask for a certain length of books, say 35 feet. He didn’t know what books to order. He just wanted to fill a 35′ long shelf so that his union boss would appear to have the intellect to negotiate with management.

Books 2006: Did You Happen to Read These?

The Literary Saloon links to a list of “most overrated and underrated” books in Prospect, which claims to be “the most intelligent magazine of current affairs and cultural debate in Britain.” Of course, the Saloon notes a few of its own.

On the overrated list, Everyman, by Philip Roth. “A slickly written, shallow and predictable novel of American self-regard and deserved decline.” and The God Delusion. Playwright Samantha Ellis nominates On Beauty,by Zadie Smith, saying it is “massively overrated. Why read a tribute to Forster when you can just read him?”

On the underrated list, Why Truth Matters, by Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom, Alentejo Blue, by Monica Ali, and The Human Touch, by Michael Frayn. Writer Allan Massie states, “William McIlvanney is the finest Scottish novelist of my generation, but Weekend, his first novel for ten years, received less attention than it deserved. This account of a university study-group meeting at a faux-baronial castle on a Scottish island, is wise, funny and often moving.”

Using the Bookstore as a Library

Lynne Scanlon also complains about the shoppers in some stores, which I felt was interesting enough to put in a unique post:

If Borders were to become the preferred destination for book buyers, people would walk or drive the extra distance and pass right by a Barnes & Noble.

Jones already gets the message that too much time is spent by walk-ins and loungers who spend too little money at the cash registers. He’d like to remedy that, so would I. I loath tripping over those parked baby buggies (install meters!) and having to deal with kids whose moms use Barnes & Noble as a place to kill a few hours on the cheap. PT Barnum faced the same problem until he hung a sign that said: “This Way to the Egress!” I like the idea of a sign that reads: “First you pay, then you read.”

Is that too harsh? Does it conflict with her idea about inviting writers to write on in-store computers? Does it conflict a bit with coffeeshops in stores?

Suggestions for Remaking a Major Bookseller

Lynne Scanlon notes that Borders Group has a new CEO, and she wonders what he could do to make Borders and WaldenBooks more attractive than Barnes & Noble. She has many great suggestions:

  • Make exclusive arrangements with publishers to sell specific books at Borders and Borders only.
  • Create a “new format” book that is sold exclusively at Borders.
  • Co-publish books with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and medium- and small-sized publishers. Give preferential shelf placement in lieu of a cash investment.
  • Have a prestigious VIP cash register and pass out discount coupons to the big spenders, say, at the $150 purchase level.
  • Rope off a special VIP room for people who buy books in quantity and make these readers feel important because they are!
  • Have “For Authors Only Socials” where local authors meet local authors in Borders to socialize over a glass of wine or something significantly stronger.
  • Offer to rent computer space in Borders to struggling writers.

There are more and commenters join in. What do you think?

Publicity, Good or Bad, Is Publicity

Author Katha Pollitt has turned a bad review into an interesting article in the NY Times on whether publicity is bad only when it’s unnoticed.

“Actually, this is good,” my editor said when my book got panned. “It’s a long review by a well-known person. It’s on a good page. It’s even got a caricature of you.” . . .

“Yes, it was pretty negative, and your arms looked like tree stumps,” said one friend, helpfully. “But so what? That just means you’re a star!”

I wonder how many people told her to avoid watching Amazon’s sale rank. I understand the appeal having checked my own site stats more often than I knew I should, but what is an author’s alternative? Do publishers let you know how many of your books sold in a certain time, say quarterly at least?

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