Bookselling

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

10 November 2019

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?

25 October 2019

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

10 August 2019

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

7 July 2019

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%

27 June 2019

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

23 June 2019

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

9 June 2019

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

6 January 2019

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.

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