A Golden Age of Books? There Were Only 500 Real Bookstores in 1931

29 July 2016

From The Atlantic:

I’m reading a fascinating book called Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, published in 1984 by the popular historian Kenneth C. Davis. I picked it up because many of the changes that social media and the Internet are supposed to have wrought on culture are ascribed to the rise of the paperback in this book.There’s all this talk in the book about “the Paperback Revolution” that “enabled American writers to find American readers by the millions” among the “Paperback Generation.” Mass-market paperbacks, we’re told, “made an enormous contribution to our social, cultural, educational, and literary life.”

I haven’t gotten far enough along in the book to tell you how Davis argues the story, but early in the book, I was absolutely dumbfounded by his description of the publishing business in 1931. He draws on a “landmark survey of publishing practices” carried out by one Orin H. Cheney, a banker, as a service to the National Association of Book Publishers.

Among the normal complaints about book publishers selection processes, we find this staggering stat about the retail business of selling books (emphasis added).

“In the entire country, there were only some four thousand places where a book could be purchased, and most of these were gift shops and stationary stores that carried only a few popular novels,” Davis writes. “In reality, there were but five hundred or so legitimate bookstores that warranted regular visits from publishers’ salesmen (and in 1931 they were all men). Of these five hundred, most were refined, old-fashioned ‘carriage trade’ stores catering to an elite clientele in the nation’s twelve largest cities.”

Furthermore, two-thirds of American counties — 66 percent! — had exactly 0 bookstores.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Gordon for the tip.

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The Last Book Store

27 July 2016

Could corporate tax put Powell’s out of business?

23 July 2016

From KOIN 6:

Could a proposed corporate tax cost Portland one of its biggest icons?

Powell’s Books is the largest new and used bookstore in the world, but its owner says she’s worried a measure on the November ballot could make it a thing of the past.

Ballot measure 97 is being called the “biggest tax change” in Oregon history. It would levy a 2.5% tax on businesses’ gross sales over $25 million.

Emily Powell told KOIN 6 News the tax would be “extremely damaging” to her family’s namesake business.

“We are a business that’s challenged every year to figure out how we are going to make our way,” Powell said. “If I knew how to find this kind of cost savings every year I would have found it already.”

Powell said the proposed tax would affect more than the store’s direct revenue.

“Pacific Power has said they’ll pass on the tax in a price increase and so our power bills are going to go up as well,” she explained. “It’s very likely our distributors will charge us more, our margins will go down.”

“Mind boggling” and “scary” are words she used to describe some potential effects the ballot measure could have on her business. She said the tax could force her to shorten employees’ hours and cut service in a way that doesn’t impact sales.

When asked about the worst case scenario — having to close the bookstore — Powell said she “prefers not to think about [it] but it is certainly keeping [her] up at night.”

. . . .

“Because this would be a new tax on gross sales — not profits — businesses would be required to pay the tax on their total revenues, regardless of whether they make a large profit, a small profit or no profit at all,” according to the OBA. “That would mean that many employers would have to raise prices or cut jobs, or both.”

Link to the rest at KOIN 6 and thanks to Dave for the tip.

While PG has fallen out of love with Barnes & Noble and most other bookstores, he says putting Powell’s out of business would be a tragedy. It’s a destination and Powell’s is one of the few remaining bookstores that actually has knowledgeable staff instead of employees who are most interested in finding another job that pays better.

B&N to Sell Self-Published Books In Stores

23 July 2016

From Book Business:

The big news about Barnes & Noble is that after twenty years of battling with Amazon they have finally made a competitive move that Amazon cannot match. Barnes & Noble, with 640 bookstores in 50 states, is giving self-published authors a chance to get access to their hallowed bookshelves.

. . . .

The news reads best at a quick glance: “…authors have the opportunity to sell their print books at Barnes & Noble stores across the country… participate at in-store events including book signings and discussions, where they will be able to sell their print books and meet fans.”

But the devil’s in the details: the program is for “eligible” NOOK Press authors, defined as “those print book authors whose eBook sales [of a single title] have reached 1,000 units in the past year.”

. . . .

In my coverage of last fall’s NINC conference I noted some remarks from publishing expert Lou Aronica. Lou provided a forceful reminder that self-published authors can’t afford to ignore print: it still accounts for some two-thirds of book sales overall. The larger problem is getting retail access for print. Independent booksellers have always been more open to dealing with self-published authors than the chains. But trying to get into the 2,311 outlets operated by the 1,775 American Booksellers Association (ABA) members is a logistical impossibility. Barnes & Noble has fewer total outlets than the ABA, but a lot more floor space.

Link to the rest at Book Business and thanks to Deb for the tip.

PG had a previous post on this subject, but revisited it for the last paragraph excerpted above.

Thinking about self-published authors as an industry, like traditional publishing, is, in PG’s charmingly humble opinion, a mistake.

If you’re talking about traditional publishers, you’ll find very little difference in their business methods and practices.

Indie authors, however, are individual entrepreneurs, much more flexible and innovative than tradpub, and able to discover and exploit parts of the market that are invisible to Manhattan.

While some indie authors may find good business selling into the print market, PG suggests that, for most, it’s an unprofitable time-waster. For anything but POD, it’s too much overhead, too much administrative work and simply not profitable.

Ebooks are a far more profitable pursuit than print for the large majority of indie authors. As Author Earnings has demonstrated, indie authors are dominating more and more of the ebook market on Amazon. And not just with price. Top-selling indie authors are far better marketers, even with small budgets, than traditional publishers.

And print is a declining market. Most avid fiction readers have already moved to ebooks and they’re becoming accustomed to great prices and instant availability. Articles about the renaissance of print are focusing on ripples in a rising river that’s flowing in the opposite direction.

Barnes & Noble had 726 stores in 2008 and it has 640 today.

In 2005, Borders operated 1,329 stores. Today, it operates none.

And no, independent bookstores have not made up for this decline.

National Adult Coloring Book Day

22 July 2016

From GalleyCat:

Taking advantage of the popularity of adult coloring books, 12 indie bookstores across the country are throwing “coloring book parties for adults” on Tuesday, August 2.

. . . .

The publisher is donating coloring kits to these stores to support the events. Kits include free coloring book samples, colored pencils, event-themed magnets and signage. The publisher is promoting the events through a social media campaign.

Link to the rest at GalleyCat

Why bookstores are more than places that sell books

21 July 2016

From The Chicago Tribune:

I recently had the privilege of spending three days in Paris and had the chance to see the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Rodin Museum, Picasso Museum, and Notre Dame Cathedral, but there was another Paris sight I had to visit before I ran out of time: Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

The current Shakespeare and Company store is the second store in Paris with the name (more on that store in a second). The original Shakespeare and Company was founded by erstwhile New Jersey-ite Sylvia Beach, and was housed in two Left Bank locations from 1919 to 1940.

Beach and her store became a kind of beacon attracting “Lost Generation” writers Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and others. (Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” brings this era to light as Owen Wilson’s character is transported back in time to hobnob with these figures.)

. . . .

As a bookstore, Shakespeare and Company is unremarkable. There’s certainly more tourists taking pictures of themselves in front of the sign than the average store, but inside you get what you see in a lot of older, independent stores, lots of great books in very tight quarters.

It was reminiscent of a visit last October to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, another iconic spot whose most important contributions extend beyond retailing books, as it was the birthplace of the Beat Movement and the headquarters for New Directions publishing, which remains a vital force in literature to this day.

Are there retail locations in other categories with such power and resonance?

Chicagoans remember the State Street Marshall Field’s with great fondness, an icon of the city, but we’ve apparently managed to get over its being subsumed by Macy’s just over a decade ago. As meaningful as the place may have been, in the end, it is architecture.

I am obviously biased, but bookstores just seem different. I have engaged in fantasies that if I were to become famous, the bookstore my mother co-founded in 1971 (The Book Bin in Northbrook) would become an icon. People could visit the spot where I would sit and read books after school.

Delusions of grandeur aside, this is why bookstores cannot be killed, despite all the existential threats.

When I envision the future of bookstores, it is this kind of past I turn to, bookstore as salon, as publisher, as guardian of the values of the community.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

PG remembers Kroch’s & Brentano’s, Chicago’s largest bookstore chain.

Kroch’s was founded in 1907. It acquired the Chicago store of New York-based Brentano’s during the Depression.

PG made regular visits to Kroch’s & Brentano’s at 29 South Wabash, a short walk from his first place of employment after graduating from college. At one time, the Wabash store claimed to be the largest bookstore in the world. As PG remembers it, this store was much on the scale of the largest multi-story Barnes & Noble stores that would appear later.

K&B was a full-service store and refused to discount book prices. It went out of business in 1995. The 29 S. Wabash flagship location appears to be vacant on Google Streetview.

Hastings Entertainment to be liquidated by Oct. 31

21 July 2016

From The Amarillo Globe-News:

Hastings Entertainment will be liquidated, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

Bidding on the beleaguered company in a Delaware bankruptcy court ended Wednesday afternoon, and according to the agency agreement an “everything must go” sale, which ends Oct. 31 at the latest, will be the end of the Amarillo retail chain’s story.

. . . .

According to the Wall Street Journal, Hastings’ debts total roughly $139 million, but the courts have deemed the total value of the sale to be between $106 million and $114 million.

. . . .

“We don’t buy a lot here but it’s nice to browse; you can do it on the internet but it’s not the same. A lot of people know there’s better deals on the internet so they buy on Amazon instead of in the store,” she said. “And I do that too. I see a book that’s $14 and I know I can get it used on Amazon for like a penny.”

Founded by Sam Marmaduke in 1968 in Amarillo, the company currently employs about 3,850 people. There are 36 Hastings locations in Texas alone, which account for 1,200 jobs, more than 400 of which are distributed between the three store locations and main distribution center in Amarillo.

Link to the rest at Amarillo Globe-News

Hastings owns 125 superstores in medium- and small-sized markets that sell new and used books plus other media products. PG says this isn’t a bankruptcy on the scale of Borders, but it still removes a lot of bookstores from the US market.

Indie bookshops turn a new page to fight off threat from Amazon

18 July 2016

From The Guardian:

It’s children’s story hour at the Book Nook in Hove and the owner, Vanessa Lewis, is doing a reading of Julia Donaldson’s rhyming picture book The Detective Dog.

“Sniff, sniff, sniff!” cry a gaggle of excited kids, in unison.

The parents sip lattes in a cafe at the back of the shop, while Lewis, a former teacher, bellows theatrically. Tucked away on a quiet street in the south coast town, the Book Nook is indicative of a growing breed of what Lewis describes as “destination” bookshops. People go out of their way to come here. “You can’t just exist as a bookshop nowadays; you have to make it a place where people want to hang out,” she says.

Last year, this small independent store beat national rivals such as Waterstones and Foyles to win children’s bookseller of the year. Battered over recent years bycut-throat competition from Amazon and the supermarkets, and by a huge rise in ebook sales, indie bookstores have had it tough. Now they’re fighting back, boosted by a surge in printed book sales – particularly children’s books – and innovative approaches to getting people through the door.

Figures to be released this month from Nielsen Book Research show that, in the first half of this year, Britons bought more than 78 million books. That’s almost 4 million more than in the same period in 2015. In cash terms, sales are up by more than 9%, the best performance in a decade – and sales of printed books are now growing faster than those of ebooks.

. . . .

Sensing a resurgence, author Betsy Tobin and artist Tessa Shaw took the plunge and opened their bookstore, Ink@84, at the end of last year in Highbury, north London. But it’s a bookshop with a difference. Alongside the fiction and fancy drinks – including craft beers, gourmet coffee and artisan gin – they also screen films and run writing workshops, poetry evenings and children’s painting classes.

. . . .

“We took over what used to be an estate agent, and people in the community practically fell on their knees with gratitude. They couldn’t believe something like this was opening on their doorstep,” says Tobin. They feel part of a renaissance of independent booksellers. Three have opened in this part of London in the past six months.

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

Police Confiscate Thousands of Books from Upper West Side Street Vendors

18 July 2016

From DNA Info:

UPPER WEST SIDE — Police confiscated thousands of books from longtime street vendors in a move lauded by a local elected official — but compared to “book burning” by some neighbors.

The NYPD initially “removed and safeguarded” the unattended books on July 5 and followed up again two days later with another haul, police said.

One of the vendors said he saw trucks arrive at the scene, on the west side Broadway between 72nd and 74th streets, around 1 a.m. on July 5 and remove about 10 tables of books.

“The police illegally took our books,” said the vendor, Philippe Wahlstrom, who noted he has sold books there since 1994.

He added that three tables worth of books were also confiscated on July 4, but the NYPD did not confirm any action by police on that date.

“This is nothing new,” said Kirk Davidson, who has sold books on the same strip since 1986. “This happens about every four years, and I have 187 dismissed summons at home.”

He believes the police response could be the result of recent complaints from residents, businesses or both. About seven vendors currently set up shop on the stretch, hawking used books that are primarily donated to the sellers.

Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal praised the move, thanking the mayor and local NYPD precinct “for heeding my call to remove the booksellers on 72nd and Broadway, who have used the public sidewalk as their personal storage space for far too long,” she said in statement.

“While I support those who sell books on our sidewalks, they must abide by our city laws which require someone to watch over the books at all times.”

. . . .

“It’s criminal taking people’s books away. It recalls days of book burning,” added Tom Hannon, a neighborhood resident since 1993 who has donated and purchased books from Davidson for years.

“I love these guys. They’re good guys, and they’re part of the neighborhood.”

Link to the rest at DNA Info

For those unfamiliar with Manhattan geography, the Upper West Side is a wealthy residential area bounded by Central Park on the East and the Hudson River on the West where many of New York’s cultural and intellectual elite live. Columbia University is generally regarded as the northern boundary of this area.

Upper West Side residents consider themselves to be much more artistic and thoughtful than the wealthy residents of the Upper East Side on the other side of Central Park who engage in tawdry pursuits such as commerce and banking.

Want to Work in 18 Miles of Books? First, the Quiz

18 July 2016

From The New York Times:

As Jennifer Lobaugh arrived at the Strand Book Store to apply for a job this spring, she remembered feeling jittery. It wasn’t only because she badly wanted a job at the fabled bookstore in Greenwich Village, her first in New York City, but also because at the end of the application, there was a quiz — a book quiz.

She rode the elevator to the third floor, sat down at a long table and scanned the quiz: a list of titles and a list of authors. She matched “The Second Sex” with Simone de Beauvoir right away. But then she had doubts. “I thought I would have no trouble,” said Ms. Lobaugh, 27, who has an M.F.A. in creative writing and a background in French and Russian literature. “But I got nervous.”

The Strand is the undisputed king of the city’s independent bookstores, a giant in an ever-shrinking field. It moves 2.5 million books a year and has around 200 employees. While its competitors have closed by the dozens, it has survived on castaways — from publishers, reviewers, the public and even other booksellers.

. . . .

For nearly a century, the huge downtown bookstore has symbolized not only inexpensive books, but something just as valuable: full-time work for those whose arcane knowledge outweighs their practical skills. “Ask Us,” says a big red sign on the walls of the Strand. The starting wage is $10.50 per hour, with health benefits in 60 days and union representation. And there are unwritten perks, including discounts, a casual dress code and brushes with celebrity.

. . . .

For about four decades, however, applicants have confronted a final hurdle to enter its ranks: the literary matching quiz.

There are tests for driver’s licenses and citizenship, for New York Citylandmarks preservationists and sanitation workers. But a quiz for an entry-level retail job at a bookstore?

. . . .

Over time, the reputation of the Strand’s quiz has grown; it has become as much a part of the store’s identity as its canvas tote bags. The legend has become larger, in fact, than the quiz itself, which is only 10 lines long, covering a few inches of the photocopied application.

“How long did it take? I probably agonized about it for five minutes,” said Ms. Lobaugh, wearing a flamingo-printed T-shirt and unpacking books on the main floor of the Strand on a recent Tuesday.

“But it probably took 90 seconds.”

Still, the stakes feel high. About 60 people apply for a job at the Strand every week; typically only a couple are hired.

. . . .

The Strand moved to its current location, at Broadway and 12th Street, in 1957. A paper application appeared around 1965; the quiz was added in the 1970s. “I thought it was a quick way to find if somebody had any knowledge of books,” said Mr. Bass, who, at 88, still works at the store part time.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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