What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get About Bookstores

23 October 2016

From The New Yorker:

April, Leonard Riggio announced that he was stepping away from Barnes & Noble, the business he bought forty-five years ago and transformed into the world’s largest brick-and-mortar bookstore chain. Come September, Riggio, now seventy-five, would happily retire. Or so he claimed. Though he had ceded the title of chief executive in 2002, Riggio remained the executive chairman and the soul and supreme authority of Barnes & Noble. Still, it seemed like a safe time to step down. Pummelled in recent years by Amazon’s dominance over the industry, and the hangover of the recession, Barnes & Noble had closed more than ten per cent of its stores and fended off hostile takeovers, but it was still alive. Its losses had levelled off, and sales were actually growing in many categories, including board games, vinyl records, and even some categories of books, the non-digital kind (like coloring books for grownups). In March, the company announced plans to open its first new stores in several years, and in June it unveiled its potential future: smaller locations, with full-service bars and restaurants, and a more boutique feel. It seemed to be a move away from the model of “superstores” that the company once defined itself by.

But then, in August, Riggio and the board he leads ousted Ron Boire, who had lasted less than a year as chief executive, and was the third C.E.O. to pass through Barnes & Noble since 2010.* A few weeks later, quarterly financial results presented shareholders with the cold reality of Barnes & Noble’s troubles. Losses were mounting across the board—particularly for the Nook, the company’s troubled wireless reading device—and sales were falling more quickly than expected. The company’s stock was almost a quarter of what it had been a decade ago. In response, Riggio has returned to the chief executive’s chair, ostensibly until a suitable replacement is found.

The key question for Riggio now is figuring out what purpose Barnes & Noble serves today. Amazon dominates the industry with low prices and a vast selection, and is even flirting with brick-and-mortar bookstores, having opened two in the past year. Independent bookstores—once assumed to be on their way to extinction—own the romantic notion of a bookstore as a place, like a church or a social club, where communities are nurtured. Barnes & Noble is stuck in the middle, a giant saddled with hundreds of huge stores, and an image of corporate sameness in a market that has increasingly come to treasure defiantly independent bookstores.

. . . .

 Riggio believes that the same type of person shops at small independent bookstores, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. “The No. 1 consideration of where someone will shop is how close it is to where they are,” he said. “It has nothing to do with pedigree or branding. If there’s no bookstore close to them, they’re more likely to buy online. If there’s one close, they’re more likely to buy if it’s a block away.” His target market is the same as other book retailers: young, educated customers, and women with small children.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Dave for the tip.

11 Things Booksellers Would Like You To Know

21 October 2016

From Bustle:

You’ve Got Mail was never appealing to me in a romantic way; I do not understand how you can fall in love with someone who actively works to ruin your family business and lies about it? But Meg Ryan’s bookstore seemed like a dream occupation. Now, as an adult and a bookseller, I can attest to the dreaminess fact, but there are definitely some things that booksellers would like you to know.

. . . .

I fell into bookselling by way of pure chance. I was a 24-year-old freelance writer working bar jobs to make ends meet and lacking any sort of clear direction (untreated anxiety and depression issues have a very cute way of de-railing you like that). I answered an open call for an unopened independent bookstore. I knew nothing about actually selling books; I applied anyway.

My first day, I shelved books for three hours. That’s it. And for the first time in months, I felt… calm. Completely zen-ed out. Could I work the cash register? Uh, not well, but I could talk to customers about books for literal hours. Don’t worry, I have since learned to rein that in.

Sure, it can get draining. Last week I had someone very condescendingly ask if I’d ever heard of Dostoevsky (yes, duh), I field plenty of comments from people shocked that a millennial knows how to read, and re-shelving children’s books post-storytime is a true nightmare. But there is no other job like bookselling. Here’s why we love it (and, TBH, why we don’t):

1. No, we haven’t read all the books in the store

. . . .

A lot of us are know-it-alls – it makes us good at our job. It also means admitting that we haven’t heard of a title or an author is physically painful, and we approach those situations the same way you approach forgetting a person’s name: with a lot of pleasant smiles, nods, and vague exclamations.

. . . .

 4. Ask us for recommendations! Please! We love it! So much!

We get paid to have opinions about books. It is literally our job, and it’s an amazing feeling to successfully recommend a book.

5. But if you are here just to take photos of books and then order them on Amazon, uh, that’s rude

That is rude AF. Like, unspeakably so. If you ever visit a bookstore that bans phones, know that this is why.

Link to the rest at Bustle

Barnes & Noble to close its last bookstore in the Bronx

20 October 2016

From News12 – The Bronx:

Barnes & Noble is closing its last bookstore in the Bronx.

The Bay Plaza store will close by the end of the year.

The store almost shut down two years ago but was saved due to a large community effort.

A Barnes & Noble spokesperson told News 12 that “though we were paying substantial rents at this location, the property owner has decided to lease the space to another retailer who was willing to pay more.”

Link to the rest at News12 – The Bronx

For visitors from outside the US, The Bronx is one of the boroughs of New York City and has a population of 1.4 million.

What do Americans lose if bookstores disappear? More than you think

11 October 2016

From The Deseret News:

When Minnesota resident Heather Galway needs to liven up a Tuesday, she heads for the closest Barnes and Noble. It means coffee and adult conversation for the stay-at-home mom, but she thinks it’s as good for her kids as any playground.

A voluntary Luddite, Galway, 36, eschews social media, lets her husband handle the email and carries a battered flip phone she refers to as a “dumb” phone.
She also can’t stand e-books. So while her older son is at daycare, she packs up her 16-month-old daughter in the stroller and takes her to the closest Barnes and Noble for what she calls “real books.”

“I know in a few years I’ll be fighting the Kindle fight — they’ll want them,” Galway said. “But for now, while they’re little, I want them to be able to walk into a place that’s just for books, stocked with books that are for them.”

. . . .

Barnes and Noble corporate declined to comment for this story, but dwindling revenue and an increasing reliance on toys, games and home goods on its shelves have many wonderinghow long Barnes and Noble can hold out. Its potential demise also begs the question of what would be lost if bookstores and physical books went the way of the record store, dwindling to a few stalwarts selling what most now consider specialty items?

“It’s ineffable,” said Connecticut-based publishing consultant David Wilk. “If you’re browsing in a bookstore, you have this beautiful experience where you connect the transformative experience of reading with the powerful, physical object that allows you to do that.”

In an age when any title can be downloaded in seconds, defining why bookstores and books still matter is difficult, but experts and bibliophiles say that if bookstores became less common, so will a direct, palpable connection to human history.

“Book are parts of our culture,” Penn State Brandywine codicologist and historian Kathleen Kennedy said. “If you’ve ever read a novel, you’re taking part in that rich, human tradition.”

. . . .

“The book has been literally shaped by the last 2,000 years of human history. The size and shape is tailored really well to us,” Houston said. “When you think about all of this, it’s astounding — just the sheer number of coincidences that aren’t coincidences.” As Houston found in his book, historians cannot pinpoint the exact time when the first book was made, but it extends at least back to Ancient Egypt.

Ironically, Houston found that the Egyptians fretted over the advent of written language much the way modern bibliophiles worry about the digital age swallowing hard media like books or vinyl.

Thamus, the pharaoh who received hieroglyphics from the god Thoth in Egyptian myth, complained that writing would “condemn humanity to absentmindedness,” Houston wrote.

Link to the rest at The Deseret News and thanks to Dave for the tip.

How I Found the 4 Hardest-to-Find Bookstores in the World

9 October 2016

From Atlas Obscura:

Word on the Water, London, England

It took awhile to find this bookstore, as I was given the very general address of Regent’s Canal which snakes along quite a ways. It’s not even seen when you are in the vicinity as the canal is below street-level and accessed by descending stairs. Once strolling along the canal, one looks for the modest signage for Word on the Water, London’s only floating secondhand bookshop, among all the beautiful boats.

. . . .

 The 100 year-old Dutch book barge hosts poetry slams, book readings, and live music events on the roof stage on top of the boat. Stephen Fry and Russell Brand, among many others, are some of the many who have been on board.

. . . .

Underground Books, Coober Pedy, Australia

A mining town in the middle of Australia known as the “opal capital of the world,” Coober Pedy is one of the strangest towns in the world. With it’s impossibly high temperatures, this town is completely underground because residents can’t live on the surface.

Yet there is a bookstore. In the ultimate illustration of the perseverance of bookstores, Underground Books, is, as its name suggests, a bookstore built underground. It’s not only the only bookstore Coober Pedy, but also the only bookstore for hundreds and hundreds of miles in any direction in this remote region of the country.

“We sell a lot of books on Indigenous culture and history and the early central Australian explorers,” the owner says.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

The Neighborhood Bookstore’s Unlikely Ally? The Internet

6 October 2016

From The New York Times:

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — When Peter Makin opened Brilliant Books five years ago, he quickly realized his business wouldn’t survive in this remote locale if his only customers were local buyers.

In the summer, this small town five hours north of Detroit is a haven for tourists and summer residents who are drawn to the state’s wine country. But after the fall colors fade and the sapphire waters of Lake Michigan chill, the region’s population slumps by as much as 40 percent for much of the other nine months of the year.

But even as the summer visitors disappear, Brilliant Books is still thriving as a result of robust online sales.

A decade ago, independent bookstores were viewed as an industry on the decline. Crushed on price by Amazon and by the wide selection of national retailers like Barnes & Noble, thousands of mom-and-pop outlets had closed up shop.

. . . .

 “Bookstores are being reinvented by taking advantage of how the world has changed,” said Oren Teicher, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent sellers. “The whole ability to put technology to work for you has changed everything.”

. . . .

 But after years of losses, they are emerging from the decimation, with the number of independent bookstores rising 21 percent from 2010 to 2015.

In a twist of fate, it is the internet — the very thing that was supposed to wipe them out — that is helping these small stores.

. . . .

[O]wners like Mr. Makin are finding ways to gain customer loyalty with the aid of technology. He knew he could not compete with Amazon on price, but he believed that online buyers would flock to Brilliant Books if they experienced the same customer service that shoppers in his physical store do.

“I say, ‘We are your long-distance local bookstore,’” Mr. Makin said.

He began offering free shipping anywhere in the United States and hired a full-time social media manager, who promotes the store and has used Twitter and Facebook to talk to readers who would never find themselves near Traverse City.

One of his most successful ways of getting repeat business is his store’s version of a book-of-the-month program, which makes personalized recommendations for each of its nearly 2,000 subscribers every 30 days. Rather than use an online form to track preferences, Brilliant sends each new subscriber a customer card to fill out by hand and mail back.

Employees then scan the card into the system so that when it is book-selection time, they can see what the customers said they liked and how they said it.

“How we might write something might show an entirely different taste in books,” Mr. Malkin said. “People scribble things out. They draw arrows. We get a feel for who they are.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG says that nobody is better than Amazon at mass personalization right now.

When PG visits Amazon, he sees something different than most others based on algorithms that build his page based on past purchases and recent browsing. Even close friends of PG would likely see something much different (as would Mrs. PG if the PG’s did not share a single Prime account).

According to some internet marketing and sales theoreticians, the next step after mass personalization is true individualization, which this little bookstore seems to be doing, albeit not entirely with technology.

Dream 2nd career for baby boomers: Own a bookstore

6 October 2016

From The Detroit Free Press:

After a prosperous career in advertising and sales, Bill Reilly moved upstate from Manhattan to Oswego about 20 years ago and, newly married, wondered how to keep busy.

“Shortly after our honeymoon, I turned to her and said, ‘Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ We began looking into options and I knew I wanted something that would involve the community in a huge way. Oswego was my adopted hometown and as they had welcomed me I wanted to give something back,” he explained.

The solution was to open a bookstore. Bill and Mindy run it together.

“We always found that where we went we would visit the local independent bookstore,” says Reilly, 66, owner of River’s End Bookstore since 1998. “It’s been the most fulfilling business opportunity I’ve ever been involved with. Not financially, but in all other ways.”

. . . .

“The baby boomers who opened stores after having other careers have been extraordinarily helping contributors to our community because they brought perspectives from other walks of life,” says Oren Teicher, CEO of the independents’ trade group the American Booksellers Association .

Link to the rest at The Detroit Free Press and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Lords to debate library ‘crisis’ and independent bookshops

4 October 2016

From The Bookseller:

Campaigners have called for the House of Lords to intervene in the “crisis” in the public library sector and to pledge its support for independent booksellers ahead of a debate about the significance of libraries and bookshops in UK society.

Organised by Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue magazine, the debate will see speakers – including Penguin Random House chair Baroness Gail Rebuck – discuss the cultural, civic and educational significance of local libraries and independent bookshops in the United Kingdom in the House of Lords on Thursday 13th October.

. . . .

Earlier this year, a report by the BBC found that the widespread library closures across the UK have resulted in the loss of almost 8,000 jobs in the last six years. The investigation revealed that the amount of volunteers in use in libraries has almost doubled since 2010, rising from 15,861 to 31,403. In this time, the number of paid staff fell from 31,977 to 24,044, which is a drop of 25% for the 182 libraries that provided comparable data. The report also found that a total of 343 libraries have closed in the same time period. This number of closures in England is higher than the government’s official estimate of 110 closures.

. . . .

Elizabeth Ash, trustee of the Library Campaign, hopes that the discussion will see the issues affecting the library service “properly debated”, including discussions about the loss of “so many libraries” and also the drop in funding to support the remaining libraries, which has “led to the loss of library workers who are vital to delivering and effective library service” and to “reduced opening hours” and “depleted stock”, Ash said.

She concluded: “The current focus of local politicians on open doors without proper consideration of the level of service being offered needs to be addressed. We’d not accept many of the models being proposed in our schools, for example, so why should we for libraries?”

. . . .

In 2014, The Bookseller reported that the number of independent bookshops in the UK had fallen below 1,000 for the first time due to rising rents and rates, less trade as high streets suffer and competition from supermarkets, online retailers and readers migrating to e-books. By November 2015, the number of indie bookshops had fallen to 895. Although while Tim Godfray, c.e.o. of the Bookseller’s Association (BA), described the figures as “deeply depressing” he also said that the rate of decline was slowing.

Giles Clifton, head of corporate affairs at the BA, said he hoped the debate would bring attention to two issues of concern for booksellers -fair competition in the book market, and the heavy and disproportionate tax burden bookshops face compared with some of their main international competitors.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

In plot twist, independent bookstores survive forecast doom

3 October 2016

From The Houston Chronicle:

When Valerie Koehler opened Blue Willow Bookshop 20 years ago, she was warned that print was on the way out, online commerce was the future and opening a physical bookstore was foolhardy.

Then on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Koehler walked in to see customers from the neighborhood chatting with her staff and browsing the shelves. They wanted a break from the horrific images on TV. They wanted to see a friendly face and chat about books with people who could find them a good one. They wanted to lose themselves in finding new titles they may never have discovered elsewhere before heading back out to confront reality.

“I personally don’t believe that a website will ever be able to offer that kind of service and that kind of serendipity,” Koehler said.

Independent bookstores like hers seem to have turned the page on predictions of their economic doom. The American Booksellers Association reports that sales nationally rose by more than 10 percent in 2015 compared to the same period a year earlier and sales in the first two quarters on 2016 remained strong.

. . . .

The Pew Research Center recently noted that of the 73 percent of Americans who claim to have read a book last year, 65 percent read a print version. While 28 percent read an e-book and 14 percent listened to an audio version, just 6 percent of American readers said they strictly read digital last year. By comparison, 38 percent read only print books and 28 percent read both.

The same report goes on to note that the share of Americans reading books on tablets has tripled since 2011, and readers on smartphones have doubled in the same time period. The majority, roughly two in three, read print books. That has remained unchanged since 2012.

“At the end of the day, the physical book remains the perfect invention,” said Oren Teicher, CEO of the national booksellers group.

. . . .

“We shop for lots of different reasons and buying something is only one of them,” Stewart said. “We haven’t lost the human aspect of retail and it’s wonderful.”

Link to the rest at The Houston Chronicle and thanks to Dave for the tip.

A London bookstore is offering a chance to win free books for life

1 October 2016

From Entertainment Weekly:

Imagine getting free books for the rest of your life. Well, one London bookstore is offering a chance to win just that in a drawing called the Library of a Lifetime.

Heywood Hill announced a prize drawing that will give the lucky winner the opportunity to receive one recently published hardcover book per month for the rest of the their life, totally free. But these are not just any books: they will be handpicked according to the reader’s tastes by the shop staff. To enter, readers must share which book has meant the most to them.

. . . .

The store already offers a version of this in their A Year in Books subscription, in which customers receive one reading selection per month, hand-picked for their tastes by the shop staff. The subscription costs £200 per year for paperbacks.

Link to the rest at Entertainment Weekly and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Next Page »