A Retail Reality Check: Our Bookstores and What’s ‘Essential’

From Publishing Perspectives:

As the worldwide coronavirus emergency deepens into life-and-death gravity for so many in the world, a situation in the United Kingdom has reflected a concern that may play out in many other world markets for books.

At this writing The New York Times‘ tallies show Earth to have more than 341,500 people sickened by the virus and at least 15,187 dead with COVID-19. The Johns Hopkins Resource Center database, for comparison, shows 351,731 cases and 15,374 deaths. Sadly, by the time you read this, those numbers will have made more of their relentless jumps: more illness, more loss of life, more risk and exhaustion for medical and other responders; more economic devastation; more fear and confusion.

And while the people of publishing are right in understanding that the genius of literature has much to offer a world in such radical peril, we all—including those of us who cover the business as journalists—can do well to remember that no book is worth a human life and no blessing of publishing is worth endangering its people. Romantic notions of books’ importance are no match for life and health.

On the other hand, we can be sure that no one who had a hand in the outcry that came to a head this weekend in the UK got up one morning determined to make some questionable decisions about employee and consumer safety. We all need to put aside any kneejerk tendency to look for blame so that we can confirm what’s important: protecting people from the dangers of the contagion.

. . . .

Publishing everywhere is having to adjust, along with the rest of society and business, to a fortunately rare and lethal context. And there are times when this industry’s allegiance to many traditions and rich experience may, in fact, not always inform it well.

. . . .

And the concern in this case led to Sunday’s (March 22) late-day announcements by the UK’s Waterstones and Blackwell’s. Both bookstore chains announced that they are closing their physical points of sale temporarily amid the coronavirus crisis.

. . . .

Josh Halliday at The Guardian reported on Sunday that closing Waterstones’ 280 UK branches came after extensive employee complaint about how “senior head office staff, including Daunt, were working from home while booksellers, often those earning the least, were required to go into stores.”

. . . .

By Sunday, the Retail Gazette‘s Elias Johnson was reporting a fast-lengthening list of store chains that were closing across the UK amid the outbreak, including IKEA, John Lewis, the H&M Group, Selfridges, Harrods, Michael Kors, Gap, Lego, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple, Calvin Klein, and more. But not bookstores.

Tweets have made it clear that some of the Waterstones workforce and customers indeed were concerned and spoke of it being unsafe to keep the bookstores open.

. . . .

Some commentary posted apparently by the Waterstones leadership has referred to the value of books in troubled times: “We all know that books provide solace, inspiration, education, and the other mental supports to periods of isolation, and the fact of our exceptionally busy sales over the last week demonstrates this is recognized by our customers.”

But of course, today’s strong television and film production, like music and other art forms, can provide sustenance, as well, and—like books, games, puzzles, and other valuable products in bookstores—these can be bought and sold online and by phone without risking physical commerce.

While many of us might argue that the intellectual and emotional support of good storytelling and informative nonfiction are important, books are not the only source of such aid and they’re not in the same class as food sold at grocers and medicines provided by pharmacies.

It’s a good moment for people who rightly prize the value of their industry to get a grip on what genuinely is essential.

You can’t live without food and certain medicines. You can live without books.

. . . .

As primeval a threat as the virus seems, maybe it’s time for story lovers to gather around digital fireplaces and start telling each other tales.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While most regulars on TPV will already know this, the “Daunt” mentioned in the OP is James Daunt, the CEO of Waterstones book stores in the UK and the anointed savior of Barnes & Noble in the US.

PG wonders about Mr. Daunt’s business judgment in forcing Watersone’s store employees to keep working while he was not in his office and, apparently, had chosen to work from the safety of his home.

Regarding Barnes & Noble, the company seems to have fired its PR staff since Daunt’s appointment. PG was able to find one recent news item, however.

From Retail Touchpoints:

Barnes & Noble has disclosed plans for a potential layoff strategy as the retailer prepares for pandemic-related store closures, according to an internal memo seen by VICE. Staff at affected locations will first be able to use their time off, with employees who have been with the company for at least a year eligible for “up to” two weeks of pay. Employees with less than six months of time will be temporarily laid off upon the closing of the store.

“With the closure of stores, we are obliged to make the hardest of choices,” said James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble in the memo. “The truth is that we cannot close our doors and continue to pay our employees in the manner of Apple, Nike, Patagonia and REI. They can do this because they have the resources necessary; we, and most retailers of our sort, do not.”

In a separate note, Daunt predicted that the crisis could cause an “unprecedented” sales drop, and that the company would likely need to “cut costs” to “weather this storm.” However, Daunt also stated that he would rehire workers after the stores are permitted to reopen to preserve their jobs — though he did not specify a timeline for the reopenings.

“No one knows by how much our sales will decline, nor for how long,” said Daunt in the second note. “We do know, however, that the drop will be unprecedented and that we must assume this will be measured over a period of many weeks, and possibly of months.”

Link to the rest at Retail Touchpoints

PG suspects that anyone who has been laid off from Barnes & Noble will be looking almost anywhere else for a new job and a great many Barnes & Noble people won’t be available when/if the stores reopen.

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

More Temporary Bookstore Closings

From Shelf Awareness:

Since Thursday, a range of bookstores have announced temporary closings because of the pandemic. Among them:

Powell’s Books is closing its five stores in and near Portland, Ore., through March 31, at which time the company will evaluate whether to extend the closure. Powells.com will continue operations. In announcing the change, president and owner Emily Powell said in part that “we feel that we cannot honor the social distancing guidelines presented by the CDC.”

The Strand Bookstore, New York, N.Y., is closing “for the time being” in an effort “to put the safety and welfare of our employees, our customers, and our community first.” In its announcement, the store promised regular updates and concluded, “Be safe. And we hope you find solace in one of the books on your bookshelf.”

WORD Bookstores in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J., are closed today and WORD said in an announcement to customers that it “will monitor the situation daily and keep you posted if anything changes. This will allow us to keep our staff busy and safe.” It added: “We have plenty of books, puzzles and games in stock to keep you and your family busy (including our homeWORDbound Mystery Boxes.) So please don’t be shy. Our amazing staff is ready and waiting to help you get through this.”

Riffraff, the bookstore and bar in Providence, R.I., said that it is closing, effective today, “for who knows how long.” Owners Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge described the situation as “painful and precarious… We feel a moral imperative to close Riffraff for the sake of the greater community, and are disappointed that the government has not taken a stronger response or offered any tangible assistance to small businesses. It puts the burden on us and others to decide how best to proceed.”

. . . .

Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., is closing through March 28, but “staff will continue ‘behind the scenes’ during this time, fulfilling online (harvard.com) and phone orders, recommending books online and by phone, and brainstorming creative ways to safely have our community access the books and book knowledge of Harvard Book Store and its staff,” general manager Alex W. Meriwether said in an e-mail to customers. “We feel we must do our part to ‘flatten the curve’ while fulfilling our mission–to the best of our ability during uncertain times–to provide books to our customers, in a safe and responsible manner, and to support the community in any ways that we can.”

Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass., is closing through March 29, but like many stores, will continue offering a variety of online and delivery services. “As always,” the store wrote, “we deeply appreciate your continuing support as we all move together through this difficult time. Stay safe and stay healthy.”

. . . .

Noting that the store “had a great weekend,” Books to Be Red, Ocracoke, N.C., wrote: “I thank everyone that came in to say hello and support my shop and the island. I am heartbroken to say that I am going to close my shop while we are dealing with the COVID-19 virus. Maybe this should have been an easy decision to make but it has not been. We are all dealing with fallout from the virus and we are all making sacrifices. I do hope to be able to re-open within the next couple of weeks. Thank you for understanding.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness (The link will take you to the top of the page of a newsletter, reading the particular part that PG has excerpted will require that you scroll down the page.)

PG will note that some marginal businesses can’t survive a stoppage or serious slowdown in sales. He doesn’t like to see anyone go out of business, but he suspects some small bookstores might not reopen after the coronavirus shutdown.

Coronavirus Diaries: I Own a Bookstore. I Don’t Know How Much Longer We Can Survive.

From Slate:

This as-told-to essay from Laurie Swift Raisys, the owner of Island Books in Mercer Island, Washington, has been edited and condensed for clarity from a conversation with Rachelle Hampton.

It was the start of last week when the store just kind of became a ghost town. We live on Mercer Island, which is a town of 20,000 people. On days when we would usually have people coming in the store, we had no one. Hours would go by where maybe one person would come in, and it was a little bit frightening. As a business owner, you rely on the community and the people that come in and shop at your store in order to pay your bills and pay your employees. Last week was incredibly stressful, and this week has been very stressful, and I don’t really see an end in sight right now.

We’re a community gathering place. Our slogan is “Real people, real books, real community,” and we’ve been around 46 years. My husband grew up on the island, and I worked part time for a number of years as a contractor. My contract ended one year and I decided I was going to do something different. I’d always wanted to own an island business, because I love this community. Everyone knows your name. They know your kids. You’ve known people since you were in kindergarten, if you grew up here. And I happened to walk into the bookstore one day at the right time. I just asked the former owner a question: “Roger, are you tired?” I said, “Because if you are, let me know. I would be interested in talking to you.” That was around Christmas of 2014. We signed the papers by July 2015.

I work a 60-hour work week, six days a week, and I’m here a lot. I get here between 7:30 and eight o’clock in the morning and I usually don’t leave until six o’clock. It’s a wonderful store, and we hope to be here many, many more years. But something like this can make a business disappear. I realized it was a big deal when I saw people panicking and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It impacts not only my business but other people’s businesses on this island. It impacts my employees. This is their livelihood. We are trying everything we can to make sure that our staff stays healthy, and they all know to communicate with me if anything should happen, because their health is my utmost concern. As a business owner, I have to make sure that I can help them the best that I can. If one of them gets sick, all of us are affected. I have bills to pay, so it’s concerning. You don’t realize how much support you need and what you banked on for years.

A good percentage of our customers are people that are in a high-risk category for this virus, because they’re over 60. We have three or four retirement homes on the island, and I’ve been delivering books there, because they’ve been encouraged not to come out. So, they email us, or they call us. 

. . . .

I live on the island, so I can drop books off anywhere. We’re promoting on our Instagram page and our Facebook page that you can support independent bookstores and independent retailers by ordering your books over the phone or sending us an email. We ship anywhere in the U.S. for free, and we always have. We’ve been pushing online orders a lot, but I really haven’t noticed an uptick in sales. We’re trying to be really smart about our restocking every day and what we’re buying. We might have to reach out to some of our publishers and contacts to figure out if we can extend terms on some of our bills, because if we’re not making money, it makes it very hard to spend money.

We’re trying to figure out creative ways to get people in the store, obviously in a very safe and thoughtful way, following the guidelines of the CDC and the WHO.

. . . .

We had four big events, a couple that were offsite, to sell books for authors, and unfortunately, I had to cancel all of them. There are probably about 10 boxes of books in the back of my store that I now need to return. I lose money on that, because I didn’t get to sell any of them. The publishers don’t always send us call tags to return the books, so you have to eat the cost of the shipping to return them.

People are hibernating, and it makes it hard for us as a place of community. You cannot be in the business of social distancing, as they’re calling it, when you are a place that people come to for book clubs. We have three book clubs, we have events at least three or four times a month, and we have story time every Wednesday with kids. Six feet is a big gap when you’re a community gathering place. Our knitting book club did meet last week. They all talked about it and decided to sit in a circle a distance apart. They always bring scones or something, but they didn’t bring any food to share. I think everyone is very cautious.

. . . .

I don’t have an answer right now as to how long the business can sustain itself in this kind of situation. I can look at numbers until I’m blue in the face, and I’m not opposed to calling in favors from my landlord, calling in favors from publishers, but we have to take this crisis one day at a time. 

Link to the rest at Slate

Waterstones booksellers given 6.2% pay rise

From The Bookseller:

The rise accompanies the government’s national living wage increase due in April, which will see the national living wage (for those over 25) increase 6.2% from £8.21 to £8.72. The Waterstones increase goes slightly further with booksellers above the national living wage also being given a 6.2% rise.

The increase applies to each of the firm’s bookselling bands—Bookseller, Senior Bookseller, Lead Bookseller and Expert Bookseller—reflecting the upcoming national living wage increase for entry-level booksellers and rewards more experienced booksellers throughout the ranks.

Waterstones recorded a profit of £22.7m last year, up 39% on 2018, as pretax profit rose by 33% to £26.5m, in its most recent accounts and has come under pressure from campaigners to give booksellers a pay rise.

. . . .

“Once again, we have chosen to reward all bookselling bands rather than simply to raise the minimum, so that our most experienced booksellers benefit as much as a new starter. Salaries for bookshop managers and support roles will be reviewed in the autumn, following the same performance review cycle as this year.  To take another step forward towards our goal to deliver rewarding bookselling careers is pleasing, particularly in such a hostile economic environment and we do so with thanks to you all.”

. . . .

Earlier this week campaigners for the real living wage, which is different from the national living wage, sent nearly 1,000 emails directly to James Daunt urging the Waterstones m.d. to pay booksellers the real living wage, which is independently-calculated based on what people need to get by. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Coronavirus: China’s private bookstores struggling to survive as sales drop 90 per cent, stores remain closed

From The South China Morning Post:

During a one-hour live stream, two members of staff circled around the children’s section of an empty bookstore in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, flipping through illustrated books for dozens of online viewers.

At one point, the female member of staff who was holding the camera picked up Forever Young, a picture book by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, and said: “I love this book, and I highly recommend it. Fellow watchers, if you are interested, I can add you to our readers’ group on WeChat.”

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, many of China’s 70,000 bricks-and-mortar bookstores are among numerous small and medium-sized enterprises who have taken a hit from a lack of customers as many cities have closed shops and public facilities.

The virus is a further blow to physical book shops who were already under pressure from online rivals, as well as a growing trend of reading books on electronic devices, such as Amazon’s Kindle.

. . . .

Owspace, originally from Beijing, operates four stores in China, but only one store in a shopping centre on the eastern side of the capital city has opened for business, although daily traffic is down to around 10 per cent, with sales dropping 90 per cent accordingly.

“Even if all of our bookstores reopen, and our business is like what it is now, then we won’t be able to stay in business after two to three months,” said Wu Yanping, a manager at Owspace, who added that around 40 per cent of Owspace’s revenue comes from book sales.

. . . .

A recent survey covering more than 1,000 physical bookstores across China in early February revealed that more than 90 per cent had no revenues.

Link to the rest at The South China Morning Post

New Tools are Leveling the Playing Field for Booksellers

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barnes & Noble Cancels Black History Month Covers After Backlash

From The Huffington Post:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

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

This Startup Wants to Help Indie Booksellers Take on Amazon

From Wired

More often than not, when people buy books online, they do so by clicking little thumbnails of novels and essay collections on Amazon’s website. Those thumbnails then materialize as physical copies on their doorsteps in a matter of days. Easy-peasy. The online retailer is the most dominant force in American bookselling today, accounting for over 90 percent of ebooks and audiobooks, and around 42 to 45 percent of print sales, according to BookStat. Into this fray jumps a new online retailer, Bookshop, which is betting that people will see the value in choosing to buy somewhere else—at a business meant to give independent booksellers a chance to grab back some of the market share. “It’s not really about disrupting an industry,” CEO Andy Hunter says. “It’s about reinforcing an industry. Bookshop is about pulling back from the disruptive influence of Amazon.”

Anti-disrupting (reverse-disrupting?) will prove challenging. For starters, there’s Amazon’s grip on consumer habits. Despite recent movements advocating pushback against Amazon, most people in the United States maintain a favorable view of Jeff Bezos’ “everything store.” Peter Hildick-Smith, president of book audience research firm Codex, says that this includes most people who frequent independent shops; just over three-quarters of that cohort also use Amazon, at an average of five times a month, according to a 2019 survey. Even among bibliophiles, Hildick-Smith says, “It’s not as if everybody’s saying, ‘Gosh, I really don’t like Amazon. I don’t shop there.’” The result? “A very skewed market.”

At least it’s a market Hunter knows well. He is also the founder of publishing nonprofit Electric Literature, a founding partner and the publisher of the website LitHub, and the cofounder and publisher of Catapult, so he has watched the bookselling industry grapple with the rise of ecommerce. It’s also a long-marinating idea. In 2010, he began pitching a version of Bookshop to an organization of independent literary publishers. At the time, most people still bought books in person, but Hunter saw the coming change. “Even then, I was really concerned with Amazon’s rapid ascendance and what it would do to book culture,” he says. After finally selling the American Booksellers Association on the concept for Bookshop a year and a half ago, Hunter got started. He initially suggested that the ABA overhaul IndieBound, its online marketing hub for independent bookstores, and turn it into this type of ecommerce platform. Since the ABA wasn’t positioned to become a retailer, it decided to partner with Bookshop instead.

Here’s how it works: For someone buying a book, Bookshop won’t be much different from Amazon. (As the platform is still in beta and was built in six months, it won’t be quite as seamless, though.) They click, they spend, they get what they picked out. The real difference is in how the profits are split up and how people discover the books they buy in the first place. Ten percent of all the profits will be divided among independent bookstores every six months; in exchange, these shops will lend support to the mission by promoting Bookshop to their customers. Many independent bookshops vastly prefer brick-and-mortar traffic, and are distrustful of ecommerce partners. “For good reason,” Hunter says. Winning their support will nevertheless be crucial. “Hopefully we’re going to be sending them all checks in a few months and getting a check is gonna make them feel pretty good about it.” (Hunter also stresses that people who want to support their local indie’s online store should continue to do so.)

These sellers can also sign up for the company’s affiliate program, which offers a 25 percent commission to stores. If, say, a bookseller doesn’t want to deal with ecommerce, they can sign up for this program and essentially outsource their online sales to Bookshop, which uses the major book wholesaler Ingram to fulfill orders.

The affiliate program is also available to media large and small, from major magazines to micro-famous book bloggers, with a 10 percent commission. When it’s time to publish seasonal roundups, gift guides, reviews, or other books coverage, these media companies will be able to hyperlink to Bookshop and get paid if readers buy something they click on. (WIRED participates in affiliate programs.) Right now, this is a common media practice, but the vast majority of outlets link out to Amazon. “No matter how much we kvetch about prominent publications linking to Amazon, those publications simply can’t turn away from the significant revenue that affiliate links offer,” says Danny Caine of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas.

By offering a much larger affiliate commission, Bookshop hopes to cajole both bloggers and storied institutions into changing this default mode of the affiliate link ecosystem. “You have all these book blogs and major magazines and major websites that are linking to Amazon, because Amazon is giving them a four-and-a-half-percent affiliate fee for every book that they sell,” Hunter says. “We needed to have a solution that would break that cycle, and create something to benefit the indies that mimics it.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG hadn’t heard anything about Bookshop prior to reading the Wired article.

He experimented to see what it was like to sign up and set up a bookstore. The experience was not what anyone would call seamless and PG quit before he was sure everything was set up.

PG hopes nearly all startups will find success, but he thinks setting up an affiliate program based on fulfillment by Ingram may not result in the best prices for Bookshop. In his brief experiment, he didn’t see any ebooks being offered.

He’s happy to hear about the experiences of others in the comments.

What is causing the uptick in independent bookstores?

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

My first real job was in a bookstore, on the sales floor of the brand new paperback department in Brentano’s on 5th Avenue in the summer of 1962. I loved that place; I loved that job; and I’ve always had a soft spot for bookstores. But, romanticism aside, the truth is that books are just about the single best consumer product to buy online rather than in a store. For many reasons.

First of all, there’s finding what you want. An online bookseller will be able to offer you 15 million titles or so. A bookstore will offer no more than half-a-percent of the universe (which would be 75,000 titles) and most have far fewer than that. When Amazon began, there were more like half-a-million possible titles and many super bookstores carried 20-30 percent of them (more than 100,000 titles). And even then, before the numbers had shifted so massively, Jeff Bezos saw that books were the best place to start for an internet retailer.

Thus, the odds of finding any particular book in a store have moved from reasonable to minuscule. But on top of that, books are heavy, so if you are going anywhere after the bookstore, carrying a purchase around can be a nuisance. And how often do you “need” that next book right now, rather than it being just as good to get it in a day or two? (If you need it right now, you’d better be really lucky in what you’re looking for and the store you’re going to.)

The point is that book purchases, at least for personal reading (books for gifts and heavily-illustrated books are different, but are a smaller slice of the total sales) have moved from stores to online for compelling reasons, and there is no reason to think they won’t continue to. It is hard to see physical retail bookselling as a growth business.

But, in fact, the number of independent bookstores has been growing for the last decade. This has been a real cause for celebration in many quarters. Publishers are certainly glad to be seeing some additional inventory-stocking outlets springing up.

Why is this? Harvard Business School professor Ryan Raffaelli has formulated an answer based on his “3 Cs”. They are community, curation, and convening. By this he means that bookstores provide a “community” function, their owners perform a “curation” service by winnowing down the book selection, and they offer the opportunity for like-minded people to “convene” around an information quest or a purpose. He alliteratively wraps this all up with “collective identity”. And he discourages us from looking at the profitability of those stores; just the fact that they are there in recently-increasing numbers, he believes, constitutes the important indicator.

Does anybody else see a remarkable congruence between this vision of bookstores and what has always been the function of libraries?

. . . .

I can agree that community, curation, and convening are good touchstones for any bookstore owner to keep in mind to build their business. But I can’t agree that these are the explanation for why bookstores have been growing in number.

My nominee for “most important reason for indie bookstores growing in number” is also a “c”, but one that wasn’t mentioned. It is “closing”. By that I mean the “closing” of the Borders chain in 2011, almost precisely the date when the indie resurgence, tracked by number of active stores, began.

When several hundred Borders stores closed at one time, it moved the reduction of shelf space ahead of the declining demand for retail bookstores. Even in the bookstore market of 2010, reduced as it was from two decades before by Amazon and ebooks, there were a lot of people served by those closed Borders stores who hadn’t yet completely made the switch to buying all their books online. That could have been 30 percent or more of existing retail bookstore shelf space that was closed. (Borders was not 30 percent of the stores, but all of their stores were very big ones.)

So independents have seized an opportunity. Somebody smarter than I am ought to look at where the indies are and where the Borders were and I’d bet they’ll see a correlation. If they could also overlay the closed Barnes & Noble stores and the ones that have had their book inventory drastically reduced, they’d likely find more examples of substitution. Independent bookstores are substituting for the remaining portion of the demand that used to be supplied from the big store chains.

There is likely also one other factor at play — not a new one — behind the recent increase in the number of independents. To be consistent, let’s label this one “compromise”. All these independent bookstores are started and run by entrepreneurs who, most likely, had a career doing something else before they started their bookstore. I’m going to guess, without supporting data, that many of those bookstore owners could be making more money doing something else. But the psychic rewards of owning and running a bookstore, including the attraction of managing the first 3 “c”s , are sufficient to attract capable people to compromise by owning and running one rather than spending their time doing something where they might make more money.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

Mike certainly has more insider knowledge about all facets of Big Publishing and the traditional bookstore experience than PG does, but regular visitors to TPV will remember that PG has often harped on the overlooked effects arising from the disappearance of Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the US when it suddenly collapsed and disappeared into the bankruptcy court.

Literally overnight (it’s not unusual in bankruptcies likely to result in liquidation instead of a plan to continue the business entity’s operations after rearranging a variety of debts and blasting others into tiny pieces for a business to close all its doors at once) a huge amount of traditional publishing’s retail distribution network disappeared. Not only were publishers stuck with unpaid bills for unsold physical books, but large orders for future releases went up in smoke.

Some of Borders’ customers went to Barnes & Noble if there was one nearby, others tried Amazon and liked it and a few went to local independent bookstores (if there were any of those in the vicinity). Of those who went to indies, some liked the experience and continued as patrons but a lot missed the large selection of books on offer at the dead and departed Borders or were less than entranced by a down-market feel of their local independent and ended up going to Amazon or perhaps just stopped buying quite so many books.

The disappearance of Borders certainly helped Barnes & Noble postpone its decline for several years and removed competitive pressure to change how it did business on the meatspace side of things.

PG suspects the demise of Borders and the business benefits that accrued to Barnes & Noble may also have caused BN to feel less pressure to accelerate into ebooks (the first Nook was introduced in late 2009) than it would have felt if its largest competitor in the physical bookstore space had still been around.

At Casa PG, the closest Borders was about five minutes away and the closest Barnes & Noble was and is about 15 minutes away.

For whatever reason, when Borders died, about 95% of the book shopping at Casa PG almost immediately went online and, at the present time, the only occasions for visits to Barnes & Noble are when young offspring (who like books as objects) are in town. PG typically spends his time during such offspring-powered visits looking at non-fiction sections of interest to him and being disappointed at the small number of interesting books which are stocked.

Margin call

From The Bookseller:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

UK Booksellers Association Cites Third Year of Gains in Stores

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an announcement today (January 10) from their offices in London’s Bell Yard, the Booksellers Association reports a third year of gains in the number of sales outlets it counts among independent bookstores in Ireland and the UK.

The association’s managing director, Meryl Halls, says, in a prepared statement, “It’s very heartening to see the number of independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland grow for a third year. This is a testament to the creativity, passion, and hard work of our booksellers, who continue to excel in the face of challenging circumstances, particularly those wider high street challenges which so often see bookshops outperforming their high street peers.”

The 2019 performance, Halls says, “is enhanced by the news of Waterstones store openings during 2019 and bolsters the bookselling community across the board.”

As her comment about Waterstones indicate, the association’s membership isn’t limited to independents. It includes chain and “nontraditional” stores—the latter term normally referring to food stores and other outlets not led by a book-related inventory.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Indie booksellers create community to survive the age of Amazon

From MPR News:

The seeds for the Zenith Bookstore, which opened in Duluth 2 1/2 years ago, were sown on the streets of Manhattan.

“We used to love walking the streets and visiting bookstores — we’re both big readers,” said Bob Dobrow, who together with his wife, Angel, owns the cozy bookstore on the city’s Central Avenue.

“We were young and in love and full of energy, and we would walk for hours,” recalled Angel Dobrow.

The Dobrows recall casually musing to one another, “Wouldn’t it be fun one day to open a bookstore?”

But they got married and had kids. Bob became a math professor at Carleton College and they moved to Northfield, Minn. When he retired a few years ago, they were packing up boxes and boxes of books, and that idea popped into their heads again.

“It was literally like a bolt of lightning,” Bob Dobrow said.

Never mind that they had never owned any kind of business before, or that people had been predicting the death of small bookstores since Barnes & Noble, Amazon and e-books.

But they moved north to Duluth, depleted their savings to remodel an old liquor store and opened for business on a summer day in 2017.

. . . .

Sales have grown about 60 percent since that first year, he said. The Dobrows attribute that in part to a loyal customer base that is willing to spend a little more on a book to support a local business.

“One of my great fears was that bookstores would go away, so I feel almost a moral obligation to be in bookstores,” said Chris Johnson, an education professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who stopped by last week to pick up some books for his college-age kids.

“It’s probably not the norm, but I think it’s important to book lovers that such places exist,” he added.

Since bottoming out in 2009, the number of independent booksellers nationwide has grown by about 35 percent. There are now more than 1,900 independent booksellers across the country, who together operate more than 2,500 stores.

. . . .

First, there’s the Buy Local movement, which he said indie bookstores helped create.

“Booksellers are deeply embedded in helping to define this notion of why the consumer should shop local,” he explained.

Then there’s what Raffaelli calls “curation.”

“If you see a great bookseller at his or her craft, you’ll see them ask questions like, ‘What are the last five books that you read?’ And then they’ll steer a reader into a genre potentially that is outside [what they’d normally read],” he said. “But they say, ‘This is your next great book.’”

That expertise and experience enables booksellers to compete against the algorithms Amazon uses to recommend books, he said.

. . . .

And then there’s this: Many bookstores have made themselves much more than just booksellers. They’re also community gathering places.

. . . .

“It’s a business with razor-thin profits,” said Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer with the American Booksellers Association. “I don’t want to be a Pollyanna because on the one hand, there’s been solid success. But on the other hand, it’s a challenging road ahead of them as well.”

He said many bookstores face escalating rents and struggle to pay living wages and benefits to their employees.

Link to the rest at MPR News and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG notes that, if you’ve ever been in Duluth in the winter as he has, you’ll understand why people would be attracted to any place that’s warm.

That said, PG is pleased that The Dobrows have made their bookstore work and hope they can continue to do so.

Speaking of winter, PG just checked and the average low temperature in Duluth in January is 4 degrees Fahrenheit and the city receives about 70 inches of snow per year. Since it is located on the shores of Lake Superior, bracing winds are also a feature of Duluth winters.

One additional feature of Minnesota winters that will not be familiar to most Floridians is that virtually every car and truck you see has an electric cord hanging out of the grill. The cord leads to an engine block heater which is plugged in every night to make sure various liquids in the engine don’t freeze (radiators) or transform into a thick viscous mess (oil) overnight.

OTOH, PG understands that these weather conditions don’t sound very impressive to TPV regulars who live in Canada.

We Need Better Wages

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Thursday (December 12) in the United States, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced that some 90 workers of five stores in New York City have voted to become union members. Three of the retail sites are bookstores, two are stationery shops.

The McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers stores are located in Manhattan on Prince Street and Fulton Street, and in Brooklyn on North 4th Street, and the company is effectively a small and independent group of chain stores. The company also has two stationery stores called Goods for the Study in Manhattan, one on Mulberry Street, and one on West 8th Street.

. . . .

A list of workplace issues provided by the union in its media messaging includes the following, apparently composed by the workers:

  • “We deserve respect at work: Workers should not be subject to verbal abuse from owners or managers in any workplace.
  • “We want a safe work environment free from harassment with strong policies in place to protect us: In the past, workers have faced harassment and have found a lack of a voice for a way to address these incidents. We need clearer guidelines and policies to address these serious issues.
  • “We need to be properly compensated for our input and dedication to McNally Jackson: We need better wages. The Tipped Minimum Wage is not enough for barista workers and fluctuating take-home pay leads to financial stress. Workers sometimes have their pay cut if moved into a different position with no notice. We should be paid in a timely manner. We should be paid overtime pay for overtime work as per New York State Law.
  • “We need better structures in our workplace: Too often things are done informally, and roles are not always clearly defined. Clearer guidelines about things like how we access our benefits, transfer between stores, etc. are needed.
  • “Favoritism is a problem at our workplace: We need more defined positions at work. There should be standard pay scales for certain positions at our store.”

The union, in its announcement, has included a comment from McNally Jackson workers Kathryn Harper, who works in the Brooklyn bookstore. Harper is quoted, saying, “I’m proud to say I’m now part of the RWDSU. Workers across all five stores face issues of harassment at work, favoritism, and lack of dignity and respect.

“By coming together, we are stronger, and I am confident we can shape our workplace into a place we all want to come to work each day. It’s about time McNally Jackson workers had a real seat at the table with the company and we’re ready to get to work on our first contract,”

. . . .

In a Tuesday report (December 10) at Patch, Sydney Pereira writes that the McNally Jackson workers, in voting for union membership, “join a slew of other independent bookstores that have also organized, such as New York City’s iconic Strand Bookstore, Portland’s Powell’s Books and Austin’s Book People, according to the Department for Professional Employees. Nearby McNally Jackson’s headquarters, museum workers at the Tenement Museum and the New Museum voted to unionize this year.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Disrespect, harassment, favoritism – PG wonders what the store’s customers think about this.

Gartner’s Predictions For Retailers Show More Change Ahead

From WHICH-50:

Customers are demanding greater levels of contextualisation of products and services. Retail CIOs can leverage intelligence to capture deeper insights, anticipate customer needs and proactively deliver across every touchpoint. Retailers must reinforce their store’s position as an integral part of delivering unified commerce. Gartner’s recent research Predicts 2020: Consumers Determine Retail Success Well Before the Sale expands on the five predictions from our Gartner team on the future of retail.

. . . .

The retail industry continues to transform through a period of unprecedented changes, with customer experience fast becoming the new currency. The digital disruption caused by new technologies and a shift in customer expectations continues to challenge traditional retail models.

. . . .

Robots

Tight labor markets and disruptive technologies have caused retailers to investigate new human-machine hybrid operational models. These models are built on the foundation of AI and automation technologies to assist human workers in streamlining and optimising efficiency and accuracy in tasks such as warehouse picking, inventory management and customer services to boost productivity.

Inventory

The level of investment for digital transformation efforts continues to rise, forcing retailers to find alternate sources of funding beyond cost optimisation efforts. Inventory reduction provides a clear opportunity for funding if “dead” inventory can be reduced. This will require a delicate balance of inventory management, particularly in the store, as buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) remains a popular choice for consumers. Many retailers are now leveraging their existing store estate as local fulfillment hubs to mitigate the rising costs of last-mile delivery. Furthermore, retailers now have the challenge of predicting demand and aligning inventory at a localized level to support customer expectations for same-day in-store pickup or same-day delivery option. Retailers must also further investigate new models to profitably deliver against the growing needs of online shoppers and make their networks of stores less of a financial constraint.

Digital Workplace

This will require a focus on associate training and development, including upskilling in-store associates to perform a wider variety of specialised tasks. At the same time, retailers continue to have challenges in retaining skilled and productive staff, as well as a continuing increase in employee turnover. To mitigate labor constraints, retailers can collaborate to enable a shared workforce.

Alternate labor models are part of the “future of work,” which will include more freelance, part-time and limited-term employment. This is the expectation of the millennial and Gen Z cohort as they become the mainstay of both consumer and labor markets.

. . . .

Artificial Intelligence

Ever-changing consumer expectations and the addition of new business models mean retailers must operate more efficiently, preemptively and at scale. Through the application of AI across a retailer’s ecosystem, retailers are applying data analytics into every touchpoint of their business. Including sales predictions, consumer personalisation, store optimisation and product recommendations.

Link to the rest at WHICH-50

As many perceptive visitors to TPV will have already concluded, PG posted this item with Barnes & Noble in mind.

In 2018, Barnes & Noble reported revenues of $3.7 billion for the full year. It presently reports that it has 627 retail bookstores, including stores in all 50 states in the US.

Barnes & Noble is by far the largest operator of physical bookstores in the United States.

The second-largest retail bookstore in the US is Books-A-Million: 260 retail book stores in 32 states with an estimated annual revenue of $472 million.

PG Notes on Books-A-Million:

  1. Books-A-Million went public in 1992 at an initial price of $3.00 and its share price reached a high of $39 per share in 1998. In December, 2015, the stock’s final closing price on a public market was $2.64 per share. During 33 years as a public company, the company had declined in value.
  2. At that time, all shares of Books-A-Million were acquired by its chairman and it became a privately-owned company once again.
  3. In 2014, Books-A-Million was identified by 24/7 Wall Street as America’s worst company to work for, citing low satisfaction among employees due to “high stress and low pay… low chance of promotion, [and] hours are based on magazine and discount card sales.”
  4. Doing a bit of math – always a dangerous thing – PG determined that it would take almost 8 booksellers the size of Books-A-Million to equal the annual sales of Barnes & Noble.

The third-largest retail bookstore in the US is Half Price Books: 127 stores in 18 states with an estimated annual revenue of “about” $230 million. (Some third-party sources say sales are lower – $208 million is one estimate.)

PG Notes on Half Price Books:

  1. 45 of the company’s 127 stores are located in the state of Texas.
  2. Many (All?) of the stores also sell used books.
  3. Per PG’s still-impaired math, it would take about 16 booksellers the size of Half Price Books to equal the annual sales of Barnes & Noble.

PG’s bottom lines from this mish-mash of facts and statistics:

  1. Barnes & Noble’s new CEO, James Daunt, doesn’t strike PG as the kind of guy who will embrace and expand the BN online bookstore. He seems to be a B&M sort of retail guy who only grudgingly tolerates ecommerce.
  2. Based on what PG has read about Mr. Daunt, he also doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who will, per the OP, develop “human-machine hybrid operational models,”  position BN’s retail stores “as an integral part of delivering unified commerce” or “investigate new models to profitably deliver against the growing needs of online shoppers.”
  3. In contrast to PG’s impression of Mr. Daunt, PG believes Jeff Bezos would hire the Borg to staff Amazon warehouses if only to silence major media bleating about the poor oppressed and exploited Amazon warehouse employees who really need to unionize, etc., etc., etc.
  4. As far as either artificial intelligence or the old-fashioned kind of intelligence that resides between an employee’s ears, Amazon is already so far ahead of anyone else with respect to selling its customers exactly what they want at a great price at the precise time they want it that no traditional retailer of fungible products like books has much of a chance.
  5. Are serious readers and book-purchasers really pining for a better retail bookstore so they don’t have to go to Amazon to buy a book right away?
  6. In an era where everybody seems to be pulling a device out of their pocket to look at a screen, are ebooks really going to give way to dead-tree products sold in physical bookstores?
  7. If Barnes & Noble continues to sink into the commercial sunset, closing stores to lower costs, downsizing, trimming, cutting, etc., etc., what’s the future of Big Publishing?
  8. Does “Only an established publisher with a good reputation can get your book into the bookstore” carry much weight when that bookstore is called Half Price Books? What about, “We can only publish one book per year for any author other than James Patterson?” or, “We don’t accept manuscripts other than those presented to us by a literary agent?”

 

Should Barnes & Noble rethink its supply chain?

From Mike Shatzkin:

About 25 years ago, Ingram was benefiting from a big buildout of America’s bookstore network. Borders and Barnes & Noble were both opening new stores — big stores — at a rapid rate. Ingram hit a mother lode delivering “store opening assortments” and then, at least in some cases, doing the stock replenishment for the first 90 days.

The stock for the store opening cost the retailer more that way because Ingram couldn’t offer the discounts that publishers would give the stores for direct orders. But getting the opening stock delivered by store section, ready for shelving, and then covering the entire breadth of inventory for reorders across publishers that would also arrive consolidated rather than piecemeal, was worth a couple of points of margin.

Around this same time — 25 years ago — Jeff Bezos was using Ingram’s superior service to build Amazon.com in an industrial building in Seattle, in the same-day service zone for Ingram’s Roseburg, Oregon, warehouse.

Consolidation was the order of the day. Borders and Barnes & Noble were building out store networks that clearly threatened smaller chains and independents. (They would all also be hurt by Amazon, but that would take a few years to become obvious.) Publishers were also consolidating. (Random House and Bantam Doubleday Dell were the big merger of the late 1990s.) All of this threatened Ingram’s basic business model, which was built on being an efficiency-creator between many publishers selling to many bookstore customers.

But the efficiency of centralized supply was also clearly demonstrated to the chains, so B&N saw value in acquiring Ingram to own their own supply chain, presumably opening up the possibility of buying from publishers at the higher discounts normally afforded to wholesalers. It took two years for the deal to fall through because of federal government concern about “monopoly”. That meant Ingram had to start rethinking the future of their company.

And it meant Barnes & Noble would build its own warehouse network to provide more efficient resupply to its own stores that would give them a competitive advantage over Borders, their primary competitor. Borders, of course, was thinking along similar lines.

. . . .

And now things have changed again. B&N’s viability is threatened by the movement of book sales from physical retail to online retail. New ownership is now challenged to find new paths to commercial viability. The biggest opportunity may be a return to the past, once again turning over the supply chain to Ingram.

As sales of books in the retail channel decline, as they have and will continue to, the per-unit cost of maintaining a proprietary supply infrastructure just keeps rising.

. . . .

On top of that, the “job” of the resupply infrastructure for a retail chain has become much more challenging. When B&N was building out its capabilities at the turn of this century, the number of possible titles was probably not even a million and many of their stores carried over 100,000. Now there well over 10 million titles available through Ingram’s print-on-demand database plus nearly a million more in warehouse stock (which includes most of what is new and sells the fastest), and the retail stores carry a third or less than they did back then. The more that ratio shifts, as what each store carries is a smaller and smaller fraction of the possible universe, the more expensive it is to maintain your own supply chain.

. . . .

James Daunt, the new head of B&N, had no such option when he was rebuilding Waterstones, the UK chain he previously managed. There is no wholesaling operation in the UK with comparable ability to supply the breadth of titles Ingram does. But one imagines that Daunt sees every day what it is costing him to keep operating his distribution centers. One also imagines he also feels a need to free up capital on a daily basis.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

PG suggests that Mike’s post highlights just one of Barnes & Noble’s many problems.

The continued growth of Amazon and other online retailers (Walmart has been spending a lot of money on its online operations for several years and may have finally figured it out) is a huge indication that US consumers are perfectly happy with buying a lot of things online.

Large and small grocery chains have started services that allow online shopping with the bags of bananas, Doritos and Coke delivered to their car trunk or home. If there was ever a commodity that a great many observers thought would never go online, it was produce sales where shoppers have traditionally eyed and squeezed the fresh fruits and veggies before they selected the perfect cucumber.

Of course, each copy of a book is the same (down to the electron level for ebooks) and online information and opinions about various books on offer is enormous. Plus text messages and email make it effortless for Bev to share her book raves and rants to her friends who like to read the same sort of things she does.

PG contends that fewer and fewer feel they will understand any more about whether a book is right for them by leafing through a hardcover at a physical bookstore. They can look inside on Amazon, find out all far more about whether they’re likely to enjoy it online than they’ll ever get from an underpaid Barnes & Noble clerk (if they can find one when they need one).

Again, there is so much more detailed and reliable information about a new book online than in the bookstore, what does anyone really learn from picking it up and looking at the back cover?

In past decades, PG would sometimes visit a bookstore to kill some time in a pleasant manner. The electronic devices in his pocket or on his desk provide a much better time-killing service than any bookstore he has ever visited.

Barnes & Noble’s ‘Crucifyingly Boring’ Stores

From Publishers Weekly:

James Daunt has said that the vast 629-store Barnes & Noble chain he’s now overseeing in the United States must rip out what’s boring—both in stores and online—and find its character if it’s to succeed.

. . . .

Daunt lists three elements of successful bookselling, and personality comes first. Second is also critically important, he said, the presence of an aggressively curated inventory, responsive to each store’s consumer base. And third is engaged and capable staffers, the employees many people in publishing like to believe are in each bookshop, enthusiastic and adept at helping a customer find what she or he is looking for.

. . . .

There are those here in London who worry that Waterstones, having gained traction, could see slippage if too much of Daunt’s energy goes to Barnes & Noble. And some in the States worry that his experience, however reassuring in the British market, may not be replicable in the sprawling, exhausted network of Barnes & Noble stores, a system three times the size of Waterstones—which has 283 stores—and set in the less cohesive market and reading culture of the States.

The biggest difference in bookselling in the States and in the UK, Daunt told a questioner in the audience, is that there are far fewer bookstores. And the profession of bookselling in America has taken a considerable hit over the years, he said.

“Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble degraded the career of a bookseller,” as he put it, and he sees part of his mission to be re-establishing the importance of booksellers in the American stores and giving them the authority of local curation, something he’s known for doing at Waterstones.

. . . .

Not mentioned in the morning session here at London’s 155 Bishopgate conference center was the lawsuit filed in the States against Barnes & Noble five days ago (November 20)  by former Barnes & Noble employee Barbara Tavres, 59, in the US District Court in Northern California, seeking class action status and alleging age discrimination.

Tavres was told she’d be dismissed in September, and the court filing clearly looks to connect her experience to an idea that Daunt’s plan includes youthening the chain’s workforce.

From the filing: “In its effort to avoid growing ‘stale’ and to foster its ‘shiny and new’ public image, Barnes & Noble determined that these older workers no longer looked the part. To accomplish this goal, Barnes & Noble engaged in a campaign of age discrimination. It terminated its employees age 40 and older and replaced them with a younger workforce. And in doing so, Barnes & Noble violated these workers’ rights to be free from age discrimination in

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

So a “youthening” of Barnes & Noble will fix everything (undoubtedly at minimum wage).

PG can hardly wait to see what that looks like.

Barnes & Noble Axes Staff of B&N Teen Blog, and Other Freelancers

From The Digital Reader:

When news broke in June that B&N had been acquired by the same hedge fund that owned Waterstones, it seemed likely that the first thing to go would be the failing Nook division. Alas, we guessed wrong; the blogging staff got cut first.

. . . .

There’s no word yet from B&N on the number of people impacted by the job cuts. (I have queried B&N, and am awaiting a response.)

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Cash-Strapped Small Businesses Turn to GoFundMe

From The Wall Street Journal:

Aimee Skier loves taking her 3-year-old son to story time at Books of Wonder in Manhattan. So when she got an email from the bookstore soliciting GoFundMe donations to help with moving costs, she was happy to chip in $25.

“It’s a quaint little independent store,” Ms. Skier said. “Story time, the programs and readings that they do—there’s no charge for those, and you can spend time there. To me, that’s worth something.”

Most people think of GoFundMe as a way to raise money for medical debt, funeral costs or natural disaster relief, but the crowdfunding website is increasingly used by struggling small businesses, said Chief Executive Rob Solomon. Thousands of small businesses, ranging from comic-book shops to drive-in movie theaters, have opened campaigns across 19 countries.

“These independent businesses become pillars in a community, and when they can’t stay open, the communities really rally,” Mr. Solomon said in an interview.

Books of Wonder’s campaign, which started Oct. 22, has raised more than $23,000 toward its $250,000 goal. The company has about 30 employees between its two stores and annual sales of just over $2 million.

Owner Peter Glassman said he can pay his current bills but needs money to move the bookstore’s flagship from 18th Street to a more affordable and high-trafficked space in the Flatiron District. He said he has struggled to pay the $600,000 annual lease at his current location, particularly after his most recent subtenant, City Bakery, entered financial trouble and folded.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

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

From The American Booksellers Association:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Indie Booksellers Contend with Fires, Power Outages

From Publishers Weekly:

Indie booksellers throughout California are contending with mandatory evacuations, power outages, road closures, and air quality issues as fires continue to rage in the state.

The situation in Northern California for many indie booksellers can only be described as dire, with a number of NCIBA member stores being forced to close their doors–some since Saturday. Other stores are staying open, but only by overcoming huge obstacles in creative ways.

“We have had our power shut down since Saturday,” said Luisa Smith, the Book Passage’s buying director, of the retailer’s Corte Madera location. Smith told PW that some in-store events were canceled, while others were moved to the San Francisco store. “[The power] just came back on, but they say they will be turning it off again tomorrow,” she explained on Tuesday. “This is true for all the bookstores in Marin, and many in the East Bay.”

A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland responded to almost three days of power outages by both reducing store hours and selling books by candlelight. Owner Kathleen Caldwell described Sunday at the store as “a party,” with people bringing wine to sip while browsing. Although the store’s booksellers were able to ring up credit card sales using their iPhones, overall sales were down 65% on Sunday, and about 80% on Saturday and Monday.

. . . .

“We know that at least 100 booksellers have been evacuated,” Binc executive director Pamela French told PW.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Should We Pay to Enter Bookstores?

From The New Yorker:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

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

But he could be wrong.

Hiroshi Sogo Looks at Global Bookselling Trends

From Publishing Perspectives:

With 107 bookstores worldwide, Kinokuniya’s director of import and distribution, Hiroshi Sogo, gives us his international bookselling insights.

. . . .

PP: How is the market in Japan at the moment?

HS: Tough as ever. A long decline since 1997 hasn’t hit the bottom as yet. Total sales have declined to half of what they were in 1996.

. . . .

PP: What’s the balance between digital and print in Japan?

HS: Digital is around 14 percent and print 86 percent. Basically, print continues to decline while digital grows.

Around 90 percent of digital is represented by comic and manga content. There was rampant piracy of manga content until March 2018 when the government finally passed seminal legislation and the police started to crack down.

That helped the industry to regain what had been lost for many years, and helped digital manga sales for some of the major publishers, such as Shuei-sha and Kadokawa. It’s estimated that the total loss collectively inflicted by piracy is 300 billion yen (US$2.78 billion).

. . . .

PP: Why do you think Japan takes a different view from the US with regard to fixed prices?

HS: Historically, the mechanism has been regarded as one of the more civilized, inclusive government policies. It goes back to the era when Japan was rebuilding the country after the war. Recovery of social coherence and infrastructure was the priority.

While ordinary commodities were exchanged in free markets, the government . . . thought that information carried by publications such as newspapers, books, and magazines should be available to all citizens at the same price wherever they were.

When Japan went into a fast economic development drive in the 1960s and 1970s, fixed pricing made a lot of sense. Publishers and booksellers didn’t have to compete on price. There was a strong appetite for news, knowledge, learning, and entertainment. I suspect that there was hardly a soul who had any negative perception against fixed prices up until recently when a new type of Western capitalism started seeping into the social fabric of the country.

Winning competitions became the highest virtue above all else. Then people started to think that fixed rates are a cartel that’s ugly and unsavory. Yes, it’s under pressure and will remain so. I’m not certain if it will survive for long. But the current administration hasn’t shown any specific interest in ending it any time soon.

. . . .

PP: What are your thoughts about the future of physical bookshops?

HS: I personally believe that physical bookshops will never die, partly because physical, printed books will never completely disappear.

Digital may continue to grow, but tactile reading will not leave human behavior entirely. The total volume may reduce and as a result, only selected, curated works may be made into aesthetically crafted volumes that attract avid readers and connoisseurs alike.

Those who don’t pay attention to books and reading now will be unlikely to complain when there are fewer bookshops in high streets. Books will have stronger constituencies, where people are willing to support physical bookshops because they value the physicality of books, the curation, the serendipitous experience, the conversations, and recommendations over your favorites.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Literary Tourism: Eastern Iowa, With Indie Bookstores Galore

From BookRiot:

I’m a proud Midwesterner, and have loved to call Iowa my home for the past ten years. Iowa is full of lovely towns, both large and small, that have a locally owned independent bookstore on the main street or town square. We’re also a literary and arts hub, due to Iowa City, with its UNESCO City of Literature designation and the famous  University of Iowa Writers Workshop.

Today I’m going to take you on a literary tour of the eastern part of our state and highlight the best spots for readers and book lovers along the way.

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA

Cedar Rapids Public Library: In 2008, the city of Cedar Rapids suffered a terrible flood that found most of downtown underwater. The downtown public library completely flooded, but the city used the opportunity to rebuild to create an exceptional new library. The library is Platinum LEED Certified for sustainability measures incorporated in the design, and in 2017, the library won the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal for Museum and Library Service. This library is definitely worth a wander!

. . . .

Next Page Books: Next Pages Books is an independently owned bookstore in the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District (see: the coolest part of Cedar Rapids). The little shop is warm and inviting, located inside a larger arts and culture building. The owner, Bart, is always ready to chat about books, and his bookstore cat, Frank, is silly and delightful. If you’re in Cedar Rapids, please go visit my hometown faves!

. . . .

BURLINGTON, IOWA

Burlington by the Book: Located in southeast Iowa, near the Mississippi, Burlington by the Book is another lovely independent bookstore. They sell both new and used books, and the proceeds from the used books go toward purchase new books for children.

IOWA CITY, IOWA

Prairie Lights: Prairie Lights has been the indie bookstore for the literary hub of Iowa City since 1978. Today it is three stories, including a wonderful cafe. The bookstore frequently hosts readings of Iowa Writers Workshop graduates and others, including writers like Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, E.E. Cummings, and Stephen King. It’s an incredible bookstore, plus I met my husband there so it will always get a winning endorsement from me!

Self-Guided Literary Tour: Iowa City has put together a self-guided literary tour of all the famous stops, including the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the dorm where Flannery O’Connor lived during her time in Iowa.

Mission Creek Festival (annually in April): Mission Creek is a six day art, music, and literature festival in Iowa City. They “embrace live performance, literary arts, and radical community happenings,” and host readings, panels, a literary magazine and small press book fair, and a Lit Walk that will take you to loads of cool and local stops in Iowa City for readings. I’ve seen Roxane Gay and R.O. Kwon read at recent festivals and it is always a quality line-up.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

B&N’s James Daunt Isn’t Daunted At All

From Publishers Weekly:

If the fortunes of Barnes & Noble are going to be turned around—and new CEO James Daunt is confident they will be—the improvement will be led by the company’s booksellers. In an interview at B&N’s flagship bookstore in New York City, Daunt repeatedly stressed that the makeover of the company will be done by empowering store managers and other booksellers to create stores that meet the needs of their local communities. “The bookseller in North Dakota knows what the customer wants better than someone in New York,” Daunt said, adding that managers won’t be held hostage by planograms from New York when determining how a store should be stocked.

While all buying will still be done from New York (publishers will not need to have reps call on individual stores, as some had thought), managers will be free to display books where they want, order them in the quantities they need, and merchandise them appropriately. Under the new operating philosophy, store managers will be given more responsibility for the performance of their stores. “They won’t be able to say the store isn’t doing well because the people in New York don’t know what they are doing,” Daunt said.

Daunt acknowledged that the change will almost certainly lead to sales declines at a few stores, but he said he is confident that B&N’s booksellers have the ability to create successful stores. He brought that message to the B&N store managers conference held in Orlando last week.

If booksellers are key to reinvigorating B&N, better merchandising is not far behind. Daunt believes that the B&N look has grown stale. “You can’t be a successful chain if you follow a single model,” he said. “Chain stores are exciting when they are shiny and new, but they don’t age well. You need to evolve.”

Professional booksellers are in the best position to create attractive, effective bookstores, Daunt noted (he has been in the bookselling business for almost 30 years). Hiring a designer who works on a Target one week and a Costco the next week isn’t the best route when designing a bookstore, he added. “It takes a special skill”—one learned on the bookstore floor.

. . . .

Though Tim Mantel, B&N’s chief merchandising officer, was let go last month, and longtime senior v-p of corporate communications Mary Ellen Keating’s last day was September 13, Daunt said he doesn’t envision making wholesale changes in the executive team.

. . . .

Daunt made it clear his initial focus will be on improving B&N’s physical stores. “If you improve the stores, everything else will rise,” he said. He has no plans to discontinue the Nook line as long as the devices keep pace with the Kindle. As for BN.com, he believes its performance can be improved, in part, by improving the site’s content. He thinks B&N’s relatively new buy online and pick up in store program has the makings of a hit . . . .

. . . .

Daunt isn’t phased by running both Waterstones and B&N, but he will spend most of his time in the U.S.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that, stylistically, it is almost always (or perhaps just always) a bad idea to attempt to make a pun out of a person’s name.

PG also notes that using the word, “phased” where you should have known to use “fazed” demonstrates that, in your past, you spent way too much time watching Star Trek [not Star Wars, thanks, M] reruns and not enough time paying attention in English class.

“If you improve the stores, everything else will rise.”

PG doesn’t think so. He also doubts the stores will improve if Daunt cuts back on salary expenses as many have predicted he will.

See, for example,

The Barnes & Noble Buyout: A Godsend For Book Readers And Investors

From Forbes:

Book lovers, give thanks. Barnes & Noble is saved, as a deep-pockets acquirer steps up to revive the troubled bookseller. If the company had gone under, it would be a gut shot to the publishing industry. And readers. Yes, Amazon, the goliath of book peddling with half the print book market, would gobble up more market share. But a major provider would be lost if B&N vanished, and book sales overall would suffer.

. . . .

Remember the movie You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 rom-com in which Meg Ryan’s character owns a sweet little children’s bookshop that is threatened when corporate giant Foxbooks opens an outlet across the street? That story had a happy ending in that Ryan and Tom Hanks, playing the heir of the Foxbooks empire, became a couple and, while her shop closed, she ended up running the children’s section for Foxbooks.

Well, in the 21st century, Amazon chieftain Jeff Bezos and Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio aren’t about to start a romance. Bezos has waged scorched-earth warfare. Amazon, with its even larger book selection and ease of shopping, has shredded B&N, along with other book chains. Borders, the No. 2 bookseller chain, closed in 2011.

Barnes & Noble has been on a long retreat. Over the past decade, it shuttered 150 outlets, and now has 627. Revenue and profits have shrunk. In the past four years, the stock price has plummeted by a third (that includes the Elliott run-up). The company has been a revolving door for chief executives. Last summer, it fired the fourth one in five years. Aside from closing outlets, B&N has struggled to find a strategy that worked. It now also sells toys and other junky non-book merchandise, to little effect.

. . . .

Despite these challenges, Daunt and the Elliott juggernaut are arriving at a propitious time for physical books. Turns out that e-books, once thought to be the death of paperbound volumes, are ebbing in popularity, and printed books are making a modest comeback. According to Publishers Weekly, they rose 1.3% in unit sales last year, to 695 million.

Polls show people increasingly like books made from trees, even the electronics-obsessed younger set. Perhaps as a respite from a life spent staring at screens. Who knows?

Link to the rest at Forbes

As an abstract proposition, PG thinks it would be good for readers and indie authors (and probably Amazon) if Amazon had a high-quality, well-funded competitor in bookselling.

However, PG doesn’t think a re-skinned Barnes & Noble, still filled with low-wage clerks, is that competitor.

PG is a bit skeptical about consumer surveys that poo-poo ebooks and their attractiveness to serious readers. However, he could be wrong.

Has anyone seen a recent (last three months or so) survey sponsored by a party without its survival on the line (the American Booksellers Association need not apply) and conducted by a reputable market research organization (Nielsen, Kantar, IRI, Gallup), that has measured consumer purchasing/reading habits in the US or elsewhere?

If so, please put a link in the comments or you can send it privately to PG via the Contact page – https://www.thepassivevoice.com/contact/

What Happened to Barnes And Noble And What’s In Store For The Chain

From Book Riot:

For more than a decade, we’ve been hearing about how Amazon has been the death of bookstores all across the country. And yet Barnes and Noble has been creeping along for years after the closures of other behemoth bookstore chains such as Borders and Crown Books. But in the last few years, Barnes and Noble, too, appeared to be failing. It is quite true that Amazon still corners more than 50% of the market shares in physical book sales, but is Amazon really to blame for the company’s failure? Or did Barnes and Noble lose sight of its original purpose?

. . . .

The last time I went into a Barnes and Noble, this past winter in my hometown, Milwaukee, WI, the entire downstairs was taken up with games, cards, art supplies, music, Starbucks, and other non-book merchandise. Sure, you still have the magazine section and small front display of current bestsellers. There were also some tables boasting old titles on sale for under $5. Overall there was an overwhelming air of sadness and failure. In order to find most of the books, you had to go upstairs. I had a list of about five books that I wanted to track down. I wandered the stacks for a few minutes and struck out on each one. When I finally gave up and asked for help, I ticked through each selection one by one and the increasingly apologetic bookseller confirmed that they carried none of the books I was looking for.

. . . .

Barnes and Noble, once enemy number of one of independent bookstores around the country, met an ironic fate with the rise of Amazon. B&N operated on a model of being the big box store of books, carrying so many titles at such a high volume that they could offer lower prices than any independent bookstore could ever match. Amazon simply beat them at their own game. B&N responded by trying to get in on the ebook craze and created their ereader, the NOOK. While the logic was certainly there, this was, ultimately, a failed venture, losing the company more than a billion dollars.

. . . .

While the closure of B&N certainly would have been catastrophic for the publishing industry, which still relies on these larger booksellers, the trend in bookselling has been turning around in the past couple of years. We are starting to see more independent bookstores opening across the country and thriving. And even ebooks, often touted as the death kiss to physical books, are becoming less popular and giving way to printed books.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

As a reminder, PG doesn’t always agree with the items he posts on TPV.

Indigo Reports First Quarter Decline

From Yahoo Finance:

Indigo Books & Music Inc. (CNW Group/Indigo Books & Music Inc.)

Revenue for the first quarter ended June 29, 2019 was $192 .6 million compared to $205.4 million for the same period last year, a decrease of $12.8 million . This decline in sales was the result of a strategic shift to reduce promotional activity to improve profitability and eliminate unprofitable sales.

. . . .

Additionally, the general merchandise business continues to be affected by softer discretionary spending in certain categories core to the Company, while the book business has sustained historical trends.

Commenting on the results, CEO Heather Reisman said: “This quarter’s results were in line with our expectations. While we continue to face many of the same headwinds from last year, strategic steps to recharge growth, increase productivity and improve profitability are well underway. We remain confident in our investments over the long term and in the steps we are taking.”

Indigo reported a net loss of $19.1 million ( $0.69 net loss per common share) compared to a net loss of $15.4 million ( $0.57 net loss per common share) last year. This decline in profitability was attributed to the decline in sales and restructuring costs, partially offset by lower selling, administrative and other expenses as the Company continues its cost-cutting initiatives.

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

How does an independent bookstore survive for 90 years?

From The Deseret News:

It was 1929 and Gus Weller, a recent German immigrant and the owner of the secondhand shop Salt Lake Bedding, Furniture and Radio on 100 South, found himself in possession of a large collection of books.

“As the story goes, one day, he went to buy some old stuff,” said Tony Weller, Gus Weller’s grandson. “And this house he went to had a phenomenal collection of LDS books. My grandfather was a convert to Mormonism, and he was a very, very dedicated man. He bought those books, and … that collection that convinced him turn his little shop into a bookstore.”

. . . .

It was a decision that would change his life, and in time, shape the lives of his family members for the next 90 years and counting. As Weller Book Works celebrates its 90th anniversary — a millennium in bookstore years — on Aug. 17, its owners Tony and Catherine Weller look back on their bookstore’s history, how the store is doing now and their plans for its future.

. . . .

The early years of Gus Weller’s shop, then-called Zion’s Bookstore, were tough. He opened in the year of the Wall Street crash, running a small business through the Depression and doing his best earn enough for his and his wife Margaret’s 11 children. As World War II came to a close and his son Sam returned from overseas service, Gus Weller decided that his son was the help he was looking for, even if initially, Sam Weller had other ideas.

”(Sam) came back from the war and he thought he was going to get into theater. He liked to sing and dance,” his son Tony Weller said. “No one of the family had the money to go to college, but the GI Bill provided my veteran father with the college tuition, but his father had better plans for him than song and dance.”

Sam Weller — who Tony described as “hyperactive (and) charismatic” — was just what the struggling bookstore needed. He expanded the inventory, adding secular fiction and nonfiction books alongside his father’s collection of books about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For his first few years, Sam Weller slept at the store, showering at the local Deseret Gym, all the time working to help his bookshop grow. But for all of his relentless energy, Sam Weller needed organizational help.

Luckily for him, he fell in love with a woman who was an organization pro.

Sam Weller met Lila Nelson at the bookshop through a mutual friend. At the time, Nelson worked as an assistant to then-Deseret News managing editor Theron Liddle, and after Sam and Lila got married, she brought her mathematic, analytical brain to her new husband’s store.

”She really became the kind of organizer in the bookstore,” Tony Weller recalled. “My dad was more that energetic front man. … My mother was quiet, analytical, organized and together.”

Lila Weller, who at 103 still comes into the bookstore on a regular basis, created a system for tracking and cataloguing that became famous among booksellers throughout the West. In those pre-computer days, her system allowed the bookstore to monitor how long new books sat on the shelves and how many copies they sold.

”The brilliance (of her system was) being able to track (the books) in such detail, not just that you sold (a) book,” Catherine Weller said. It’s important for booksellers to know exactly when they ordered a book and exactly when it sold, rather than, as Catherine put it, going “by your memory and saying, ‘Oh, I ordered that sometime this year, so I’ll get a couple more.’”

. . . .

Taking up two full floors plus a balcony, the bookstore housed new books on the main floor and used books downstairs, a mysterious and musty maze of bookshelves punctuated by, oddly, mirrored pillars.

”We moved into an area that had once been a dance hall,” Tony Weller said. “Why would we take (the mirrors) down? They were cool.”

These were busy years for Tony Weller’s parents. In addition to running the bookstore, Sam Weller was the president of the American Booksellers Association, and in 1969, on Lila Weller’s suggestion, changed the store’s name to Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. But in 1972, the book store caught fire. It was an event that taught Tony Weller two important things about his father.

”One, that he was a mortal,” Tony Weller said. “Until that time, I thought he was the toughest man I’d ever met who could overcome any problem, but that’s the time I saw him cry first. The other thing was that he was nearly a god.”

”He was going into building while it was burning,” Catherine Weller said. “And he did until the fire department told him it was too dangerous.”

. . . .

The fire nearly destroyed the business, Tony Weller recalled, but his father pushed to rebuild and in time, got the bookshop back on its feet. One of Sam Weller’s many gifts as a business owner was his involvement and leadership in the local community and reading communities, earning the title “The Mayor of Main Street” and forming, along with Lila and other local bookstores, the Intermountain Booksellers Association.

But the next couple of decades became increasingly difficult for a business on Main Street. As Salt Lake’s downtown district went through various transitions, from the Beautification Program in 1974 that cut parking, to the construction of the ZCMI and Crossroads Plaza Malls down the street, many Main Street businesses struggled to stay alive. Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore, as one of the largest bookstores in the Western United States, continued to attract readers while many other local business folded or moved, but a new threat — and opportunity — was coming, and it had nothing to with parking spots or shopping centers.

. . . .

”When I was a kid, … I was meeting 20-year-olds or 30-year-olds who were some of the brightest people in their generation,” he recalled. “So this kind of got me into the book business, because … I realized that I needed to stay here if I wanted to work with that caliber of people.”

It helped, too, that Tony Weller’s librarian girlfriend — the woman who became his wife — shared his passion for books and book people, and, like her new mother-in-law, was excited to work in her new husband’s family bookstore. ”When I came in to the bookstore, I came in as a bookseller,” Catherine Weller said.

. . . .

”I think … that people can feel overwhelmed,” Tony Weller said. “They actually like a little bit of help. In a store that’s a little smaller, if you gain the reputation of being smart book pickers by virtue of what you haven’t chosen, people say, ‘It’s a good book or they wouldn’t have chosen it.’”

. . . .

[I]t was the elder Lila Weller who perhaps summed up the Weller family’s dedication to books best. When asked why she still came in to Weller Book Works at age 103, she answered, “Well, I wouldn’t wouldn’t want to (quit). I mean, if somebody said ‘You can never touch another book in your life,’ that would be terrible.”

Link to the rest at The Deseret News

Here’s a link to a story about Lila Weller, including a photo taken of her on her 102nd birthday.

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