Small businesses facing ‘bullying’ by corporate customers

17 December 2014

From The Guardian:

Small businesses are being pushed to breaking point by bullying corporate customers making immoral payment demands, a lobby group has said.

About one in five small companies surveyed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said they had suffered some form of supply-chain bullying in the past two years.

. . . .

The latest big name company to be drawn into the spotlight was WH Smith, after the retailer withdrew After the Battle magazine from its shelves following the publication’s refusal to pay a £2,000 “promotional fee”.

The magazine, which has a circulation of 11,000, was told the fee would rise next year and the year after. Winston Ramsey, editor-in-chief of the history publication, said that as a large retailer, WH Smith already received a 40% to 50% discount on the cover price and was provided with the magazines on a sale or return basis.

He said agreeing to the additional fee would only increase the cost of the magazine and add to WH Smith’s profits while being “grossly unfair” to independent newsagents that supported the publication.

“I won’t cave in to what is almost blackmail,” he said.

The magazine’s readers have taken to social media to criticise WH Smith’s actions and Ramsey said he had been touched by their support. “People don’t like to see these big monopolies bearing down on small companies.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Russell for the tip.

The book is back … and here’s the man leading the revival

15 December 2014

From the Guardian:

James Daunt is a bookseller with a penchant for stories (Anna Karenina is one of his favourites), who is also an inveterate risk taker. In 2011, he watched a Russian oligarch named Alexander Mamut make an insane bid for commercial suicide. And then he volunteered to join him.

Mamut’s crazy venture (“Nobody invests in bookshops to make money,” says Daunt) was his bid for Waterstones, then an ailing chain, burdened with several million pounds of debt. Daunt’s reckless career move was to join Mamut as his CEO, a job widely seen as a poisoned chalice. Many Waterstones-watchers predicted various dire scenarios.

Sometimes, however, stories have happy endings. And this month, Daunt was able to announce that, finally, Waterstones is about to break even.

The news that, for the first time in a long time, Waterstones is beginning to show signs of modest growth (new shops; new optimism; new markets) is symbolic of a sea-change in the world of books. Whisper it discreetly, but the book is showing signs of making a modest comeback, with British bookselling exhibiting the symptoms of an unfamiliar, fragile optimism.

During the first decade of the new century, this sector cornered the market in gloomy predictions that the end of the world was nigh. The digital revolution, plus Amazon, plus the credit crunch, seemed to add up to a literary apocalypse. There were moments, some CEOs in book publishing now concede, when they could hardly see a commercial way forward. A mood of panic quickly spread, with many dire predictions.

. . . .

To demonstrate the resilience of the traditional book in the midst of a changing market, Daunt took the Observer on a tour of his latest shop opening, Waterstones/Hatchards in St Pancras Station, London. “What we have to do,” he says, “is adapt to new market conditions. It’s no longer enough just to stock a lot of new titles.”

Bookselling today is about bright lighting, friendly staff, cleverly designed bookcases that display new hardbacks – yes, hardbacks – to best advantage, an espresso coffee machine behind the checkout counter and finally – how can we put this ? – many unbookish things such as novelty items, jigsaws, games, children’s toys, Paddington bears, greetings cards and upmarket stationery.

“We’ve been through a fairly tumultuous period,” says Daunt, “but it does seem to be settling at last.” At times, he has seemed to be fighting a war on three fronts: the global recession; the surge in e-reading; and the threat of online selling (Amazon). “Occasionally,” he says, “we thought that people were in flight from the physical book. But now I think the book is back.”

. . . .

Daunt’s “stabilisation” programme has involved fundamentally rethinking Waterstones. Gone, for instance, is the old tyranny of central buying, the process whereby Bath, Bolton and Blackpool would be instructed by head office which books to order. “We used to be top-down,” says Daunt. “Now it’s all about what’s right for the individual shop and its local market.” Lately, in Waterstones redux, bookshops and their managers have become much more autonomous – independent states within a federal system.

And then there’s the new Waterstones vibe. The chain still has 287 outlets (roughly the same as when Daunt took over) but they have been comprehensively revamped. They are brighter, lighter, and more welcoming. “We are now selling a lot of things that are not books,” says Daunt.

This is not the end of civilisation, but a sign of the times. Reading habits are changing worldwide. The consumer’s use of leisure time is no longer dominated by book-reading. That, says Daunt, means “we have to rethink what a good bookshop should be”.

Link to the rest at the Guardian and thanks to Nick for the tip.

Taking a cue from nightclubs, 24-hour bookstores boom in Taiwan

11 December 2014

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Is a 24-hour “nightclub for books,” where hipsters and bookworms alike hang out all night reading and chatting, the solution to the woes of the modern bookstore?

The Eslite Group, which owns an enterprising chain of bookstores inTaiwan and Hong Kong, thinks so. While bookstores in countries across the world struggle to survive, business at the Taiwanese book chain is booming, and observers credit the chain’s unusual model.

The Eslite bookstore is open 24 hours “and has more night owl visitors than most Western bookstores could dream of during their daytime hours,” writes CNN.

. . . .

The secret? The bookstore is as much about books as it is about design, food, and culture, making it an attractive hangout for customers of all stripes.

“It’s a cool place, a bit like Soho in New York,” Huang Yu Han, a customer at the Taipei store told CNN. “Many cool people hang out here. Some come here to read, others just to kill time and meet friends. It’s like a place for modern culture and it’s close to some of the best nightclubs and bars.”

. . . .

“It is our belief that the more digital the society [becomes], the more we treasure the warmth of the interconnection,” company spokesman Timothy Wang told CNN. “This core idea makes Eslite barely impacted by the changes of the industry.”

Link to the rest at The Christian Science Monitor and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Barnes & Noble would not negotiate

9 December 2014

From the DeKalb Daily Chronicle:

When dozens of residents called William Staebler in the past week to complain about Barnes & Noble closing, he told them there was nothing he could do.

 Staebler is the director of real estate development for Mid-America Management, the company that owns the building Barnes & Noble has rented for more than a decade.

The national book retailer will close Dec. 31 because Barnes & Noble made an offer on a new lease and refused to negotiate with Mid-America, Staebler said.

. . . .

Staebler said Barnes & Noble representatives have rejected lease offers his company made during the past year that would have reduced the store’s rent for the 21,000 square-foot space at 2439 Sycamore Road.

“People ask me why I’m evicting Barnes & Noble,” Staebler said. “But I’m not closing the store. I’m not laying people off their jobs. It’s[Barnes & Noble’s] decision.”

. . . .

Staebler said he would rather keep Barnes & Noble than undergo the costly process of securing a new tenant.

Link to the rest at DeKalb Daily Chronicle

PG has a Google Alert that informs him about Barnes & Noble store closings. He’s not sure whether to call it a steady stream or a constant drip-drip-drip, but stores are closing on a regular basis. There’s definitely a trend to terminate leases after the holiday sales season this year.

Getting books more retail shelf space is going to require a new approach

5 December 2014

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

That bookstore shelf space is disappearing is a reality that nobody denies. It makes sense that there are people trying to figure out how to arrest the decline. There has been some recent cheerleading about the “growth” of indie bookstores, but the hard reality is that they’re expanding shelf space more slowly than chains are shrinking it. No publisher today can make a living selling books just through brick-and-mortar bookstores. For straight text reading, it is rapidly becoming an ancillary channel, a special market. Illustrated book publishers, whose books don’t port so well to ebooks and whose printed books are more likely to be bought if they are seen and touched, are working “special” sales — those not made through outlets that primarily sell books — harder than ever. That means they’re trying to put books into retail stores that aren’t primarily bookstores.

. . . .

One big component of the problem, in a nutshell, is that most books don’t sell enough copies to have a “sales rate” in any one store. Consider a little quick retail math. A store that does $1.2 million in sales a year ($100,000 a month) is selling 5 to 10 thousand books a month. Call it eight thousand. The chances are that store’s eight thousand sales will be more than 7,500 “ones”, with the balance made up mostly of “twos”, with a handful of titles — in the neighborhood of a dozen — that sell three or more. If the store turns its stock 4 times a year (which would be a very good performance), it is sitting on about 25,000 books at a time, also mostly “ones”, so let’s say they have 22,000 titles. So in the average month, 2/3 of their titles sell zero and more than 90 percent sell no more than one.

In the following month, the 7,500 titles that sell one will largely change.

There is no mathematician in the world that can make meaningful predictions for what any particular title will sell in a subsequent month with data like that. And there is no mathematician in the world that can tell you how the hundreds of thousands of titles not in the store would have done if they had been there, based on the store’s data on those titles (which is zilch).

. . . .

And that points to the second, and larger, component of the problem: automating the ordering. The human attention it takes to make the stocking decisions for a bookstore has not really been scaled. B. Dalton Booksellers, which was bought by, absorbed into, and then discarded by Barnes & Noble, pioneered automated models in the 1970s, the first real computer-assisted inventory management in bookstores. A buyer would set an inventory level and reorder point for a book in a store (“setting the model” or “modeling the title”) and the computer would take over from there, automatically reordering when inventory fell to or below the reorder point. This capability made Dalton grow faster than Walden, its chief competitor, which didn’t have this ability to keep backlist in the stores without buyer or store manager intervention. The shortcoming of the model system, of course, is that a buyer has to put it on, take it off, or change it. So we have a manual requirement to manage the automation.

. . . .

Unfortunately, the art or science or technology (or all three) of inventory management for books in stores hasn’t progressed a whole lot since then. Barnes & Noble built a great internal supply chain with warehouses that could resupply its stores very quickly and that improved the efficiency of the models. But an unnoticed and uncommented upon current reality is that internal supply chain will be hard to sustain and increasingly costly as the base of stores and sales it serves diminishes in size.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Barnes & Noble, Microsoft End Nook Pact

4 December 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

Barnes & Noble Inc. said it has terminated its commercial agreement for its Nook e-reader with Microsoft Corp. , a move it said provides a clearer path toward the impending split of its business.

The bookstore retailer bought out Microsoft’s preferred interest in Nook for about $120 million in cash and stock, freeing Microsoft from further investments in the business.

Barnes & Noble, struggling to adapt as book buyers migrated to online retailers like Inc., said Thursday that it expects the planned split of its Nook Media unit from its retail stores to occur by the end of August, behind its initial projection for a separation by March.

The company also reported a much weaker-than-expected profit for its November quarter, helping push its shares down about 8% premarket.

Microsoft invested in Nook in 2012, pledging more than $600 million to help prop up Barnes & Noble’s digital-reading business.

. . . .

For its second quarter ended Nov. 1, the Nook segment’s revenue fell 41% to $63.9 million, while digital content sales fell 21% to $45.2 million. Device sales fell 64% from a year earlier, though cost-cutting helped stem the division’s loss in the quarter.

Sales at the company’s retail unit, meanwhile, fell 3.6% in the quarter, due partly to store closures.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Obama Buys 17 Titles At Independent Bookstore

30 November 2014

From The Huffington Post:

President Barack Obama tried to draw attention to independently owned businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a day that is increasingly being marketed as one for deal-hungry consumers to remember to patronize these mom-and-pop outlets while doing their holiday shopping.

He bought bags of books — 17 titles in all — during a stop at Politics and Prose, a popular Washington bookstore now owned by a former Washington Post reporter and his wife, also a former Post reporter who also worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House and State Department.

In recent years, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been advertised as “Small Business Saturday.” It’s designed to drive foot traffic to independent businesses in between the frenzy of Black Friday sales at mass retailers and the Cyber Monday deals available online.

. . . .

Among the books in the president’s shopping bags for mature readers were “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China” by New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by surgeon Atul Gawande and “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr.

For younger readers, Obama’s purchases included three titles in the “Redwall” series by Brian Jacques, two titles in the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park and “A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More” by Doreen Cronin.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

The Strand’s Stand: How It Keeps Going in the Age of Amazon

25 November 2014

From Vulture:

Walk into the Strand Book Store, at East 12th and Broadway, and the retail experience you’ll have is unexpectedly contemporary. The walls are white, the lighting bright; crisp red signage is visible at every turn. The main floor is bustling, and the store now employs merchandising experts to refine its traffic flow and make sure that prime display space goes to stuff that’s selling. Whereas you can leave a Barnes & Noble feeling numbed, particularly if a clerk directs you to Gardening when you ask for Leaves of Grass, the Strand is simply a warmer place for readers.

In the middle of the room, though, is a big concrete column holding up the building, and it looks … wrong. It’s painted gray, and not a soft designer gray but some dead color like you’d see on a basement floor. Crudely stenciled signs reading BOOKS SHIPPED ANYWHERE are tacked to it. Bookcases surround the column, and they’re beat to hell, their finish nearly black with age.

This tableau was left intact when the store was renovated in 2003. Until then, the Strand had been a beloved, indispensable, and physically grim place. Like a lot of businesses that had hung on through the FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD years, it looked broken-down and patched-up. The bathroom was even dirtier than the one in the Astor Place subway. You got the feeling that a lot of books had been on the shelves for years. The ceiling was dark with the exhalations from a million Chesterfields. There were mice. People arriving with review copies to sell received an escort to the basement after a guard’s bellow: “Books to go down!” It was an experience that, once you adjusted to its sourness, you might appreciate and even enjoy. Maybe.

. . . .

Why is there still a Strand Book Store?

In large part because of Fred Bass. He’s pretty much the human analogue for the store’s gray column. His father, Ben, founded the Strand around the corner in 1927, and he was born in 1928. Ask him about his childhood, and he recalls going on buying trips on the subway with his father, hauling back bundles of books tied with rope that cut into his hands. (“Along the line, we got some handles.”) Ask him about the 1970s, and he’ll tell you about hiding cash in the store because it was too dangerous to go to the bank after dark. He’s 86, and he still makes buying trips, though mostly not by subway. “Part of my job is going out to look at estates — it’s a treasure hunt.” New York, to him, “is an incredible source — a highly educated group of people in a concentrated area, with universities and Wall Street wealth. The libraries are here.” Printed and bound ore, ready to be mined.

Four days a week, he’s on the main floor, working the book-buying desk in back. Stand there, and you’ll see the full gamut of New York readers. Critics and junior editors, selling recent releases. Academics. Weirdos. “Book scouts,” who pan for first-edition gold at yard sales and on Goodwill shelves. They walk in with heavy shopping bags and leave with a few $20s. Usually fewer than they’d hoped: The Strand rejects a lot, because unsalable books are deadweight. Whatever arrives has to go out quickly. “Our stock isn’t stale,” Bass says. “You come in, and there’ll be new stuff continually.” Slow sellers are culled, then marked down, then moved to the bargain racks outside, then finally sold in bulk for stage sets and the like.

. . . .

Those new books are also profitable because of a source almost unique to the Strand: broke editorial assistants. When the Strand buys their review copies, it pays about a quarter of the cover price, sometimes less. They’re indistinguishable from new, and the Strand sells most of them as such. (When Bass buys from wholesalers, he generally pays about 40 percent of list.) Publishers hate this gray market but accept it; one book publicist I know cringes when she sees her press releases peeking out of copies at the store. Bass shrugs: “I tell them it’s the cost of doing business.”

. . . .

The Basses have also tapped into New York’s great subsidizing resource: the global rich. If you’ve bought $15 million worth of living space on Park Avenue, it probably has a library, so what’s another $80,000 to fill those shelves? Make a call to the Strand with a few suggestions — “sports, business, art” — and a truckful of well-chosen, excellent-condition books will arrive. (Fred recalls that when Ron Perelman bought his estate on the East End from the late artist Alfonso Ossorio, the Strand had just cleared out Ossorio’s library; Perelman ordered a new selection of books, refilling the shelves.) In more than a few cases, the buyers request not subject matter but color. In the Hamptons, a wall of white books is a popular order, cheerfully fulfilled.

Link to the rest at Vulture and thanks to Karen for the tip.

Barnes & Noble Has a Plan to Make Physical Books Popular This Black Friday

25 November 2014

From Slate:

Instead of competing head on with Amazon this Black Friday, Barnes & Noble is looking to offer something that the online retailer can’t. The bookstore announced today that come this weekend, it will sell 500,000 signed copies of the latest works from 100 prominent authors. On the non-fiction side, authors include George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, Neil Patrick Harris, and Amy Poehler. In fiction, Dan Brown, Jodi Picoult, and Donna Tartt are among those taking part.

Barnes & Noble says the effort has been in the works for more than half a year, with each author signing thousands of copies of their books for readers. “Some went beyond their signature to personalize the books,” the chain notes in its release. Mo Willems, a children’s book author and illustrator, sketched the head of one of his characters in signed editions.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Laura for the tip.

Barnes & Noble Sync UP pairs ebooks with print – for a price

17 November 2014

From TeleRead:

Barnes & Noble has introduced another service to lever off its bricks-and-mortar presence into greater ebook market share with the rollout of B&N Sync Up, which offers ebook pairings with a selected series of paperback titles – but for an additional $4.99. “Buy the paperback, get the eBook for $4.99. Keep both or gift either,” explains the B&N site.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

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