Boom Time for Used Booksellers?

19 February 2019

As PG was opening a couple of packages of hardcopy books for Mrs. PG (she does read a lot of ebooks, but, in some cases, used books are less expensive and some books she wants in hardcopy to share with family and/or friends), it occurred to him that Amazon has almost certainly given used booksellers an opportunity to reach a far wider group of prospective purchasers than were ever available to them in physical used bookstores.

Most of the hardcopy used books that arrive in the mail come well-packaged and most are clearly packed by more sophisticated equipment than a roll of stamps and a stack of envelopes.

So, is PG correct about Amazon and used booksellers?

Has the ability to sell to a much wider online audience affected the pricing of used books?

Has the used book business undergone consolidation with small used bookstores closing and selling their inventory to large, online-focused used booksellers?

Are there people who are paid by larger used booksellers to be scouts for large quantities of available used books?

Independent book stores ‘thriving’

3 February 2019


 The book publishing industry experienced a slight shift in 2018.

 Print book sales are rising, and independent bookstores are doing better compared to past years. The shift is that after years of rising numbers, e-book sales are stagnant in favor of physical books. Some news outlets suggest print books could be becoming more popular.

 Karen Piacentini, owner of Fenton’s Open Book, said, “Book sales are up compared to e-book sales because people still like that book in their hand.”

. . . .

 By November 2018, e-book sales slipped 3.9 percent last year, according to the Association of American Publishers. Hardback and paperback book sales grew 6.2 percent and 2.2 percent respectively. During the first nine months of 2018, hardback and paperback sales were at $4 billion combined, while e-book sales were at $770.9 million.

 Fenton’s Open Book, and other independent bookstores, don’t only sell physical books. They also sell audio books through, which often has better prices than Amazon,

Piacentini said. Readers can use the service on their phone and listen to the books in their car using Bluetooth. They also sell e-books, but rarely.

. . . .

The number of independent booksellers increased by 35 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to the ABA.

 “I think that our sales went up or stayed the same,” Piacentini said. “Independent bookstores are thriving. There was a couple hundred bookstores opening last year. Indies are growing every year. If you see a store closing, it’s because they lost their lease or they’ve been open for 30, 40 years and just want to close and couldn’t find a buyer.”

Link to the rest at

American Booksellers Association past Presidents Reflect on a Changing Industry

30 January 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Last week at Winter Institute 14 in Albuquerque, N.M., five of the past presidents of the American Booksellers Association sat for a panel discussion moderated by ABA CEO Oren Teicher, focusing on where the industry is at the moment and where it is headed. The conversation echoed several others at Winter Institute, where it became clear that the ongoing collaboration between publishers and booksellers to reduce the cost of goods and streamline delivery times is central to the profitability of many booksellers.

Michael Tucker, ABA president from 2009 to 2011, and president and CEO of Books Inc., headquartered in San Francisco, with 11 stores in California, acknowledged that this key relationship is “in a better place” than it had been during the period following the settlement between the ABA and the publishers and bookstore chains for anti-trust in 2001. For several years thereafter, tensions in the industry were high. “The challenge was to open up a dialog with the publishers,” said Tucker.

Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore with locations in Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz., concurred that the relationship and the general bookselling environment has improved, but she also offered a cautionary note: “When I have to take out a case of books to replace them with tea towels or socks so i can meet the minimum wage increase or put in new floors, that worries me.” She said that young booksellers in particular are vulnerable. “They say [the economics] don’t pencil out.”

. . . .

Several times at Winter Institute Teicher and others pointed out that sales in the indie channel have been improving overall, with sale up some 5% in 2018. That said, there are still issues, particularly among the bottom third of bookstores, which are averaging a net loss of 8% per year, according to the most recent ABACUS data presented by the ABA earlier last week. One supposition is that profits are rising due to an increase in sales of non-book items and smaller footprint stores are struggling to raise profitability as a result of their inability to stock as many of these higher margin items.

Mitchell Kaplan, president of Books & Books, headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla., who held the ABA presidency from 2004 to 2006, said that the path to profits leads through community work. “We need to look at what the challenges are for small business today, whether that is rent, bad landlords, or a main street that is falling apart. We need to figure out for our communities how to sharpen what we do.” He pointed to the grants the city of San Francisco recently extended to small businesses, including a handful of booksellers, as one possible model.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly



Greenlight Bookstore Responds to Paid Vacation Legislation

29 January 2019

From the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association:

Dear New York City Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Matthieu Eugene,

Mayor de Blasio made an unexpected and dramatic statement last week with the announcement that he is seeking paid time off for all private sector employees.  The decision about whether and how to implement this proposal will be up to you, and we encourage you to think clearly and broadly about the issues at stake and how this may affect the districts you represent.

New York is a progressive city, and as small business owners we are proud to be a part of that.  Our independent bookstore has thrived for ten years as a space for ideas and conversations, often about social justice issues.  We also work hard to give our employees a fair and inclusive workplace and a good quality of life.  Like many local businesses, we are in favor of government, both local and national, thinking more about the quality of life of its working class citizens, rather than of its richest donors.

But New York cannot solve the massive issue of worker fairness by simply dropping it in the lap of its local business owners.

These are the same New Yorkers who have been squeezed by astronomical commercial rents, slim margins, and rising operating costs, leaving entire neighborhoods full of empty storefronts.

These are the New Yorkers who have recently had to absorb a rapidly escalating minimum wage, with little time to adjust to the costs that need to be balanced in order to manage this.

These are the New Yorkers who have watched as de Blasio and Cuomo offered $1.5 billion in incentives to Amazon in order to bring their new headquarters to Queens.

. . . .

No community groups were consulted in advance on this action – just as no one was consulted on the announcement regarding paid vacations.

Local businesses have been asked to give more and more: paid sick leave, quickly escalated minimum wage, and now potentially paid vacation. At the same time, Amazon is being offered massive financial incentives before hiring a single local worker or adding a penny to New York’s infrastructure.

Don’t get us wrong: we think all New Yorkers – indeed, all humans – deserve fair pay, benefits, and a good quality of life. But in the interest of worker fairness, de Blasio seems not to have considered fairness to local businesses, including the small business that employ over half of private sector employees in the city.

There is no support offered in exchange for these financial asks – it appears that our progressive city has not even studied any possible solutions for local businesses who may be struggling with these new realities. Faced with these increasing costs, many local businesses will simply close, or move elsewhere.

We and our fellow small business owners want to support this move in favor of worker fairness. But we can’t do it on our own; the city has to help.

. . . .

Therefore, we are asking the City Council to consider the following actions as it addresses paid vacation legislation:

  • Exempt businesses under 50 employees – those who are most likely to be operating with razor-thin profit margins.
  • Increase tax credits for small businesses– to help to shoulder the burden of increasing costs.

Link to the rest at the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association

PG is reminded of a quote about tax legislation from Senator Russell B. Long, from Louisiana, who served seven years as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which handles tax legislation.

Most people have the same philosophy about taxes.

Don’t tax you,
Don’t tax me,
Tax that fellow behind the tree.

Russian Booksellers Say Online Retail Competition Is Gaining Fast

29 January 2019
Comments Off on Russian Booksellers Say Online Retail Competition Is Gaining Fast

From Publishing Perspectives:

Russian booksellers say they share with their Western counterparts a rising concern that competition with online stores is deepening quickly, even as government plans call for new retail space support for independent bookstores.

In recent years, the Internet has become a major channel for the market’s book sales, as shopping online has expanded and taken business from physical retail, according to media reports.

Last year the Russian book market grew by 7 to 8 percent in value terms over 2017, to 79 billion rubles (US$1.19 billion)—according to Eksmo-AST’s CEO, Oleg Novikov, in a report from Ekaterina Bryzgalova at Vedomosti—though experts predict a slower rate of growth for this year.

Publishers and booksellers confirm to Publishing Perspectives that the slowing growth seems to be caused, in part, by a consumer shift towards online sale channels.

Novikov says, “When we assess the annual turnover of the common bookstores we already have operating, we find that that turnover is stagnating.”

. . . .

Novikov describes what is called in Western markets “showrooming,” or people browsing physical stores, choosing books, then ordering them online. And that, he says, is clearly driven by Internet outlets’ lower prices.

A spokesman for the ministry of science and culture tells Publishing Perspectives that it sees price differences between traditional book retail and online channels to be as high as 25 to 30 percent, so the savings for consumers can be significant.

. . . .

The growth online is confirmed by more statistics from the ministry, which says that in 2018, online sales of books in Russia grew by more than 25 percent over 2017. This increased the online percentage of the overall book market’s sales to roughly 20 percent—a figure well behind that found in some Western markets but a serious section of the market for a nation still adjusting to the impact of digital consumerism.

In an Eksmo-AST study of the situation, Nobikov told Vedomosti, in September, he could see a rise of 18 percent in online sales for books in 2018. “The development of online stores is faster than traditional bookstores,” he told Bryzgalova, adding that he could see the overall online percentage of book sales reaching 35 percent within five years.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Guillermo del Toro leads drive to save horror bookshop Dark Delicacies

23 January 2019

From The Guardian:

A horror bookshop in California has been saved from closure after a host of high-profile fans including Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro and Cory Doctorow offered their support.

Dark Delicacies in Burbank, California, has been running since 1994, but co-owner Del Howison said the business had been put under enormous financial strain over the last few years, thanks to “skyrocket[ing]” rents. The store’s lease was up in May, and he and his wife Sue had “resigned ourselves to the fact that we would be forced to close, just shy of our 25th anniversary. We were heartbroken,” he wrote on GoFundMe, where he launched an appeal last week to raise $20,000 (£15,000) to move the shop to a new location around the corner.

“We knew we would never become rich running the store, and that was OK. We just wanted to be able to do something we loved and be a part of the community we cherished. A possible new location, coupled with all the people who wrote and stopped by asking us to stay in business, made Sue and I realise we weren’t ready to go quietly into the night,” he wrote. “Moves are expensive and this one is no exception. So, we are asking for a little help in making a resurrection possible.”

. . . .

Dark Delicacies has now raised more than $24,000 in four days. “We have hit the initial sum we were reaching for due to the generosity of you, the fans and professionals. We cannot thank you enough,” said Howison.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Indie Bookstore Sales up Nearly 5% in 2018

17 January 2019

From The American Booksellers Association:

Despite some challenges securing inventory for a few high-demand holiday titles, the final numbers for unit book sales, as reported by ABA member bookstores for our national indie bestseller list were up — once again — for the 2018 holiday season. That growth was in keeping with the first three quarters of 2018, and, overall, sales for indie stores increased nearly five percent over 2017. As a result, given the strength of recent years, the compound growth in our channel over the past five years is a very healthy 7.5 percent. Of special note is the continued growth in sales for member stores employing IndieCommerce. Preliminary results indicate that year-over-year IndieCommerce sales numbers will be more than 10 percent over 2017, with an especially strong increase in the final eight weeks of the year.

. . . .

I don’t have to tell you that our numbers represent a healthy contrast with the soft national sales for many other bricks-and-mortar retailers, and they underscore why there has been such a sea change in the media’s coverage of independent bookstores. That upward sales trend is a testament to the ongoing commitment by indie booksellers to professional development, ongoing innovation, a strategic focus on store finances, sustained customer assistance, and community involvement. And, against that background, I do want to say that ABA fully understands that there are bookstores in communities that are not seeing these gains for a number of reasons, and ABA will continue to do everything we can to help ensure that all member stores can meet their core business goals.

. . . .

As upbeat as the news for indie bookstores has been in recent years, we at ABA recognize that 2019 is likely to present member stores a number of challenges. It’s clear that you will continue to see upward pressures in occupancy and payroll, two of the most critical components of long-term profitability. And, for sure, ABA’s commitment to working with our publisher partners to reduce the cost of goods remains a high priority.

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

Bookstores and Libraries (Planning for 2019 Part 3)

10 January 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

If you’re a writer and, more specifically, if you’re an indie writer, there’s a lot of opportunity in the bookstore and library markets. Yes, indeedy, I’m talking brick-and-mortar stuff.

First, a reminder: I’m doing a short series reviewing 2018 with an eye toward 2019. If you have not read the first post in this series, please do so. I will be referring to it throughout the series.  In fact, I’d recommend that you read the entire series in order, simply because I’ll be referring to things in one post that I mentioned in a previous post. Otherwise, I’d be repeating myself ad infinitum.

. . . .

If you only saw my post on Barnes & Noble back in October, you’d think that all bookstores were in deep trouble. Barnes & Noble is in trouble. Despite the happy sunny much-too-upbeat headlines about B&N in December, the trouble remains.

The headlines are great, like this one from which says “Barnes & Noble Plans to Open 15 New Stores in 2019.”Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Thriving businesses expand, right?

But you need to actually read past the headline. Barnes & Noble is actually cutting back retail space, and probably cutting back on expensive leases. They’re going from stores that are at least 17,000 square feet to stores that are 14,000 square feet or less. And they’re moving those smaller stores to “entertainment districts or cultural centers.”

Um, you know, like independent bookstores. Only Barnes & Noble will have a self-serve kiosk and a “book theater” (whatever the hell that is) and “plenty of comfortable community seating areas.”

So, less space for books and less interaction with employees, but also lower rents (most likely) and less money invested in inventory.

In my opinion as a long-time retailer, this is about ten years too late for B&N, and I doubt it will fool their investors.

My analysis from October remains the same. If you’re a writer who wants to be traditionally published so that you have high visibility, you are making a bad choice. With B&N reducing shelf space and putting the final nail in the coffin of what once made their brand unique (having so many books on the shelves that readers could find almost anything), most traditionally published books will not be on the shelves in a brick-and-mortar B&N.

. . . .

The other cloud hovering over the horizon, at least for traditionally published writers, is the possible merger between the two remaining large distributors in the United States. On December 4, Shelf Awareness reported  that the Federal Trade Commission is doing a “preliminary nonpublic investigation” of a merger between Ingram and Baker & Taylor, the two big distributors to see if such a merger would violate antitrust law.

If this merger goes through, the United States would be down to one major book distributor for the entire country. Shelf Awareness opined in its article that the single distributor would have a role that would “be all the more significant because of the closure of most regional book wholesalers over the past quarter century.”

Shelf Awareness also wonders if the changes at Barnes & Noble, and the possible sale of Baker & Taylor by its parent company Follett are related. Shelf Awareness believes that Follett is one of the possible buyers of Barnes & Noble, saying:

Follett may want to sell B&T if it aspires to buy B&N, an approach that would lessen FTC concerns and avoid B&T’s non-B&N retail customers objecting and possibly taking their business elsewhere.

For traditionally published writers, the merger could be a serious problem. If, for example, a writer’s traditional publisher gets into a pissing contest with the merged distributor (Ingram Baker Taylor?) the way that the Big 5 got into a pissing contest with Amazon a few years back (a contest that continues on a small level even today), then many books won’t get into the major print distribution channel, and the very reason the writer went to a traditional publisher disappears.

. . . .

More likely, however, for traditionally published writers in this scenario is that their book is the fourth or fifth on the list published that month by an imprint. Publishers invest a lot of money in the top of the list, but rarely invest in the books farther down. Some of those books don’t even make it into the current distribution system, and might be shut out entirely of a single distributor who might mandate that they only take three books per imprint from a publisher. (These things happen all the time.)

If a writer is going to lose control of her copyright for the life of that copyright by going to a traditional publisher, then the writer needs guarantees that the book will visit all the possible store shelves, and get enough visibility to make such a loss worthwhile. But that kind of guarantee is getting harder and harder, and the physical store shelves have gotten smaller and smaller.

. . . .

The consolidation of the distributors will harm the sales of the blockbusters more than it will harm the smaller titles, further causing problems for the big traditional publishers. And you can already see some cracks in that blockbuster façade. For example, when Simon & Schuster released its year-end letter to stockholders, there was no discussion at all of increased sales of the front list (new) titles. Instead, CEO Carolyn Reidy’s claim that 2018 was S&S’s most successful year appears to be based on the growing audiobook division and a new attention to backlist sales. (And the audiobook division news will be part of the copyright discussions we will have later in this series.)

S&S is developing its own distribution line, which, in turn, will have a benefit for smaller publishers and indie writers. The more the big guns run their own distribution systems, the more they train booksellers to order direct from the publisher, cutting out the middleman.

Which means that small publishers and indie writer/publishers will benefit from the willingness of booksellers to order direct.

. . . .

Retailing is changing. The experience is becoming king. Besides, readers have discovered (remembered?) that it’s fun to go into a bookstore to find a book they didn’t even know existed. It’s easier to browse a brick and mortar store. And it’s not just about buying the book.

According to Washington D.C. economic development planner Ryan Hand (quoted in MarketWatch):

Shopping for a book is an emotional experience. The future of bookstores are small and mixed concept stores. [They will be] social spaces where you develop that emotional connection by books that are curated by literature nerds.

I had just such an emotional experience as I was researching this post. I stumbled upon an article in The Wisconsin State Journal about A Room Of One’s Own Bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. Even though I culled my book collection way down on our move, I still have several books I purchased at A Room Of One’s Own decades ago, and I have very fond memories of the store.

. . . .

In many ways, these trends in bookselling mean that each bookstore will have its own unique inventory. A Room Of One’s Own in Madison won’t have the same books on its shelf as Writer’s Block here in Las Vegas. Some small booksellers will be amenable to carrying print titles from local authors; other small booksellers will not. Some, like a rabid anti-Amazon bookseller that I know in Oregon, refuse to take a book from any writer who publishes through Amazon. As one of those writers, I stopped recommending that bookstore.

The bookstores will develop personalities again, so that when readers travel, they’ll want to stop in the local bookstore—not to pick up the latest bestseller, but to see what kinds of offers that they might have missed in their own hometowns.

. . . .

As ebooks disrupted traditional publishing, traditional publishers have not figured out how to deal with libraries. When a traditional publisher sells a hardcover book to a library, that book gets only so many check-outs before it literally disintegrates and the library has to replace the book. Traditional publishers, faced with unlimited downloads of an ebook sold to a library, had no clue how to price the damn things.

And so began a quiet little war between traditional publishers and libraries that hit its zenith last summer when McMillan decided to “embargo” Tor science fiction and fantasy titles from libraries for four months after release.

Or, to put it in clearer terms, McMillan believed (based on no evidence at all) that library users would spend those four months buying the books they couldn’t get at the library. No journalist asked why they chose to make this move with their Tor book line only.

I suspect the reason was twofold: Tor’s sales have never been all that great, so they’re probably on an internal bubble (about to be chopped off if they don’t become profitable by a specific date) and some stupid logic that all businesses seem to have about science fiction and fantasy—that their consumers are cutting edge because those consumers read about the future.

Traditional publishers have long seen libraries as their enemy. This is because traditional publishers are a B2B (business to business) entity not a B2C (business to consumer) entity. In other words, publishers believe they sell their books to bookstores and retail outlets, not to readers. The bookstore is the B2C business, not the publisher.

. . . .

Let’s look at some information, shall we? This is from the U.S. based Institute of Museum and Library Services, for fiscal year 2016 (the last time these statistics were available):

(The IMLS annual Public Library Survey) shows that public libraries continue to evolve to meet changing community needs. More than 171 million registered users, representing over half of the nearly 311 million Americans who lived within a public library service area, visited public libraries over 1.35 billion times in 2016. Public libraries offered half a million more programs in 2016 than in 2015; 113 million people attended 5.2 million programs in 2016. In addition, the number of electronic materials continued to grow, with public libraries offering over 391 million e-books to their patrons in the United States.

The Library Journal reports that 25% of the collection materials in public libraries are ebooks. Potash told LJ that the publishing industry’s B2B problem means that it has no idea how many (paper) books libraries ordered because the orders were fulfilled by paper distributors.

Potash said,

…prior to ebooks, even the publishers never knew which libraries bought their books or how many copies, because [library orders] were being fulfilled by the traditional wholesale distributors…. Authors and agents aren’t appreciating that libraries are spending hundreds of millions of dollars…in print and digital, which is contributing to their earnings.

That shows up in the behavior of traditional publishers. They continue to treat libraries like a problem rather than an important part of the book ecosystem.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

A few weeks ago, PG posted a bit about his interaction with an early book wholesaler many years ago. He suggests that the long period of time it has taken for traditional publishers to decide to cut out these middlepersons and ship direct is Exhibit 2,507,438 in PG’s ongoing indictment of what terrible business managers inhabit the world of traditional publishing.

Publishers’ inability to understand the benefits of the marketing and promotional exposure their books gain through libraries is #2,507,439.

PG is less optimistic about the future of physical books and physical bookstores than Kris is.

PG has a long association with physical books. He was fortunate as a child that his mother took him and his siblings to the closest library on a regular basis and made certain there were always books around the house. PG worked in a large university library during his freshman year in college and became an expert at quickly locating books in the huge stacks where few mortals ever trod. When the PG offspring were young, the family visited a Borders on an almost-weekly basis to acquire more books and frequently stopped in at the local library as well.

When Mrs. PG was first published, PG attended a great many book signings at physical bookstores with her. For a period of about three years, the PG’s lived about 10 minutes away from a classic and well-known bookstore, a frequent stop for major authors traveling on national book promotion tours. Mrs. PG did a number of book signings at the store and the PG family frequently visited that bookstore on shopping trips as well.

Even after aggressive culling of the family book collection, PG still sees eight jammed bookcases, each 6 feet tall, whenever he walks out of his office. There are three other large (and jammed) bookcases elsewhere in Casa PG plus books on every coffee table, nightstand, etc., and a few corners where books are stacked on the floor.

PG has inserted that long history as a prelude for saying he doesn’t want to acquire any more physical books, in part because he knows he won’t read them. He can see several examples of unread physical books from where he sits. He much prefers to read ebooks now. The only time he is likely to touch a physical book these days is when he reads poetry to some of the third generation offspring (who are each extremely adept with an iPad).

On those rare occasions when the PG’s enter a physical bookstore, he’s pretty bored and neither of them have purchased a physical book other than as a gift for several years. PG feels no emotional thrill while wandering around looking at the books.

Perhaps PG is an outlier, but he doesn’t think so. He has not been inside a busy bookstore for several years now.

Even assuming that PG’s generation includes many who feel the excitement Kris describes when she discusses some of the attractive and unique bookstores she mentions in the OP, what about the younger generations?

PG submits that music stores were not all that different than bookstores a few years ago, with people of varying ages going in to feel the ambiance, listen to the latest releases and discuss artists and songs with other music aficionados. On Friday and Saturday nights, it wasn’t unusual for a local band to play at some of those stores. Buying a record or a CD in a music store was undoubtedly an emotional experience for many.

What happened to those music stores?

iTunes happened.

Today, only a small fraction of music enthusiasts buy or care about music on physical media. Everybody downloads music from iTunes or other online music retailers. How would you play anything but downloaded music on your smartphone?

PG is informed audiophiles believe that the quality of downloaded music is not as good as music written to CD’s or vinyl, but how many music lovers are interested?

PG would love to hear a reason why digital music and digital books are inherently unlike each other and why physical books will have a unique ability to survive as a mass medium when music in physically recorded form has not.

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