Category Archives: Bookselling

Walking Through a Reading on a Cell

The Literary Saloon points to an article asking for the point of literary readings. “Reading is decidedly anti-social behavior. The freedom to read whatever we want to read is a shining legacy of our democracy, but one’s response to a book need not be democratic. One’s response is a totalitarian regime within each individual reader, morphing over time, and fighting for dominion of the imagination,” Mik Awake writes.

Book Sales Figures Are Inflated

How many copies did Sahara actually sell? As many as the publisher says it did, according to the LA Times. “Publishers are notoriously reluctant to divulge sales numbers, and the complex, arcane nature of bookselling makes it hard to determine how well or badly a title is doing,” writes Josh Getlin. “Publishers routinely withhold full sales figures, saying the information is proprietary. The only people legally entitled to know those numbers are authors and their agents.”

Apparently, most books don’t sell well, even losing money for the publisher, so insiders keep real sales figures, if they can be known, to themselves. If an author claims his book sold 100,000, you have to trust him. There’s no public record to verify it.

A Review of the Plight of Modern Bookstores

When sliding sales forced Cody’s to close its store next to the UC Berkeley campus, the poet Ron Silliman wrote on his blog that it was once the anchor of “the best book-buying block in North America.” But in the discussion that followed, the attitude was one of resignation if not indifference.

“Why would anyone want to perpetuate small independents by paying higher prices?” wondered Curtis Faville, a poet who sells rare books on the Internet. “Most of these proud little independents were poorly run anyway.”

Less harshly, Silliman suggested in an e-mail that “we’re simultaneously caught in the wonder of the new and true mourning for the losses of the old.”

It’s an unsettling if inevitable process. Half a century ago, Silliman said, he would play chess and checkers with his grandfather as they listened to the radio. “That stopped once the TV arrived, because now we all had to face the same direction,” he wrote.

Those for whom “browsing” has much more of an online connotation than a physical one barely register the shift.

“Bookstores, small or large, don’t carry what I’m looking for,” said Logan Ryan Smith, a 29-year-old accountant who publishes a literary magazine and poetry pamphlets. “I’m not going to find an Effing Press or Ugly Duckling Presse book even at City Lights or Cody’s.”

The L.A. Times has a good story on the problems of independent booksellers in our changing culture. The point Silliman makes on isolating ourselves through entertainment has impact the world over. It touches on one of reason people don’t read. We seek the tantalizing over the fulfilling. We fail to taste the richness of interaction because consumption is more immediate and comfortable.

From Treading Water to Walking on It

Lynne Scanlon has darkly roasted and robust conversations about modern bookselling at this post: “Wicked Witch of Publishing Takes Over Pretend Independent Bookstore. Will She Thrive—or Just Survive?” Post and comments, all very interesting, such as:

  • Find ways to save money and make money simultaneously by renegotiating your building lease and subletting to authors or anyone who needs a bit o’ space.
  • Answer the question “What would you have to believe about my store to be willing to come here and spend money here?”
  • In the comments: what on earth does this say about the basic premise of even having an indie if you have to do all this to prop it up?
  • If we had been voracious business people instead of voracious readers we might have had a chance — maybe.
  • I believe that anybody should work for a minimum of 12 months alongside an experienced bookseller who has a proven sales record.

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.”