As Brits treat social distancing as a game, UK’s Waterstones opts to close stores nationwide just days after Daunt asked for books to be given special status

From The New Publishing Standard:

Sometimes it can be embarrassing to be British. First we had Brexit. Then the coronavirus arrived and our government looked the other way. Now the coronavirus is firmly established in the UK, spiralling out of control, and the Prime Minister is sending out mixed messages about social distancing, one second telling everyone it’s fine to go out to the park, the next telling them he will impose stricter controls if people go out to the park.

Against such a background businesses like Waterstones are forced to juggle the well-being of staff and business against the sad reality that, absent legal enforcement, social distancing and other virus containment measures are next to meaningless.

While the governments of Italy, Spain and France among many have acted swiftly to reduce the social mobility that spreads disease, Boris Johnson has chosen a more populist path, like a weak teacher appealing to a class to behave, knowing full well a handful of selfish pupils will do no such thing so long as they have the option.

As the week ended James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, the UK’s biggest national bookstore chain, spoke of unprecedented demand for books as the majority of the British public tried to stay at home more, and picked up more books during their occasional forays out.

Daunt went so far as to call on the government to exempt books from the inevitable retail closures that Boris Johnson must, at some stage, when things get so bad it’s too late, impose upon the nation.

. . . .

But just this weekend, as it became apparent a substantial minority of the British public were treating Johnson’s government guidelines as a joke, James Daunt has taken a bold decision to not even bother waiting for Johnson to do the right thing, but to close all the Waterstones stores nationwide.

To help prevent spread of the Coronavirus, and to protect the wellbeing of our customers and staff, sadly Waterstones will temporarily close its doors by the close of trade Monday 23 March until further notice.

It gives consumers one full shopping day to make their final book purchases before Waterstones shuts shop for the foreseeable future, because neither the Prime Minister nor certain of the British public can be relied upon to do the right thing.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

New Tools are Leveling the Playing Field for Booksellers

From Publishers Weekly:

As far as I’m concerned, 2020 is the dawn of a new era in independent bookselling thanks to Bookshop and Edelweiss360 from Above the Treeline. I believe that with their healthy adoption, the most common observation from consumers will not be “bookstores are dying because of Amazon” but “I can’t imagine shopping anywhere but my local indie.”

When my business partner and I opened our bookstore, I was constantly frustrated about our lack of access to e-commerce functionality and the ability to act on sales insights. We both came from publishing, and I had worked for a marketing analytics firm, so we came with an understanding of the depth of data available from the books themselves and the potential of organized transaction data. But there wasn’t a single service made with booksellers (or our budgets) in mind. We couldn’t gamble on a platform and wait months to see ROI; the margin just doesn’t allow for that (a conversation for a different day).

Now, with the launch of Bookshop and the beta testing of E360, all of a sudden there are solutions and options. The functions differ, but the goal is the same: increase revenue, reach, and profitability quickly and measurably.

Let’s start with E360. The premise is simple: a customer has bought something, and you, the bookseller, want to be able to regularly show (and sell) them similar somethings in a user-friendly way, via any e-commerce of your choosing. E360 does this with a POS-integrated email marketing platform that provides intelligent subscriber segmentation based on your own sales. Though still in beta, it promises to be a way to leverage and amplify those proprietary bookselling qualities that create loyal customers: experience, curation, and handselling.

. . . .

What about Bookshop? When I first heard about it, it sounded like a much prettier, more user-friendly version of Baker & Taylor’s My Books and More. Fine, but not great—though admittedly with better terms: ABA member stores can create their own Bookshop page that earns 25% on direct transactions, with all fulfillment handled by Ingram and all processing by Bookshop. It’s free, so we decided to sign up and see what might happen.

As I heard more, I got downright giddy. The driving force of this entire model is affiliate linking: the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” of e-commerce. Whenever the New York Times or other sources link to a retailer, it’s usually because that retailer has an affiliate program. Why wouldn’t they? It’s basically free money. And that free money can amount to millions of dollars a year.

How it works: a retailer sets up a trackable product link for a partner business. The partner business displays the link and gets a percent of revenue from every transaction resulting from it. It’s kind of like a co-op but far less complicated.

The coup is that Bookshop’s affiliate program pays more than Amazon’s, and for every affiliate transaction, 10% goes to the source and 10% goes to a pool of member ABA bookstores. 

. . . .

We still have to educate readers about the impact of buying directly from us and provide viable options for when that’s not possible, and we must be adamant that publishers are doing the same and not simply defaulting to Amazon. It’s in publishers’ best interests to expand our market share as much as possible. Diversified revenue is key to economic health; any industry where a single retailer owns over 70% of the market is not just sickly but is turning into an oligarchy with an ever-dwindling number of stakeholders. Who do they think will be left standing if the current model persists?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Perhaps PG has not been focusing properly, but he can’t remember any news story structured around the plucky traditional book stores vs. evil Amazon trope that has included any indication that authors and their wellbeing, financial or otherwise crosses anyone’s mind.

Other than the occasional mention of author signings (which PG has been told often don’t result in very many book sales unless the author is one of a handful of superstars), the bookstore owners appear to be acting on the premise that there will always be plenty of authors writing books to put on bookstore shelves.

On occasion, PG also smells a whiff of entitlement that’s framed around an unspoken assumption that readers don’t really understand that they are much better off buying physical books from physical booksellers.

If readers would just start thinking straight, they would stop buying books from Amazon because everyone agrees that hopping into a car or onto a bus or light-rail system, then burning carbon-derived energy to transport oneself to buy a book at the price the publisher sets for it in a local bookstore that pays the hired help sub-market salaries with zero benefits is, as (again) everyone knows, much better for community well-being, social stability and local tax revenues than using a few cents worth of electricity to download a much lower-priced ebook from Amazon (and that doesn’t even count the ongoing employment at union wage rates for those who operate the landfills where most printed books will almost certainly end their lives even if you donate them to the library).

(PG wondered if he was still capable of diagramming the preceding sentence and decided he was not. No fault for such shortcomings should be attributed to Mrs. Edna Lascelles. She did an excellent job of teaching PG English grammar and he remembered and applied her lessons for many years. PG blames Grammarly for his decline.)

Ultimately, in a capitalist society, the reader votes with her/his money and that vote decides who prospers and who does not (although most readers are not inclined to macroeconomic analysis, they just want the next book in the How to Lose Weight by Changing Your Own Sparkplugs in Space series for a good price right now).

Barnes & Noble Cancels Black History Month Covers After Backlash

From The Huffington Post:

Major bookseller Barnes & Noble canceled a Black History Month initiative at its flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City after public backlash. 

The store planned to host an event Wednesday evening launching its new “Diverse Editions” project, which would showcase ”classic” books ― like “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and “Moby-Dick” ― with new covers illustrating the main characters as people of color. The store planned to feature the newly jacketed books in its window display all month.

But after significant outrage online, the company canceled the initiative midday Wednesday.

People on Twitter suggested Barnes & Noble promote diversity by featuring works by actual writers of color. Most of the books the bookseller created new covers for, including “Emma” by Jane Austen and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, were written by white authors and feature white protagonists.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

PG wondered if B&N’s brilliant marketing/virtue-signaling strategy included a black Moby Dick.

Margin call

From The Bookseller:

Seven years ago, The Bookseller published an open letter from Sam Husain, then chief executive of Foyles, exhorting publishers to support bookshops with better terms. He wanted an average discount closer to 60%, an improvement of 20 percentage points on what he saw was prevalent at the time. He argued that despite lower volumes on some titles, bookshops needed to be rewarded for the value they put into the market, including visibility, knowledge and author events.

Last week Blackwell’s made a similar intervention in a private letter to suppliers, requesting a 7% promotional rebate, to be applied on all invoices after 7th February—equivalent, it seems, to increasing the discount it receives on the published r.r.p. by a modest amount.

. . . .

In terms of strategies, it’s hard not to think Foyles did it better: an open discussion about the future of high street bookselling made sense, a blanket demand for a back-hander looks more gauche. It was no surprise that by the time The Bookseller saw the letter, its contents were already part of a lively discussion on Twitter. 

There was also confusion over the demands: publishers have long been prepared to give a bit extra in return for additional visibility, but Blackwell’s offers no such assurances, stating that the extra discount would support its drive towards profit and growing the market. The letter, too, stipulates that the rebate is for 2020, but does not say what will be different in 2021—either Blackwell’s needs the money now for a particular reason, or it will need it forever. Publishers expect the latter.None of this means Blackwell’s is wrong to make the demand, or amiss in setting out the costs and virtues of running bookshops staffed with savvy booksellers. Missteps are forgivable when the argument is sound. And it is. Blackwell’s has grown sales by £15m in three years, but its overheads continue to rise too. The same is not true for all publishers: although they screw their faces up at the accusation, many are more profitable than once they were, and it is not unimaginable that they could use some of what is the digital bounty to invest in bookshops. Academic publishers may feel less secure, but their discounts—far lower than those offered by trade publishers—were established in a bygone era when textbook prices were high, and student need was reliable. Wherever you sit, Blackwell’s is right to argue for an adjustment. 

There is a wider discussion to be had, too. Long forgotten in Husain’s missive was a call to use consignment—whereby booksellers only pay for the stock once it is sold—a suggestion perhaps too radical at the time. But the “returns” bit of the current model is wasteful, bad for profit and bad for the environment. Any discussion on terms must include a review of this model. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Raven Book Store Owner Publishes “How to Resist Amazon and Why”

From The American Booksellers Association:

Danny Caine of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, has published a zine titled How to Resist Amazon and Why. The 16-page zine features Caine’s October 2019 letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a review of the case against Amazon, a compilation of Raven’s Twitter advocacy, and additional material.

How to Resist Amazon and Why was quick to receive widespread attention. Caine told Bookselling This Week that “Between in-store sales, online sales, and wholesale orders we’ve shipped out, we’ve moved about 1,400 zines in the first 10 days. All of those were hand stapled by me, my wife, and my friends.” Caine added, “we’ve sent them to around 60 stores in the U.S., Canada, and England.”

Due to the zine’s popularity, Raven partnered with Microcosm Publishing to assist with distribution. Microcosm has a record of resisting Amazon — even going as far as altering its business model to no longer have a direct distribution relationship with the company. Microcosm has positioned itself in such a way that Amazon sales comprise only one percent of its sales each month.

According to Caine, Microcosm expects How to Resist Amazon and Why to be its best-selling zine of the season with already a few thousand pre-orders. Microcosm confirmed that Caine’s zine was impressively its #2 title for the last week of October.

Joe Biel of Microcosm told Bookselling This Week, “I think the zine has been so successful because people feel very frustrated by Amazon.” Biel added that no one “realized how big of a title this would be. Nor did anyone realize that [the zine] would resonate so deeply with bookstore employees.”

In Raven’s letter to Bezos last month, Caine articulated some of the many ways Amazon has hurt booksellers. “We like business competition, we think it’s healthy. But the way you’ve set things up makes it impossible to compete with you,” said Caine.

He challenged the idea of tech companies “disrupting” old ways of doing business to further innovation, saying “…we are not ripe for disruption. We’re not relics. We’re community engines…If your retail experiment disrupts us into extinction, you’re not threatening quaint old ways of doing things. You’re threatening communities.”

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

PG doesn’t like to see any small business fail because, almost always, there is a lot of work that someone or several someones have put into building it up and keeping it running.

However, any business, large or small, relies on customers to purchase its goods/services.

PG suspects that blaming Amazon for a sales downturn really amounts to blaming the former customers of the business who have, for one reason or another, chosen to purchase from Amazon because doing so benefits those customers in some way that’s important to them.

If lower cost is a reason those customers prefer purchasing from Amazon, criticizing Amazon is effectively blaming those customers who may not have enough money to pay for the extra overhead involved in supporting a physical bookstore. At least some of those customers are avid readers who appreciate the ability to obtain more books to read and enjoy.

PG also suggests that, if Amazon had never existed, someone else would have run the same play that Jeff Bezos did. Physical books are a great product for mail order because they don’t spoil on the shelf, don’t get broken during shipping and even benefit from lower postal costs.

Ebooks are an even more ideal product because they’re cheap to store and, effectively, cost nothing to deliver. If Amazon had not executed its ebook strategy, some other cost-cutter or combination of cost cutters would have done the same thing.

Again, blaming Amazon because a lot of people prefer reading ebooks over physical books is, effectively blaming those readers for their personal choices.

Should We Pay to Enter Bookstores?

From The New Yorker:

While browsing a table of new books at the Strand and spotting one that I wanted to buy, I experienced a common, modern-day itch: Do I purchase the book there and then from the Strand without pause, thus supporting bookstores, publishers, authors, and everything that I believe in? Or do I drive myself crazy by pulling out my phone and checking how much money I would save were I to buy the book online? The Strand was selling the book at a modest discount off of its suggested retail price, but I suspected that it would be less expensive on a certain ubiquitous Web site. Sure enough, the same book was listed there, brand new, for ten dollars less than the Strand’s price. If I ordered it from this Web site, it would be delivered to my door, the next day, for free.

The moral high ground is to buy the book from the Strand. The store afforded me the pleasure of browsing the shelves on a weeknight in New York. The store’s owners permitted me to pick up the book and read a few pages, for as long as I wished. They should have my money. But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that I chose three additional books and that each of those books was also ten dollars less online. I could save forty bucks, which isn’t chump change. So the question then becomes, where do we draw the line? Are we expected to underwrite David’s battle with Goliath, no matter what the cost? I want to give my money to the Strand. I’m willing to pay more in exchange for the intangibles that I’m offered by a store’s physical existence. But I fear that this business model, whereby physical retailers are basically relying on a code of honor from their customers, is just not sustainable.

So why not monetize the intangibles? The Strand, and stores like it, could charge an admission fee. Something token, like a dollar. For a buck, you’re granted access to everything the store has to offer. You can browse to your heart’s delight. There’s no pressure to make a purchase. And, if you do buy something, perhaps the item costs close to what it would cost online, because all of those dollars would have allowed the store to lower its prices.

I’m not an economist, so maybe this idea is an unsophisticated one. More than five thousand people walk into the Strand every day, according to the owner, Nancy Bass Wyden. (“It’s department-store numbers,” she said.) Would every one of those people be willing to contribute a dollar to provide enough of a cushion to allow for quasi-online prices? And what about the little shop in the rural community, the one that might see twenty customers walk through its doors on an average day? Twenty dollars or so a day may not be enough to keep that store afloat. Is there perhaps some sort of revenue-sharing system that could be instituted, whereby all of those single dollars go into one big pot that each participating physical retailer gets an appropriate share of?

. . . .

In 2013, the then U.K. HarperCollins C.E.O., Victoria Barnsley, floated the notion of a pay-to-browse model for bookstores in an interview with the BBC. A follow-up piece in the Washington Post found that a sampling of American booksellers were hostile to the idea, but a few daring retailers overseas have since begun experimenting with variations on this model. In Porto, Portugal, visitors to the world-famous Livraria Lello bookstore pony up five euros (about $5.50 USD) for an entry voucher, the cost of which is then subtracted from a purchase. And Bunkitsu, a bookstore in Tokyo, charges customers the equivalent of a whopping fourteen dollars for the experience of browsing its inventory and exhibition space. (Included with the admission fee is access to a reading area, where patrons are permitted to kick off their shoes, help themselves to unlimited quantities of coffee and green tea, and read anything they like.)

The booksellers I spoke to in New York were generally uninterested in this sort of radical move. Miles Bellamy, the majority owner of Spoonbill & Sugartown, in Williamsburg, dismissed the idea. “I would never charge people to walk into the store. No. It’s just not classy.”

. . . .

“Bookstores are havens,” she said. “They’re one of the few public spaces left. It’s my responsibility as a bookstore owner to figure out how to stay competitive. Charging admission?” she asked, incredulously. “What about children? What about teen-agers? Absolutely not,” she said. “I’d rather close.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

PG says, “Give a try,” while thinking “This sounds like desperation and smells like flop sweat.”

But he could be wrong.

Indiebound Needs a Makeover if It’s Going to Fight Amazon

From Publishers Weekly:

As independent booksellers, it’s easy to get riled up about Amazon. It’s certainly disheartening to know that amid its web services, video streaming, and grocery offerings—to name just three of its major business areas—books aren’t even close to Amazon’s sole priority. So when we see authors—in many cases authors we respect or admire—linking to Amazon on social media or their websites, it’s not uncommon for independent booksellers to boil over. I know I have. But I ask: what choice are we giving them?

Yes, we have IndieBound, and I pepper authors with their IndieBound links on Twitter. But authors want to have a place where they can see what people think of their books. A select few authors are able to see what people think when their books land on a bestseller list, literary award long- or shortlist, or best-of list. But the overwhelming majority of authors only have two ways to find out what people think: Amazon and Goodreads, which has been owned by Amazon since 2013.

On Amazon and Goodreads, users can leave ratings and written reviews. Some of these end up as comedic fodder, but most are helpful to authors who want feedback, if only in the aggregate. Many authors encourage this behavior, believing that when users leave reviews and ratings, it helps their sales (and it probably does). Independent booksellers don’t have an independent platform that authors can encourage their readers to use to provide feedback.

Amazon goes one step further on its site with its bestseller rankings.

. . . .

Authors can be forgiven if they take screenshots of those [Amazon sales] rankings or badges and splash them on their social media. After all, everyone wants to be successful. As independent booksellers, we don’t have an independent platform that provides authors with this kind of public sales data.

We could, though. Our sales reports fuel the Indie Bestseller List. This data is waiting to be segmented, chopped up, and dropped onto IndieBound for all to see. Adding a section for ratings and reviews would make IndieBound more competitive with Amazon and Goodreads.

I have brought this up to the American Booksellers Association on two occasions. To date, it has not taken action on the idea—which, honestly, is understandable. Like most of us, the ABA is overwhelmed. In addition to its normal heavy workload, it’s trying to push ambitious projects—such as a health insurance plan for booksellers and a centralized billing system for all publishers, among other initiatives—across the finish line. This year is particularly challenging for the ABA: it’s simultaneously managing all of this work and navigating a leadership change, as the organization’s CEO and CFO get set to retire. But at some point, this will need to become a priority.

. . . .

The authors whose books populate our bookstores who actually love Amazon are few and far between; I certainly haven’t met any.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG doesn’t know the author of the OP, but believes he’s likely a nice guy.

However.

PG tried to count how many ways the OP was delusional/parochial/pathetic/wishful, etc., but didn’t have enough time.

PG did, however, wonder if any bookstore has promoted itself as “The place to find authors who don’t like Amazon.”

Presumably, this message might attract readers who don’t like Amazon.

Who knows? Perhaps it’s a niche market that everyone else has overlooked.

An Open Letter to James Daunt

From Publishers Weekly:

Dear Mr. Daunt:

I was excited to read that you will be taking the helm of Barnes & Noble when its acquisition by Elliott Advisors is completed later this year. I hope you can help this great retailer, much as you did U.K.’s Waterstones bookstore chain.

Do you mind some advice? For some time, I’ve been bumping around the publishing world as a reader, author, and freelance editor. My window on that world might be narrow, but it still offers a decent view. Here are some things I’d love to see happen as you strive to make B&N the go-to bookstore for millions of Americans:

1. Sell books. I know that seems obvious, but sometimes when I go into a U.S. bookstore, I feel as if I’m in Tchotchkes & Games R Us. Don’t get me wrong—I like the displays of toys and gewgaws, but they take up an awful lot of store real estate. One of the things I loved when visiting London bookstores (Foyles in particular) was the sense of being surrounded by so many books. Books everywhere! You couldn’t help but want to buy some.

2. Advertise your wares. It amazes me that the book industry, which is part of the entertainment industry in terms of competition for similar dollars, does very little advertising. While we’re all bombarded with messages urging us to see this movie or that streaming series, we rarely see anything urging us to lose ourselves in a written story. Selling books is hard. Selling them with little to no paid advertising is even harder, and, I believe, a remnant of a previous century’s thinking about how books should be promoted.

3. Advertise the bookstore experience. Going to a bookstore is different than going to a clothing store, hardware store, grocery store, or other stores. You’re not always looking for something specific. You might just have a vague idea, in fact, of what you want. While other kinds of shopping can seem frenetic, book shopping can be calming and restorative. Remind your customers of this in paid ads, maybe even featuring celebrities who’ve made some books popular—Oprah Winfrey or Reese Witherspoon, for example.

. . . .

6. Recognize that writers are customers. Amazon realized this at the dawn of the e-reader revolution. They created a platform for authors to sell directly to customers without a gatekeeper publisher. Barnes & Noble was slower to see the value of this customer segment and to figure out how to help authors reach readers. (I will confess to bypassing its e-publishing outlet with some of my own self-published novels.) Look for ways to make the e-publishing experience easier and more attractive to authors. If you help them make money, you’ll make money, too.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

New Chapter? UK Print Book Sales Fall While Audiobooks Surge 43%

From The Guardian:

UK book sales fell for the first time in five years in 2018, despite the success of bestsellers such as Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming.

The UK publishing industry was hit by a surprise fall of £168m (5.4%) in sales of physical books last year, ending a period of growth stretching back to at least 2014.

Sales fell from £3.11bn in 2017 to £2.95bn last year, according to the latest figures from the Publishers Association, which published its annual yearbook on Wednesday.

. . . .

Audiobook sales surged 43% to £69m last year, with Amazon’s Audible service dominating sales. However, Stephen Lotinga, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, said this was not the sole reason for the decline in print sales.

“One of the biggest changes has been the increase in audiobook sales,” said Lotinga. “There is some substitution away from print, audio has surged, but there was also always going to be a point where print sales couldn’t continue rising every year.”

. . . .

“We think that podcasting is helping to drive a resurgence in audio in general, including books,” he said. “Publishers are investing a huge amount in building [recording] studios and securing the services of top quality actors to voice the books. We think the whole audio scene is showing huge opportunity.”

However, he warned against pronouncing the beginning of a terminal decline in physical book sales in the same way the music industry has experienced with the move from CD to streaming in the last decade.

. . . .

Overall, the digital book market, which as well as audiobooks includes ebook sales and subscriptions to services such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, rose 4.6% to £653m.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Barnes and Noble Bought by Hedge Fund

From JC Simonds:

By now, you will no doubt be aware that Barnes & Noble Booksellers (for whom I work part time) has been sold to Elliot Advisors, a Private Equity/Hedge Fund that had already bought out the U.K.’s Waterstone’s.

. . . .

There is no question that a private equity company snapping up a retail chain usually involves the sale and liquidation within 5 years. It’s almost a given. See stores like Toys R Us for a cautionary tale. And that may be the case here. Time will tell.

James Daunt, who has run the Waterstone’s since 2011, will be the CEO of Barnes & Noble, as well. He bought the failing Waterstone’s (about the size of Walden Books before it went down) in 2011, and has since returned it to profitability. Daunt is apparently a physical book zealot who involves himself in every aspect of bookselling.

. . . .

The hallmark of his turnaround method? Something American indie booksellers figured out 10 years ago: your bookstore’s community is what’s important. Focus on what your area wants in a bookstore and do that. Specialty scones and math books in one town? Do that. Harry Potter nights and kids books in another? Do that. Which makes buckets of sense.

So, the model is a collection of independent bookstores run overall as a chain.

The B&N store in which I work is the most profitable in the district. Yes, I know, you’re thinking, “Reno reads?” Yeah. Madly and passionately. And they drag their kids out to every event we can manage. The store is fairly crowded from open to close, and we usually have to throw people out at closing. Friday and Saturday nights it’s a popular date spot. And yes, I have found couples, um… But there are also refugee Moms and Dads in the café.

. . . .

You know what we don’t have? A decent “Nevada” or even “Reno” section. It’s tiny. We only get in 10 maps of the area per month. TEN. They are sold out in a week (yes, maps sell), and only restocked monthly. (I’ve got 50 copies of a Dallas map. Twenty-five of Athens.) We don’t have any books on local gardening. We hide the Nevada ghost town books in the Paranormal section. We only do 2 local author events a year, and have no local author section at all.

So, it would be terrific if we could be more “Reno-centric.”

A large problem that B&N has faced is the founding father of the company, Len Raggio. He was the retail book bombfather back in the 90s, but he has not worn well in the ebook/ecommerce age. I’m told he’s a wonderful individual, but he’s missing a few cogs in the old brainbox these days, as evidenced by the weird C-Suite antics in the last 2 years. Here are some of the problems I see as just a low-level retail grunt:

  • ~B&N the store does not match prices with its own B&N website.
  • ~The registers and computer system run off Windows XP, on ancient machines with cranky pin-pads, on an unreliable AT&T internet connection.
  • ~There is no way they can track what is selling and what isn’t; they have a very antiquated inventory system with no depth or real search/data management tools.
  • ~Has BOPIS, but makes you stand in line at register to pick up.
  • ~The AC at our store is broken, so the upstairs can be up to 90 – 100 degrees. (Our store is 20 years old and the physical plant is suffering.) It took a total desperation move by an assistant manager to get it fixed after almost a year (now people are complaining it’s too cold).
  • ~The company fired almost all the full-time employees when “Obamacare” was implemented. There are only 2 bookfloor positions that are full time with benefits, out of about 35 booksellers (not counting managers, of which there is a Manager, 2 Assistant Managers, and 2 Merchandising Managers).
  • ~Management has no control over how much of any book/music/gift item is sent. That’s up to the folks in NYC, who have apparently never left their office to see a real bookstore, or checked to see the consequences of their merchandise decisions.
  • ~Barely supports (or sells) its proprietary ereader, the Nook.

Link to the rest at JC Simonds

Barnes & Noble, with Sales Falling, Is Sold to Hedge Fund

From AP Wire via Fox4KC.com

Barnes & Noble is being acquired by a hedge fund for $476 million and will be taken private.

The national chain that many blamed for the demise of independent bookstores has been ravaged by Amazon.com and other online sellers, but remains a critical outlet for publishers.

On Friday, it was acquired by Elliott Management and, in a twist, will likely become a national chain with a business model more akin to that of a local bookstore.

Elliott bought Waterstones one year ago, a national U.K. book chain that has successfully navigated through the online/e-reader revolution by returning a lot of autonomy to the managers of its nearly 300 stores, who can select books that they believe local readers want.

The man who runs that U.K. chain, who will become CEO of Barnes & Noble, said that is what he has in mind for Barnes & Noble.

Leonard Riggio acquired the century old Barnes & Noble in the 1970s, including its flagship Manhattan store, in the 1970s. He pursued aggressive expansion throughout the 1980s and established Barnes & Noble as a national phenomenon with the acquisition of B. Dalton Bookseller and its 797 locations in 1987. It became the nation’s second-largest bookseller and began selling books online in partnership with IBM and Sears.

The company continued to gobble up other larger booksellers like Doubleday Book Shops and also BookStop, which ran discount superstores in Texas.

By 1993, Barnes & Noble was a publicly traded company that was upending the publishing industry.

. . . .

Last year, Riggio was brought on stage [at] BookExpo 2018 in New York City.

. . . .

“Today, we stand together in common cause to promote and support bricks-and-mortar bookstores,” said Teicher. “I’ve been quoted as saying that it’s in the long-term interest of the overall book business that Barnes & Noble not just survive but grow and prosper.”

But Barnes & Noble has suffered.

With about 630 retail stores in the U.S. as of last year, it is smaller than when it acquired of B. Dalton Bookseller in the late 1980s. Its revenue peaked in 2012, and it has fallen every year since.

. . . .

“In chain bookselling, you need to try and get the best store for each location,” [new Barnes & Noble CEO James] Daunt told The Associated Press. “What works in Jacksonville, Florida, isn’t necessarily going to work in Hawaii.”

. . . .

Waterstones organizes multiple, simultaneous events at its stores, making them “a “fun place to discover books and enjoy the particularities of a bookstore.”

. . . .

Some industry watchers are skeptical, including Mike Shatzkin, the CEO of Idea Logical Company, a book-industry consulting company.

He called the entire large-store model for any retail chain “a 20th century concept” extinguished by the internet.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Barnes and Noble’s management never came to that conclusion because they built their fortune building bigger stores,” he said. “And I’m not sure Waterstone’s is going to lead them to a different approach.”

Link to the rest at AP Wire via Fox4KC.com

Indie Booksellers Report Strong Holiday Finish

From Publishers Weekly:

Although independent booksellers reported difficulty in keeping certain titles in stock, the problem was not enough to dampen sales at independent stores this holiday season.

In fact, reports from around the country indicated overall sales throughout the holiday season were strong, even record-breaking. Some stores reported having their best sales days ever. Lots of interest in Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming (Crown) brought customers into stores, as did a range of other titles, including Educated by Tara Westover (Random House) and Circe by Madeline Miller (Little, Brown) on the adult side and Snowy Nap by Jan Brett (Putnam) and The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Cowley (Scholastic), on the children’s side.

“The Friday before Christmas, when the stock market tanked, was the biggest sales day we’ve had in 43 years! And the Saturday after that set another record,” said Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, who noted that this year saw an unexpected doubling in gift card sales. Jennings said the store kept Becoming in stock throughout the holidays in part by clearing out all local Costco locations of their inventory. “We also watched inventory runs very carefully, and jumped ahead if we saw anything trending,” Jennings said, adding that, overall, sales were up 10% over 2017 for the season.

Jennings was among several booksellers who cited difficulty in keeping Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, illus. by Wendy MacNaughton (S&S); The Overstory by Richard Powers (Norton); and Frederick Douglas by David Blight (S&S) in stock.

“Those were the three titles we had the most trouble with,” said Todd Gross, manager of Phoenix Books in Downtown Burlington, Vt. “We only got 30 of Salt, but could have sold 150.” He remarked that getting books from S&S has been particularly challenging for quite some time. “They can take 10 days to get us books, compared with two or three for Penguin Random House.” Gross noted delays in getting books can kill sales, and he praised Bookazine and Baker & Taylor in particular for great service during the holiday season. “They were quick to tell us when in-demand titles were back in stock,” said Gross, who said that his holiday orders flip from relying on publishers 90% of the time during the year, to relying on wholesalers for 90% of orders during the holidays.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says the shipping operations of publishers only have one thing to do – ship books. They have been performing this function for a long time.

Likewise, the production departments of publishers have only one thing to do – print enough books to meet demand. They also have been performing this function for a long time.

A long time ago when PG was a baby lawyer, he was working for a law firm in Los Angeles and talking to one of the firm’s clients.

This client had started the first book wholesaler in Los Angeles and PG was learning about the client’s business. Basically, the business worked this way:

  • Bookstores could purchase books from publishers at lower prices than they could from the client.
  • However, publishers were not good at processing orders and shipping books.
  • The client was very good at processing orders and shipping books.

So, the client bought books from publishers and put them in a warehouse. Because he bought a lot of books, he had negotiated maximum volume discounts.

Bookstores bought their books from the client, even though he charged higher prices than the publishers did, when they didn’t want to wait for books to arrive from the publishers.

The client made a lot of money doing this, particularly when there was a bestseller. The bookstores wanted copies to sell to customers and they could get them from the client within a day. This client later made even more money when he sold his business to Baker & Taylor several years later.

Some businesses are set up to sell their products only through wholesale channels. This can work financially because they don’t spend any money fulfilling small orders. They crate and ship an order for a thousand widgets using bulk shippers instead of individually packing one hundred boxes, each with ten widgets inside, and paying UPS to deliver each one to a separate location.

Other businesses are set up to sell directly to retailers. This can work financially because they can sell to the retailers at a higher price because they’ve cut out the costs and profits of a middleman.

Apparently, typical book publishers still try to do both, so they bear the expenses of each type of business without being terribly effective at satisfying their customers.

‘Showrooming’ Solution: Sign for the Times

From Shelf Awareness:

The Golden Notebook, Woodstock, N.Y., has an answer for “showrooming,” the habit of some bookstore customers to learn about books at bookstores and then order them online on their phones, sometimes in front of booksellers who just made the recommendation.

. . . .

 

. . . .

 At the Golden Notebook, a sign on the front door reads, “Please inquire at counter regarding in-store photography. Thank you!” As a result, wrote co-owner James Conrad, “we have no issue approaching a customer photographing and saying ‘excuse me, we do not allow in-store photography.’ We then attempt a teaching conversation about how we struggle against the internet and how hard we work to find the unique and sometimes extremely hard to find types of titles that reflect our unique community and customers. Usually people are extremely apologetic and sometimes they just say nothing because we basically told them we know exactly what they were doing.

“The sign also gives people the chance to just ask at the counter first and when they say they have a blog and want to promote us or live far away and can’t carry the hardcover home we say go ahead and photograph! (Just make sure to use an independent bookstore when you get home!)”

Conrad added: “Without the sign, you seem rude to mention it, but with it you can have a more polite moment to tell people the importance of small businesses and the struggles we face.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

While PG doesn’t take joy from the struggles of any small business, he thinks this is a little pathetic.

Do the proprietors of a bookstore in Woodstock, a noted upscale tourist destination known for its art, music, etc., think their customers don’t know about Amazon? Do they think their customers don’t know that the bookstore is trying to keep them from making purchases at Amazon?

Are the store owners trying to persuade visitors to purchase a product by making the visitors feel guilty?

Is a first-time visitor to the store who uses a cell phone camera in a way they are completely accustomed to doing almost everywhere else in the world going to be more or less inclined to visit the bookstore again if they view the management as being a bit unfriendly?

Is it possible a reasonably intelligent visitor might see the sign and think, “Oh, yes, I can buy anything in the store cheaper at Amazon?” How about a visitor who prefers ebooks to printed books for any of a number of reasons? Is he/she being told there’s nothing the store is interested in selling him/her?

 

What’s the Matter with Fiction Sales?

From Publishers Weekly:

According to 2017 estimates released this summer by the Association of American Publishers, sales of adult fiction fell 16% between 2013 and 2017, from $5.21 billion to $4.38 billion. The numbers, though not a major worry, raise questions about the books the industry is publishing and what consumers want to read.

Since 2013, fiction sales fell every year with the exception of 2015. That year they rose 1%, helped by Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and three other novels that topped one million print copies sold. (The AAP tracks all major formats—print, digital, and audio—in its sales estimates.) Interviews and discussions with various industry members uncovered different theories about why there’s been a downturn in fiction.

The most commonly shared view is that it has become extremely difficult to generate exposure for novels. Fiction, more than nonfiction, depends on readers discovering new books by browsing. Now, with the number of physical stores down from five years ago (despite a rise in ABA membership), publishers cannot rely on bricks-and-mortar stores providing customers with access to new books.

Nor can publishers depend on media outlets to make up for the gap left by the shrinking footprint of physical bookstores. Review space in mainstream media has been slashed, cutting off another possibility for readers to learn about new fiction.

The upshot of those developments is that publishers have found breaking out new writers—never mind developing new franchise authors—increasingly difficult.

Creating authors who can draw readers via name recognition alone is crucial to selling novels. Research done by the Codex Group shows that the author is the most important factor in a person’s decision to buy a novel. Codex founder Peter Hildick-Smith says that with so much inexpensive genre fiction now available at “subprime price points under $5” (from such channels as Kindle Unlimited), publishers must invest to develop brand name authors who can command premium-price loyalty.

That process can require a multiple-book commitment. It can also require a type of commitment that’s difficult for publishers: sticking with authors who don’t produce instant bestsellers.

Based on Codex research, a person typically reads an average of three books by an author before becoming hooked on his or her books. Publishers, however, as Hildick-Smith and others interviewed noted, seem increasingly reluctant to support authors whose books don’t immediately sell. “Creating a dependable, bestselling author is a multibook investment that requires different strategies and great persistence,” Hildick-Smith said. “It’s not a one-and-done launch.”

The difficulty publishers have recently had in creating brand name authors can be seen in BookScan numbers. The service, which tracks only print sales, shows that fiction sales continue to be soft. Moreover, the BookScan figures show that no fiction title topped one million copies sold in 2016 or 2017 at outlets that report to the service. In 2015, the only year in the past five when fiction sales rose over the previous year, four novels sold more than one million print copies each, according to BookScan: Watchman (1.6 million), Grey by E.L. James (1.4 million), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (1.3 million), and Anthony Doer’s All The Light We Cannot See (one million).

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Attentive readers will note the single mention of Amazon – Kindle Unlimited, associated with “subprime price points under $5”. Traditional publishers can’t and won’t compete in that market, preferring authors and books with “premium-price loyalty”.

PG suggests that category title is not properly worded. Instead, he believes that traditional publishers are trying to promote authors and books that attempt to command “over-priced loyalty” from readers.

As readers come to understand that most of the money they pay for traditionally-published books goes to middle-folk like bookstores and publishers with very little trickling down to authors, their loyalty to premium pricing may erode.

A Hilarious New Memoir Reveals the Absurd Business of Selling Books Today

From Quartzy:

Wigtown is a coastal “book town” in Scotland that features an Airbnb rental where bibliophiles can spend their vacation living out the romantic fantasy of running a bookstore. And indeed, according to Shaun Bythell, a year-round bookseller in the same town, it’s deeply romantic work: The evocative smell of books, mixed with cat piss; the customers who openly compare prices on their laptops to Amazon; the book-loving employees, always drunk or severely hungover; the orders for erotica titles such as Tokyo Lucky Hole; and the badgering of aspiring memoirists trying to find a publisher.

Bythell’s own memoir, The Diary of a Bookseller, is a hilarious read about a dreary year running The Book Shop, a large used bookstore in Wigtown. After a September 2017 UK release, the book comes out in the US Sept. 4 from Melville House.

. . . .

Bythell took over the store in 2001, at age 31. Starting in early 2014, he kept a daily journal of store happenings for one year. It’s a cheerfully depressing account of independent bookselling today—deadpan, ruthless, poignant, and at times, so charming it’s almost unbelievable.

Bythell’s main antagonist is also his only regular employee, a Jehovah’s Witness named Nicky. The two are locked in a weekly battle of mutual torment, Nicky moving On the Origin of Species to the fiction section, and Bythell retaliating by placing the Bible with novels. On Fridays, Nicky brings him dubious food scavenged from dumpsters—egg custard tarts she’s sat on, or expired packaged cake. One week’s treat “looked like something from a hospital clinical waste bin.”

The larger cast of characters in Diary of a Bookseller are so zany and absurd they would seem over-the-top in a 1990s movie about an indie record shop. There’s Sandy, the most tattooed man in Scotland, according to Bythell, who barters walking sticks for store credit; Smelly Kelly, the cologne-soaked man in dogged pursuit of Nicky, who has made it clear she’s not interested; and Eliot, Bythell’s friend who tends to discard his shoes somewhere in the store within 10 minutes of arrival.

. . . .

The circus aside, the book is rich with information about the business of bookselling, including a description of an ingenious online scam to reduce book prices. Bythell saves his deepest rancor for Amazon (though he uses it to fulfill online orders), which has hit him and other small and medium-sized used booksellers particularly hard. His contempt is made apparent one day in August, when he receives a complaint about a late book. Bythell goes to his parents’ house to borrow a shotgun and then shoots a used Kindle he bought on eBay for £10. (Footage of the target practice is admittedly satisfying.) He mounts the mangled e-reader in the store.

The Diary of a Bookseller doesn’t seem like it should work. Life at The Book Shop is boring. On a typical day Bythell might sell £200 worth of books, once as little as £5. But there is a soothing monotony to the rhythm of his days. Bythell somehow creates a sense of urgency in the nothingness, and readers may feel that if they skip even one day, they’ll miss some winningly cutting remark.

Link to the rest at Quartzy and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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