Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A team of independent publishing consultants with broad and deep experience in the industry have produced an excellent report on the effects of the past year’s pandemic on the book publishing business called “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021”. Cliff Guren, Thad McIlroy, and Steven Sieck are real pros and they have been systematic and rigorous in their methodology. The report is free (here) and is bound to be among the most widely-read papers in our industry very quickly.

The notion was to look at the changes that have taken place in the worlds publishing lives in and work back to the impact on the publishers. This approach makes sense. You can’t analyze or predict the future about trade publishing without looking at what is happening in the world of retail. You need to understand what the impact of change is on schools and colleges to gain insight into how publishers will have to adjust. Indeed, that’s how publishers themselves will approach the challenge: they will try to understand the environments they have to live in to formulate their go-forward strategies.

And the authors have captured the reality that the pandemic was not really bad for the book business. In fact, for many publishers it has been a boon. The authors amply document that most book sales have been sustained and that most book publishing operations have managed to shift staff to working remotely and are still able to continue to produce effectively.

One impact of the pandemic on retailing that was thoroughly appreciated by Guren, McIlroy, and Sieck (and seldom remarked on elsewhere) is the rise in importance of the brick-and-mortar “equivalents” to Amazon: like Target, Walmart, and Costco. Those stores have long had the in-store presence of a limited number of book titles but in the online environment, with Ingram in the background, they can sell just about any book except some proprietary Amazon titles. Online non-book consumers can put books in their grocery basket with these retailers as readily as they can with Amazon and more and more of them appear to be doing that. Although it is more likely that many of these new book customers for them were filched from local brick and mortar retail rather than from Amazon, the net effect has been to really grow books in importance to them.

. . . .

Discovery that shifts from bookstores to online favors backlist. And publishers have been challenged to deliver new titles with the same marketplace impact in the readjusted book marketplace. Some new title production has continued, to be sure. But there are anecdotal reports of postponements with some publishers choosing to hold back quite a bit until things change.

. . . .

“Covid Impacts and Insights” discusses the relative ease with which publishers have maintained their operations without using their offices. Discovering how to work this way is bound to have implications on the future of offices — where they’ll be, how full they’ll be, and what percentage of each employee’s time will be spent in them — in our business. The report notes the fact that a lot of publishers spend big money on Manhattan real estate. In a margin-challenged business like ours, that is bound to come under closer scrutiny as the pandemic fades.

. . . .

One is touched on in the Executive Summary at the top and not returned to: the efforts by publishers to compensate for a declining infrastructure of intermediaries (particularly bookstores) with more D2C — direct to consumer — efforts. For well over a decade, even the most general of the general trade publishers have been building those efforts. They all have databases with millions of consumer names that they are able to use with varying amounts of success. This creates subtle distinctions between the sales capabilities of the houses based on their different abilities to reach direct audiences.

So when Penguin Random House acquires Simon & Schuster (assuming the sale is allowed to proceed), the chances are that they will both get some new books that are appropriate for some of their “captive” audiences and, conversely, that they will acquire some D2C reach that S&S developed that can now be applied to PRH books. Not much is known about the specific proprietary D2C capabilities the houses have, but those sales assets, however slowly they grow, become increasingly important as bookstore opportunities shrink. Both the publisher marketing efforts and the brick-and-mortar erosion are accelerated by the pandemic.

There is another change that has been slow and inexorable over the past decade or more and which the pandemic can only exacerbate. Since the center of gravity has shifted away from bookstores, a domain publishers “controlled” and which shielded them from competition from books that had no powerful publisher, it has become increasingly difficult for publishers to make new books “work”.

. . . .

How does new title production of the established trade houses today compare to what they issued ten or twenty years ago? (One hint: it is almost certain that the combined new title output of PRH and S&S will be less after the merger than it was before.) And how do sales of new titles compare to sales of backlist? And how much of the new title output survives to become contributing backlist?

This is a tough set of facts to compile, but it is almost certain they’d show that big publishers are living off their backlist and not making it grow like they did in past decades. The “moat” around established publishers was always the bookstores; real publishers could put inventory into them and mere aspirants could not. When there were thousands of bookstores carrying tens of thousands of titles (or even hundreds of thousands) and almost all the books were sold through brick-and-mortar retailers (a fair description of the world before 1995, or even before 2005), the big publishers had an advantage that no number of D2C names can win back for them.

. . . .

In pandemic times, when output is constrained in many ways, the ability to print at the point of distribution changes everything. The striking example of how much this matters was a NY Times paperback bestseller list at the end of June which had a majority of the titles being printed and distributed by Ingram.

Having learned the many benefits of being able to meet substantial demand without inventory in place, the publishers aren’t likely to forget it. The fact that a unit costs more to deliver when you print one was always well understood; now it can also be seen that shipping and handling and returns costs are avoided so the difference in profits is not as great as the difference in unit cost. Publishers know this now. It will change things going forward.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Mike points out that the ability of traditional publishers to put product into physical bookstores (and the larger publishers could do this more successfully than most small publishers) was important for their success and prosperity. Fundamentally, traditional publishers controlled this retail channel and large publishers paid a lot of attention to large bookstores and even more to large bookstore chains.

However, Barnes & Noble is about the only large bookstore chain still in business. The latest pre-Covid data PG could find was that there were 633 BN physical stores in the US. Books-a-Million was second with 260 stores in 32 states and store numbers dropped quickly farther down the list. These numbers are almost certain to decline when the retail sector can finally open up and have a reasonable expectation of customers entering their stores. PG’s bet is that there will be a lot fewer physical bookstores after Covid than there were before.

A whole lot of readers who purchased their books from physical bookstores pre-Covid have learned that Amazon has everything and can deliver a physical book to their home tomorrow or the next day if they order it as soon as they leave Barnes & Noble. Even early books by current bestsellers may be a special-order item in a physical bookstore. And those readers will quite possibly pay less than if they waited for a BN special order to arrive in a week or two. Smaller bookstore chains may require an even longer wait.

PG was interested in Mike’s observations that publishers’ back list had become a larger contributor to revenue and sales than it had been prior to Covid. He rightly pointed out that the migration of sales from physical bookstores to Amazon and other online bookstores had been a primary cause of this rebalancing.

PG suspects that some veteran authors who were/are traditionally-published may wonder whether it’s fair for their publishers to be harvesting the large majority of the money from these backlist sales when the author’s advance has long been spent and the publishers haven’t devoted any significant amounts of money or effort promoting the author or her books for a very long time, particularly if the publisher isn’t providing much in the way of advances for new books the author has written lately.

You can download the complete COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021 HERE. While Mike focuses mostly on the trade publishing business (which is likely the most interesting part of for most visitors to TPV), the complete report includes some information about academic and research publishing which is under pressure because its primary customers – academic institutions – has been severely stressed by Covid.

Agent Laurie McLean Gives 10 Publishing Predictions for 2021

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Hold onto your pens, people…it’s going to be a wild ride.

It’s that time of year again. I present to you Predictions in Publishing: the 2021 Edition!

It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I was bemoaning the fact that the book publishing industry seemed to have stagnated and not a lot was changing. Then, WHOOSH, in March everything changed all at once. And here we are counting down the days to the final end to the Year of the Great Pause, where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel into 2021. Let’s hope it’s not a train! (It’s not a train…)

. . . .

1) Publishing Professionals Leave New York

More editors, agents and other publishing pros have moved out of the New York City metro area, and are working from homes in other cities, and even states, where the cost of living is significantly lower. If they bought or rented a house with a yard and several bedrooms/office space elsewhere, or moved in with their parents and find it delightful, the thought of moving back into a comparably-priced studio or one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan or Brooklyn might not be strong enough to get them to return.

They have gotten comfortable with working remotely. They are now Zoom or Google Meeting pros. And they see how much more work they can get done (especially editing) if they don’t have to commute or do endless in-person meetings every day. Even art departments have developed successful workarounds. This has fundamentally changed the publishing process.

As we move into the future, I believe you’ll see a diaspora of publishing professionals, just like tech workers or other non-geographically-tied workers have experienced, and eventually they will either be located in a smaller building in NYC or will Zoom-in remotely when needed, only visiting the main office once a month or so. It has long been the case with agents and even the odd editor, but now it will be commonplace among the major houses. New York will be the center of publishing in name only. Virtual companies will have the edge.

. . . .

3) Reading on Screens Increases

Everyone got used to buying all kinds of things online, and that includes ebooks. But will this trend continue once bookstores are open again?

I believe so. Readers have become comfortable with reading on a screen as part of the total ecosystem of reading, just as they’ve become comfortable with shopping at their local retail stores as well as Amazon, Bookshop.org, indie bookstores, reading apps, etc.

They will consume hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, ebooks, audiobooks and any new format that comes along. Publishers need to understand that and work it into their P&Ls on stories and worlds they want to license.

. . . .

5) Bookstores Adapt

Indie bookstores (traditional publishing’s main retail outlet) have been severely disrupted. Do they survive and thrive or collapse? Will Barnes & Noble make it? Will Amazon continue to dominate or will Bookshop.org challenge them? I think all these issues will play out in the latter half of 2021.

I think indie bookstores have already pivoted successfully by being creative and community-minded. They rocked drive-by distribution and deliveries. They figured out how to do many of their promotional events and author “signings” online.

It’s the larger box bookstores like Barnes & Noble, now under a new management team led by Brit James Daunt, who I see fumbling the ball and perhaps not being fiscally viable much longer. Five years and they’ll either be gone or severely smaller. That’s my prediction. Amazon is hastening their exit. Look back at prediction number 3.

. . . .

8) Online Book Promotion Becomes the Norm

Virtual book promotion is here to stay. It already was not making economic sense to send an author on a multi-city tour to promote a book, when only a handful of fans would show up at the local Barnes & Noble in each city. If all bookstores, even small ones in rural locations, can get an author to do a 1-hour Zoom chat about their book with fans who’ve already ordered the pre-autographed book from said indie bookstore, it’s going to catch on. It’s affordable, easy to accomplish, and readers will like it if they can watch their author heroes while in their jammies.

Also, need I say, school visits will become a lot more accessible and affordable if done virtually. This way authors can earn a few dollars and bookstores can scale up or down depending on the popularity of the authors virtually visiting their locales.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

It is 2021, but PG still does not always agree with everything he posts on TPV.

For one thing, Bookshop.org hasn’t a chance in hell of taking a hundredth of one-percent of Amazon’s share of the book business.

PG will note that, although more honored in the breach than in the observance, the .org extension was originally intended to be reserved for non-profit organizations.

In the case of Bookshop.org, the website is run by a Limited Liability Company (LLC) which, at least in the United States, denotes an organization that strives to earn a profit. Again, in the United States, a charitable organization is typically operated as a non-profit corporation. Corrected per CE Petit’s comment and superior knowledge of current LLC practices and law.

That said, regardless of its intent, PG suggests that Bookshop.org will have quite a bit of difficulty generating a profit of any sort and its business and commission structure is designed for traditional publishers, so it will generate teeny-tiny royalties for the authors who make books possible in the first place.

PG says that, if you or your reading friends wish to encourage and compensate authors, buying through Amazon is the only way you go.

GPO Closes Venerable Headquarters Bookstore

From FedWeek:

In a sign of the times, the GPO is closing the venerable bookstore at its headquarters, saying a review “determined that the bookstore is no longer financially viable due to changes in customer behavior which have resulted in sustained losses over the last five years.”

The store just north of the Capitol Building opened in the 1920s and served for decades as Washington’s main access point for documents ranging from reports of obscure study commissions to the annual White House budget proposal. It was the setting for annual news photos of the budget being released, even in recent years as the budget also is released online.

Before online distribution of the budget began, lines stretched down the street well in advance on the morning of the release. Similarly, before the Congressional Record and Federal Register became available online each morning, the store often was a first stop of the day by federal officials and congressional staffers for those publications.

Using language similar to that used in private sector bookstore closings of recent times, the GPO said that as more free information has been posted and for-sale information can be purchased online, “the business case for maintaining a separate physical bookstore evaporated.”

Link to the rest at FedWeek and thanks to DM for the tip.

More bookshops to close doors as further areas enter Tier 4

From The Bookseller:

More areas in England will be added to Tier 4 from Boxing Day, with non-essential shops closing their doors, the government has announced.

In a press conference on 23rd December, health secretary Matt Hancock said Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, the parts of Essex not already in tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire (excluding the New Forest) would be subject to the highest level of restrictions. Some other areas, including Gloucestershire and Cheshire, will be bumped up to Tier 3, while Cornwall and Herefordshire will rise to Tier 2, he said.

The restrictions will come into effect at 12.01 a.m. on Boxing Day.

London, Kent, parts of Essex and Berkshire had already entered Tier 4 on Sunday, requiring all non-essential retailers to shut, although bookshops can still offer a call/click and collect service. Wales has also entered Tier 4, while Scotland will do so from Boxing Day. Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown from Christmas Eve.

. . . .

“We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for.”

. . . .

Patrick Neale at Jaffe & Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, said he had mixed feeling about the news. He told The Bookseller: “We just felt that was an air of inevitability about it and it’s better that it happens. I’m very conflicted about it because I want us to solve this horrible problem but commercially I didn’t want to lose any big trading days. So that will be difficult in that we normally are very busy between Christmas and New Year and certainly the first year of January but we also want to solve this problem and don’t want to be part of the problem.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Publishing saw upheaval in 2020, but ‘books are resilient’

From the Associated Press:

Book publishing in 2020 was a story of how much an industry can change and how much it can, or wants to, remain the same.

“A lot of what has happened this year — if it were a novel, I would say that it had a little too much plot,” said Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp.

Three narratives ran through the book world for much of the year: an industry pressed to acknowledge that the status quo was unacceptable, an industry offering comfort and enlightenment during traumatic times, and an industry ever more consolidated around the power of Penguin Random House and Amazon.com.

. . . .

To its benefit and to its dismay, publishing was drawn into the events of the moment. The pandemic halted and threatened to wipe out a decade of growth for independent bookstores, forced the postponement of countless new releases and led to countless others being forgotten. The annual national convention, BookExpo, was called off and may be gone permanently after show organizers Reed Exhibitions announced they were “retiring” it.

. . . .

The industry had long regarded itself as a facilitator of open expression and high ideals, but in 2020 debates over diversity and #MeToo highlighted blind spots about race and gender and challenged the reputations of everyone from poetry publishers to Oprah Winfrey, from book critics to the late editor of Ernest Hemingway. Employees themselves helped take the lead: They staged protests in support of Black Lives Matters and walked off the job at Hachette Book Group after the publisher announced it had acquired Woody Allen’s memoir, which Hachette soon dropped. ( Skyhorse Publishing eventually released it.)

. . . .

“My main takeaways from 2020 are that books are resilient and that the industry has indicated a willingness to change (about diversity) and to make opening gestures towards sufficient, industry-wide change,” said Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, who next year will take over at two prestigious Penguin Random House imprints, Pantheon and Schocken Books.

. . . .

An alarm bell rang early in the new year. Jeanine Cummins’ novel about Mexican immigrants, “American Dirt,” had been widely cited as a top seller and critical favorite for 2020 and was likened by “The Cartel” author Don Winslow to John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” In January, Oprah Winfrey announced she had chosen it for her book club and Cummins began a nationwide tour.

. . . .

But to the surprise of the publisher, Macmillan, and Winfrey, Latino authors and critics alleged that Cummins had reinforced stereotypes about Mexico and Mexican immigrants. Along with Cummins, Winfrey invited a panel of detractors who faulted an industry that is an estimated 75 percent white, and the talk show host herself for choosing few works by Latino writers. Cummins’ tour was called off after Macmillan cited threats of violence, even as her book remained on bestseller lists.

. . . .

In the following months, leaders at the National Book Critics Circle, the Poetry Foundation and International Thriller Writers resigned or were forced out amid allegations they had failed to address issues of diversity and racial justice. The Center for Fiction removed the late Maxwell Perkins’ name from its award for editorial excellence, noting that besides working with Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald he published books by eugenicists supporting white supremacy.

. . . .

Saraciea J. Fennell, who leads the advocacy group of book professionals Latinx in Publishing, worries that the wave of new hirings and imprints is simply cyclical and asked, “How long are they going to last? Is all this going to be around in 10-15 years?”

Macmillan CEO Don Weisberg, who cited a wide range of diversity programs at the publishing house that began before “American Dirt,” said he “understands the skepticism.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Weisberg said. ”You’ve got to build an entire infrastructure that makes it part of the norm.”

. . . .

As Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt acknowledged to the AP: “This was Amazon’s year,” when the online retailer was ideally positioned for a public turn toward the internet not just for convenience but for safety. Daunt said Barnes & Noble managed better than he had expected, but still results were “spotty.” The superstore chain ended 2020 with fewer employees than when the year began, he said.

. . . .

For independent stores and publishers, the pandemic amplified the divide between the industry’s biggest players and everyone else. At the same time Penguin Random House was preparing to buy Simon & Schuster, a transaction that if approved would create the largest publishing entity in U.S. history, smaller companies such as Archipelago and Cinco Puntos Press were starting GoFundMe campaigns.

“It’s been very hard to survive,” said Archipalego publisher Jill Schoolman. “The cash flow is really tough and we owe our printers.”

Link to the rest at the Associated Press

PG notes that the author of the OP managed to write the entire summary of US publishing in 2020 without mentioning ebooks. If any of the major players in the US publishing business had mentioned ebooks, PG would have expected such a mention to have appeared in the OP.

Dead trees and more dead trees, as far into the future as the traditional publishing eye can see.

For L.A. bookstores during COVID-19, this holiday season is make or break

From the Los Angeles Times:

Two days after Thanksgiving, on what is sometimes known as Small Business Saturday, Jennifer Gracie plopped a stack of hardcovers onto the checkout desk of Chevalier’s Books, a charming shop in Larchmont Village. The haul for Gracie, a 54-year-old transplant from New York, included an Italian cookbook for her husband; a crime novel for her mother; guidebooks for her daughter and friends; and a David Bowie puzzle for her sister-in-law.

It could have been any other holiday shopping season, except for the masks, the plexiglass barrier separating Gracie from the salesclerk and the sign at the window that read, in part, “Max Occupancy 6 Customers.” There was, too, the sense of urgency and mission, among both store employees and customers lined up outside.

“Even if I see something that I know is easily available through overnight shipping through that behemoth we all know about, I have to buy it at a real bookstore,” said Gracie, referring to the dominance of Amazon. She chose to shop in person despite the pandemic, and also because of it. “It just makes me so sad when I see all the bookstores shuttered around the country, and it’ll be tragic if we keep losing them.”

. . . .

This time of year accounts for 20% or more of annual small-business sales, enough to get retailers out of the red — beginning of course with Black Friday. But this year, especially for bookstores, it’s not a question of balancing the books but mitigating the damage of a lost year. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, visits to three bookstores revealed devoted customers like Gracie braving the surge in advance of the latest lockdown. For local booksellers it was a day of promise but also renewed worry.

Despite the heartening lines, owners had to wonder whether it would be enough. With federal financial support depleted, further stimulus funding up in the air as of this writing, foot traffic still relatively low, popular events canceled and a record-breaking spike of cases, it’s going to be a close call for almost everyone.

. . . .

In the wake of the first lockdown, sales plummeted as much as 80% for local bookstores before improving steadily in recent months, though still significantly below that of previous years.

“The holiday shopping season is the make-it-or-break-it season for indie bookstores,” wrote ABA senior strategy officer Dan Cullen in an email. “Not only will their regular customers be shopping with them but this is when they see many first-time shoppers, who then can become new regular customers in the weeks and months ahead.”

Ultimately this is what success might hinge on — not only the goodwill of existing customers but an influx of new ones and, once the virus abates, the return of habitual in-store shopping. Because one of the biggest lessons learned for bookstores in 2020 is that online orders and loyal customers help, but not enough to ensure their long-term survival.

. . . .

“As a Black-owned business, you don’t have the luxury of just being a business, you have to be part of the community,” said Kokayi, 41, a regular customer who declined to give his last name. “You have to fight for Black businesses.”

. . . .

But the surge of web shopping “doesn’t make up for lost in-store sales,” said Cullen of the ABA. “This is definitely one of the most challenging holiday seasons that local businesses of all kinds have ever experienced.”

. . . .

Despite the dismal winter, booksellers said the spirit of giving is stronger than ever. One Diesel customer bought 200 copies of a children’s book as gifts, declining a volume discount. “We’re thinking of this as an idea, as a gift, so that we can sustain you,” Evans recalled the customer saying. He added, “A lot of people are extremely thoughtful right now, in a very civil way, about the things that they care about.”

. . . .

Diesel’s Evans put it simply at the end of an email: “Wish us luck.”

Link to the rest at the Los Angeles Times

Bookstore Sales Post Another Decline in October

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales fell 28.8% in October compared to 2019, according to preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $446 million, down from $627 million in October 2019.

The October decline was nearly identical to the drop reported in September, when bookstore sales fell 27.7% compared to the previous year—suggesting that, for the moment, bookstore sales appeared to have stabilized, albeit at a rate far below normal levels.

. . . .

For the first 10 months of 2020, bookstore sales fell 31% compared to a year ago, dropping to $4.97 billion, from $7.19 billion, in the comparable period in 2019. Sales for the entire retail market were flat in the January-October span.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says that most bookstores operate on relatively narrow margins. These sorts of sales declines suggest to PG that a lot of currently-shuttered bookstores will not be able to reopen even after Covid vaccines arrive.

Missing out on the Christmas sales season is particularly difficult for traditional bookstores.

This is in keeping with the likely future for a variety of other small retailers, at least in the United State.

While PG is pro-Amazon, primarily because Amazon treats authors well, he bears no animus towards retailers of any sort, particularly smaller ones. Each small bookstore that closes is a story of deeply disappointed dreams, likely of someone who loves books and reading.

What if Barnes & Noble went bankrupt?

From Nathan Bransford (in 2017):

I should emphasize from the start of this post that as of this writing there are no signs that Barnes & Noble is close to bankruptcy.

And yet in publishing circles, the prospect of Barnes & Noble going the way of Borders is sort of like a doomsday conversation that is impossible to resist. It’s the rare business lunch that does not at least reference this nightmare scenario.

But what would really happen if Barnes & Noble bit the dust?

I turned to publishing sage Mike Shatzkin, who has been involved in the book business for decades and has advised some of the biggest players in the publishing industry. Mike is currently working on a book about publishing with Robert Riger for Oxford University Press.

Nathan: Barnes & Noble has an uncertain future as a print bookseller, as its revenues decline and it transitions toward diversifying its products toward games and toys. It didn’t take long for B&N to go from being the bad guy in You’ve Got Mail to the equivalent of the little shop on the corner everyone is rooting for. What impact is this going to have on publishers?

Mike: These three sentences open up a world of things for publishers to be thinking about.

There are two big shifts taking place in the book business that are not favorable for Barnes & Noble.

1. More and more printed books are being purchased online and fewer and fewer are being purchased in stores. The takeaway: sales of books in stores in total are likely going down.

2. More and more book titles are being delivered to the market with motivations other than pure commercial intent and fewer and fewer are being delivered by publishers trying to make a profit from publishing books. The takeaway: sales of books issued by those not overtly trying to profit will steal markets and mindshare and reduce margins for the publishers trying to run businesses.

The movement away from brick-and-mortar stores is an obvious challenge for B&N, but the weakening of commercial publishing is too. Non-commercial publishers — authors or entities that do books as an ancillary activity — will not take the financial risks necessary to put books on bookstore shelves. And the very real risks involved in putting books on store shelves are going to be on the minds of the publishers whenever adverse news about B&N’s financial health surfaces.

But the big publishers are only slightly less dependent on Barnes & Noble’s success than B&N’s shareholders themselves. All of the big publishers were built around their ability to “put books on shelves”. That’s what they can do that authors can’t do for themselves and, up until now, Amazon couldn’t do for them either. Although big publishers sell bestsellers that are on mass merchants shelves as well as bookstore shelves, Barnes & Noble remains the one stop for bookstore exposure which handles most of the output of the big publishers. B&N delivers as many retail locations as the indies do and, for the most part, more sales.

. . . .

What would the landscape look like if B&N exited the book business entirely or, god forbid, went bankrupt?

Without Barnes & Noble, the business models of most of the publishers we know are severely challenged.

Although publishers would almost certainly have some warning about either a bankruptcy or an exit from the book business — neither would happen “suddenly” without at least a bit more “gradually” than we’ve yet seen — the absence of B&N would be a painful blow to the core business model of trade publishing. For about 100 years, the core proposition for mainstream publishers doing fiction and non-fiction for consumers has been “we put books on shelves”. That’s the proposition to the authors, as well as the service to consumers.

Putting books on bookstore shelves requires capital, knowhow, and organization. It is also the one function publishers perform that an author really can’t do for herself. Even the self-published authors who have made a print option available through print-on-demand — and both Amazon and Ingram enable that on what is almost entirely a marginal cost basis — don’t attempt to put speculative inventory on store shelves. The best they do is make their books available through established channels (Ingram) for special order on a customer request.

So were it to happen that the chain that supplies probably about ⅔ of the available shelf space for most titles were to disappear, the business model itself would be broken. The incentive for authors to shift to a self-publishing model, where they get a lot more per copy for ebooks and specially ordered POD books, would strengthen. And it would be pretty compelling in any case where the author brand was powerful or the author did most of the marketing of the book.

So publishers would be hurt at the revenue end and the IP supply end of their chain, which is the entry and the exit.

But the “financial risk” of losing B&N is one thing; there is also the financial risk and cash outlay involved in selling to B&N in the first place, namely that inventory has to be supplied to be paid for well after it is delivered. And return privileges have to be offered that involve taking back unsold books and attendant costs to accepting those returns, among which is — quite often — taking back inventory that will not be resold at full price.

Allowing bookstores and wholesalers to return unsold merchandise is one of the key and standard features of most publishers’ trading terms. It is so ingrained in the trade that booksellers would order without it only in extremely exceptional circumstances. For most books, it would be a non-starter for a store to take a book they couldn’t return if it didn’t sell.

The financial risk associated with returns is the main reason that indie authors don’t even attempt to get their books into bookstores. And it will suddenly be very much on publishers’ minds if B&N looks like it is hitting the financial rocks.

Were a bankruptcy to occur, the stock in B&N, even the books that were not yet paid for, would be owned by the company in receivership and the the amounts owed to the publishers would be in a queue for payment along with what is owed to other creditors.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG notes that when veterans in the book business keep talking about a particular major player going bankrupt, it’s not a good sign. As mentioned, the above-excerpted conversation happened in August of 2017.

BA and Bookshop.org respond to bookseller criticism

From The Bookseller:

he Booksellers Association and Bookshop.org have responded to criticism following the launch of the online website in the UK in November. The criticism, which is focused on how effective the website will be at supporting independent bookshops and the BA’s role in facilitating the launch, came in the form of a letter from bookseller Tamsin Rosewell to BA m.d. Meryl Halls following a social media discussion about the website. The letter was subsequently leaked to the press.

The letter, seen by The Bookseller, states that there is “discontent” among booksellers and publishers that is growing and “increasingly bitter”. Rosewell wrote that she had had numerous questions over how the affiliates scheme would work for indies, publishers, and authors, and described the launch marketing as “far more aggressive than is appropriate”. She also raised concerns over the BA’s own role in bringing Bookshop.org to the UK, as well as the requirement that participating bookshops should be members of the BA. Rosewell also queried what the impact would be on established bookshop websites such as those operated by Waterstones and Blackwell’s. “This general lack of transparency and accountability raises more complex questions.”

When approached by The Bookseller, Rosewell declined to comment further, and denied being the source of the leak. The letter is wide-ranging and contains a number of criticisms, some of which have been repeated in a New Statesman article. Speaking to The Bookseller, Meryl Halls, m.d. of the Booksellers Association, said the exchange of letters had been with Rosewell, and not with a number of booksellers as was being implied by the New Statesman.

In response to the letter from Rosewell, Halls wrote: “I understand that you remain unconvinced about Bookshop.org – plenty of booksellers remain unconvinced, I know – we have a pluralist membership and they will all have a different view. There is nothing compulsory about any of this; on the contrary, it is all optional.” On the question of the BA’s links to Bookshop.org–Halls sits on the board of the UK company—she said that the BA has no financial interest in Bookshop.org, and received no income from sales made. “We have made no investment, we have given them no funding, there is no introducer fee coming to the BA from Bookshop.org, or anything of the sort. We have no financial arrangement with Bookshop.org.”

On the criticism that indies had to be members of the BA, Halls responded that it was the same model as used in the US where indies must be part of the American Booksellers Association, and that its intention was to make sure that “only genuine, bricks and mortar indie bookshops would benefit”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Barnes & Noble’s New Boss Tries to Save the Chain—and Traditional Bookselling

From The Wall Street Journal:

A year ago, John Radford had little control over the book selection at the Barnes & Noble store he manages in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Executives in New York decided which titles to carry. The retailer’s 600-plus stores were expected to follow that blueprint.

Mr. Radford had to stock dozens of James Patterson and John Grisham books, even though there wasn’t that much local demand. Often, he’d have to return about half the inventory after a few months.

These days, he is the one calling the shots.

Led by Chief Executive James Daunt, Barnes & Noble Inc. is abandoning the strategy that made it a bookselling behemoth two decades ago—uniformity designed to create economies of scale and simplify the shopping experience. Instead, the company is empowering store managers to curate their shelves based on local tastes.

In recent months, Mr. Daunt has cut the ranks of once-powerful staffers who supervised large groups of stores and fired nearly half of the company’s New York-based book buyers, powerful tastemakers who decided which titles stores should carry. In the process, he has severed decadeslong relationships with publishers who paid to have their books placed in stores.

Mr. Daunt has made the most of pandemic-related closings in the spring to renovate and modernize stores.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble has suffered seven years of declining revenue in the face of Amazon.com Inc.’s dominance in online retail. The pandemic crushed sales in big cities, with revenue down 50% at major metropolitan stores, as well as the in-store cafe business.

In Mr. Daunt’s view, the very survival of bookstores is on the line. “I don’t think we have any God-given right to exist,” he recently told a group of publishing-industry professionals. “How is it that bookstores do justify themselves in the age of Amazon? They do so by being places in which you discover books with an enjoyment, with a pleasure, with a serendipity that is simply impossible to replicate online.”

In an interview, Mr. Daunt said empowering local store managers is central to his plans. “At the end of the day, I expect to give the booksellers complete freedom in all the things that I think should matter,” he said. “Freedom to put the books wherever they like, display them however they like, arrange them however they like.”

Mr. Radford, whose Idaho Falls store is tucked between a Macy’s and a J.C. Penney at the Grand Teton Mall, has begun offering books from homegrown literary noir stars such as C.J. Box and Craig Johnson, who write bestselling mystery series set in nearby Wyoming.

“This feels so much better,” he said. His store has increased profits this year.

. . . .

On top of trimming the ranks of corporate book buyers and district managers, Mr. Daunt closed some of Barnes & Noble’s most iconic branches, including the East 86th Street outpost in Manhattan that housed one of New York City’s most impressive art-book selections. “We’ve closed a couple of—frankly—albatross stores,” Mr. Daunt said.

The pending acquisition of book publisher Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House, a unit of German media company Bertelsmann SE, could create new problems for Barnes & Noble. The resulting enterprise, which will account for about one-third of all print books sold in the U.S., would have more power to press for higher prices and better retail display on behalf of its authors, said Laurence Kirshbaum, a literary agent and former publishing executive. “This world is about leverage,” he said.

. . . .

“As you let the stores diverge, a quarter will be brilliant and a quarter will be absolutely terrible,” Mr. Daunt said. “A significant number of your stores will become worse, not better. Then you teach and encourage them and, in time, everybody becomes better.”

. . . .

Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove Atlantic, a publisher whose authors include Lily King, Jim Harrison and Mark Bowden, said Mr. Daunt’s model “levels the playing field” while emphasizing the chain’s thousands of experienced booksellers who are enthusiastic readers. “It also lessens Barnes & Noble’s dependence on books sold by Target and Walmart, ” he said.

Barnes & Noble went through several unsuccessful turnaround attempts, including new store layouts and a greater emphasis on toys and gifts, as it churned through five CEOs between 2013 and 2019.

. . . .

Mr. Daunt first championed the tactic of ceding control to local managers at Waterstones, which was losing money when he got there. It took him four years to make the chain profitable again.

Waterstones has a 3.5% return rate. That’s the number of unsold books that retailers return to publishers. Barnes & Noble’s return rate is about 25%, and as high as 50% on new titles.

“A good bookseller has little to no returns,” Mr. Daunt said. “When you let the stores choose what they stock and choose how they price it, the returns more or less completely disappear.”

. . . .

Mr. Daunt is passionate about organizing books the proper way, down to the shape of display tables—round ones are the best, he says. He’s pushed Barnes & Noble to place books on shelves “face out,” so the whole cover can be seen. He believes in arranging by category, not alphabetically by author.

. . . .

A lot will ride on the performance of newly empowered store managers. Mr. Radford in Idaho Falls said he’s giving more shelf space to books related to local interests, including Yellowstone National Park and the Mormon faith.

Where books were once arranged alphabetically, Mr. Radford is mixing and matching similar titles by subject. On a bookcase devoted to U.S. history, Joseph J. Ellis’s “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson” is sandwiched between David McCullough’s “1776” and Rick Atkinson’s “The British Are Coming.”

Some Idaho Falls employees are struggling to adjust to the new playbook. Part of the problem, Mr. Radford said, is “having a teenager trying to shelve American history.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

North American Booksellers Join Pubeasy in Record Numbers

From Publishing Perspectives:

A record number of North American booksellers have joined Pubeasy in 2020, according to an announcement from MVB US, which operates Pubnet and Pubeasy North American services and is a subsidiary of Frankfurt-based company MVB.

The Pubeasy platform is an online ordering service which allows booksellers to place orders directly with publishers. Publishers pay to be on the platform, but the service is free to booksellers. The Pubeasy site says that “booksellers receive a better discount” when ordering direct from publishers, rather than ordering through distributors or wholesalers.

. . . .

So far in 2020, the company’s media messaging indicates, more than 750 North American booksellers have joined Pubeasy, representing a 600-percent increase over 2019.

In addition to Pubeasy—which offers current price, stock availability, and order status information from multiple suppliers in addition to electronic ordering—MVB markets Pubnet. That service “enables automated electronic ordering from the retailer’s point-of-sale system.

Taken together, the two services are engaged by more than 4,100 bookstores in more than 100 countries, connecting them to at least 3,500 publishers, conducting transactions based on global standards. MVB reports that it’s now planning a market entry in Brazil for both Pubnet and Pubeasy.

. . . .

Ronald Schild, MBV CEO in Germany, is quoted, saying, “Especially in these difficult times, efficient order management is extremely important for both bookstores and publishers. Supply chain issues such as inventory shortages and shipping delays make it necessary to have reliable visibility into the status of your orders at all times.

“The trend toward bundled, automated processes is thus further strengthened, as is clearly reflected in our user figures for Pubeasy and Pubnet.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

One in Four Books Is Purchased in the USA During the Holidays

From Publishing Perspectives:

Just to clarify the importance of the decorative season we’re entering, the NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean is clarifying today (November 23) that the United States’ book market is dependent on the winter holiday season for 25 percent of its annual print sales.

Almost 173 million books were sold in November and December last year, the company’s data shows.

McLean, who’s the lead books industry analyst for NPD, is bullish on the chances for the American industry to end this strange year strongly, telling the news media, “Book sales have been stronger than normal throughout the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, so publishers have reason to be hopeful for good holiday tidings, and a strong finish to 2020.

“Historically,” she says, “the uptick in sales begins in the first week of November, but as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are watching closely to see if we see the same book shopping patterns as in previous years.”

. . . .

“With volume 20 percent higher than the same week in 2019, this week marks the highest week of unit sales for the print market so far this year. The volume of 15.5 million units signals the start of the seasonal climb.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Bookstore Sales Down 27.7% in September

From Shelf Awareness:

In the seventh month of data reflecting public health measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, including the closure of many bookstores for a time and limited access since then, in September sales at bookstores dropped 27.7%, to $609 million, compared to September 2019, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates.

April and May had the largest drops in sales this year, down 65.3% and 59.9%, respectively, reflecting the first wave of the pandemic. Since then, bookstore sales have been down in a range between 24.7% and 35.4%. During the first nine months of the year, bookstore sales fell 30.1%, to $4.5 billion.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Pandemic Speeds Americans’ Embrace of Digital Commerce

PG doesn’t usually post excerpts of more than one Wall Street Journal each day, but thinks this one includes important information that, among other things, does not bode well for traditional bookstores and (he suspects) physical books.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Brooke Mallers recently bought a used car online, she uses food and grocery delivery services more and she makes telehealth appointments—new habits that she expects to last long after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever go into a car dealership again,” said the 58-year-old retired investor in Boulder, Colo. “It was fun to have an experience that’s new and the internet enables.”

The pandemic’s disruptions have transformed how American consumers behave by accelerating their embrace of digital commerce, and the changes are likely to prove permanent, according to businesses studying and adapting to the changes.

A recent survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that about three out of four people have tried a new shopping method due to the coronavirus and that more than half of all consumers intend to continue using curbside pickup and grocery-delivery services after the pandemic is over. Nearly 70% of consumers surveyed intend to continue buying online for store pickup.

The pandemic collapsed into three months a process of adopting e-commerce that otherwise would have taken 10 years in the U.S., the firm concluded.

. . . .

The lockdowns, social distancing and other effects of the crisis forced many consumers to try online shopping, medical appointments, yoga classes and tutoring services. And people new to the e-commerce game are “finding out it’s pretty useful,” said Brian Ruwadi, a senior partner at McKinsey.

This spurred businesses to step up their digital services. “You see significant movement on both sides, and that has to result in a significant increase, a fundamental shift in acceleration,” he said of the changes in business and consumer behavior.

“Consumers won’t go back to shopping the way they did before the pandemic,” said Stefan Larsson, the president of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger parent PVH Corp. “They will go forward into the new normal.”

. . . .

The rapid transition has positioned some businesses to thrive and grow, while others struggle or fail, reflecting the broader economy’s K-shaped recovery. Among the winners are those facilitating the shifts, including online retailers and service providers, technology firms and companies delivering the goods people are buying online. Peloton Interactive Inc. said its revenue more than tripled to $757.9 million in the September quarter. The company is capitalizing on surging demand for at-home fitness equipment, much of it internet-connected like its exercise bikes.

Faltering businesses include those unable to make the transition, such as many restaurants and bricks-and-mortar stores. Retail-store closings in the U.S. reached a record in the first half of 2020, and the year is on pace for record bankruptcies and liquidations, according to a report on the downturn’s severity.

Some pandemic-driven changes in what people spend money on may prove temporary, such as the shift away from activities requiring proximity to other people. With many Americans still shunning air travel and indoor dining, and with entertainment ticket windows still dark from Disneyland Park to Broadway, consumers spent 7.2% less on services in the third quarter than a year before. That left money to boost purchases of goods by 6.9% over the same period. But much of this could reverse once the virus is subdued.

Meantime, the change in how they buy things looks more lasting and spans generations.

“I will never go to a grocery store again in my life because it’s just so convenient and easy” to shop online, said Allan Schilter, an 81-year-old retired accountant in Springfield, Mo.

Mr. Schilter picks up his groceries curbside at Walmart, after ordering them online. “It’s safer; you don’t have to go into the store.”

E-commerce’s share of U.S. retail sales rose to 16.1% in the second quarter of this year, from 10.8% a year earlier and 0.9% of total retail sales two decades ago, according to the Commerce Department.

. . . .

Emily Kennedy said she is glad the pandemic prompted her to start ordering groceries.

“Being forced into that situation made me realize how much time I was spending every week walking those aisles,” said Ms. Kennedy, president of Marinus Analytics, an artificial-intelligence company. “People are realizing the time they save and the money they save,” said the 30-year old, who lives near Denver. “Once they get it, they’re reluctant to give it back later on.”

Shifts in consumer behavior are driving development of new distribution methods, such as online-only stores, or “dark stores,” where online purchases are gathered by workers for distribution to customers. Shoppers aren’t allowed in to browse the shelves or squeeze the fruit.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Retail Chains Shed Stores, but It Isn’t Good for Business

From The Wall Street Journal:

Retailers’ preferred solution for empty stores may only be adding to their problems, according to new research and industry executives.

Retail chains have announced thousands of closures this year after closing a record number of stores last year, as the pandemic crimps demand for nonessential items and shopping continues to migrate online.

The hope is that by cutting expenses associated with physical locations, the chains can become more profitable and start growing sales again as customer purchases shift to their remaining locations and websites. But that rarely happens, according to new research and interviews with industry executives.

“Closing stores isn’t going to solve a retailer’s underlying problems,” said Stephen Sadove, the former chief executive of Saks Inc. “You have to look at why the stores aren’t performing. What is their competitive advantage and their reason for being?”

Even before the pandemic, retailers were closing stores at a record pace. U.S. chains announced the closure of 9,275 outlets last year, the most since Coresight Research Inc. began tracking the figures in 2012. The tally exceeds 8,000 stores so far this year, according to Coresight.

The health of the industry will be on display this week as chains from Walmart Inc. to Macy’s Inc. report quarterly earnings, with the holiday shopping season already under way. Chains began offering Black-Friday-type discounts in October, instead of waiting until the traditional day after Thanksgiving.

Retailers that closed stores in recent years often continued to shrink, sometimes to the point of disappearing altogether, according to research from Citigroup Inc. and BMO Capital Markets.

. . . .

“No retailer ever announces one round of store cuts—it’s always the precursor to a store bleed,” said Simeon Siegel, a BMO senior analyst. “Most companies we looked at had lower revenue and profit than before they started closing stores.”

. . . .

The rise of e-commerce put an end to the store-opening juggernaut. As consumers bought more online, they visited physical stores less, making them less productive and more costly to operate. That led chains to close hundreds of locations with the hopes of stabilizing profits. For some, the strategy hastened their decline.

“When you look at all the retailers that are closing stores now, it’s easy to forget that so many have tried this in the past and they aren’t around anymore,” Citigroup analyst Paul Lejuez said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

The indie book platform trying to take on Amazon

From CNN:

New bookselling platform Bookshop is pitching itself as a way for independent bookstores to claw back sales from Amazon, which controls a lion’s share of a market worth nearly $26 billion in the US alone.

Bookshop, launched by literary publisher Andy Hunter in January, claims to be a “socially conscious” alternative to Amazon. A spokesperson for the enterprise also said it has already earned more than $7.5 million for US indie bookshops and taken 2 percent of Amazon’s share of the market in its first year.

The platform allows booksellers to create their own digital stores and receive the full profit margin (30 percent) from each sale through their page. 10 percent of sales through Bookshop also go towards a fund that is divided between indie bookshops whether or not they are part of the platform. Chris Doeblin, the owner of three Book Culture locations in New York, said he saw his sales plummet by half as Amazon grew in popularity in the late 1990s. “We’ve barely held on. It’s been horrible,” Doeblin said in a telephone interview. “Independent bookshops do wonderful things for a community — they populate the storefronts, they offer a place to go.”

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to N. for the tip

PG was prepared to wish this start-up well until he hit the “socially conscious alternative to Amazon” part of the OP.

For the record, PG is socially conscious. Mrs. PG is socially conscious. All the PG offspring and their friends are socially conscious.

And we’ve all used Amazon even more than ever during the Age of Covid.

Plus, referencing the OP, “populating the storefronts” is a community service that doesn’t require books. One populator fills up the space pretty much as well as another. PG suspects a retail establishment selling beer and liquor might generate more customer traffic and pay more state and local taxes to help the community than your typical indie bookstore would.

The Strand Shouldn’t Have to Beg Us Not to Die

From Slate:

On Friday, New York City’s legendary Strand bookstore announced it was in trouble. With revenue down 70 percent because of the pandemic, owner Nancy Bass Wyden warned in a post on social media, the “loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat these past months are depleted,” and the 93-year-old landmark is fighting for its survival.

Just as so many businesses and institutions have since March, Bass Wyden turned to her loyal customers for help, asking them to spend their money and spread the word, using the hashtag #SaveThe Strand. But alongside encomia from celebrities and Slate’s former editor in chief, another chorus arose, asking why Bass Wyden, a multimillionaire who is also the wife of a U.S. senator, was passing the hat rather than raiding her own piggy bank. As an article in the Baffler laid out in detail last month, the store received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of between $1 million and 2 million in April with the purpose of protecting the 212 jobs spread across its three locations, including the 188 workers Bass Wyden laid off in late March. Ultimately fewer than two dozen union jobs were restored, and Bass Wyden put her personal fortune to work purchasing stock in Amazon, a mortal enemy of brick-and-mortar booksellers she described as a necessary step toward keeping the Strand afloat.

. . . .

The Strand is a literary mecca, so beloved that the novelist in Sofia Coppola’s new movie On the Rocks sports two separate tote bags with its logo during the course of the film. But bad bosses suck, especially ones who use economic exigency as an excuse to gut union staff. Yet the infuriating thing about the Strand controversy isn’t not knowing which side to pick. (As a union employee myself, that part is pretty easy.) It’s that we even have to have this conversation.

More than seven months after the first lockdowns, American small businesses have been left to twist in the wind. The PPP, as Slate’s Jordan Weissman wrote back in July, was a bust, a poorly administered half-measure. But that policy blunder pales in comparison to how badly the federal government has managed the pandemic as a whole—not to mention how many cultural institutions will likely be diminished or destroyed as a result of the government’s failures.

. . . .

My guess is that the Strand, with its iconic status and well-heeled supporters, will end up being fine. San Francisco’s similarly storied City Lights raised more than half a million dollars in April to help it get through the pandemic. But what about all the other bookstores who don’t have their name recognition or the ability to fundraise outside their own neighborhoods—or simply those in neighborhoods where people are too concerned with keeping themselves afloat to even think of giving money away? 

Link to the rest at Slate

PG gently suggests the Pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already well underway before anybody had heard about Covid.

French Publishers Appeal to Government: Leave Our Bookstores Open

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an extraordinary appeal to the Emmanuel Macron government today (October 28), France’s publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), has joined with two of its associated organizations in issuing a “solemn, united, and responsible” request that French bookstores be allowed to remain open despite the anticipated announcement of new pandemic lockdown restrictions.

Perhaps the most compelling part of their letter: “We are ready to assume our cultural and health responsibilities.”

. . . .

Emmanuel Macron has been expected to make a televised address to the French people this evening, announcing new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that may go as far as a second national lockdown. Lauren Chadwick at EuroNews writes that such a confinement would not be expected to be as stringent as the spring lockdown but Kim Willsher’s write at The Guardian agrees with other press reports that the new constraint could be set to last as long as four weeks.

A curfew already has been imposed for at least eight major urban centers in the country, and the Worldometer tracking regime reflects the soaring numbers of new cases being registered in the French market. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

New York’s Strand bookstore appeals for help

From The Guardian:

The Strand Bookstore, a landmark of literary New York, is in serious trouble, appealing for customers to help it stave off closure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve survived just about everything for 93 years,” proprietor Nancy Bass-Wyden said in a statement, of the store her grandfather founded in 1927. “The Great Depression, two world wars, big box bookstores, ebooks and online behemoths. We are the last of the 48 bookstores still standing from 4th Avenue’s famous Book Row.

“Because of the impact of Covid-19, we cannot survive the huge decline in foot traffic, a near-complete loss of tourism and zero in-store events.”

Bass-Wyden said revenue was down nearly 70% from 2019. Though a government loan and cash reserves saw the store through the first eight months of the pandemic, she said, “we are now at a turning point where our business is unsustainable”.

Earlier this year, thanks to disclosures necessitated by her marriage to Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator from Oregon, Bass-Wyden was revealed to have spent between $115,000 and $250,000 on purchasing stock in Amazon, the “online behemoth” that has done most to damage independent bookstores.

Bass-Wyden said she made the purchase to support the Strand.

“It was necessary for me to diversify my personal portfolio and invest in stocks that are performing,” she said then. “I have to make sure that I have the resources to keep the Strand going.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

August Bookstore Sales Dropped 30.7%

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales tumbled 30.7% in August compared to one year ago, according to preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales fell to $754 million compared to $1.09 billion in August 2019.

The steep August drop put an end to a brief rally during which the rate of decline in bookstore sales had been slowing. In July, bookstore sales fell 24.6% compared to July 2019, an improvement over the 35% decline in June compared to August 2019.

. . . .

Bookstore sales through the first eight months of 2020 were down 31.4% from the comparable period in 2019. Sales were just under $4 billion in the most recent period, down from $5.72 billion in the January-August period in 2019. Sales for all of retail fell 1.7%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG did some quick research and, at least in the US, the average profit margin of a bookstore was 2-3% prior to Covid.

PG doesn’t like to see any small business go through difficult financial times, but he expects the financial future of a great many small bookstores is bleak unless the owner has access to assets or cash from sources outside of the bookstore business.

Even smaller banks that cater to local small business borrowers might not be willing to provide much help.

Readings, reinvented

From The Bookseller:

I had been working throughout 2019 on widening out and experimenting with the format of book readings. I took my second novel, Lanny, on the road with two musicians. We did semi-improvised performances, somewhere in between a reading and a gig. Overseas, I re-wrote sections of the book using submitted text from local audiences so the readings became bespoke collaborative one-offs, and the book changed from place to place.

I guess at the root of this is a slight discomfort with the way we put authors on pedestals. I think it’s far more interesting to share the stage. More than that, it’s my basic responsibility. The privilege of having an audience or a readership, the sheer good fortune of that, means one should make every effort to support the work of others and where possible divide any limelight between many voices, many types of work. The old format of author on stage reading from the new book, followed by intelligent questions from a well-prepared chair, followed by audience questions (nine good questions and a mansplain, as the formula goes) can be wonderful, but we have plenty of it. It may be a little tired, and a little limited, as a way of sharing literature. It also perpetuates a fairly simplistic and limited economic model, which can also grate (I love a signing queue as much as the next bookseller) but perhaps not as generative or suitable to our increasingly diversified methods of cultural participation as it needs to be, if we want to keep books and book culture alive and relevant.

To this end we had been planning a project at the Union Chapel called ‘The English Soundwood’. It grew out of a multi-performer project I did when Cheltenham festival kindly invited me to curate events in October 2019. For that first event we had poets, novelists, memoirists and musicians, all performing together. The Union Chapel gig was going to widen it out further to include more musicians, a bigger visual element, audience participation, puppetry, live technological enhancement and so on. And, like everything, this has been postponed.

So this Sunday I will find myself a long way from sharing the stage with others. I will be standing alone in an empty venue, reading not new work, or collaborative work, but old work. In order to support a beloved venue and their extraordinary charity, the Margins Project, I’m reading the whole of my first book, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, as a livestream. The idea being that even if you hated my first book, you could buy a ticket and not watch the livestream, and you would be supporting a great organisation.

Readings are a funny thing, and I don’t know what it will be like to do a whole book in an empty chapel. I’m not an actor, so I don’t even know where to look, if there’s no audience. And will I lose my voice? Not that my book is very long, but still, when was the last time I spoke for over an hour with no break? Also peering over my shoulder like an intimidating crow, is Cillian Murphy, who very much made the book his own when he starred in Enda Walsh’s stage adaptation in 2018. I can hear him in my head. I can literally see him in the text because he drew all over my paperback copy. So I need to banish him, because nobody wants a cod-Cillian, a faux-Murphy.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG would love to see a robust analysis examining the economics of a reading/book signing for an author who isn’t a noted celebrity.

How much time does it take to prepare?

How much time and how expensive is it to travel to a bookstore, then return home afterwards? (PG understands that travel times may vary, depending on many circumstances, but he does know of at least some traditional publishers that expect non-famous authors to be willing to drive for 1-2 hours each way to appear at a book signing.)

How does the author feel after returning from a 2-4 hour book signing? Refreshed and ready to write? Or exhausted in the way some introverts are after being coerced into interacting with a bunch of strangers who have never heard of them or their books?

What’s the author’s hourly income generated by a book signing, considering time spent preparing, traveling back and forth, sitting behind a table for x hours, packing and unpacking whatever the author is taking to the signing, recovering after the signing is over.

PG thinks more than a few book signings take at least an entire day during which an author could be sitting comfortably at home working, researching, editing, etc.

Serious publishers pay a lot of money buying ads, pumping up the sales force, reaching out to bookstore owners, etc. In addition to advertising and promotion costs the publisher pays to third parties, the publisher is also paying its employees while they’re doing promotions, marketing, pitching store owners, etc., etc.

An author who is also a skilled public speaker or pitchperson might command high speaking fees or receive a generous commission for using those talents in a commercial venture other than promoting her/his book.

While sales commissions vary widely from industry to industry, it isn’t unusual for a commission sales person to receive 30-40% of the amount the employer receives from a customer who purchases goods after being pitched and charmed by a good sales rep.

No professional sales person would spend three or four hours to receive a commission equal to what a traditionally-published author receives from a book-signing at which she sells 25 trade paperbacks.

PG wonders if an author going shopping or running errands wearing a sandwich board might earn more than an author sitting in a bookstore signing books.

Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who is interested in exploring this marketing system can buy the materials necessary here.

An Open Letter to Barnes & Noble

From RobEager, Marketing Consultant:

On behalf of all authors, we want to see your company grow and succeed. Amazon needs a legitimate competitor in order to limit their dominance and create a healthier publishing ecosystem. It is important for your bookstores to thrive and expand.

Your organization’s new CEO, James Daunt, made headlines by turning around the Waterstones bookstore chain in England. Now, he wants to apply a similar strategy in America by redecorating every store, reducing the amount of returns, and giving each store manager greater power over their local inventory.

However, I recently visited a Barnes & Noble location near Atlanta, Georgia. What I saw didn’t give me much optimism about the future.

The store layout looked no different than before. The same bestseller displays were in the same place. The green carpet appeared worn and dirty. A skeleton crew was manning the room. There was too much space dedicated to music, movies, toys, and dumb knick-knacks.

In addition, the BN.com website doesn’t look much different than before. It still seems light years behind Amazon’s website experience.

In other words, where is the dramatic transformation that was promised? During the coronavirus shutdown, CEO Daunt reported that the downtime was used to reface the company. I don’t see any improvements, which gives me and other authors concern about your viability.

. . . .

1. Improve your website

B&N.com is at a distinct disadvantage to Amazon primarily due to a lackluster website. More books are purchased online than in stores. So, if you want to grow, you’ve got to capture more online sales.

Frankly, B&N’s website feels like walking into a boring library. Compared to Amazon, there is a tiny fraction of customer reviews to read. Most of a book’s marketing text is hidden or pushed down the page. Worst of all, B&N charges different prices for the same book.

On a recent B&N visit to purchase a business-genre book, the on-shelf price was $7 higher than your website price. That’s a ridiculous disconnect and creates skepticism among savvy consumers. Charge the same price for books, whether purchased online or in-store.

2. Offer marketing partnerships for authors

Want to know a hidden reason why Amazon is crushing B&N? Author favoritism. Every day, authors directly send millions of their fans to Amazon, instead of you. Consider how many authors only mention Amazon on their websites, e-newsletters, blogs, and social media pages. B&N is never mentioned. When you consider the millions of links that authors create for their fans to buy books, it represents millions of dollars in lost sales for B&N.

Why are authors partial to Amazon? For several reasons, such as Amazon offers a robust advertising platform just for authors. Amazon gives self-published authors the best royalty rates and provides extra income for writers who make their e-books exclusive to KDP Select. Amazon even lets authors adjust their book detail page whenever they want for free. B&N doesn’t offer authors any of these features.

Convince authors to stop showing favoritism by developing innovative marketing opportunities. For example, create an affiliate program with generous commission rates and hassle-free technical support. Build an online advertising system that any author can afford. Make it easier for authors to host in-store events that you help promote to the community. Authors will become part of your sales force – if you start meeting our needs.

. . . .

4. Cut the cafe crap and just sell books

Let’s be honest. Please stop trying to add wine bars, coffee shops, or taverns inside your stores. Those ideas failed along with the disastrous Nook e-reader device. All you’re doing is distracting people from your core concept.

Just focus on selling books. Get rid of the music, cafe, and DVD sections. Use that square footage to increase more space for books. It’s hard to call yourself a bookstore when half of the room seems devoted to non-reading activities. People would rather go somewhere else to get coffee, somewhere else to buy music, and somewhere else to drink wine. Become a great bookstore experience that readers cannot resist.

Link to the rest at RobEager, Marketing Consultant

PG didn’t know that Barnes & Noble sells DVDs.

PG doesn’t recall seeing a retail location that offered DVDs for sale for decades, generations, maybe centuries.

Barnes & Noble cyberattack exposed customers’ personal information

From CNN:

A day after Barnes & Noble solved its Nook outage, the bookstore revealed a far more serious problem: A massive cybersecurity attack breached the company’s data, exposing information about customers, including email addresses and other personal information.On Monday, Barnes & Noble sent customers an email to notify them about the cyberattack. The company made clear that customers’ financial information had not been exposed. Their transaction history, however, was potentially exposed. The company said “transaction history, meaning purchase information related to the books and other products that you have bought from us” were retained in the systems that were impacted by the cybersecurity attack.

Customer’s email addresses, were also potentially leaked in the cybersecurity attack, according to the company.
“It is possible that your email address was exposed and, as a result, you may receive unsolicited emails,” Barnes & Noble said.
While the bookstore chain doesn’t know if other personal information was exposed during the attack, Barnes & Noble acknowledged that customers’ billing and shipping addresses as well as their phone numbers stored in the systems were included in the attack.
Although not worth much to hackers on their own, personally identifying data like addresses, phone numbers, names and email addresses are valuable on the black market. It can be combined with other information, including credit card information and Social Security numbers, to create full profiles of people. Hackers can use that information to steal people’s identities and money.

Link to the rest at CNN

PG notes that the drip-drip-drip method of revealing information after a company disaster is something many public relations professionals regard as a classic example of the wrong way for a company to handle such an event.

The recommended strategy is to tell everything you know right away, upfront and to be very transparent about what you are doing to resolve the problem and protect your customers from harm. Quite often, a consumer-facing company will offer a credit-protection program at no cost to its customers.

As mentioned before, you can send any other information you think might be of interest to TPV visitors via the Contact link.

PG is particularly interested in hearing about any indications of intelligent life inside Barnes & Noble’s management ranks.

Barnes & Noble hit by cyberattack that exposed customer data

From Bleeping Computer:

U.S. Bookstore giant Barnes & Noble has disclosed that they were victims of a cyberattack that may have exposed customers’ data.

Barnes & Noble is the largest brick-and-mortar bookseller in the United States, with over 600 bookstores in fifty states. The bookseller also operated the Nook Digital, which is their eBook and e-Reader platform.

. . . .

Since October 10th, users have been complaining on Nook’s Facebook page and Twitter that they could no longer access their library of purchased eBooks and magazine subscriptions. When attempting to do so online or on their Nook, the library was coming up blank or could not log into bn.com.

. . . .

In a statement given to FastCompany earlier today, Barnes & Noble said that they suffered a severe network issue and were in the process of restoring their server backups.

“We have a serious network issue and are in the process of restoring our server backups,” Barnes & Noble told Fast Company in a statement. “Our systems are back online in our stores and on BN.com, and we are investigating the cause. Please be assured that there is no compromise of customer payment details, which are encrypted and tokenized.”

. . . .

In an email sent to customers late Wednesday night and seen by BleepingComputer, Barnes & Noble has disclosed that they suffered a cyberattack on October 10th, 2020.

As part of this attack, threat actors gained access to corporate systems utilized by the company.

“It is with the greatest regret we inform you that we were made aware on October 10, 2020 that Barnes & Noble had been the victim of a cybersecurity attack, which resulted in unauthorized and unlawful access to certain Barnes & Noble corporate systems.”

“We write now out of the greatest caution to let you know how this may have exposed some of the information we hold of your personal details,” Barnes & Noble stated in their email.

. . . .

In a list of frequently asked questions, Barnes & Noble states that no payment details have been exposed but are unsure at this time if the hackers accessed other personal information.

They do admit that email addresses, billing addresses, shipping addresses, and purchase history were exposed on the hacked systems.

. . . .

While it has not been confirmed, Barnes & Noble’s cyberattack has all characteristics of a ransomware attack.

Ransomware operators commonly conduct their attacks on the weekend, when there is less staff present who could detect the attack — Barnes & Noble were attacked on a Saturday.

The bookseller also stated that they had to restore server backups, which is another indicator of a ransomware attack.

Finally, cybersecurity intelligence firm Bad Packets told BleepingComputer that Barnes & Noble perviously had multiple Pulse VPN servers that were vulnerable to the CVE-2019-11510 vulnerability.

This vulnerability is popular among ransomware threat actors as it allows them to gain access to user credentials stored on the VPN device.

A recent leak of Pulse VPN credentials gathered using this vulnerability contained accounts belonging to Barnes & Noble.

. . . .

Unfortunately, if they did suffer a ransomware attack, it is likely that much more data was exposed than Barnes & Noble is disclosing.

When ransomware operators attack a network, they first steal unencrypted files to use as leverage to get a victim to pay the ransom. If the victim refuses to pay, the ransomware gang leaks the unencrypted data on data leak sites.

Link to the rest at Bleeping Computer and thanks to DM for the tip.

When anyone hears of the first class-action suit filed against Barnes & Noble on behalf of its online customers based upon the leak of personal information and damages arising therefrom, you can let PG know via the Contact Link at the top of the blog.

To be fair to Barnes & Noble, there may be a non-negligent explanation for all of this, but the Barnes & Noble CEO has been surprisingly silent about this matter, particularly in comparison to his ready availability to any journalist likely to produce yet another puff piece about him.

Indie bookstores launch anti-Amazon ‘Boxed Out’ campaign

From the Associated Press via ABC News Wire Services :

With many independent bookstore owners facing the most dire financial crisis in their lifetimes, the American Booksellers Association has teamed with an award-winning advertising agency known for “culture hacking” to dramatize the threats of the pandemic and the growing dominance of Amazon.com.

On Tuesday, the trade group launched the “Boxed Out” campaign, for which a handful of bookstores around the country will have windows boarded up and boxes piled up out front that resemble Amazon delivery containers, with one label reading “Don’t Accept Amazon’s Brave New World.” The beginning of what the booksellers association hopes will be a conversation in stores and online, “Boxed Out” was designed by DCX Growth Accelerator, a Brooklyn-based firm which attracted national attention in 2018 when it set up a fake “Palessi” luxury shoe store and stocked it with items from the Payless discount chain.

“Boxed Out” coincides with Amazon Prime Day, when the online giant offers special deals to its members.

“We’re hoping that people will understand the juxtaposition and support their local stores,” says booksellers association CEO Allison Hill.

Independent booksellers had enjoyed a resurgence over the past decade after being devastated in the 20 previous years by the rise of the superstore chains Barnes & Noble and Borders, and then the emergence of Amazon. ABA membership, once more than 5,000, was down to just 1,401 in 2009 during the height of the Great Recession and was apparently set to keep declining as e-books began to catch on.

But the digital revolution stalled, Borders went out of business and Barnes & Noble retreated after a long era of expansion. In 2019, the last time the ABA released yearly numbers, membership was up to 1,887, with some sellers even opening additional outlets. Hill’s predecessor, Oren Teicher, who retired at the end of 2019, received an honorary National Book Award earlier that year for his success in “working to strengthen and expand independent bookstores nationwide.”

But the pandemic could wipe out all the gains since 2009. An ABA survey from this summer found that some 20 percent of members could go out of business, meaning hundreds of stores face closure, especially as government aid runs out. Meanwhile, the number of new independent stores opening has dropped sharply, according to the ABA, just 30 this year compared to 104 in 2019.

While the overall market for books has been surprisingly solid in 2020, Amazon.com has apparently fared best as the public increasingly makes purchases online. According to a report issued last week by the antitrust subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, “Amazon accounts for over half of all print book sales and over 80% of e-book sales” in the U.S. market.

Link to the rest at ABC News and thanks to DM and others for the tip.

Somehow, PG missed the news about the “fake ‘Palessi’ luxury shoe store” publicity event.

He also has doubts about the efficacy of a promotional campaign featuring “a handful of bookstores around the country [with] windows boarded up and boxes piled up out front that resemble Amazon delivery containers, with one label reading “Don’t Accept Amazon’s Brave New World.””

Apparently the CEO of the sponsor of this campaign, the American Booksellers Association may also have at least some misgivings, “We’re hoping that people will understand the juxtaposition and support their local stores.”

PG hopes the American Booksellers Association hasn’t paid DCX Growth Accelerator much money for this promotion.

Potential problems that immediately float into PG’s mind include:

  • At least some people will conclude the participating bookstore has gone out of business, another victim of Covid and mentally mark it off their list of places to go shopping.
  • Amazon will be the one thing that 90% of those who see this display remember, not the name or anything else about the bookstore.
  • PG isn’t certain how a pile of empty Amazon boxes connects with dystopian science fiction.
  • Depending upon the neighborhood in New York City and other cities around the country, upwards of half of the people who pass by won’t know what “Brave New World” means and won’t get the slogan.
  • Somewhere in the installation, it would be a good idea for the promotion agency to place a notice that all the Amazon boxes will be taken to a recycling center instead of being dumped into the closest collection of trash cans or some passersby will be very upset and, perhaps, organize a boycott of the bookstore.

Somehow, PG doesn’t think anyone at Amazon will feel the least bit frightened by this publicity campaign. But photos of it will undoubtedly be a big hit in the obscure nooks and crannies of social media inhabited by Amazon haters and other losers. And somebody will put up a copy of the photo up on the bulletin board in at lease one Amazon break room.

Everyone Wants Barnes & Noble to Survive. Can It?

From Jane Friedman:

It hasn’t been the best decade for Barnes & Noble, the biggest bookselling chain in the United States. As sales slowly eroded—and Amazon gained dominance—the position of CEO became one of the fastest revolving doors in the publishing industry. Each new leader trotted out a revised “concept store” to revive the fortunes of the bookseller, none succeeding.

. . . .

The Nook debuted in October 2009, two years after Amazon Kindle. At its peak, Nook enjoyed sales of nearly $1 billion a year. By summer 2019, in the last public earnings report from Barnes & Noble, Nook delivered less than $100 million in revenue per year, with negative profits.

In acknowledgment of Nook’s failure to compete against Amazon’s Kindle or even Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s chairman at the time, Len Riggio, told investors in 2017, “There is no business model in technology” for the chain. 

. . . .

In a 2018 podcast from Knowledge@Wharton, a few marketing professors discussed what the future might hold for the beleaguered retailer. Wharton’s Peter Fader said, “They’ve tried lots of different things from devices to experiences to broadening the merchandise. Nothing’s working. At this point, they haven’t found that hook to save the business; nor have they found the vision or leadership to give people any confidence in it.” Wharton’s Barbara Kahn said that while the retailer probably does a good job overall, “The problem is they’re not the best at anything.”

. . . .

James Daunt is perhaps best known for spending the last eight years getting the venerable but once shaky Waterstones (with 283 stores) on its feet. 

. . . .

Early on, when Daunt was asked what he thought of Barnes & Noble on his last store visit, he said, “There were too many books,” by which he meant that featuring the right inventory is more important that stocking a big blur of titles. Back in 2015, he commented to Slate, “My faculties just shut down when I go in there.”

On Sept. 11 of this year, the Book Industry Study Group hosted a conversation and Q&A with Daunt, in which he stressed a local-first selling strategy. Daunt says that if you give booksellers the autonomy to choose and display and curate their stores (rather than making decisions on a corporate level), those booksellers will make sure the books that customers want to buy are in front of them. “Ultimately we will sell more, customers will come into the store more, and publishers will sell more. That is the happy outcome that should reconcile publishers to this [new model].”

However, because of the focus on local booksellers making their own stock decisions, there won’t be any co-op going forward. Co-op is the practice of publishers paying for title placement throughout the chain. It’s a reliable way for publishers to guarantee sales, but it’s also associated with high returns. Daunt said, “Co-op and promo and all of that doesn’t actually work with my way of running things, when one talks about giving stores the autonomy to do what they want. That’s not a form of words. That’s actually meant. Therefore you can’t take co-op.” Daunt said that no store would be required to stock even blockbuster titles like Rage by Bob Woodward (although it would be expected every bookseller would logically want some number of copies).

Furthermore, because of this local-first strategy, a number of longtime buyers for the chain (headquartered in New York City) have been let go. Some of these buyers, such as fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley—once profiled in The Wall Street Journal under the headline “So Many Books, So Much Power”—had been with the company for decades.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG says there are a million questions about the future of Barnes & Noble after the pandemic.

In retrospect, Len Riggio picked a pretty good time to sell his controlling interest in Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain is now owned by Elliot Management. Elliot says the following about itself:

There are a number of elements of the firm’s investment and risk-management activities that Elliott believes are essential to its goal of generating a consistent return to its investors. These elements include an opportunistic trading approach, the creation – not just the identification – of value, effective liquidity management, and managing operational and counterparty risk. The firm employs a value-added global investment approach.

More perceptive readers than PG may be able to discern what Elliot is thinking about its investment in Barnes & Noble based upon that statement. PG cannot.

Some possibilities occur to PG:

  • Elliot’s other investments and businesses may have been so badly-damaged by the economic effects of widespread pandemic shutdowns that it has much more urgent issues to deal with than paying attention to or spending any money on Barnes & Noble. One possibility that comes to mind is that Elliot may have to sell itself to another company. Or divest itself of some of its major assets. (Note that this is pure speculation on PG’s part. He hasn’t done any research on Elliot and hasn’t any inside knowledge about what Elliot’s current financial circumstances are.)
  • Elliot may apply the greater fool theory and search for someone who will buy Barnes & Noble.
  • Elliot may give James Daunt some time to see if Daunt has any book magic left that might work to bring Barnes & Noble back from the dead.
  • Elliot may require a huge cutback in the number of stores Barnes & Noble operates, keeping only stores in the most wealthy and book-loving locations and dumping the rest. Choosing this alternative might involve taking Barnes & Noble through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding.

On what may be an even more important question – What’s happened to the Barnes & Noble employees that were staffing the stores prior to the shutdown?

  • How many experienced bookstore managers have retooled themselves or otherwise obtained other jobs? Other than an unknown number of managers who have been sitting around waiting for Barnes & Noble to reopen, how many managers will decide they like their new jobs more or feel more secure in their new jobs than their old jobs managing a Barnes & Noble store? Will those managers willing and able to return to Barnes & Noble be the best of Barnes & Noble’s managers, the worst or something in-between?
  • PG suspects that most of the peons working at Barnes & Noble stores prior to shutdown have found something else to do, maybe something that pays more than they earned at Barnes & Noble. At a minimum, the managers of reopened Barnes & Noble stores will have a big job hiring and training a bunch of newbie employees to avoid driving away early customers who venture into the reopened stores.

The next questions relate to Barnes & Noble customers:

Presumably, many regular purchasers of books who used to patronize Barnes & Noble and other physical book stores and who have not been subject to personal financial stress have continued to buy books.

Where have they purchased those books? Quite likely from Amazon.

PG suspects some percentage of those book buyers have become familiar with how to find books on Amazon, have enjoyed being able to order any book they like and having it delivered to them in one or two days. There may even be a small bit of satisfaction that arises from not having to pay the full retail price as they would if they had gone to a bookstore.

In its typical Amazonian fashion, the Big A has closely watched which books these new customers have purchased and started suggesting other books they might like. Perhaps the new Amazon customers have found some enjoyable new authors and their books via Amazon’s suggestions, including talented indie authors. Maybe Amazon’s suggestions have proven to be better than those they received when they asked a question of a clerk at Barnes & Noble.

One of Amazon’s largest competitive advantages over its online competitors is the extraordinary variety of ways that it helps its customers discover products they might like. There are lots of tools like Also Boughts and sub-sub-categories of books that let fans of Cowboy Science Fiction Romances find more of their favorite reads. Some book purchasers who have taken a deeper than normal dive into Amazon’s book section will become hooked. Amazon’s magic works for fishing lures, cooking utensils and leaf blowers. It also works for books.

Other questions that have occurred to PG include whether any of the Barnes & Noble landlords have gone broke and closed the malls or strip malls where Barnes & Noble stores formerly operated. And, for those landlords who have stayed open, has Barnes & Noble been able to keep up with lease obligations during this period of time or will the landlords be in a position to terminate Barnes & Noble leases and find other tenants?

A New Moment for Black Bookstores

From Publishers Weekly:

The publishing world has had to adapt to a business landscape that is rapidly changing as a result of the pandemic and the response to continuing police violence against unarmed Black people. The 130 Black-owned bookstores in the U.S. have had to deal with these broader challenges, as well as with cultural and economic forces that uniquely affect them.

Marcus Books, one of the country’s best-known and oldest Black bookstores, was cofounded in 1960 in San Francisco by two African American doctors, husband-and-wife team Julian and Raye Richardson. Rising rents forced Marcus Books to close its San Francisco store six years ago, but it moved to Oakland.

The pandemic hit a few weeks after Raye’s death, at age 99, on February 11. “We closed briefly due to the death of our mother,” said Blanche Richardson, Julian and Raye’s daughter, who now runs Marcus Books. “Then the Covid-19 rules came down and we had to cancel plans for her memorial as well as our 60th anniversary celebrations and events. We stayed ‘open’ to receive book deliveries and take phone and mail orders. Later, we instituted curbside pick up, then allowed customers to come into the store as long as they followed the Covid safety guidelines.”

Richardson had taken down the store’s website in early February in order to make upgrades. “We did create a temporary method for online purchases but were overwhelmed with 200–300 orders a day,” she said. “We shut it down in order to fulfill all of the orders.” The new site is expected to be up in September; in the meantime, Richardson is taking orders over the phone.

In Goose Creek, S.C., VaLinda Miller, a co-owner of Turning Pages Bookshop, the only Black-owned bookstore in the state, faced her own challenges. A former resident of Washington, D.C., she opened the store last year. “We were shut down for about six weeks, from April until the middle of May,” she said. “But I’m one of the blessed ones. I saw the writing on the wall. So when we shut down, I knew we could cover the expenses of the business. I knew we weren’t making any sales, but I could still pay my one employee, because my other employee got unemployment compensation from another job. So we were okay.” Turning Pages also upgraded its website when the pandemic hit and reopened gradually.

. . . .

When Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements began to attract widespread attention, people were ordering only anti-racist titles, Mullen at Semicolon said. “But we made a point to introduce Black fiction to our readers,” she added. “We made it a point to do that every time someone ordered an anti-racist title.”

Among the books recommended at Semicolon are titles by Octavia Butler, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and N.K. Jemison, as well as Kiley Reeves’s Such a Fun Age and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half (which Mullen said did very well), plus “any Afro-futuristic writer.” She added, “Fiction is easier to understand, and something you can build empathy from, as opposed to statistics and numbers. Anti-racism is rooted in empathy—you have to understand the plight before you can support it.”

As Richardson of Marcus Books sees it, “Following the murder of Mr. Floyd and the resultant worldwide protests against police brutality, our inventory was basically the same, but with the inclusion of more titles dealing with the various issues surrounding race, diversity, police brutality, and institutional racism. Since Black had become the flavor of the month, books in all categories sold very well—including fiction, children’s books, cookbooks, biography, and even spirituality.”

With the chaos of Covid-19 and the growth of Black Lives Matter, what does the future hold for Black bookstores? “As a culture, and as a society, we are now starting to realize the importance and the beauty that Black people and Black businesses bring to the community,” said Black Garnet’s Sims. “And for white people, this is a time for them to be thoughtful and intentional about where they are putting their money and where their dollars are going. And even in places where people are not ready to make space for Black businesses—or Black bookstores specifically—we are at a point where we will carve out a place for ourselves. That’s what I’m doing here.”

Richardson believes Black booksellers need to keep their focus amid the tumult. “Black bookstores should do well as long as they serve their communities and provide the information and knowledge that the community seeks,” she said. “We frequently hear from new customers—mostly white and Asian—that they are patronizing us because they want to support a Black business. How long that will last is yet to be seen, so Black bookstores should concentrate on being true to their basic target population.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Book Tours – Analyzed

The post that appeared immediately prior to this one included a video in which the author was performing a video substitute for a physical book tour. When PG posted the video from YouTube, it had received 2,594 views.

PG is of the gigantically, perennially and irrefutably humble opinion that traditional book tours where a publisher sends an author out to visit a number of bookstores for an event in the bookstore to which anyone who learns about the event can attend.

Typically, the bookstore staff sets up some chairs for the audience, has several stacks of the book being promoted spread around the store and provides the author a table and a chair.

Thereafter, the author makes a short speech about her/his book designed (almost always by the author) to induce members of the audience to buy a copy of the author’s book. After completing the pitch, the author sits at the table and autographs books that members of the audience have purchased, often with a trite phrase, “I hope you enjoy my book!” or something the purchaser requests, “For Lurlene from her loving granddaughter, MaryJoJean.”

After chatting with strangers and signing all the books that are purchased, the author packs up, thanks the bookstore staff (perhaps leaving them some candy) and exits the store to travel to the next bookstore on the tour schedule. On a large tour across the US, airplane travel and hotels are involved.

For a really, really, really bestselling author, the publisher might send a minder to help schlep the author around from place to place.

To PG, this sounds like a mid-Twentieth-Century marketing strategy. (“Housewives! Have we got something new to brighten your humdrum day! The latest scientific innovation in kitchen cleaners!”)

Let’s break the thinking behind what passes for the marketing strategy behind a book tour.

  1. The author’s time costs the publisher nothing.
  2. We will send one of our authors to a physical bookstore. We’ll have the bookstore create some sort of poster announcing a book signing by Arthur Author for his latest book.
  3. If the publisher is feeling really generous, it might pay to have some cheap promotional brochures printed and shipped to the bookstore so the store will have something for an employee to sprinkle around for most of its customers to ignore. If it’s colorful, children might pick up a brochure to leave in the back seat of the car when they get home.
  4. The bookstore will have its employees set up chairs and a signing table, unpack a couple of boxes of books, place a few books around the store and stack a bunch on the signing table.
  5. In advance of the designated time, the author will leave an inexpensive hotel room, drive a rental car to the store after cruising around a strange city for awhile, walk into the store and start meeting total strangers.
  6. The introverted author who hates speaking to groups of people will thereafter speak to a crowd of strangers which will always be smaller than the author expected to show up.
  7. After trying to be interesting and entertaining for 15-20 minutes, the introverted author will then have to talk to a stream of strangers for about 60 seconds each, try to appear to be enjoying the process of acting like a homecoming queen, and write something trite in each copy of the book.
  8. Emotionally exhausted, after the last customer has left, the author will then effusively thank the book store manager and staff for their efforts, glance at the large stack of unsold books, and stumble out to their means of transportation and try to remember where the next book-signing is scheduled and when she’s supposed to be there.
  9. If the author is sufficiently depressed, she may estimate how many copies of her book were sold at the book-signing, calculate the royalties she will receive from those sales and realize that each of the store employees earned more on a per-hour basis than the author did for the time she put into preparation, travel, getting dressed up, undergoing the introvert’s torture of talking to a bunch of strange people (including some who were stranger than others) in the store, then more travel.

Perhaps PG is missing some giant financial or psychological benefit that accrues to a typical author as a result of a traditional book-signing or series of book-signings, but he doesn’t think so.

Then, let’s consider that Amazon sells more books than any bookstore or chain of bookstores in the world.

And, the author earns a higher royalty when Amazon sells an ebook than when Joe’s Books and Bait Shop sells a paperback.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

Authors Get Real About Going on a Book Tour…From Their Living Rooms

From The Oprah Magazine:

Novelist Laura Hankin found out that the launch event for her second book was cancelled through a Facebook notification from the bookstore. “I cried very hard. But then I also was like, how dare you cry over a canceled book event? That doesn’t matter,” Hankin tells OprahMag.com. “It was just another bit of uncertainty amidst a whole world of uncertainty.”

Hankin’s novel, Happy and You Know It, was released May 19, about two months after the coronavirus forced much of the United States to shelter in place and work from home—a time when bookstores were cancelling events left and right and authors were forced to call off their promotional tours.

Now, Hankin is one of many authors, publicists, and booksellers who are figuring out the publishing world’s “new normal,” which has meant participating in Instagram Live events, answering questions on moderated Zoom chats, or—like Hankin did—making music videos.

Hankin decided to process her own mixed feelings in a song called “Indoor Book Tour.” Using cheeky lyrics about being stuck on the couch and having the in-person audience of a single cat, “Indoor Book Tour” highlights the solitude of what had once been the active, social act of book publicity.

Link to the rest at The Oprah Magazine and thanks to DM for the tip.

Powell’s ditches Amazon, and says quitting the tech giant is like kicking a smoking habit

From Business Insider:

Powell’s, one of the largest and most iconic independent bookstores in the US, is ditching Amazon. 

CEO Emily Powell wrote in a letter to customers on Wednesday that the bookstore would no longer be selling its wares on Amazon’s marketplace. Powell’s was founded in 1971 and takes up an entire city block in Portland, Oregon. 

“For too long, we have watched the detrimental impact of Amazon’s business on our communities and the independent bookselling world. We understand that in many communities, Amazon — and big box retail chains — have become the only option,” Powell wrote.

“And yet when it comes to our local community and the community of independent bookstores around the U.S., we must take a stand. The vitality of our neighbors and neighborhoods depends on the ability of local businesses to thrive. We will not participate in undermining that vitality.”

. . . .

Like many retailers that primarily rely on in-person shoppers, independent bookstores have struggled in recent months. Early on in the pandemic, prominent bookstores — including Powell’s — were forced to lay off or furlough employees as they fought to stay in business. 

At the same time, Amazon prioritized shipments of essential goods like medical supplies and household cleaning products that were in high demand due to pandemic concerns. To make up for lost sales on Amazon, Powell’s began refocusing on customers coming to its own website, Powell told CNBC. 

Powell said that Amazon’s marketplace was “hard to give up, sort of like smoking” given that the e-commerce giant has historically been a “big sales generator” for the bookstore.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG notes that, if Powell’s was dissatisfied with Amazon, the Portland bookstore could have stopped selling books through the Big A without a huffy public announcement.

Anyone is free to stop doing business with Amazon for any reason or no reason, but cutting ties and trashing Amazon doesn’t strike PG as a particularly classy move.

As PG has mentioned before, Amazon is very popular with a great many people, particularly when Amazon has provided important products during Covid when, in many places, Amazon was the only source for such products because physical retail outlets were closed.

If you hang with Big Publishing and its crew long enough, you’re liable to catch a bad case of stupid.

Booksellers to America: Save the Post Office

From Publishers Weekly:

I recently did an experiment: I used my bookstore’s postage software to generate three quotes for shipping the same hardcover book to the same address. I knew how it would end up, but the results still shocked me. FedEx Home Delivery: $14.03. UPS Ground: $23.87. USPS Media Mail: $2.94. The results of my experiment are a clear reminder that without the United States Postal Service, independent bookstores have little chance of making it. The USPS enables the innovations indies need to survive.

My bookstore, the Raven, in Lawrence, Kans., has survived this far into the pandemic thanks to a few adaptations. One of the most crucial changes has been learning how to better ship books. While most of our business remains in eastern Kansas, without our long-distance orders we would have faced difficult decisions, like furloughing staff or cutting operations. Because we were ready to make shipping a bigger part of what we do, we’ve sent books to all 50 states. Even better, our team is intact and rent is paid. This would have been impossible without the USPS.

When the reality of the pandemic set in, the first thing the Raven did was offer free shipping on website orders. It was a desperate decision, one made out of fear and uncertainty. After it became clear our customers and community would follow us into a new bookselling reality, I ran a Twitter poll asking if people would be willing to pay $2.50 to cover shipping—99% of people said they’d pay. A poll asking people if they’d be willing to pay $15 for shipping would have had much different results.

Every decision we make at the Raven is informed by the fact that what we sell is available elsewhere at a cheaper price. In our new bookselling reality, we also have to consider that the monopolizing e-commerce competition offers free and fast shipping for those much-cheaper books. The widespread availability of free next-day shipping has permanently changed what consumers expect.

Amazon, the company largely responsible for these new expectations, can offer shipping as a loss leader. Amazon has also built its own shipping network from scratch. Independent bookstores can do neither of these things. Still, we have to somehow get a slice of the online book sales market without these cutthroat anticompetitive strategies. The USPS, by offering its inexpensive Media Mail option, provides independent bookstores a way out of this bind.

According to the office of the USPS inspector general, lower rates for educational materials originated in “the first federal postal policy, which recognized that disseminating newspapers at below-cost postage would advance the important social goal of educating the electorate.” In 1938, more than a century later, Morris L. Ernst, a lawyer and friend of President Franklin Roosevelt, ran a comparative-postage experiment not unlike my own. Ernst, working for the National Committee to Abolish Postal Discrimination Against Books, sent President Roosevelt two packages of equal weight. One contained books written by Shakespeare; the other contained “dirty magazines.” Shipping the Shakespeare cost 300% more. FDR was thereby convinced of the need for lower postage for books, and the book rate he subsequently implemented survives today as Media Mail. So Media Mail is more than just a cheap book rate; it’s the government’s show of confidence in the importance of well-read, well-informed citizens.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that the US Postal Service is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, regardless of whether they use the service, how much they use the service or whether they don’t use it at all.

From the (US) Government Accountability Office:

USPS’s overall financial condition is deteriorating and unsustainable. USPS has lost $69 billion over the past 11 fiscal years—including $3.9 billion in fiscal year 2018. USPS’s total unfunded liabilities and debt ($143 billion at the end of fiscal year 2018) have grown to double its annual revenue.

. . . .

Further, USPS has missed $48.2 billion in required payments for postal retiree health and pension benefits as of September 30, 2018. This includes $42.6 billion in missed payments for retiree health benefits since fiscal year 2010, and $5.6 billion in missed payments for pension benefits since fiscal year 2014. If USPS does not make any more payments for retiree health benefits, the fund supporting these benefits is projected by the Office of Personnel Management to be depleted in fiscal year 2030. If the fund is depleted, USPS would be required by law to make the payments necessary to cover its share of health benefits premiums for postal retirees. However, current law does not address what would happen if USPS misses those payments. Depletion of the fund, together with USPS’s potential inability to make remaining contributions, could affect postal retirees as well as USPS, customers, and other stakeholders, including the federal government.

Without bearing any ill will toward the owner of the bookstore in question, PG notes that he is effectively celebrating the fact that other people and other business organizations are providing a substantial financial subsidy to his private business.

PG is reminded of a quote from a respected economist, Herb Stein.

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

Herbert Stein

Why Organizing Workers in the Book Industry Is So Damn Hard

From Jacobin:

Workers in the book industry often suffer poor conditions and low pay, but are supposed to feel grateful for the privilege of working near books. Casting off such illusions is the first step to organizing publishers and booksellers, and fighting the exploitation that thrives in the hallowed culture industry.

. . . .

As book industry workers around the world experience destabilizing changes to their employment because of COVID-19, we’re reminded of how fragile workers’ rights can be in industries that are yet to properly organize. In Australia, when book industry workers need collective action more than ever, organizing even the smallest workplaces has proven difficult.

Compared to other creative or retail industries, union membership in the book industry has been slow, with the lack of union support placing workers in vulnerable positions. But why is organizing the book industry such hard work?

Along with the suppression and stigmatization of unions in the book industry, one of the steepest barriers to organizing is the myth of “doing it for the love of books,” which employers perpetuate to create the illusion that publishing workers are somehow exempt from the inherent exploitation of wage labor. Add to this the exclusivity of jobs in publishing and bookselling, and you’ve got yourself a submissive workforce that is largely averse to rocking the boat.

. . . .

In 2019, Penguin Random House (PRH) achieved the first union-negotiated enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) in publishing, facilitated by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), while in 2018, workers at bookshops across Melbourne successfully won a landmark protection of penalty rates and higher health and safety standards through the new but militant Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU).

As union delegates in these cases, we learned firsthand what the barriers to unionizing the book industry look like, and how they might be overcome.

. . . .

Wage stagnation nonetheless reflects the relative weakness of the modern union movement which is especially pronounced in the publishing industry where salary secrecy is rampant and wage theft obscured.

Meanwhile, bookshop workers are subject to the same issues of wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and precarity as their comrades in other retail work. Some Melbourne bookshop workers are among a group of retail, fast food, and hospitality workers who recently won protection of their penalty rates — despite a 2017 ruling by the Fair Work Commission allowing employers to reduce them — and this was only achieved because they unionized.

. . . .

At PRH, management actively repressed past efforts to organize, fostering a culture of secrecy that left staff feeling understandably anxious about criticizing workplace culture because of fear of retribution.

As Australian writer and book editor Samantha Forge wrote in 2018, “There is a sense among well-meaning, book-loving publishing workers that to ask for more, collectively, would be to imperil literary culture itself.” This atmosphere holds back discussion about the actual issues workers are facing.

Because organizing itself is considered so taboo, workers trying to build a movement are often stuck making the most elementary argument: that a union is necessary or helpful at all.

. . . .

We found that one simple but powerful method for overcoming this was to privately ask our comrades at work to describe their frustrations in their own words. At PRH, staff had made repeated requests for increased wages and paid overtime, using all the “appropriate” channels, but were stonewalled.

After inviting colleagues to speak openly about their conditions, delegates could then point to union action as the next reasonable and effective avenue for making improvements. Hardie Grant likewise refused workers’ demands for negotiations and set up a “suggestion box” instead — which members flooded with suggestions that management come to the table.

The same dynamic was apparent in bookshops, where we had to rapidly educate ourselves — and, very often, management — about our legal rights. To our knowledge, no Australian bookshop has successfully organized and negotiated an EBA with a union. The book industry has little literacy about how organized labor interacts with management, which can cause initial confusion about which union to join, what to expect, or how formal negotiations work.

. . . .

Perhaps the most persistent canard in the book trade — and one of the biggest obstacles to organization — is the idea that the work itself is pleasurable enough to justify low wages and precarity.

Bookshops in particular glamorize themselves and present shop work as something other than the alienated labor it truly is. Anyone who has worked in a bookshop can attest to the typical comments made by customers about how they would love to spend “all day reading.”

As James Daunt — the millionaire CEO of Daunt Books, Waterstones, and now Barnes and Noble — said last year, in response to the campaign waged by Waterstones’s staff for a real living wage, “To retain the best and most talented booksellers, we have to reward them, and we reward them as well as we can with pay, but we mainly reward them with a stimulating job.”

This is not to overstate the difficulty of bookshop work compared to any other kind of shop work — but rather to stress that it is just that: shop work, requiring the worker to sort, shelve, and sell products.

Daunt’s attitude is emblematic of the ideological mystification employed in the culture industry to disguise this fact. In the words of one former Waterstones employee, the fact that “many staff members didn’t put themselves in the same category as McDonalds staff or Tesco checkout assistants” undermined their last attempt at unionizing.

Link to the rest at Jacobin

Once again, a reason for right-minded people to avoid physical bookstores altogether.

The demise of the second-hand bookshop

From The Critic:

In 1973, Graham Greene wrote an introduction to a bookselling friend’s memoir. As Greene was one of the most respected writers of his day, this was no small gesture, but the author was also a committed bibliophile. The book dealer and biographer John Baxter’s memoir A Pound of Paper contains treasurable glimpses of Greene deliberately signing obscure copies of his works in far-off locations, in the certain knowledge that these items would become hugely sought-after rarities, and he remains one of the few serious literary figures who also understood the glamour and romance of the bookselling trade. In his introduction, he openly acknowledged this, writing ‘Secondhand booksellers are the most friendly and most eccentric of all the characters I have known. If I had not been a writer, theirs would have been the profession I would most happily have chosen.’

If Greene was alive today, he would look at his beloved second-hand and antiquarian bookshops with an air of sorrow, leavened with a touch of bewilderment. The recent news that one of Charing Cross’s most famous booksellers, Francis Edwards, was to close after 150 years, maintaining only a presence in Hay-on-Wye, was greeted without the anguish that it might have been otherwise. After all, covid closures are ten a penny these days, and in the era of Amazon and Abebooks, maintaining an expensive shop in central London without regular footfall might seem a folly. Yet the story of Francis Edwards, which had been allied to another shop, Quinto, since 2008, comes to epitomise the decline not only of a certain sort of retail, but sounds the death knell of an entire industry, which, despite or perhaps because of its unworldly and vaguely anachronistic nature, has remained a constant part of many people’s lives and affections for decades.

. . . .

The Oxfam bookshop on St Giles in Oxford is, for my money, the most likeable and successful of all the many Oxfam bookshops in the country. It is unique in that its stock is not just interesting and desirable, but replenished on a virtually daily basis; it is extremely rare that I walk past its front window and don’t see at least five books that I want to buy immediately. It is especially strong in history, literature and illustrated books, often selling rare and valuable items at surprisingly reasonable prices, even if the big-ticket books, lurking provocatively in a glass case, can sell for many hundreds of pounds. It was founded in 1987 as Oxfam’s first dedicated bookshop, and was opened by the author and barrister John Mortimer; he later returned two decades subsequently to celebrate the shop’s 21st birthday. It is a wonderful place, and I cannot even begin to calculate how much money I have spent there, as a student in the city, a visitor and now a resident. But it, and the other Oxfam bookshops in Britain, sounded the death knell for other, ‘normal’ bookshops.

The reasons why are simple. Every book that the Oxfam bookshop stocks has been donated, meaning firstly that there are no acquisition costs to be borne, and secondly, as the majority of the staff are volunteers, the only costs of employment are that of a manager, who can often be responsible for several different shops. Otherwise, given the charity’s abilities to claim tax relief from the government for rent and bills, it is making a considerably greater amount of profit than any competing bookshop could ever hope to do. Thus, the rest of the bookselling trade, faced with this cuckoo in the nest and the rise of internet availability, faced a simple choice: evolve, or perish. It is a shame that so many shops decided, as if it was pre-ordained, that they would shut their doors and that would be the end of that, thank you very much.

Link to the rest at The Critic

ABA Relationship with Bookshop Draws Booksellers’ Scrutiny

From Publishers Weekly:

Last month, online retail newcomer Bookshop divvied up a sales dividend of more than $1 million among 861 bookstores who use the site to sell books. It is the latest in a string of successes for the fledgling company that many booksellers, who receive a percentage of each sale made through Bookshop from their stores, praise for providing a lifeline during the coronavirus outbreak. But some booksellers say their own advocacy organization, the American Booksellers Association, is not being transparent about its financial relationship with Bookshop.

ABA’s support has been key to Bookshop’s success. Andy Hunter, founder of Catapult and Soft Skull Press, launched Bookshop in January, and the timing sheltered many American bookstores from some of the worst financial effects of the coronavirus. Through Bookshop, anyone—including but not limited to booksellers—can set up ordering pages backed by a massive book database. ABA has encouraged members to sign up, and ABA CEO Allison Hill praised Bookshop at ABA’s town hall in June. “Bookshop has reached an entirely new audience that were interested in us, but didn’t necessarily know how to buy from us,” she said. “Bookshop pulled customers from [competitors] and maybe introduced us to some new customers.”

Hunter structured Bookshop as a socially responsible B corporation and has emphasized that he believes those new customers are being drawn away from Amazon to the benefit of indies. The result, he said, is that indies have their first effective digital retail platform after years of unsuccessful ABA-led initiatives. But not all booksellers are happy about the ABA-Bookshop connection, with some expressing frustration and disappointment about how the ABA has communicated its specific ties to Bookshop.

ABA confirmed to PW that it holds a 4% stake in Bookshop, the result of the association’s $100,000 investment in the company. The investment was approved by the ABA board in February 2019, seven months before members were informed of ABA’s “affinity partnership” with Bookshop, and nearly one year before Bookshop launched. (The investment was also made before Hill took office.) In addition to its stake in Bookshop, ABA receives a 10% media-affiliate commission from click-through sales that originate from its IndieBound book database.

. . . .

Toadstool Bookshop owner Willard Williams and manager Mike Joachim did not initially see eye-to-eye about Bookshop. Both had concerns about the site and neither wanted to use it for Toadstool’s three New Hampshire stores, Joachim feeling strongly that it would lead to increased competition from nonbookseller Bookshop affiliates. Williams reserved judgment because Bookshop was helping many indie booksellers survive during the pandemic. “My understanding is that the ABA did not think IndieBound was getting enough attention and tried tinkering with it to no avail, so they jumped at the idea of Bookshop,” Williams said. “It did launch at an ideal time, given the virus disruption, and it enabled many stores to keep customers supplied with books.”

But after learning of ABA’s financial connections to Bookshop, both booksellers said they are worried they are competing with the organization that is supposed to represent their interests. “Every time a consumer in my area orders from Bookshop, I lose the sale and ABA benefits from the sale,” Joachim said. He worries that Bookshop’s pursuit of affiliate links for click-through sales only adds a new competitor alongside Amazon. “ABA is supporting and investing in a company that is aggressively seeking to pay individuals—bloggers, influencers, authors, readers in my community—to direct business away from us,” he said. Joachim is afraid that ABA is profiting from nonbooksellers who can set up Bookshop accounts while asking member stores to sign on despite Bookshop’s significantly narrower margins.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to DaveMich for the tip.

How This Bookseller Got a Spanx Grant

From Publishers Weekly:

Traveling though Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 2017, on our way to our son’s wedding in the San Juan Islands, I say to my husband, “I have to stop here to buy a Spanx.”

“What’s a Spanx?” Ben asks.

“It’s like a girdle,” I tell him.

In my bag is a slim, silk, azure blue dress to wear, but my boobs are too small to cover my middle-aged stomach. Without trying anything on I buy a couple pairs of underwear and a body suit. Who knew I would wear that Eileen Fisher dress and feel so good, and that three years later Spanx would come to my stores’ aid?

With the onset of the pandemic in March, life in my bookstore changed overnight. Bookstores did not make the list of “essential businesses.” I contacted the state to ask that Connecticut bookstores remain nonessential, but be permitted to continue selling books with the doors locked and minimal staff for curbside pickup, shipping, and delivery. With the state’s okay, two managers, our new bookkeeper, and the event coordinator remained. Over 30 staff were furloughed.

First quarter in New England is habitually slow. This year, we owed thousands of dollars to our vendors. We asked publishers to hold shipments and cancel all forthcoming orders for spring and summer. A few other booksellers and I wrote a letter to the five major publishers in New York with a list of asks: better terms, longer dating on invoices, forgiveness of debt, and much more.

. . . .

Conversations with my bookkeeper were tough. She didn’t see how we were going to make it through this. Neither did I. I googled how to declare bankruptcy. I have two bookstores. What would I do if we could save one store and not the other? Which one would we save?

We needed every cent we could find to make it through this crisis.

. . . .

I was negotiating rent with our Mystic landlords in April, and one of them told me about a grant that the founder of Spanx was offering. Sara Blakely, who’d started Spanx with $5,000 in savings, was offering 1,000 grants of $5,000 each to women-owned businesses through the Red Backpack Fund. We applied. Why not? When we received an email saying that we’d been awarded a $5,000 grant, I was overwhelmed. The money came, along with a red Herschel backpack that will make me smile each time it sits on my back.

The world now looks a little brighter. If I miss my walk or take a shorter one, I still feel okay. The salt water is now warm enough to swim. Zoom calls with other bookstore owners in Wichita, Kans.; South Hadley, Mass.; New York; and San Francisco keep us all going.

We are in business. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

It’s Time to Radically Rethink Online Book Events

From Electric Lit:

Before the stay-at-home orders came down in Baltimore, the last thing I did in person was participate in a panel conversation about—ironically—“art and the apocalypse.” In retrospect, we should have cancelled, but the threat in Maryland still felt surreal; those were the days when it seemed like we could beat the pandemic by washing our hands.

I’ve been thinking about that panel a lot lately because my first novel is coming out in August, and I’ve been trying to envision a book launch without an in-person event. I’m embarrassed to be grieving for this tiny problem, which is less than negligible compared to all we have witnessed this year. But publishing a novel has been a lifelong dream for me, and book events have been an important part of that dream—because other authors’ events have been such meaningful parts of my own inspiration. I have vivid memories of electric readings by Victor LaValle, César Aira, and Tim O’Brien. I got teary-eyed watching a hundred public school kids crowd in to see D. Watkins at the Baltimore Book Festival. After hearing Valeria Luiselli speak about The Story of my Teeth, I was so inspired I wrote an entire short story in an afternoon. When my dreams have felt far away, when my fiction has seemed meager and hopeless, I have gone to a bookstore and sat on a folding chair and been reminded that books are my spirituality—they are my connection to my own humanity, and to my understanding of grace in others. The magic of a book event is in the revelation, fresh every time, that my very favorite thing to do, a thing I do mostly alone, is also the thing that connects me most closely to other people. 

As COVID has become our new normal, book events have started up again, in virtual formats. But like every other online substitute we’ve instituted—family Zoom calls, Instagram birthday wishes—these internet readings have lacked some of the magic of human connection. Is there a way to recapture that magic online?

. . . .

By the third week, I had swung from denial to despair at the never-ending stream of news of illness and death, health care system failures and government malfeasance. The experience of these months reminds me of when I fall asleep on the couch watching a movie and then refuse to get up to go to bed. I know that I will feel terrible sleeping on the couch, but all I want to do is keep sleeping on the couch. My friend Nicole calls this feeling “special features,” because back in the days of DVD, she would demand her partner play the special features after the movie so that she could continue to sleep. By my fifth week of staying at home, I felt like I was living in special features.

To alleviate the loneliness, I found solace in online book events. Bookstores and literary festivals, podcasts and grassroots publicity efforts, and publishers and authors had intrepidly brought their work and energy online, gathering readers together despite the pandemic with heroic success. I went to more book events online in April than I have ever been to in a physical month; there were nights I hopped between three different conversations, from Zoom to Crowdcast to Instagram Live; it was like wandering through a literary night market, the tents all patchwork-stitched together but the doorways tacked open to warm, inviting fires inside. In those first three lonely months, wandering through this nightly market has been a comfort.

But lately, I’ve started to wonder why these events have not yet evolved. Most events are still following the old-fashioned format of the in-person bookstore event, where two authors have a conversation, maybe with a short reading, maybe with an audience Q&A. Rather than developing new ideas for book events to suit the technology we’re using, the literary community is by and large continuing to do what we’ve always done. 

Don’t get me wrong—many of these events have been truly excellent. But the internet, which can be thrilling and inspiring and creative, rarely mimics the conventions of the physical world. So why are we still circumscribing book events according to the limits of what is possible in person? 

These restrictions are not ideal for digital space. In bookstores, the “in conversation” model works because it gives you the inspiration of being in the same room as the author, as well as the excitement of being part of an audience. Neither of those translates organically to Zoom or Instagram Live, where it doesn’t really feel like you’re in the same room. And while there is often a chat box, or little hearts floating up the screen when people “like” something, the sensation of being part of the crowd is abstract. Without this sense of community, some online book events have left me feeling lonelier than I was before. 

It’s time to start experimenting—and to try radically reinventing what a “book event” can be, in this radically different year. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG has six reactions to the OP.

  1. Don’t look to traditional publishing for technological innovation. Not in their DNA, not in their bloodstream, not in their frame of reference, not in their world.
  2. A great many authors are introverts and speaking to a large group of people, let alone pitching their books to a large group of strangers is akin to medieval torture. Some will put together a schtick-style personality to use in signings, but they still may not enjoy the experience, particularly if they have to repeat their schtick night after night. It’s even more depressing if they spend all prime writing time away from their keyboard and don’t sell very many books.
  3. What portion of readers will buy books in physical bookstores in the future? The historical origin of book signings is based upon the belief that if you can draw a lot of people to a physical bookstore and they hear an author talk about a book, they’ll pick up a copy before they leave. This assumes that they 1) prefer physical books to ebooks and 2) won’t pick up their cell phone and order the book from Amazon for a lower price, perhaps even while they’re listening to an author talk about the book.
  4. If Amazon is the preferred place for a lot of people to purchase books, why not focus energy and money online, where purchasing a book is a click away?
  5. If you catch a bookseller in a candid mood, they’ll admit that book signings are a pain to deal with. They have to keep at least one more person working in order to handle a crowd, which costs money. You have to order more copies of the book than you ordinarily would to make certain you have something to sell to people who attend, but you also probably have to pay someone to return a bunch of unsold books so you can use your limited budget to buy different books that people will buy. If someone outside the store wants to make a quick visit to buy a book and sees a mob of people in the front window, isn’t it possible that they may skip the purchase or go elsewhere because they don’t want to spend the time necessary to work through the throng to locate and purchase their book? Plus, maybe have to track down someone to take their payment.
  6. With regard to online gatherings, PG notes that human beings are marvelously adaptive creatures. Certainly, we like to physically gather with kindred spirits, but we can also become more accustomed to seeing someone’s face on an iPad. PG has already seen improvements in the quality of online presentations and meetings because a perceptive individual will try to improve her/his performance in a business/commercial setting, whether it’s a conference room, bookstore, coffee-shop interview or in a video conference. At the beginning of this pandemic, nobody seemed to think about their cat playing in the background during a video call. Now, only the terminally clueless fail to put pussy into another room and shut the door. And, if you’re dressed properly only from the waist on up, you should expect to show up on YouTube in your underpants, you idiot.

PG suggests that the book signing is an outmoded publicity technique whose time has past. If an author values his/her time, it is unlikely to be worth the time, effort and queasiness involved in talking to a bunch of strangers while worrying about flop sweat on your forehead and in your armpits.

Powell’s Books Closes Airport Store Permanently

From Shelf Awareness:

Powell’s Books has closed its store and kiosk at Portland International Airport permanently. Owner Emily Powell said, “Closing the airport store is a sad necessity as we face the months ahead. The privilege of welcoming book lovers to Portland, and sending Portlanders off on their travels with a good book in hand, has been a true gift. It’s hard for me to imagine our future without the airport, and without the airport’s seasoned team of booksellers. We hope to return one day.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

US Book Publishing Remains Resilient: Print and Ebook Sales Are Growing

From Jane Friedman:

As much of the retail world faces crisis, book publishing is positioned to grow in terms of unit sales when compared to 2019. In fact, 2020 may prove to be one of the strongest sales years in recent memory.

A few factors are likely contributing to the resilience of sales:

  • the prevalence of online purchasing in the US market (driven by Amazon, of course)
  • the strength of Ingram’s print-on-demand operations in the US—and the overall robustness of the US supply chain thus far
  • the current events/bestseller effect, with race relations and politics driving high sales of titles such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. (Outperforming titles can bring a book category into a growth position or soften—even turn around—a decline for the market.)
  • the high adoption rate of ebooks and audiobooks in the US market prior to the pandemic
  • the migration of print sales to big-box retailers, as written about by the New York Times.

Let’s dig deeper into what’s happening.

US print unit sales are up by 3.6% so far versus 2019

As much of the retail world faces crisis, book publishing is positioned to grow in terms of unit sales when compared to 2019. In fact, 2020 may prove to be one of the strongest sales years in recent memory.

A few factors are likely contributing to the resilience of sales:

  • the prevalence of online purchasing in the US market (driven by Amazon, of course)
  • the strength of Ingram’s print-on-demand operations in the US—and the overall robustness of the US supply chain thus far
  • the current events/bestseller effect, with race relations and politics driving high sales of titles such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. (Outperforming titles can bring a book category into a growth position or soften—even turn around—a decline for the market.)
  • the high adoption rate of ebooks and audiobooks in the US market prior to the pandemic
  • the migration of print sales to big-box retailers, as written about by the New York Times.

Let’s dig deeper into what’s happening.

US ebook sales are up by 4% versus last year—an excellent result

US traditional publishers report 4.3% growth in ebook sales through May 2020, after years of decline. All of that growth is the result of the pandemic; during the first three months of 2020, NPD showed ebook sales down 18% versus 2019. Publishing Perspectives offers more detail on ebook sales trends, with category-specific information.

Bricks-and-mortar bookstore sales are down

The US Census Bureau publishes preliminary estimates of bookstore sales, and even though print unit sales are up according to NPD BookScan, the government report shows bookstore sales declining by 33 percent in March, 65 percent in April, and 59 percent in May. The most obvious explanation for why book publishing continues to perform well as an industry: print sales have drifted to online channels, such as Amazon or Bookshop, and to big-box stores.

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt says that its sales are down about 20 percent overall from last year.

. . . .

What might happen next?


According to Kristen McLean at NPD Books, it won’t be demand that determines the industry’s future. Rather, she says it will be driven by:

  1. The stability of the channels which are currently selling and delivering books. Will stores stay open? Will the supply chain (printers, print-on-demand facilities, other delivery channels) remain resilient?
  2. The length and depth of the economic crisis which has been unfolding. Will governments help consumers, businesses and others?
  3. The pre-existing (financial) health of the businesses in the traditional book industry. Do they have the capital and the resources to get through this?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Ms. Friedman has always impressed PG as an intelligent, articulate and insightful expert on the book business. However, the questions she includes at the end of her post from Ms. McLean are not those that come to PG’s mind after reading the OP.

Are traditional bookstores important any more?

Book sales seem to have done well during at least the early part of the pandemic, but traditional bookstores have, by and large, been pretty much shut down. How many of these generally thinly-capitalized businesses will be closed permanently is an open question.

But if traditional publishing sales have held up, perhaps Amazon really is the future for readers and publishers will be fine when competing head-to-head with indie authors on Amazon’s pages.

Anything troubling about strong sales of traditionally published books in Big Box stores?

PG only has current knowledge about the Big Box stores he slips into and out of, trying not to inhale too much. His experience is that Big Box stores had been reducing the amount of floor space devoted to books over the several months prior to the arrival of the current plague. He can’t say he’s paid much attention to that element of Big Box retailing recently.

However, Big Box stores routinely sell books at significant discounts from list price. The same book at the local Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore will cost much more.

PG suspects that at least some serious readers may have previously ignored the book displays in the Big Box stores on their way to fill up their carts with large quantities of diapers, soup and chocolate-chip cookies.

If book sales at Big Box stores are strong during this current time period, are serious readers going to stop buying nicely-priced books at the local Big Box and pay more at their local B&N when Covid fades into history? Or will readers default to Big Box to pick up a current best-seller? As mentioned previously, it won’t take much of a permanent decline in business to close a lot of bookstores for good.

How many people will keep buying lots of stuff (including books) from Amazon?

PG believes that more than a few readers who regularly purchased books from their local bookstore prior to Covid have continued to buy books – from Amazon. (Yes, PG knows there are other online bookstores, but he’s looking at the big picture here.)

Just like the Big Box customer, some readers who have done serious book shopping on Amazon for the first time will have become accustomed to the experience and enjoyed it. Instead of asking their good friend at Friendly Books Bookstore for book recommendations, some of these readers have discovered AlsoBoughts and intelligent Amazon customer reviews. Since Amazon always pays attention to what its customers purchase, the Amazon computers will regularly be suggesting other books the reader might enjoy and getting smarter with those suggestions.

Better prices online are also a big plus, particularly if the family income has taken a hit from Covid and its consequences.

Some readers will recognize that nobody ever got Covid (or any other transmissible disease) from buying an ebook online. Plus ebooks are cheaper and you can get them right away, any time and anywhere.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about how many people were coughing, sneezing and caressing the books in the romance section before you arrived at your local Barnes & Noble. Plus+Plus, nobody will see you browsing through the steamy titles on Amazon.

What is the new normal going to look like?

PG believes we don’t really know what the mid-term and long-term economic results of Covid shutdowns will be. A great many people, at least in the United States, are operating on credit cards, savings, the occasional government Covid check and some sort of income generated via reduced hours, one of two working spouses still working, etc.

The big economic question for PG (who is a lawyer, not an economist) is how many businesses will reopen when the shutdowns end, how many will be closed for good and what will those businesses that do reopen look like. Half of their employees temporarily laid off until business picks up? How many will never be asked to return? Some business locations reopened and others permanently closed?

What will the new normal look like and how long will it take to arrive there?

Closer to home, PG is, unfortunately, quite confident that there will be significantly fewer retail locations in the business of primarily selling books. If the local bookstore closes, how many people will decide not to travel farther to the next-closest bookstore?

Barnes & Noble Regroups and Looks Ahead

From Publishers Weekly:

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt began his tenure with a baptism by fire. He took over the role in September and made some tweaks to B&N’s holiday merchandising and a few personnel changes. He was expecting to make more extensive changes early this year. But then Covid-19 forced B&N to close all but 24 stores to in-person shopping.

By early July, all but one store had been reopened, Daunt told PW. The company is following all local mandates, including limiting the number of customers in each store at a given time, establishing social distancing protocols, and creating designated areas where customers can leave books they have touched but decided not to buy (those books are then sanitized before being returned to shelves).

It is Daunt’s belief that bookstores are fairly well constructed to operate in a coronavirus environment, since many, especially B&N outlets, are relatively large and can accommodate social distancing. He added, however, that B&N is being cautious and has adopted a go-slow approach to opening its cafés. “We are doing what we are told,” he said.

After Daunt was forced to close the majority of B&N’s stores, he decided to redesign 350 of them—a process that he had thought would take up to two years but that took about seven weeks with no foot traffic. He gave great credit to the booksellers who handled the shifts. “Every piece of furniture had to be moved,” he said. “All the shelves were moved.” The new look, he added, “is a substantial and dramatic change” that involved not only making the stores brighter but also reorganizing their book categories and improving the selection.

Daunt believes the effort shows a new spirit among B&N’s booksellers. He acknowledged that the business is in a difficult period but said that can bring out the best in people. Moreover, he gets a sense that booksellers believe they are “in a fight that can be won. They are building a great bookstore.”

. . . .

E-book sales have seen a “huge boost” since the pandemic hit, Daunt said, noting that the Nook app has gained some traction.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Bookstore Sales Fall 59.9% in May

From Shelf Awareness:

In the third month of data reflecting public health measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, including the closure of many stores, sales at bookstores in May dropped 59.9%, to $271 million, compared to May 2019, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates. In the first five months of the year, bookstore sales fell 32.1%, to $2.36 billion. In March, bookstore sales had dropped 33.2%, to $392 million, and in April bookstore sales dropped 74.1%, to $163 million.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Layoffs at Foyles as Buying Centralized at Waterstones

From Shelf Awareness:

Similar to the layoffs of longtime buyers at Barnes & Noble last month, Foyles–the small British chain also owned by Elliott Management and run by Waterstones managing director/B&N CEO James Daunt–has let go several buyers, as well as a group store manager, according to the Bookseller. The moves follow the layoffs at Foyles of three category buyer roles last October, when the company said that Foyles’ buying would be integrated with and centralized at Waterstones with “a bespoke layer of ordering placed on top of this by the Foyles team.”

Among those let go from Foyles last week was Jasper Sutcliffe, head of buying and an employee for more than 20 years; Abel Dos Santos, gifts and stationery buyer; and area manager Patrizia Sorrentino, responsible for all Foyles shops except the Charing Cross Road flagship location.

Waterstones confirmed that “a small number of roles” had been eliminated, adding, “This was not an easy decision and we would like to thank all those affected for all their hard work. Foyles will retain its unique identity in the same way Hatchards and Hodges Figgis [other bookshops acquired by Waterstones] have retained theirs, through good bookselling and catering to each shop’s customer base. 

. . . .

Less than a month ago, Barnes & Noble instituted a range of permanent layoffs, including such longtime employees as literary fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley, who had been with B&N about 35 years; SF/fantasy and graphics novel buyer James Killen, who had been with B&N 41 years; buyer David Garber, a 25-year veteran; and Lisa Echenthal, a 28-year veteran.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG says it appears that loyalty doesn’t pay in an organization managed by James Daunt. He has no idea where a book buyer with a 25-40 year career with Barnes & Noble goes to find work.

Sounds like sticking with a bookstore through thick and thin may not be a very good career strategy in the 21st century.

PG wouldn’t be surprised if flocks of résumés were observed flying out of Barnes & Noble, Waterstons and Folyes at a high rate of speed. If he is correct, PG will note that, under such circumstances, employees who are talented and who an employer may be desiring to keep are often among the first to locate new jobs elsewhere. Many of those who remain may fall into the category of being someone no one else wants to hire.

There’s a tried and tested maxim that the best time to find a new job is before you need one.

May Publishing Sales Fell 12.1%

From Publishers Weekly:

Net sales fell 12.1% in May, compared to May 2019, for the 1,360 publishers who report to AAP’s monthly StatShot program. Similar to the April report, the net sales figure was heavily influenced by a steep drop in returns, which offset a decline in gross sales in the month. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.)

Total gross sales fell 17.4% in May, but returns dropped 45.2%, leading to the 12.1% decline in net sales. Religion was the only category to have an increase in gross sales in the month, of 0.2%, and combined with a 38.9% drop in returns, the category had a 7% increase in net sales.

In the trade segments, adult book gross sales fell 17.5%, but a 41.8% decline in returns kept the net sales loss to 11%.The May report did show the first big jump in e-book sales since the pandemic struck, with sales up 30.6% over May 2019, an increase that helped to offset print declines. The gain lifted sales of e-books up by 4.3% for the first five months of 2020. Downloadable audio sales rose 18.6% in the month.

In the children’s/young adult category, gross sales were off 12%, but returns plunged 46.2%, resulting in a 4.9% decline in net sales. E-book sales at the reporting publishers spiked nearly 140% over May 2019, but still accounted for only 3% of total sales.

Publishers have been bracing for the possibility of heavy returns as bookstores start to reopen and send back books they didn’t have a chance to sell, but even as some trade bookstores began opening their doors in May, returns still fell noticeably compared to a year ago.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

With a Plunge in Returns, Net Sales Fell 3.5% in April

From Publishers Weekly:

Net publishing sales fell 3.5% in April compared to April 2019 for the 1,361 publishers who report revenue to AAP’s StatShot program. The small decline, however, is deceiving. Gross sales fell in the monthly comparison, dropping 16%, but were offset by a nearly 49% drop in returns. (AAP calculates net sales by deducting returns from gross sales.) Returns were down in every category and point to an issue that many publishers are keeping an eye on—the possibility of heavy returns when bookstores reopen after closing because of the pandemic.

Nearly all college stores were closed in April, leading to a 57.9% decline in returns to publishers of higher educational course materials in the month compared to 2019. And even though gross sales fell 30.8% in the month, the plunge in returns led to a 139.8% increase in net sales in the category. The AAP said it expects an increase in returns in the category in future months as stores, distributors, colleges, and universities reopen.

. . . .

The same, but less extreme, pattern was seen in the two trade categories. Gross sales of adult books fell 16.4% in April, but returns dropped by 46.3%, resulting in a 7% decline in net sales. Many chain and independent bookstores were closed in April and unable to return books, but they are now slowly reopening and may soon start shipping back unsold copies. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

What Could Kill My New York Bookstores?

From The New York Times:

Every weekday I drive to my four bookstores, pick up our customers’ orders, wedge them into the back of my car and take them to the Cooper Station post office. My route takes me to Williamsburg to Downtown Brooklyn to the South Street Seaport, and ends at my original store in NoLIta.

I sweep the deserted sidewalks — if you own a shop, you’re responsible for the sidewalk — and I wonder how many of the stores and restaurants around mine will be able to reopen and pay the debts they accrued during the lockdown.

So many closed long before the pandemic. I miss my old neighbors in NoLIta, the restaurants and their chefs, the bodega that magically had everything I needed, like Mary Poppins’s carpetbag, the Buddhist monk from the Tibetan store who gave me cardamom for tea, the bar where I had the most beautiful date of my life.

How many more distinctive stores and restaurants can our city lose before we find that we are no longer New York, but a dead-faced simulacrum?

. . . .

Years before Covid, many city blocks had been reduced to a few overlit national chains — Dunkin’ Donuts, Metro by T-Mobile, Subway, Starbucks — and a whole lot of dark, depressing vacancies. Almost every business owner I spoke to or read about seemed to give the same reason: soaring rents. In some neighborhoods, even as vacancies are increasing, rent keeps rising.

When you think about it, this violates everything we think we know about free markets. From 2007 to 2017, vacant retail space roughly doubled, according to a report by the New York City Comptroller’s Office. Logic would dictate that rents would drop — if no one wants your space, wouldn’t you lower the rent? But in fact, in Manhattan, retail rents rose by 22 percent in that period, according to the report.

In 2018, even the national chains began closing more spaces than they opened. Rents have come down somewhat in a few heavy shopping arteries, but on the streets where I was looking to open stores, rents didn’t seem to budge. In 2019, rent for my NoLIta store jumped from $360,000 a year to $650,000.

You might think that small businesses in New York are simply natural victims of a Darwinian system that favors chains and e-commerce. Amazon makes a good villain. Every time I see a postal worker pushing a dolly full of boxes, I search for a single non-Amazon package — just one to break the feeling that I’m trapped in an Amazon-branded virtual reality. I am usually disappointed.

But this hardly explains our rising rents. If New Yorkers insist on shopping online, then there should be less demand for New York retail space, and it should become less valuable, not more. It is natural for landlords to want to charge as much as they can, but in a rational world, with citywide vacancy rates estimated at about 6 percent to 20 percent, you’d think landlords would prefer some rent to no rent. But when landlords have sufficient income from residential rent, they can afford to leave stores vacant.

. . . .

Every part of New York has different issues with real estate, but in the neighborhoods I know, landlords are holding out for higher rents, or they feel they can’t lower our rents because of the terms of their mortgages. That makes us victims of the financial industry, not of the free market.

A lender provides a commercial mortgage based on a building’s appraised value, which is based on its rent roll. If landlords lower rent, their buildings become less valuable. Moreover, if a landlord owns many buildings in the same area, and she lowers the rent on even just a store or two, her entire portfolio loses value in the eyes of the bank, because future appraisals will assume a lower market rental rate. That’s why an empty store that theoretically commands a high rent can be a safer option for a landlord than a reliable tenant paying a reasonable rent.

. . . .

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, have spoken out in favor of a tax on empty storefronts. The District of Columbia imposed a similar tax in 2011, and San Francisco followed suit this year. Although it doesn’t address the mortgage issue, this could be a terrific first step to encourage landlords to charge realistic rents that reflect the actual value of their spaces.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG says that it seems like everything is more complicated in New York City.

That may be one reason why the state of New York has more attorneys than any other state in the United States.

It’s even ahead of California, which is #2, even though California has about twice as many residents as New York does.

What Happens to Powell’s Books When You Can’t Browse the Aisles?

From The New York Times:

Powell’s Books was selling books online before Amazon.com existed. Over the years, its flagship store grew to occupy a full city block in Portland, Ore. And the company, which until recently employed some 500 people, is still family owned.

But when the coronavirus hit, Powell’s — like many businesses around the world — suddenly faced an existential crisis. Its chief executive, Emily Powell, closed the company’s stores in mid March. Without customers browsing the aisles, revenues dried up immediately, and the company’s head count was slashed by some 90 percent in a matter of days.

As word of the layoffs spread, online orders spiked, allowing Powell’s to rehire many workers. Yet with its stores still closed and the virus still spreading, Ms. Powell — who took over the business from her father and grandfather — says it remains unclear how a sprawling used bookstore will be able to safely reopen to the public.

. . . .

How was Powell’s able to succeed in the era of Amazon?

Most of the credit goes to my father and grandfather. My grandfather never limited his vision of what the bookstore could be. He was one of the first to put used books and new books together on the shelf, so you could afford to take a chance on a book you might not feel like splurging on a hardcover copy of. That synergy has been everything for our business. And my father brought to the table a willingness to say, “If customers are buying this many books and there are more books out there, why not make it bigger? Could we take over the next part of this block?” Those two pieces I think were really the foundation of what has made us what we are.

Amazon came along relatively late into our story. We went online ourselves in 1994, which was just slightly before Amazon, but we were already very well established as a very large independent bookseller with very large inventory and selection.

When did the virus first start to disrupt the business?

I remember a Friday, the 13th of March, coming around and feeling a very clear sense at that point we were going to have to close. We are just too big of a space and we did not feel like we could stay open and potentially participate in a spread of a virus. And our employees were feeling increasingly uncomfortable about coming to work. We are a big public space, lots of people in and out, lots of travelers visiting. It was feeling increasingly uncomfortable to them and we could not stay open and potentially risk infecting them as well. So on Sunday the 15th, we just decided we have to shut right now.

After you closed and had to lay off so many staff, how did the community respond?

We suddenly had this huge outpouring of support in the form of online orders. So we pivoted as quickly as we could to hire folks back to be able to fulfill those orders. That was honestly the most challenging time in many ways because there were just so many unknowns and, rightly, a lot of folks did not want to come back to work. It’s a scary time. They didn’t feel safe or comfortable getting on a bus. They didn’t have child care. They have folks with health issues at home. And so it was a very difficult time for employees to make a choice about what is the right thing for me and for my family. And I respect all of those choices that they were wrestling with. But at the same time it meant our orders were sitting for quite some time.

. . . .

What is the outlook for the next few months?

The real honest answer is, I don’t know. I think of ourselves right now as having been very fortunate. If you use a surfing metaphor, we were on our board and a huge wave was coming for us and we paddled as hard as we could. We didn’t know if it was going to crash on our head or not. We caught the wave and now we’re on it. And the problem is we don’t know if it’s going to crash us on a rocky beach without any food, if there’s a shark hiding in the wave or if we’re going to ride this thing out and land on a nice soft beach down the road. A lot depends on what happens in the next six to 18 months. It depends on both our ability to rise to the current challenge and find ways to be creative, but also on the support of our customers being willing to keep coming back and stay with us through the duration. So it’s really an unknown at the moment.

It doesn’t sound like the stores are opening anytime soon. You recently wrote that “like so many other Portland businesses, we struggle to see a business model where we can enact the social distancing and safety measures we feel are necessary while sustaining the work of our operations.” That’s a pretty grim assessment.

In many ways the book business hasn’t changed in a very long time and that’s certainly no different for Powell’s. When we opened, all we needed were wooden bookshelves, a rotary phone, a cash register and cash. Now we, like many other retailers, need social media. We need dev ops engineers to build an automated website. We need a database that lives in the cloud that’s searchable in a very nuanced way. There are far more costs to doing business. So we have these expenses that have been going up for a very long time, and now we have very few of the sales, and we anticipate when we open the sales will be quite low even as folks come back.

So how do you make that work? Especially as we add the additional expense of creating a very safe environment for our employees and for our customers. You have to be comfortable touching a book, pulling it off a shelf and putting it back and lingering in an aisle. And that’s going to take quite a bit of work on our part, which we’re happy to do, but we have to be able to pay our bills at the same time. So that’s the essential struggle: How do you exist in this modern business retail environment at a time when your sales have returned to a level you maybe haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years? We will figure it out, but it will be a very different business and it’s going to take us some time.

. . . .

Do you have any advice you for someone considering opening an independent bookstore of their own right now?

Don’t do it. Um, that’s not good advice. I don’t mean that. It is really a lovely line of work. My only advice is that it will always be challenging. You know, don’t get into the business thinking that if you sort of get a few things right in the beginning that then it will just work and I don’t have to think about it again. The work of book selling is always challenging. There’s always something new, whether it was the big box stores in the ’90s, and then Amazon and now this. There’s always something.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

As bookstores in France re-open, early euphoria gives way to plummeting book sales in week two

From The New Publishing Standard:

After a long and painful lockdown it was hardly surprising that many booklovers made a beeline for their nearest bookstore when the green light was given for booksellers to re-open their doors.

From May 11-17 unit sales in bricks & mortar stores were up 6.8% and revenue up 2.7% as lovers of the printed book rushed to get new stock.

But the long lockdown had also introduced many French booklovers to the convenience of digital, be it buying print books online (tempered by the closure for a while of the Amazon warehouses in France) or discovering the delights of the digital book.

Too soon to say how the new normal will level out, and among the factors impacting print book sales will be consumer income that will have taken a hit during lockdown. But the big fear, now seemingly being realised, was that some bookstore buyers may never come back.

In the second week of “deconfinement”, May 18-24, reports Livres Hebdo using statistics from GFK, book sales fell 8% in value and 9.1% in unit sales, and compared to the same period in 2019 revenue was down 10.9% and unit sales down 6.4%.

. . . .

[I]t may well be that it is not publishing per se that has taken the hit, but bricks & mortar book-selling, and that as the new normal settles in publishers may not be any worse off financially, just facing new marketing challenges where ebooks, digital audio and online print sales are a much bigger part of the retail landscape than hitherto.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG notes that, unlike the world of bricks and mortar, on Amazon and other digital sales venues, books from traditional publishers sit side-by-side with books from indie authors.

Readers who have been hammered financially over the past several weeks or months may be even more interested in the reasonable prices of indie ebooks compared to those from traditional publishing. At a minimum, they won’t have the same ability to engage in discretionary spending that they enjoyed a few months ago.

Even those few without significant financial scars may be frightened by their view of their fellows and less apt to spend freely even if they can afford to do so. Who knows, in some circles, spending lots of money may be regarded as unseemly when so many people are suffering financially and emotionally.

Physical bookstores are/were the one market where Big Publishing could sell books without the contemporaneous exposure to price competition from indie authors.

It is inevitable that B&M bookstores will take a significant financial hit from the long shut-downs and continuing economic crash in many parts of the world. Bookstores are, after all, subject to the same forces that affect the larger retailing world.

Some bookstores will simply not be able to afford to reopen. We don’t know how many will fall into that category, but PG thinks it will be a large number. Many indie bookstores are shoe-string operations that were chronically under-capitalized prior to the virus event.

PG has no doubt that publishers will do their best to stuff all bookstores full of physical books, but if the stores haven’t already defaulted on their lease payments and facing eviction notices, the owners may discover that they’re too far in the hole to afford to pay rent, utilities, staff, etc., and decide to cut their losses and walk away (or hide away to avoid lawsuits).

What we don’t know is how many bookstores will try to reopen only to close permanently when they discover that, even with fewer meatspace competitors and a little bit of cash in reserve, a large share of their customers aren’t coming back.

PG doesn’t take pleasure in predicting a financial and emotional disaster for owners of small bookstores. He never likes to see anyone forced out of business by events they can’t control.

However, PG will say that the Virus Months have accelerated the timing of a financial collapse of the traditional book business which, even in the absence of plague, would have occurred, perhaps less suddenly, at some future time.

Canada’s publishers face deluge of returns as bookstores re-open after eight weeks lockdown and a 63% drop in sales

From The New Publishing Standard:

Canada’s book publishing trade association Booknet is warning that as bookstores open their doors there will be even more books than usual being sent back unsold and unwanted.

While some bookstores have managed to maintain curbside sales, overall bricks & mortar sales are down about 63% and bookstores are sitting on case after case of unsold books that there is unlikely to be sufficient demand for as high street trade gradually resumes.

Canada’s The Star quotes Booknet Canada’s Noah Genner as saying:

If we just look at physical bookstores, so not online retailers, but mostly physical bookstores, they’re down almost 63 per cent year over year for the period. So 63 per cent in unit sales. That is hugely significant.

. . . .

The returns model, introduced last century to give bookstores flexibility to stock more books than they needed at no risk, is not just a Canadian problem but a model used around the world, and in normal circumstances the expectation of returns is factored into the production costs, so would not be a heavy drain on publisher profits.

But now publishers face not only the loss of sales for the lockdown duration (and however long it takes for some degree of normal trading to resume) but also an exceptional excess of unsold titles that will end up being pulped or more likely sold off to remaindered operations for re-sale.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG says that the book returns system is a twist on vendor financing, which, outside of the book business, typically happens when the retailer can’t qualify for conventional financing in order to pay for its purchases from a bank or other financial institution.

In the reality-based business world, vendor financing is often regarded as an indication that the customer isn’t in very good financial shape and doesn’t have enough working capital to operate its business. It can also be regarded as an indication that the vendor has a hard time selling its inventory unless it becomes what is, in effect, a bank or finance company for its customers.

Vendors often offer a price discount if the purchaser pays within X time period. This may be structured as follows: The Seller offers a 2% discount on an invoice due in 30 days if the buyer pays within the first 10 days of receiving the invoice. This usually doesn’t carry the same taint as vendor financing over a much longer period of time.

Why book prizes matter more than ever

From The Bookseller:

The pandemic and lockdown have affected the book industry from the fate of distributors to the closure of independent shops to the drop in individual book sales, and many literary prizes have this year postponed their announcements. But the Desmond Elliott Prize, for the first time under aegis of the National Centre for Writing, is keeping to its schedule: the selectors read hundreds of entries, and presented the judges, Sinéad Gleeson, Sonia Sodha and me with ten new voices, from which we will choose a shortlist of three, and announce a winner in July. Going ahead may seem contrary, but a Prize is meant to help bring a book to readers, and so feels even more necessary while other important debut rites of passage are now being missed.

. . . .

Although all of this year’s longlistees were at pains to say that this moment is much bigger than them, current conditions will affect them and the reach of their work. As Love and Other Thought Experiments author Sophie Ward told us, “Everyone warned me that it is very quiet after a book comes out, but no one expected it to be as quiet as this!”

Those with more recent publication dates face even more challenges. Reviews for Jessica Moor’s Keeper ran the week the lockdown began – this would be tough for any book; but particularly for a debut. “People have other things on their mind now and that is absolutely as it should be, but I’m not going to be Panglossian about it – this wasn’t what I hoped for,” she explained. Meanwhile Abi Daré, author of The Girl with the Louding Voice, has not even had a chance to see her book in a bookshop yet.

Alex Allison (The Art of the Body), Oisín Fagan (Nobber) and Okechukwu Nzelu (The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney) are among those to have had events cancelled. For Alex this was particularly pertinent given the protagonists in his debut are a carer and their disabled client. Foyles was due to host a special event that would be free to careers and people with disabilities, but it had to be cancelled as these groups are more vulnerable to Covid-19.

. . . .

A work can only speak for itself if readers can find it, and while some of the longlisted writers are following advice from Leena Norms’ online seminar ‘How to Launch a Book During a Pandemic,’ and others are gaining endorsement from more established writers who support new voices online, not all use social media or have large followings to begin with.

Prize longlists create a natural cluster for book bloggers, or booksellers with online stores to consider: the same for virtual festivals that are being organised now. These more formal debut showcases can not only place writers with their fellow newcomers (helping to connect them to ‘a tribe’ in a highly competitive market-driven world) but also to scouts for other prizes and online events. In fact, the potential of virtual support might help these books reach more readers than discrete or ticketed events alone would.

Still, one of my favourite of all public book rites is signings. It seems impossible now, that one after another, complete strangers queue to buy your book then hand it to you; you sign it, and hand it back. Whether I am getting a book signed by a writer I admire or I am on the other side of the table, no matter how long or short the queue is, that moment of exchange is electric.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG isn’t an expert on the British retail book business, but Mrs. PG gave up bookstore signings a long time before she went indie. Too much time and effort for too little return.

For most authors, PG suspects signings are a waste of time. If they’re really good for sales, send someone from the publisher’s marketing department out with a bag full of tchotchkes and a cool rubber stamp with the author’s signature on it. You could even color-coordinate the ink color of the stamp with the cover.

For authors who are introverts, signings can feel like two hours of hell.

After spending several months buying books from Amazon online or borrowing ebooks from their local library online, some readers will undoubtedly be happy to return to physical bookstores.

However, PG suspects that Amazon has gained a lot of permanent customers who find the online purchasing experience satisfying and filled with a lot more information sources than any physical bookstore is.

Making a special trip to a physical bookstore may seem a bit more archaic than it does now.

How Booksellers Can Plan for an Uncertain Future

From Publishers Weekly:

Among the issues booksellers will need to address when they reopen their stores is the community-gathering role they play through author and book-related events. As the owner and event curator for Gramercy Books, located in Bexley, an urban suburb just east of Ohio’s state capital, understanding how our customers will return to bookstore gatherings is weighing heavily on my mind.

Like so many bookstores across the country, Gramercy Books is a place of connection, discovery, and inspiration, often through creative programming featuring newly published books. Like my peers, I’ve had to cancel events for many authors whose pub dates fell in the spring and summer. We’ve found new ways to showcase their books through our e-newsletter and, more recently, through livestreaming via Zoom. I’m rescheduling other authors into the early fall, at which time I’m hoping in-person gatherings will again be possible—albeit with reasonable safety protocols.

While a few of my bookselling colleagues have told me they don’t want to think about planning future in-store programs right now, I find that scheduling events down the road brings me some level of optimism, as it does for the authors and publishers we confirm. It suggests that the world, post-Covid-19, might resemble the one we had.

But I can’t help wondering how to approach this. I wonder about the event format, about how large of an audience I should allow and in what kind of space, about how to set up a seating area that allows for social distancing, and about the best ways to allay customer fears while inviting them to attend author events again.

The reality is that none of us know what our eventual regathering will look like. Several states have announced reopening of retail stores with a range of safety protocols that must be put in place. But when the moment of reopening occurs, I suspect there will exist a combination of pent-up demand and lingering fear. One thing I am asking myself is whether our loyal patrons will eventually return to in-store events where they have to sit next to people who are not in their immediate families.

For many customers, their bookstores likely seem safe. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Bookshop, a new startup, is offering publications bigger kickbacks than Amazon

From Nieman Lab:

The pitch is simple. “They get to feel good about themselves. They get to diversify the revenue. And they don’t have to take a financial hit because we’re able to deliver the sales that they want.”

. . . .

The Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire. A David taking on Goliath. Any way you want to put it, the new ecommerce site Bookshop has attracted a lot of attention for challenging Amazon on its original turf. (What, did you forget Amazon launched as “Earth’s biggest bookstore”?)

Bookshop, which was founded to support independent bookstores, distributes earnings through a pooled fund and provides digital storefronts that let local stores keep the profits on any sales they generate. Launched in late January, Bookshop has served as a lifeline for indie booksellers during a pandemic that has forced many of them to shut up shop. Here in Massachusetts, for example, local favorites like Harvard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith, and Porter Square Books — not considered “essential businesses” — have closed and suspended curbside pickup. This could change after May 18, but until then, online orders are keeping them afloat.

There’s something in it for publications that cover books, too.

If a publication refers a sale to Bookshop, the site will kick back 10 percent of the book’s price. That’s more than twice the going rate — 4.5 percent for physical books — through Amazon’s affiliate program.

. . . .

News organizations have seen ecommerce as an attractive way to diversify their revenue streams for a while now. The concept is straightforward (even if the ethical questions aren’t): An outlet publishes an affiliate link — in a review or gift guide, maybe — and earns a small percentage of any sales.

Back in 2016, The New York Times paid more than $30 million for the product review site Wirecutter, a major investment that now seems like a bargain. (The Times doesn’t break out affiliate revenue in its financial reports, but we noted a 20.9 percent increase in “other revenue” back in 2017 that was largely credited to referral revenue. That category has grown in the years since, though the latest earnings report credited revenue from The Weekly and Facebook licensing.) Wirecutter often points readers toward Amazon, which runs the largest, best-known affiliate revenue program. But, as the book publishing industry learned early on, it’s not smart to be overly dependent on the whims of a tech giant. Just last month, Amazon cut commission rates across several categories, which can’t have been welcome news for digital publications like BuzzFeed and New York magazine that regularly publish shopping guides to drive affiliate revenue. The company is also delaying shipping on some items — including books.

By providing an alternative, Bookshop offers an opportunity for publications that rely on ecommerce to diversify at least part of their payouts.

For all the galaxy-sized metaphors in the press, Bookshop isn’t trying to beat Amazon at its own game — just loosen its vice-like grip on bookselling. (More than 90 percent of ebook and audiobooks sales and about 42 to 45 percent of print book sales happen on Amazon, according to industry tracker BookStat.) Part of the solution, concluded Bookshop CEO Andy Hunter, was developing an affiliate program that worked for publishers but supported many independent stores instead of one trillion-dollar company.

Link to the rest at Nieman Lab