W H Smith reports 28% increase in group revenue

From The Bookseller:

High street retailer W H Smith has reported a 28% increase in group revenue compared to 2022, driven by the Travel business, which was up 42%.

In a Pre-Close trading update ahead of publication of the full-year results to 31st August 2023, the retailer showed “strong summer trading” with the full year “in line with expectations”.

W H Smith said the Travel businesses “continued to benefit from the recovery in passenger numbers across all our key travel markets”. UK Travel stores were up 36% compared to 2022, with North America up 31% and Rest of the World up 98%.

. . . .

The retailer also opened 43 stores in North America in the past year, and has had further recent significant tender wins, including four stores at San Diego airport. In the Rest of the World, W H Smith has opened an additional 30 stores and has won further new business, including new stores at Budapest and Madrid airports.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Powell’s Books Employees Walked Out on Labor Day

From Publishers Weekly:

Hundreds of employees at the locations of Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., staged a one-day strike on Labor Day to protest stalled negotiations between ILWU Local 5, the union which has represented Powell’s staff since 2000, and management. The union’s contract ran out on June 7, and employees and management are at an impasse after negotiations have stalled. Last week, the union filed claim of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board against the bookstore, claiming management is not engaging in good faith and is stalling.

At the heart of the issues is the wage structure, with employees arguing that wages have not kept pace with inflation. As reported by the Oregonian, union reps have stated that the majority of employees start at $16.25 an hour, which is not close to the livable wage, which is now $21.85 for the area. Powell’s says it has offered to raise the starting wage for top employees to over $22 and offer as much as $24.25, after increases.

The union characterized Powell’s “last, best, final offer,” offered on August 11, as a lowball proposal. It said that booksellers start at $15.45 an hour, the area’s minimum wage, while 85% make below livable wage, which is $21.85.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

BN Store Staff Goes on Strike

From Publishers Weekly:

The unionized staff of the Barnes & Noble location in Hadley, Massachusetts, staged a walkout on August 25 to draw attention to concerns over inadequate staffing. The B&N employees, represented by UFCW Local 1459, have filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint to address the staffing issues.

According to local news station WWLP, the walkout, which lasted from 2pm to 5pm, was attended not just by B&N staff but also members of the Western Mass Area Labor Federation, which includes unions such as the Massachusetts Society of Professors, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and United Auto Workers Local 2322, as well as members of Trader Joe’s United and the River Valley Democratic Socialists of America.

In an interview with MASS LIVE, UFCW Local 1459 organizing director Drew Weisse said that approximately one dozen B&N employees participated in the walk out, adding that the store had 18 unionized staff at one time but is now down to 11 or 12. “This is an ongoing issue for staff,” Weisse told Mass Live. “The company sends management personnel from other stores rather than hiring replacement staff when someone quits.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Booksellers Are Suddenly At the Vanguard of the Culture Wars

From Esquire:

“There is no such thing as a ‘nonpolitical’ bookstore,” Josh Cook writes in The Art of Libromancy: On Selling Books and Reading Books in the Twenty-First Century. In the age of book banning, publishing industry consolidation, and the pandemic’s lingering aftershocks, Cook’s words ring with frightening truth.

The Art of Libromancy, new on shelves today, taxonomizes the joys, challenges, and disruptions of independent bookselling in 2023. Cook, a veteran bookseller and co-owner at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, writes from the front lines of the sales floor and the stockroom, dissecting how booksellers evaluate what to sell and how to sell it. From making recommendations to organizing display tables to stocking books by politicians, these seemingly granular decisions are matters of moral urgency; as Cook reminds us, “People use books to develop their morals, support and test their belief structures, come to conclusions about the state of the world, and make voting decisions.”

The massive systemic pressures facing bookstores are enough to make anyone feel powerless, but Cook insists that booksellers have a powerful role to play in advancing social justice and shoring up community bonds. “Person to person, display to display, reader to reader, event to event,” he tells Esquire, “book sales have a real opportunity to shape publishing and the world of books in a way that creates a more sustainable books ecosystem and also a more sustainable world.”

. . . .

ESQUIRE: What are the biggest challenges facing bookstores and booksellers nowadays?

JOSH COOK: The challenges facing society are the same challenges bookstores face: climate change, the threat of fascism in America, the problems that capitalism creates in communities. All of that makes it more difficult to sell books because people are struggling—they don’t have the money they should have for the amount of work that they do, and they don’t have the leisure to enjoy books and connect with the bookish community. We need to have booksellers and readers to sell books, but some parts of our society make that very difficult.

Looking closer at bookstores themselves, one of the biggest challenges is, of course, Amazon. From its inception, Amazon’s goal has seemingly been to put every other retailer out of business, and they got their start going for bookstores. Independent bookstores have made a compelling argument for their readers as to why it’s important and in their best interests to pay 40% to 60% more for a title with them than they would pay at Amazon. That’s heartening—and there have been hopeful shifts in how monopoly and antitrust legislation are enforced in the United States. The next thing is consolidation in the publishing industry. There are five publishers that publish the vast majority of books in English, but that consolidation also applies to printers and wholesalers. If one of these giant companies makes a decision, it has an immediate impact on bookstores.

These systemic problems are enough to make anyone feel powerless, but you argue that booksellers can create change. What can booksellers do to advance social justice in their stores?

The most important thing booksellers can do is always ask themselves, Can I do more with this recommendation? Can I do more with this display? Can I do more with this event? You want to bring great reads to your community, and you want to recommend a book that someone is actually going to buy. But I think there’s space in those conversations, in those displays, in those events, to say, “Is this book a book that makes the world a better place? Is this book a book that also supports my values? Is this a book that’s going to add more to the community?” It’s about understanding that you’re always an advocate as well as a bookseller. For whatever reason you decide to put a book in someone’s hand or place it on display, you’re an advocate for that book. That’s a responsibility, but also a power. Person to person, display to display, reader to reader, event to event, book sales have a real opportunity to shape publishing and the world of books in a way that creates a more sustainable books ecosystem and also a more sustainable world.

In the book, you write, “There’s no such thing as a non-political bookstore.” The choice of if and how to sell books by right-wing writers is one of the most obvious political decisions facing bookstores. You argue that genre can be a helpful tool to solve this challenge. How can genre usefully help us engage with the problem of right-wing books?

Genre is a way of providing context and framing for the books that you sell. Sometimes that’s just letting someone know that one book is more likely to have robots and lasers in it than another book. Alex Shepherd wrote in The New Republic that if fact checking was required in nonfiction books, that would pose an existential crisis for conservative publishing. So if a bookstore wants to represent a broad spectrum of contemporary American political thought, but also wants to say that these books are nonfiction, that’s a challenge. One way you could solve that problem is to add context through genre. “Politicians and pundits” was my idea for our store. I thought we should separate political talk show hosts and politicians from political science. That’s not to say that politicians and pundits can’t write truthful books, but that when you present it in that context, your customers recognize it as something different. It’s hard to know what kind of impact this would have, but it has the potential to produce a really interesting conversation. Genre is just an agreement, and agreements can change.

As book bans surge in libraries and schools, I’ve been troubled to see it expanding into bookstores. What are you seeing and hearing on the front lines?

The biggest threat right now is in Texas, which has basically made it impossible to sell books to schools. This is really important to know in terms of national context. It’s easy to think, “It’s just happening in the red states,” but because Texas is such a huge market, their educational decisions have an impact on educational publishing. I saw recently that Follett was asking its publishers to start pre-screening their books for continued sale in Texas. The impact of that is much broader than Texas.

The most important thing to know about book bans is that people who believe in them will go as far as they can. If they can only get to school libraries and public libraries before pressure or legal systems stop them, that’s as far as they’ll get. If they can get to bookstores, they will; if they can get to publishers, they will. If they can get to writers, they will; if they can get to readers, they will. In the bookstore world, there’s an appropriate level of alarm. I can’t speak directly to the organizing efforts of the American Booksellers Association or PenAmerica, but I know they’re working on it. There are reasons to be really scared, but there are also reasons to be hopeful.

What are those reasons to be hopeful?

No one is treating this as an isolated thing. I also think it’s clear that the vast majority of people don’t support book bans. It’s clear from reporting on the groups leading these challenges that they’re a fringe minority—it’s just that they’re well-funded, well-organized, and committed to imposing their views on other people. Every time they fight and lose, that’s a reason to be hopeful. The question is: how do we get the majority into avenues of power where they can fight back and create the community that we actually want?

Another sea change we’re seeing in bookselling is a rise in unionization efforts. Do you feel that there’s a groundswell among booksellers to join the labor movement?

I do. One of the challenges that bookselling has always faced is the idea of vocational awe—the sense that because you’re working with books, doing community work in the arts, that everything inherent about you and what you do will be positive. That’s just not true and it’s never been true, though it’s been a useful tool for books and other creative industries to convince people to work for far less than they’re worth. During the pandemic, this illusion was punctured. Bookstore owners and corporate America in general said, “I know you’re dying, but go to work anyway.” A lot of questions arose from that—and once you start asking those questions, it’s not hard to ask about wages, working conditions, unpaid overtime, and everything that vocational awe.

One of the great solutions to these questions is, of course, unionizing. As a manager and owner, unionizing is also good for managers and owners, because it creates an empowered workforce—and in a community-heavy industry like bookstores, you want people to feel good about being there. Unionizing also means you’ve got a contract, so there’s no more doubt anymore. There’s no more judgment; there’s no more having to figure things out. Small businesses often have to figure things out on the fly, but for stores that unionize, that’s all hammered out in negotiations, which provides some real pathways better communication, better production, and ultimately better sales.

What advice do you have about how best to patronize our local bookstores?

If you ever get a great recommendation from someone, go back and tell them or send an email to the store. It’s really validating and energizing when we find out that you loved our recommendation. A few other things that don’t cost money: if you talk about books on social media, include a link to your favorite bookstore. Direct links sell more and don’t cost you anything, so it’s a great way to support bookstores without having to buy anything more. Also: if you’re someone who plans well, do your holiday shopping in October. If you know you’re going to spend $100 on books this holiday season, that $100 is great in October for a few reasons. At this point in the year, bookstores might be short on cash ahead of the huge holiday season. Spreading out shopping makes it easier to raise wages, because there isn’t that cash crunch. Something else to consider: there will be people in our stores in December who if we do not help them, they’ll buy a Visa gift card for the reader in their life, so for those of you who are savvy bookstore shoppers, if we’re not helping you in that on December 22nd at 7:45 PM, we’ll have more time and more energy to help those who otherwise would not be shopping with us.

The last thing I would say as a way to use bookstores well is this: take some risks. Walk up to a bookseller and say, “Give me your favorite book,” or, “Give me what I should read now.” Try it, read it. You’ll maybe discover a genre you’ve never heard of before. You’ll discover authors you’ve never heard of before. You’ll get something really exciting, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay. It’s all about being willing to be connected to the community, and willing to support your bookstores and booksellers.

Link to the rest at Esquire

PG suggests that the reason many (most?) bookstore owners resist unionization is that 90% of retail bookstores are financially marginal operations. If unionization results in pressure to increase employee salaries (a major factor in a great preponderance of unionization campaigns) the bookstore is brought closer to bankruptcy if the employees are unionized.

As far as bookstore employees providing genius book recommendations, that’s an experience PG has never had. Of course, PG’s book choices border on the manic. Even he cannot project what he’ll be reading in a week, so he expects he’s different from a great many readers.

PG’s mother (God rest her soul) took PG and his siblings to the library on a regular basis unless it was simply too far to drive. In college, PG worked at the very large university library, reshelving books and helping students and/or professors find this or that obscure volume deeply buried or, worse, misfiled in the endless stacks.

He has no bad memories of those library experiences. However, times change.

Online at Amazon or online at his local library is the exclusive way PG selects his books.

Having just downsized from Casa PG, PG is highly aware of how many printed boat anchors he and Mrs. PG acquired over many years of residing in that house, most prior to the widespread availability of ebooks. Printed books fell under the category of “burdened by too many possessions.”

Booksellers Want Justice Department to Investigate Amazon

From BookRiot:

As the Federal Trade Commission moves towards what looks like a lawsuit against Amazon, several authors, booksellers, and anti-trust activists want Amazon’s bookselling to also be investigated.

The Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, and antitrust think tank Open Markets Institute sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission requesting that they disrupt the monopoly on the book market that Amazon has.

The retail giant’s influence on the book world can’t be overstated — 40% of physical books sold in the U.S. are sold by Amazon, as are 80% of e-books sold. Amazon’s 2008 purchase of Audible has also helped it dominate the realm of audiobooks. The reason this is an issue for the world of publishing is that, for one, it has resulted in fewer books sold by physical bookstores across the country. And Amazon has a tendency to highlight well-known authors, making it even harder for other, lesser-known authors to get attention on their books.

The letter cites the importance of free-flowing ideas within a democracy as the reason why Amazon’s role as a bookseller should be looked into by the government, “The open access to the free flow of ideas is essential to a well-functioning democracy. The government has the responsibility to ensure that actors with oversized power cannot control or interfere with the open exchange of ideas.”

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG suggests that it’s difficult to make a case that Amazon is harming consumers with its low prices and the huge variety of books on offer — far, far more than any physical bookstore can stock.

As far as ebooks are concerned, how many ebooks do the members of the American Booksellers Association sell each year and what is the price of those ebooks?

Does anyone know of any evidence that Amazon interferes with “access to the free flow of ideas” with its huge collection of print books, old and new, and ebooks, offered at lower prices than anyone else provides? As PG has mentioned before, being a large and successful business organization is not a violation of antitrust laws.

He further suggests that selling printed and ebooks from a stock far larger than any physical bookstore has for sale at significantly lower prices than the members of the American Booksellers Association routinely charge doesn’t hurt readers or other consumers in any measurable way.

That Cool New Bookstore? It’s a Barnes & Noble

From The Wall Street Journal:

Barnes & Noble was once the enemy of independent bookstores. Now it’s trying to be more like them. And no place better explains the improbable reinvention of the biggest American bookstore chain than the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

That shop in one of the world’s greatest book markets has been a battleground since the day it opened three decades ago. It might be the most iconic of the chain’s 596 locations: It’s the store that helped inspire the mega-store run by Tom Hanks’s character in the classic romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail.”

It also has been the site of a grand experiment for much of the past year. The chain invested millions of dollars to rebuild this Barnes & Noble into a model for its other stores to emulate as the company transforms into a bookseller for the modern age.

“You don’t want to go too crazy in a Barnes & Noble because one of the joys of this store is that everybody comes in here,” said James Daunt, the chief executive since the company was taken private in 2019. “But do I think this can be a really interesting bookstore that is much, much more interesting than it currently is? Oh my goodness, yes.”

He would know. Daunt was a respected independent bookseller in London before he found himself running chains in both the U.K. and U.S. He was exactly the sort of person who could make Barnes & Noble interesting.

His plan to save the company and its bookstores is to combine the power of a big chain with the pleasure of a beloved indie. By shifting control of the process to individual store managers across the country, Daunt is giving local booksellers permission to do things they were never able to do before. They have discretion over purchasing, placement and even pricing. He wants Barnes & Noble locations to feel welcoming but not overwhelming—a chain store should be more inviting and less intimidating than a truly independent shop—and that means he needs the people who run them to make sensible decisions for their markets. “It’s only inexcusable if it’s not interesting,” he said.

. . . .

The Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side was incoherent the first time he showed me around last winter. It was cold and dreary outside and felt that way inside, where he was trying to make sense of an odd assortment of books. Viola Davis’s memoir was next to Franz Kafka’s diaries. Judd Apatow’s comedy interviews sat near a spiritual biography of George H.W. Bush. John le Carré was inches from Geena Davis. 

I thought Daunt might pull the books off the shelf and rearrange them himself, but the whole point of his approach is that the CEO shouldn’t be the one making those calls. A bookstore exists to serve readers—not publishers, not investors and definitely not the bloke running Barnes & Noble. 

Barnes & Noble used scale and uniformity to its benefit in the 1990s and 2000s, but those advantages have since become liabilities. Bookstores don’t have to be the same from one to another. They shouldn’t be, either. The best managers know the books they sell and the customers who buy them—and what works on the Upper West Side might not work in West Des Moines. 

The idea behind the new Barnes & Noble is to make the national chain more like a collection of 596 local indies. The famous one in my neighborhood used to symbolize the company’s past. Now it offers a peek at its future. “If we can do it here,” Daunt said, “we can do it anywhere.” 

Daunt agreed to give me before-and-after tours of the Upper West Side turnaround project, so we met in January and made plans to return when the shop was ready. By the time we met again in June, the vision he described had come to life.

The major renovation was necessary because the mission of bookstores has changed since this one opened in 1993. Back then, someone who wanted a specific book would visit their favorite brick-and-mortar store. Now anyone in need of that book probably visits Amazon. 

This profound shift in consumer behavior prompted Barnes & Noble to reconsider the very purpose of a Barnes & Noble. 

A physical bookstore competing against a $1.4 trillion online everything store must give people the stuff they know they want and the stuff they didn’t know they wanted. 

“We’re here to help people browse,” Daunt said. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG much prefers reading to browsing. Perhaps he’s an outlier, but he’s happy to stay at home, read a detailed book review from a source whose opinion he respects, then locate the book on Amazon (where he can read the book’s description, flip through a few pages and, occasionally, consider the opinions of a handful of people who have read the book and left reviews) and start reading the book.

Learning about an interesting book, then going to a physical bookstore to purchase it is simply not one of the options PG considers these days.

After reading the OP, although the photos of the bookstore didn’t look like anything special or dramatically different from a number of other bookstores, PG would be interested to see Mr. Daunt’s Manhattan store in person, but he’s not certain when or if he’s ever going to be in New York.

If visitors to TPV happen to see any follow-up stories about BN that report on actual sales in the Manhattan store after its opening phase that don’t sound like corporate happy talk, PG would be interested in hearing about them via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog.

Book Sales Continue to Slow Down in First Half of 2023

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After unit sales of print books were basically flat in the first quarter of 2023 compared to 2022, they finished the first half of the year down 2.7%. Sales fell from 363.4 million in the first six months of 2022 to 353.5 million this year at outlets that report to Circana BookScan.

First-quarter sales were given a big boost by Spare by Prince Harry, which sold about 1.1 million copies during the period and was also the bestselling book for the first half of the year. But no title came close to matching its sales level in the second quarter. (More bestselling books of the year so far will be featured in next week’s issue.)

The 2.7% decline in the first half of 2023 followed a 6.6% drop in the first six months of 2022 compared to 2021; unit sales were 387.5 million in the first half of 2021, 8.5% higher than in the same period this year. In taking the longer view back to prepandemic times, units were up 12% in the first half of this year compared to 2019.

The trends for the first six months of 2023 are no surprise: sales of adult fiction are up, with declines in the other major categories. And, as has been the case for a while, backlist is doing better than frontlist, with backlist sales down 2.1% compared to frontlist’s 4.2% drop.

Only a handful of books published in 2023 (including Spare) managed to land on BookScan’s top 25 list. Dav Pilkey’s newest Dog Man entry, Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea, sold more than 771,000 copies, making it the #4 title in 2023 thus far. Other new releases that did well were two Colleen Hoover books, Heart Bones and Never Never, which sold approximately 430,000 and 374,000 copies, respectively, and Emily Henry’s Happy Place, which sold about 415,000 copies.

New releases helped make romance the fastest-growing adult fiction genre in the first six months of the year, with sales up 34.6%. The horror/occult/psychology and fantasy genres also had strong gains, with sales up 32.5% and 26.5%, respectively. The high-flying graphic novels category cooled off in the period, with units down 22.7%; even with the decline, graphic novels, with unit sales of 13.8 million, was the third-largest genre in adult fiction.

The boost provided by Spare made biography/autobiography/memoir one of only three adult nonfiction subcategories to have a sales increase in the first six months, with sales up 4.6%. Travel had the largest increase, up 6.6%, and sales of religion books inched ahead 1.9%. The two categories most closely associated with stay-at-home activities during the pandemic had the largest declines, as sales of home/gardening books dropped 17.5% and sales of cooking/entertaining titles fell 15.4%.

Only one category in juvenile fiction had an increase, with sales of animals books up 14%. The largest decline came in the sci-fi/fantasy/magic area, where sales fell 11.3%. With the exception of holidays/festivals/religion, sales in all juvenile nonfiction subcategories fell in the period, with both history/sports/people/places and education/reference/language posting declines of more than 11%.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Barnes & Noble Workers at Main Brooklyn Store Join Union

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Barnes & Noble workers at the retail giant’s main Brooklyn location have voted to unionize after the company’s New York Flagship Store unionized earlier this month. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced June 29 that it will represent more than 30 booksellers, baristas, cashiers, and non-supervisory employees at the Barnes & Noble Park Slope location after 88% voted in favor to join the union.

“Workers are sending a clear message to Barnes & Noble, organizing a union is the only way to win a voice at work that can create real change – and they’re winning by historic margins,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. “Bookstore workers across the industry, from independent sellers to corporate behemoths like Barnes & Noble face safety concerns, lack of training, and substandard wages. Only with a union, will these issues and more be heard.

According to RWDSU, workers at the Brooklyn store faced safety and workplace quality issues, such as “workplace harassment, substandard pay for the industry below that of independent booksellers, unstable scheduling practices, a lack of structure when it comes to job duties and tasks at work, and favoritism.” The RWDSU said the workers are aiming to address these issues when their first contract negotiations commence this year.

“It is time for the industry to open a new chapter on how it treats its workers, and Barnes & Noble workers are writing the book,” added Appelbaum.

Bookseller Sydul Akhanji said he is “happy and relieved” with the outcome. “Excited to see how things go moving forward. I hope B&N is listening to us and will work with us as we begin negotiations,” he said. “And I hope other retail workers who are interested in unionization find this moment to be inspiring and get active.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

How To Design For Local Bookstores

From The Book Designer:

If you love books and work as a freelancer, you may want to learn how to design for local bookstores. Graphic design, aesthetics, and something as simple as layout can transform readers’ experiences. 

Local bookstores are diamonds in the book world. With large chain bookstores coming to larger prominence in the last several decades, the feel of intimate, small town stores is a cherished experience. 

You can play a large role in the writing world via engaging in design for local bookstores. Additionally, the more experience you gain in this area the better you will understand how to design for and market your own work. 

How To Design For Local Bookstores: Various Options

When it comes to learning how to design for local bookstores, your options are far from limited. Whether you want to create a modern seating area, make the café more accessible, or create new posters, you’ve come to the right place.

#1 – Seating Area

If your bookstore does not include a seating area, you want to prioritize this. A great way to learn how to design for local bookstores is focus on building a customer-first layout. When readers wander in, seeing a friendly seating space will help them feel comfortable. 

#2 – Checkout Lines

When designed with intention, checkout lines can improve sales, customer satisfaction, and increase traffic. You may want to consider placing special sale books near the counter. This way when customers wait for service they have both more books to look at and affordable purchase options. 

#3 – Shelf Design

The layout of shelves should center on who your audience is and what type of books they like most. Knowing how to design for local bookstores specifically is powerful because you have unique access to your readers. You know what they love and why they love it, and can design for their personal taste.

#4 – Web Design

If you are familiar with Squarespace, WordPress, and other website platforms, your design for local bookstores could take a different angle. Without a standardized brand, it can be difficult for local stores to find their niché. If you understand branding and web design, consider offering your services. 

#5 – Posters and Promotional Material

Along the lines of web services, design for local bookstores can often include graphics such as posters for promos. Authors love coming in for signings in their hometown and these events need promotion. 

Benefits From Engaging In Design

Design contributes to marketing success, and local bookstores can greatly benefit from quality marketing. However, when you choose to learn how to design for local bookstores, it’s a two-way street. You can gain invaluable benefits as well. 

#1 – Experience Talking About Your Book

Spending time in a bookstore eventually opens opportunities for you to talk about your own writing. This is a natural environment to practice discussing your book and can prepare you for future pitching. In addition, talking about your book can help you secure feedback. What do people resonate with? When do their eyes seem to glaze over? 

#2 – Gain The Chance To Network With Local Authors

The design team for a bookstore often gets a type of backstage pass to authors. The publishing world relies heavily on who you know. Networking with local authors can be less intimidating and provide you with connections that will prove extremely helpful later on.

#3 – Learn Tips On Platform Building

Seeing the backend of how a local bookstore runs can give you a multifaceted view of publishing. When do most authors have signings? What months do more attendees seem to show up? Over time, you can find the answers to these questions and set yourself up for future writing success.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

When PG was first starting TPV, he learned a lot about how traditional publishers did their business from Joel Friedlander, the proprietor of The Book Designer. For quite a long time, Joel was a book designer for several New York publishers. If PG’s recollection is complete, Joel’s business was then focused on the interior design of books – making what was between the covers look professional in a style that reflected the nature of the book and its author.

Joel’s experiences included the book business long before the widespread use of personal computers to format books and design covers.

Joel is now associated with selfpublishing.com, which appears to be an assisted self-publishing company.

PG notes that some people in the self-publishing assistance business have been less than satisfactory in terms of providing useful services to aspiring authors at fair prices.

That said, he had not heard of selfpublishing.com before reading that Joel was involved with the organization.

PG spent a bit of time on the company’s website and watched part of a TedX video about the company featuring its founder.

The website touted self-publishing “packages” that cost $7,000 – $10,000.

This seemed pretty steep to PG.

He also found a few unsatisfied customers who had filed complaints against the company through The Better Business Bureau. While this is not conclusive evidence because some people will complain about almost anything regardless of what the counterparty to an agreement did or did not do, it raises a pale yellow flag in PG’s mind.

PG is not in a position to judge whether selfpublishing.com is providing good service at a fair price or not. To be fair to the company, a lot of people just don’t have the talent and temperament to be an author of a book. Most traditionally-published books are not regarded by their publishers as successful. Most self-published books are not successful by any reasonable standard.

Talents vary from person to person. The list of things that PG could never be good at doing is quite long, much, much longer than the list of things PG is good at doing.

For example, even with the best coaching and assistance in the world, PG could never be a successful ballet dancer. Although he grew up on farms and ranches where he worked when he wasn’t going to school, PG does not have what it takes to be a successful farmer or rancher. Or dentist. Or electrical engineer.

PG would never waste his time compiling a comprehensive list of jobs/occupations/pastimes/hobbies that he could never be good at, that list would be far, far longer than the things PG is or could be good at doing.

Yes, PG has belabored this general topic for too long.

He will end by saying,

1) Never sign an agreement without reading it, especially if you’re giving someone else money in connection with your signature, and

2) If, after reading an agreement, you don’t understand it clearly, show it to someone who can understand it, and

3) You don’t have to read the agreement the hospital gives you to sign when you’ve been brought there in dire condition by an ambulance. If you die in a pool of blood while reading an agreement under such circumstances, there is nothing that the finest attorney who ever lived could do for you.

(Under such dire circumstances, PG would probably sign the document with a wavy line and leave a bloody smear below his signature, indicating that he was unable to read the agreement and in no condition to understand it. PG has never tried that argument with a judge or jury, so can’t assess whether this approach might help or not.)

If Not Big Names, Then What?

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I opened a can of worms in my own head when I wrote last week’s blog which I titled “Stars.” The post deals with the fact that there are no big names in entertainment any longer, except for legacy names, like Harrison Ford in movies and Stephen King in fiction. A source I quoted from The Hollywood Reporter believed that there were no new stars created in the movies since about 2008, which he blamed on the collapse of the DVD market.

Although he had his finger on part of the problem, I don’t think he saw all of it.

. . . .

What happened in movies in 2008? The same thing that happened to books at the turn of the century. Part of their distribution system collapsed.

The music industry started dealing with this in the 1990s as well, as the record stores vanished and iTunes took over. I don’t know if any of you have looked at iTunes recently, but trying to find the latest hit single by anyone let alone someone you like requires using the search function, rather than seeing what’s happening on the home page.

The collapse of the distribution system—or rather, the changes in distribution—have had an impact on us all. One of the things the change has done is level the playing field. Now anyone with the proper equipment can enter an artistic arena with more than a snowball’s chance in hell of not only having a success but having multiple successes.

The problem is as it always was—discoverability.

I’m going to move off of the entire entertainment industry now, and look at books. As I wrote last time, books were part of a curated system, in which tastemakers (editors, publishers, publishing houses) determined what choices readers had in the books that hit the shelves.

Those shelves were limited, both in time and space. As a local bookstore owner learned back when I lived in Oregon, if you keep books on the shelves until those books sold, your store went from a store that featured “new” books to a store that featured books from years gone by. The product (books) had to be refreshed constantly or readers had no reason to browse.

Twenty years ago, the publishing industry was a B2B industry. It sold books to bookstores—business to business—and hadn’t learned any other way to do so. Traditional publishing is still a B2B operation, even though most bookstores have gone online or gone away entirely.

Indie publishers are a B2C business—Business to Consumer. It’s a much better system. We need to market to readers, not to some bookstore chain or nameless distributor somewhere.

The problem is that the book promotion shorthand is based on B2B, not B2C.

What’s the difference (besides the obvious final letter)? The owners of other businesses do not have the time to read all of the product in their stores. Back in the day of the megabookstores like Barnes & Noble once strived to be, there were literally thousands of books on the shelves, with hundreds more clamoring to get in each month.

No one can read all of that.

The local bookstore I mentioned above, the one that got stuck in amber, probably had five hundred titles in the store, and even when those titles remained on the shelf for 18 months, the employees still did not have time to read everything.

The consumer, on the other hand—who shall, from henceforth, be called the reader because it is more accurate—has one of two attitudes toward a book that floats past their eyeballs.

The first attitude is hey! I haven’t read that yet! What is it?

The second attitude is oh, yeah! I like that series and/or the previous book by that author. I’ll take a look at this one.

Then there’s the third attitude, one that doesn’t happen with a book in front of the eyes. The third attitude happens when there is no book. That attitude is Hey! Does Suzette T. Writer have a new book out? I should check.

Or that third attitude might be framed this way: Hey! Is there a new book in the AngelCat Extraordinaire Series? I should check.

Nothing in B2B marketing does more than answer the second two questions, maybe. And probably the only question it might answer is the one about Suzette T. Writer…provided Suzette T. Writer is what traditional publishing called a big name.

Readers buy stories. They want stories that will appeal to them. In addition, they want more of the same but with a surprise or two packed inside.

Traditional publishing did do one thing right in its quest for shorthand. It created genre categories. Genre categories and the subgenres within made it possible in a B2B world for readers to find the type of stories that they liked without relying on big names.

Ironically, genres weren’t created with marketing in mind. Or maybe that’s not ironic, considering how averse traditional publishing was to actual marketing. I was about to launch, yet again, into the history of traditional publishing marketing which I’ve written maybe a dozen times. I plucked history out of a past post and put it up on my Patreon page for everyone to read. I suggest you go there, so you understand how the marketing for traditional publishing evolved.

Anyway, genre and subgenre categories were the only thing that made life easier for the reader. The rest of what traditional publishing did made life easier for the distributors and the bookstores, by freeing up shelf space. This is why book series would often stop in the middle with no hope of finishing the saga or why an author would completely vanish from the shelves.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

AI Is About to Turn Book Publishing Upside-Down

From Publisher’s Weekly:

The latest generation of AI is a game changer. Not incremental change—something gentle, something gradual: this AI changes everything, fast. Scary fast.

I believe that every function in trade book publishing today can be automated with the help of generative AI. And, if this is true, then the trade book publishing industry as we know it will soon be obsolete. We will need to move on.

There are two quick provisos, however. The first is straightforward: this is not just about ChatGPT—or other GPTs (generative pretrained transformers) and LLMs (large language models). A range of associated technologies and processes can and will be brought into play that augment the functionality of generative AI. But generative AI is the key ingredient. Without it, what I’m describing is impossible.

The second proviso is of a different flavor. When you make absolutist claims about a technology, people will invariably try to defeat you with another absolute. If you claim that one day all cars will be self-driving, someone will point out that this won’t apply to Formula One race cars. Point taken.

This isn’t about Formula One publishing. I’m going to be talking about “good enough”—about what people will accept, what they’ll buy, and what they’ll actually read. I’m not going to claim that Formula One publishers won’t be able to do a better job than AI on many of the processes described below. But I’ll challenge you to consider exactly where the human touch brings sufficient added value to justify the overhead in time and costs.

Does any of this mean that there will be no future for great novels and fine nonfiction studies? Of course it doesn’t. That’s not my point.

Do I doubt that there will still be fantastic cover designs from talented designers? Of course there will be. We’ll still stumble on new books on bookstore shelves and, humbled by the grandeur of their cover designs, declare that there’s no way they could have been designed with AI. And sometimes we’ll be right.

. . . .

Professional copyediting is the kerning of 2023. The tech is not quite here today. I don’t think that GPT-4 can yet handle copyediting to the standard that book publishers require. But that ability is going to be here sooner, not later. While professionally copyedited books may still be “better” to a refined editor’s eye, you won’t be able to sell more books with the professional human touch. They will already be good enough.

What about developmental editing? You might not let a GPT make the final editorial decisions, but you’d be foolish not to ask it for suggestions.

And ChatGPT will become the patron saint of the slush pile. Its abilities to evaluate grammar and logical expression allow it to make a once-over assessment of whether a book is (reasonably) well written. It might not spot the gems, but it will know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Ah, you will say, recalling one of those manuscripts that were rejected by 100 publishers but went on to become an unexpected bestseller—surely a GPT might miss those, too. Yet so did 100 purportedly well-trained publishing professionals.

. . . .

For the publishing industry, online distribution and advertising have separated writers from readers. Self-published authors have proven that the closer one gets to their audience, the more fans they will get and the more books they will sell. While online resellers aggregate audiences into big broad buckets, AI disambiguates them, enabling writers and readers to forge direct connections.

Amazon has become an overpriced rentier that publishers can ill afford. It can still be a door opener for new authors, but for established publishers it charges too much for what it delivers.

Amazon’s dominant position in bookselling is not going to change overnight, nor even in the morning. But part of the publishing transformation that AI will engender will be a series of energetic attempts to disrupt Amazon’s position in the distribution ecosystem. As media continues to morph, AI seeds new delivery channels. Amazon will try to dominate each new channel via acquisitions, as it did so brilliantly when it bought Audible in 2008 for $300 million. But Amazon is a lesser player in the video and gaming spaces, and, as yet, in the new entertainment channels that AI is germinating. This is shaping up as a classic example of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.

But I see a bright future for bookstores. It can be chilly in AI’s uncanny valley, and bookstores will remain singular sources for camaraderie and the human touch.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

The last paragraph in PG’s excerpt raised the question in PG’s mind: “Are people who go to bookstores unable to find “camaraderie and the human touch” anywhere else?

PG imagined a book, “The Lonely Lives of Bookstore Customers.”

Workers at Park Slope B&N File for Union Election; Hadley, Mass. Store Votes for Union

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Barnes & Noble workers at the Park Slope, Brooklyn, store filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on May 25, seeking representation from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The news comes a little less than a month after workers at the flagship B&N store in Manhattan’s Union Square launched their own union drive, and on the same day as 15 workers at the B&N outlet in Hadley, Mass., voted unanimously to join the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459. The Union Square B&N election is scheduled for June 7.

In a release, the RWDSU said that a majority of Park Slope workers had signed RWDSU authorization cards and that workers had asked B&N to voluntarily recognize the union “so that contract negotiations could commence swiftly.” The election, the union added, could be held as early as next month. There are more than 30 union-eligible workers at the store, including baristas, booksellers, cashiers, and maintenance staff.

“I have been working at this store for over a year, and I constantly see how our low wages affect me and my coworkers in what I can choose to afford each week,” Haruka Iwasaki, a senior bookseller at the Park Slope store, said in a statement. “There is an unfair balance in how much I am working and how much we are getting paid. I want all of us to experience full-time benefits like health insurance if we work full-time hours. For these reasons, we are coming together to create a better way to work at this place that we love.”

B&N workers organizing union drives at multiple stores have now launched new national social media accounts: @BNWorkers on Twitter and @BarnesandNobleUnion on Instagram.

Earlier this week, at the U.S. Book Show, B&N CEO James Daunt addressed changes to the company’s previous hierarchical employment structure, noting that the bookseller is focusing on providing better compensation and career development opportunities for bookstore employees. Virtual attendees responded to Daunt’s assertions in the online chat, asking why the company has not raised base pay.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG says this sort of thing doesn’t work very well with discounted pricing at BN. He suspects the real beneficiaries of the unionization efforts will be independent bookstores. To the best of PG’s knowledge of the unionized locations mentioned in the OP, there are likely indie bookstore alternatives if customers don’t like what PG anticipates will be Barnes & Noble’s new pricing policy in unionized stores.

Barnes & Noble is also going to have tougher negotiations with traditional publishers regarding discounts from publishers’ “list price” if this sort of employee movement spreads along the many large cities on the Atlantic coast of the US.

How Should We Feel About Barnes & Noble Now?

From Book Riot:

When I realized my childhood Barnes & Noble was closing, I was devastated. I’m an indie bookstore lover, but growing up, there were no indie bookstores in my town: only one gorgeous, cozy Barnes & Noble. We went to book clubs there as kids, met there as teens basically every Friday night, studied for the SATs there, got coffee there to catch up over summers home from college. It held tons of concentrated memories.

The good news was that it was simply moving, not closing for good. It would have a new location and be one of the first “new Barnes & Noble stores” using their new layout, approach, and model. But was that good news?

Let’s back up. Years ago, there was a push to support indies over mega chains, but in recent years, Amazon’s threat has changed the story somewhat, leading many book lovers (me included) to acknowledge that Barnes & Noble, as one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar chains, is still a preferable option over Amazon. They’ve made some headway over the past couple years as they once again spin to becoming the “hero” of the story, the big-box store that outlasted and survived Amazon, proving our love of physical locations and physical books despite the odds.

. . . .

However, their new attempts to rejuvenate their stores are a way to appropriate the warm coziness and trust we have in an indie bookstore while taking away the mechanics of an indie on the back end. The maze-like layout is meant to be a “curated, cozy, and welcoming space for communities to work, read and browse.” But while branding and new layouts may seem innocent, anyone who has worked in the business world knows that it’s often more complicated than it appears.

After Barnes & Noble was sold to a hedge fund in 2019, owners Elliott Advisors brought in James Daunt, the chief executive of UK chain Waterstones (owned by the same company, I should add). His strategy for saving Barnes & Noble included giving local stores more individualized flexibility to choose what they sell based on local demand, moving away from the gifts and toys section, moving locations into smaller physical spaces, and redesigning the stores.

It’s not a coincidence that Barnes & Noble sought to capture something of what the indies were bringing to the table. Over the pandemic, books boomed, but so did a certain nostalgia for physical spaces and for wandering and browsing in-person. Indie bookstores benefited from this, and new ones have been popping up all over the country over the last few years. Barnes & Noble wants to take advantage of this moment.

But all moments aren’t created equal. As Jenn Northington unpacked in her piece in 2022, there was a 12.4% drop in hardcover sales from 2021 to 2022. And in 2022, Twitter buzzed with the realization that Barnes & Noble’s new policy seemed to be to stock only hardcovers that had “proven sales” records, making it harder for debut authors, “genre” authors, and authors traditionally neglected by the industry (people of color, queer and trans authors, disabled authors, etc.) to be discovered.

. . . .

Northington says it best:

“If the only hardcovers you can find at your local branch are also the ones that are on the bestseller list, which are also the ones getting marketing dollars, which are also the ones that the algorithms are suggesting to you online, then the chances of, say, a debut author from a marginalized community getting their book in front of your face long enough for you to see it and consider buying it are lower than ever.”

Some argue that it’s okay because B&N will still sell a more diverse selection of paperbacks — these rules are only for hardcover releases. But how can you get a paperback printing if your hardcover doesn’t sell? And how can your hardcover sell if a bookseller won’t sell it unless you can prove it will sell in advance?

Barnes & Noble is trying to capture the wonder of wandering your local indie bookstore, while simultaneously narrowing how much you could possibly discover. It wants you to think that it’s as personal and local as your independent bookstore would be, while showing you the same five books you’ve already seen blasted all over BookTok. They’ll continue to get that good bestseller money while convincing people that they’re in a community space.

. . . .

The implication is obvious. Barnes & Noble is trying to improve their bottom line. Which is fine: a bookstore is a business, and a chain needs to make money to keep stores open. What I don’t like is that they are quietly prioritizing profits in ways that hurt the goals of the literary community while also pushing this vision of Barnes & Noble as your local indie that supports your community and is a haven for readers. They are putting on the costume and language of a pretty neighborhood independent bookstore, but their inner mechanics are still all big-box chain corporation. They’re trying to disguise their profit-driven corporate decisions behind pretty warm-lit curtains.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG doesn’t recall that he’s read anything about it, but he wonders if the partner/employee/etc. at Elliot Advisors who championed the acquisition of Barnes & Noble in 2019 has been fired, demoted, etc., for what was surely a huge mistake from the standpoint of making money.

So why are algorithms still so bad at recommending books?

From The New Publishing Standard:

Over at Book Riot, Arvyn Cerezo takes us through the process and then explains why they will still recommend a book you have absolutely no interest in.

Machine learning systems called recommender systems, or recommendation systems, use data to assist users in finding new products and services … These algorithms, however, need a decent amount of data to choose a recommendation strategy in order to produce meaningful and personalized recommendations. This data may include past purchase histories, contextual data, business-related data, user profile-based information about products, or content-based information. Then, all of these are combined and analyzed using artificial intelligence models so that the recommender system can predict what similar users will do in the future.

All very clever, but…

The limitations of content-based filtering include its inability to comprehend user interests beyond simple preferences. It knows some basic stuff about me, but that’s as far as it can get. What if it recommends a racist book? What if it recommends a book that might trigger readers without some heads-up? What if it recommends a book that is problematic? The keyword is nuance, and algorithms can’t tell the difference between two books that have similar stories.

And don’t we know it? Fifteen or more years buying books on Amazon and it will still recommend books I would eat shards of glass than read.

I always figured that was just Uncle Jeff getting revenge for one of my less complimentary posts about Amazon, but it seems in fact it’s just that the recommendations system is as useless today as it was fifteen years ago.

Cerezo concludes:

“With all the pitfalls of algorithms — and AI in general — it seems like nothing beats book recommendations done by an actual human being. They are more accurate and more personal. Most of all, you can also find hidden gems that you really like rather than the bestsellers (and what everyone’s reading) that these machine learning systems always spit out.”

Two points arise.

First, “rather than the bestsellers (and what everyone’s reading) that these machine learning systems always spit out” is fundamental to the problem. Algorithms – especially for a commercial operation like Amazon – have the sole purpose of selling more books. They and the company do not give a flying fig about our personal preferences.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

BooHoo, Amazon presents books it thinks that the person who signed in will want to buy based on their past buying, browsing and searching habits.

As far as “personal preferences” are concerned, PG supposes that some people have “personal preferences” in books that they don’t want to buy or read or do something with, but is Amazon somehow required or expected to understand someone’s personal preferences that have not been reflected in their previous and current activity on Amazon?

If PG was as concerned about Amazon and his personal preferences, he would open a new Amazon account and be careful not to let anyone else use it. Within a few weeks, Amazon would understand PG’s personal preferences by what he did on the site with the new login ID.

As far as “book recommendations done by an actual human being,” without being a snob about it, PG has never met a person working in a bookstore who would have been likely to give him a good and precise suggestion for a book that PG would like to read. The most PG has ever received is something like, “Our twentieth-century history books are over there,” or “Fantasy and Science Fiction is on aisle three.”

To be fair, if PG in his current instantiation ran into PG at age thirty working in a bookstore, current PG doubts his thirty-year-old self would understand much about PG, the elder’s preferences in books.

If PG was good friends with a bookstore employee and had spent hours talking about books with that person, the results might be better if PG showed up when the bookstore was open and the employee was working at the time.

When the Spoiler Is the Hook

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Handselling a book whose reading experience would be materially diminished by spoilers can be a particularly difficult challenge for a bookseller if the book’s intrinsic strength is related to elements that would be inconsiderate to broach. For example you might ask why reading Sarah Everett’s The Probability of Everything brought up for me the topic of circumventing damaging spoilers, and all I could morally say was that it is an amazing book and you should read it yourself straightway and find out.

Sure, to promote the book one could just elide the dynamic surprise element or go big on description so as to say that its brilliant and novel use of an unreliable narrator is used as a lever to humanize the impacts of inhumanity with remarkable force. By tightly maintaining focus on its insightful and resilient young narrator the story extends from the personal to the cultural and communal with far-reaching effect. And so forth. One might feel more latitude if pitching the book to an adult who is purchasing it for a young reader, but it would still be wrong. Nonetheless, the susceptibility of The Probability of Everything to having its reading experience diminished by spoilage is a tricky but ultimately happy constraint. After all, having a book to share the power of whose impact on the reader would rival that of the earth’s on being struck by a giant asteroid is a rare and desirable responsibility.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG tried to remember an occasion on which a book store employee ever handsold him a book and couldn’t remember a single one.

While PG’s reading tastes do not always dwell on the beaten path, he almost never has problems finding a book that he enjoys either online or (citing ancient history) in a physical bookstore.

One of the reasons PG prefers shopping for books online is that there is much, much more information about almost any given book online than there is in any physical bookstore.

For example, PG will likely choose his next non-fiction read about the history of the Byzantine Empire. In some of his non-fiction history reading, PG has finally appreciated what a huge empire it was. The Ottomans controlled a large swath of North Africa bordering on the Mediterranean, Egypt, Greece, Macedonia,the Balkans and virtually all the countries on the bordering the western side of the Black Sea.

PG doesn’t think most employees in most bookstores could tell him a single thing about Bessarabia or Azerbaijan. To be clear, PG is not trying to show the breadth and depth of his knowledge, just what particular twig his historical interest is perched on at the moment.

In a year or two, his historical interest will be perched on an entirely different twig and he probably won’t remember where Bessarabia or Azerbaijan are himself.

Workers at B&N Flagship Store in NYC Launch Union Drive

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Workers at the Barnes & Noble’s flagship store in New York City’s Union Square are hoping to join the growing numbers of booksellers across the country who have opted for collective bargaining: they filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, requesting a union election with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU). RWDSU already is the union representing several indie bookstores in New York: McNally Jackson, Greenlight, and Book Culture. Workers at the Barnes & Noble Education Store at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. recently filed for a union election with RWDSU; it has been scheduled for May 12. (B&N Education is a separate company from B&N.)

“We like to keep the numbers close to our chests, but there’s an overwhelming majority of the more than 100 workers at B&N on Union Square who have filled out authorization cards,” RWDSU director of communications Chelsea Connor told PW. “We always demand recognition first, and if we don’t get it, then we go to an election.” Connor says that pending the two parties coming to an agreement over the terms of the election, it could be held as early as next month, with booksellers, baristas, cashiers, and other non-supervisory personnel eligible to vote.

. . . .

Connor noted that filing with the NLRB for a union election was done after B&N representatives did not voluntarily recognize the union, thus preventing negotiations from starting immediately to address the grievances cited by the workers, including safety issues, harassment in the workplace, substandard pay, erratic scheduling, a lack of structure regarding job responsibilities, favoritism by management, and a lack of transparency regarding promotions.

B&N’s corporate headquarters is housed on the upper floors above the bookstore in the same building.

During a gathering of booksellers and others inside the store on Friday afternoon that organizers called a “walk on the boss,” Aaron Lascano, one of the booksellers leading the campaign for unionization at the Union Square store, announced the filing and explained why unionization was necessary. “Management and corporate are quick to offer gratitude for our work,” he said, “But at every available opportunity, they have demonstrated to us that we are disposable. How can we see this? Because this year, despite our store crushing our financial goal by several million dollars, there is no discussion of a bonus or a raise for us. We saw this last year too, when we also crushed that year’s plan, and then were offered raises of 20-40 cents. We see this over the company’s long history, which even when it did hand out yearly raises, only provided raises of 25 cents per year. Coming out of Covid, this company promised better pay, better support for full-time workers, and a clear promotion path. None of this has materialized.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

What Will the Bookstore of the Future Look Like?

From Book Riot:

The state of bookstores feels shaky: plenty of them have shuttered, failing to adapt to changing times. Aside from ebooks and audiobooks, physical bookstores face competition in other forms of media such as TV shows, films, and music among other things that vie for people’s short attention spans.

Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the United States, has had a long list of setbacks throughout the years. Among them are the closure of some of its stores, its Nook ereader flopping, its revolving door of CEOs — all which definitely resulted in dramatic sales plunges and smaller retail space for books. Amazon Books also entered the scene by trying to stand out. Instead of books’ spines facing customers, covers were shown on the shelves. But even with the backing of the juggernaut that is Amazon, its series of bookstore chains was eventually padlocked. And when Amazon does something like this, it means that there’s no money in the business.

Fortunately, there are many establishments that managed to adapt and stay afloat by keeping up with the times. Independent bookstores, though struggling to keep up, managed to get by, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Barnes & Noble has seen a resurgence by taking advantage of BookTook trends: When something blows up on BookTook, the bookstore chain stocks them in their stores and puts “As Seen on BookTok” tag on displays.

That’s just one way to be sustainable, but with all the challenges that the book industry currently faces, how will the future bookstore look like? Hybrid? Digital? Something else? I asked some bookish folks what they think.

Future Bookstores Will Feel Like a Shopping Center

Bookstores in the future will likely be attached to other businesses, such as cafés, museums, and restaurants, among other kinds of stores in order to increase foot traffic. This clever, but not novel, business strategy might work in malls or commercial centers. People will be able to browse shelves while waiting for their hot cup of coffee, their takeout to be prepared, or even after a museum visit. Books will also be paired with products in these establishments.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

About the OP’s mall/shopping center prediction, PG just checked and there are presently 700 shopping malls in the US, down from 2,500 in the 1980s. The same article quoted one industry watcher predicting there may be just 150 malls left in the US in 10 years. On the other hand, online shopping has boomed.

Again, regarding bookstores and museums, every museum PG has ever visited already had a gift shop which included a small selection of books. Is a museum going to permit someone to build a bookshop that connects to the museum, especially if the museum was built in the 20th or 19th century? Of the handful of museum trustees among PG’s acquaintances, not a one would consider adding any sort of bookshop other than the museum gift shop they already have.

PG predicts that online is going to get bigger and bigger. The Covid shutdowns introduced a lot of people who usually went out to physical stores to shop to the ease and convenience of online shopping.

During the later stages of CovidWorld, PG added Walmart, which has a store not that far from Casa PG, to his online shopping destination list (which was pretty much all Amazon previously). For products that Walmart sells, PG can order in the morning and have a person put a Walmart bag full of stuff on his front porch later that same day. Walmart’s delivery service had some rough edges during the first several weeks, but is pretty close to Amazon in reliability in PG’s recent experience.

As a consumer, PG is pleased that Zon has a serious and deep-pocketed competitor. Competition keeps all the parties sharp and constantly innovating to gain an edge over their competitors.

The Culture Wars Are Energizing Feminist Bookstores

From Publisher’s Weekly:

As book banning efforts intensify—along with assaults on women’s bodily autonomy and on the AP African American studies curriculum—old-school feminist bookstores and new intersectional feminist stores alike are drawing customers seeking safe spaces for buying books and gathering information.

Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner of Women & Children First in Chicago, echoed other feminist booksellers PW spoke with when she said that the current culture wars have rejuvenated her 44-year-old store. “In recent years, we’ve only stood stronger in our mission and encouraged our community to invest in the ongoing work,” Hollenbeck said. “Our most recent tote bag reads ‘Support Your Local Feminist Bookstore’ in big, bold, all-caps letters. That pretty much captures the tone of our current marketing strategy.”

WCF also has been buoyed by spikes in new customers and sales due to external factors. Most notably, in June 2022, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker visited WCF to mark his repeal of a state law requiring minors to obtain parental consent before having an abortion, just before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. “We continue to have quite a bit of interest in certain titles, like the new edition of The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service and Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion,” Hollenbeck said.

WCF has also upped its scheduling of collaborative programming benefiting feminist organizations, including two Bake Sale for Abortion fundraisers for the Chicago Abortion Fund.

Sales at 49-year-old Charis Books & More in Decatur, Ga. also “have gone up, and up, and up” in the past year, said co-owner Sara Luce Look, who ascribes this success to being “rooted in community that holds us accountable.” Charis has always had robust programming in collaboration with like-minded organizations, such as one Atlanta group focused on reproductive justice and another on domestic violence. “The kinds of books we carry and the programing we do are intertwined,” Look added, noting that the store is going to be a distribution point for Plan B contraception pills.

Most of the indies identifying as feminist stores that have opened in recent years also embrace LGBTQ books and Black literature. One such store, Socialight Society in Lansing, Mich., was founded in 2021 as a pop-up specializing in books by Black women; it moved into a bricks-and-mortar space inside the Lansing Mall a year ago. Owner Nyshell Lawrence said she was inspired to open Socialight Society after visiting a large bookstore in Lansing that had a “pretty disappointing” section of books by BIPOC authors.

“Things are going well” with in-store and online sales, plus sales to local schools, Lawrence said, noting that Socialight stocks 300 titles. Conversations with customers often concern banned books, since “people want to get their hands on them,” she noted.

This past summer, sales at Socialight rose when customers were given the opportunity to donate books to be handed out to protesters for women’s rights rallying outside the Michigan state capitol building. “Just Get on the Pill: The Uneven Burden of Reproductive Politics was probably the most popular book handed out to the protesters,” Lawrence said.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Turns out that America’s most “recession-proof” business is . . . bookstores.

From LitHub:

Yep, that’s right—not NFTs! Shocking, I know. According to a Forbes Advisor analysis, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Google Trends, bookstores are projected to be the most recession-proof type of U.S. business in 2023, followed by PR firms, interior design services, staffing agencies, and marketing consulting services.

Forbes Advisor, which assessed 60 small business types to evaluate their 2023 recession-proof-ness (?), calculated that the number of bookstores in the U.S. increased by 43% during the latter part of the pandemic. Bookstores also “enjoyed steady wage growth” during this time (+16%) as well as during the Great Recession (+13%). These stats, plus their “moderate startup cost” (around $75k, apparently), earned bookstores the top spot in the recession-proof rankings.

What are the least recession-proof business, you wonder? Furniture stores, followed by women’s clothing boutiques, taxi/rideshare services, used car dealerships, and housing construction companies. Makes sense—people tend to delay big or unnecessary purchases during a recession, but luckily for bookstore owners, books are both cost effective and necessary.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Color PG exceedingly skeptical about the OP’s predictions about PR firms and marketing consulting services. PG knows nothing about interior design services or staffing agencies.

It will surprise no one who visits TPVX on a regular basis that PG doesn’t think bookstores have a golden future ahead of them. That said, in past lives, PG loved going into some bookstores to shop, chat, etc. In past lives, PG bought a 1954 Chevrolet (very used) for $100, too, but those days are long gone.

Minimum wage in New York City is $15.00 per hour. Minimum wage in California is $15.50. Overtime minimum wage (over 8 hours per day or some other stuff) is time-and-a-half or $23.25 per hour. Plus there are additional cost and taxes the employer has to pay on top of the wages for each worker.

Indie bookstores tend to be only marginally-profitable businesses under most circumstances, so PG doesn’t see much smart money going into book retailing.

Comics Retailers Navigate a New Normal

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In 2022, the comics retail sector attempted to level out the roller-coaster track of the recent pandemic years. After a period of significant change in the industry, paired with record sales, many retailers expressed a desire for a return to normalcy this past year—and a continued uptick in revenue.

The sales gains have held for now, at the very least. Coming off the high-water mark of 2021, adult graphic novels still boasted a modest 4.6% sales increase in 2022, according to NPD BookScan, with YA comics sales rising a surprising 20%. Though kids’ and middle grade graphic novels dipped by 3%, the category is still up 29% over 2020. Overall, it was a welcome result.

Last year wasn’t just a good year for sales. Supply chain issues also improved dramatically, particularly on the manga front, and there was stabilization in single-issue comics distribution, even if it remained imperfect. However, word on the ground from retailers was that added workload, increasingly complex logistics, and a glut of product complicated the overall positive outlook.

PW’s annual comics retailer survey offers an anecdotal look into the comics retail landscape. We checked in with retailers at six comics outlets across North America, including from the direct market—a section of the industry comprising 3,000 or so independent shops that buy mostly nonreturnable stock at wholesale from direct-market distributors—and general bookstores with robust graphic novels sections. Owners and staff shared their thoughts on year-to-year performance, the titles and genres that ratcheted up sales, the impact of economic uncertainty and industry changes, and their projections and mood moving into 2023.

While nearly every bookseller PW spoke with is upbeat about the market, some comics shops dealt with a slight downturn on the single-issue comic side in 2022, with the broader graphic novel channel offsetting that dip. Sales there were driven by manga and adult graphic novels. Frustration was expressed, though, about navigating the rapid growth in output from publishers that rushed to capitalize on the hot market. Retailers contended with an overabundance of title options, including variant covers (a quirk of the comics market: alternative covers for single-issue comics designed for collecting purposes). Shoppers like choices, but stores had to gamble on what to stock, resulting in high variance in sales and lengthy ordering processes. The impact of economic uncertainty was also starting to be felt.

. . . .

Jenn Haines, the owner of The Dragon in Guelph, Ontario, sums 2022 up as “a bit of a weird one in retrospect.” That’s because shops saw that this year’s largely flat or improved performance came with associated costs. For example, Haines mentions that her two storefronts enjoyed a 13% sales increase over 2021, but that she also closed a third location “in a strategic move” in late August. Her lease was up at an outlet that didn’t grow her customer base as much as it segmented it. The savings on rent allowed her to renovate her flagship shop, a move that’s proved beneficial. “The business is stronger than ever, and 2023 has started just as strong,” Haines says, but “it constantly felt like I was fighting my way to the finish line.”

Others chimed in with similarly contrasting reports. They commented on the unique stress factors that came along with riding out boom times in an ongoing period of change. Everyone in comics retail continues to deal with the ripple effects of the past couple years.

Challengers Comics + Conversation, a comics shop in Chicago, saw sales increase in 2022, but co-owner Patrick Brower admits it took a toll. “It was the most stressful and hectic behind-the-scenes year I think we’ve ever had,” he says. This stemmed from changes in single-issue comic distribution. Challengers is now buying weekly product from five separate distributors, each of which uses drastically different invoicing systems. It takes five times as long as it used to, he explains, meaning the gains the store made came with significant increased workload.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Indie bookshops in good health as record number of first-timers vie for Nibbie

From The Bookseller:

Thirteen first-time Independent Bookshop of the Year nominees will contest the regional and country Nibbies this year, on the back of indie retail numbers hitting a 10-year high.

Five former overall winners and a record 13 first-time nominees have been named on the regional and country shortlists for the Independent Bookshop of the Year (IBOTY) Award at the British Book Awards 2023.

Fifty-nine shortlistees in total are in contention for the Nibbie, which is sponsored by Gardners and supported by the Booksellers Association (BA). The stores will now compete to grab their region and country top spots—to be announced on 16th March—with those winners vying for the UK and Ireland-wide prize, which will be revealed at the British Book Awards ceremony on 15th May.

The baker’s dozen of first-time nominees includes Queer Lit, the former online-only LGBTQ+ specialist which opened its bricks-and-mortar store in Manchester’s Northern Quarter in 2021; the Ross and Cromarty stalwart The Ullapool Bookshop, whose manager Katharine Douglas was named on The Bookseller’s Bookshop Heroes list in 2022; Malton’s Kemps General Store & Books, launched in 2017 by Liz Kemp and based on the shop her parents used to run; Swindon’s Bert’s Books, launched by long-time W H Smith marketer Alex Call in 2019; and David’s Bookshop, the 60-year-old Letchworth Garden City institution which in 2020 was bought by staff and put into an employee ownership trust.

The newcomers square off against some seasoned Nibbie regulars, including a quintet of past overall winners: Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, Linghams Booksellers in Hesswall, St Boswells’ The Mainstreet Trading Company, Five Leaves Books of Nottingham and Crickhowell shop Book-ish. Additionally, six of last year’s regional and country winners—Bookbugs & Dragon Tales, Burley Fisher Books, Wonderland Bookshop, Forum Books, The Edinburgh Bookshop and Book-ish—will attempt to reclaim their crowns.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Choices Narrow in Russian Bookstores Amid Anti-LGBT Law, Wartime Restrictions

From The Moscow Times:

Ordinary Russians are unable to access an increasingly broad range of literature as bookshops and libraries pull titles from their shelves amid a wartime crackdown on political dissent and a November law banning LGBT “propaganda.” 

In particular, failing to comply with the controversial — and vague — anti-LGBT law puts shops at risk of large fines or, at worst, closure.

“We are actually afraid,” said Lyubov Belyatskaya, the co-owner of Vse Svobodny, an independent, liberal-leaning bookstore in Russia’s second city St. Petersburg.

The problems faced by bookshops and libraries, which were previously places less affected by Russia’s political repression, are a testament to the mounting pressure on the world of literature that is narrowing access to both fiction and non-fiction titles. 

A lack of clarity about the anti-LGBT law signed by President Vladimir Putin late in 2022 — which outlaws public depictions of “non-traditional” relationships — has created confusion among booksellers about which titles can now be legally displayed and sold. 

“Everyone started panicking,” said the owner of another liberal-leaning bookstore in St. Petersburg who asked to remain anonymous. 

“Some of our vendors stopped supplying some books on their own initiative even though they weren’t really covered by the new law.”

Representatives from several retailers told The Moscow Times that they had received no information from the authorities about which books were prohibited.

​​As a result, some shops are removing titles on their own initiative or in line with requests from publishers. Others are consulting with lawyers.  

Immediately after the law’s signing, “Leto v Pionerskom Galstuke” (“Summer in a Pioneer Tie”), a young adult bestseller about a relationship between two teenage boys, reportedly vanished from shelves at major Russian retail chains such as Chitay-Gorod.

The book was repeatedly cited by lawmakers during the the anti-LGBT law’s passage through parliament.

Some businesses have taken a blanket approach, pulling books with even a passing mention of LGBT relationships or lifestyles.

At Vse Svobodny bookshop in St. Petersburg, managers have been removing books based on lists provided by publishing houses.

“After consulting with their lawyers, [the publishers] decided that these books could be interpreted as some kind of propaganda,” said Vse Svobodny’s co-owner Artyom Faustov. 

“The authorities believe that we should determine it ourselves, but how to do this is completely incomprehensible,” he told The Moscow Times. 

“A book dealer cannot and is not obliged to read every book and know what’s inside them.” 

. . . .

“It’s very simple: we have a list coming from the city administration and we comply with it,” a shop administrator at the Bukvoyed bookstore in the center of St. Petersburg told a Moscow Times reporter on a recent visit.

“It will work just like with forbidden literature, such as ‘Mein Kampf’.”

LitRes, Russia’s largest e-book seller, has even asked some authors to rewrite works to comply with the anti-LGBT law, the RBC news website reported in December.

Link to the rest at The Moscow Times

Barnes & Noble Makes a Comeback

From Kill Zone:

What goes around comes around. And around. And around.

So goes the tale of Barnes & Noble.

The bookseller was founded in New York in 1886 as Arthur Hinds & Company. A clerk named Gilbert Clifford Noble rose to partnership and soon changed the name to Hinds & Noble. In 1917, Noble partnered with William Barnes to become Barnes & Noble.

. . . .

Big fish eat little fish. To the dismay of readers, few indie minnows survived B&N’s dominance.

“Barnes & Noble was perceived as not just the enemy,” said a former chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, which represents indie shops, told the New York Times, “but as being everything about corporate book selling that was wrong.”

. . . .

Then…along came a whale named Amazon.

Online book sales thrived while physical bookstores dropped by the wayside. The juggernaut of Amazon led to mergers and bankruptcies of sizable chains like Waldenbooks, Crown, and B. Dalton. In 2011, Borders filed bankruptcy, leaving B&N the sole remaining national bookstore chain.

Amazon was fast gaining ground.

In 2010, B&N introduced the Nook e-reader to compete with Kindle but it never came close to Kindle’s success. Stores added coffee shops, free wi-fi, gifts, and non-book merchandise, hoping to survive. Nothing worked. Sales dropped, employees were fired, stores closed.

Per Ted Gioia, The Honest Broker:

“By 2018 the company was in total collapse. Barnes & Noble lost $18 million that year, and fired 1,800 full time employees—in essence shifting almost all store operations to part time staff. Around that same time, the company fired its CEO due to sexual harassment claims.”

The bookseller that had put so many other bookstores out of business appeared ready to join their fate.

Enter James Daunt. The 59-year-old former banker and business exec had founded Daunt Books and turned around Waterstone’s, a British bookseller that had once languished in similar straits to B&N. In 2019, he took the helm as B&N’s CEO and set out to rescue the floundering chain.

. . . .

Y’know, like mom-and-pop indie bookstores used to do.

Managers have free rein to stock books by local authors, including good-quality self-published ones, and those of regional interest. They no longer have to stock books chosen by a single head buyer from thousands of miles away.

A few months ago, I visited B&N in Missoula, Montana. The manager not only ordered some of my books, she is also happy to host an in-person event later this year.

B&N stores are now becoming more like the indie bookstores they used to put out of business.

Daunt’s strategies are succeeding. In 2023, B&N plans to open 30 new stores. Ironically, some will take over the same locations where Amazon’s experimental physical bookstores failed.

. . . .

What’s coming around now for B&N is good news for readers. It also gives a boost to local authors who want to see their books on real shelves.

Link to the rest at Kill Zone and thanks to H. for the tip.

As PG has noted before, Barnes & Noble is no longer a publicly-held company.

The federal securities laws require publicly held companies that file reports with the SEC to submit financial statements that are accurate, truthful, and complete and prepared according to a set of accounting standards called “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” (or “GAAP”)

From the United States Securities and Exchange Commission

As PG has mentioned before, Barnes & Noble is currently owned by a hedge fund and is not and has not for quite a long time been publicly traded nor has it posted any audited financial information.

Barnes & Noble is free to spread happy talk about it’s health and future without violating any laws. Per the Barnes & Noble website,

The Company operates approximately 600 Barnes & Noble bookstores across the United States

PG doesn’t think Barnes & Noble has released any exact number for its store locations for a long time. One online source puts the number of stores at 588.

Per Statista, Barnes & Noble had 72I stores in 2008. The Statista data show that Barnes & Noble had about 100 more stores in 2008 than it’s claiming in 2023. Some of the 588 current Barnes & Noble stores are in airports, FWIW.

Colleen Hoover Was Queen of 2022’s Bestseller List

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It is something of an understatement to say that Colleen Hoover dominated the 2022 overall bestsellers list. Hoover had the top three books of the year, and her novels sold 14.3 million print copies at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Of the 25 books on the list, eight were Hoover titles, and two, It Ends with Us and Verity, sold more than two million copies each.

Last year was a very good year for adult fiction overall, as evidenced by the 8.5% annual sales increase posted by the category (see “The Winning Streak Ends,” p. 8) and by its prevalence at the top of the overall bestsellers list. Fifteen of the 25 top-selling books were adult fiction, and another five titles were either juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. The top-selling nonfiction book was James Clear’s Atomic Habits,at #6.

The only other author besides Hoover to place more than one title on the top 25 list was Emily Henry, who scored with Book Lovers and People We Meet on Vacation,at #21 and #25, respectively. The strong showing by Hoover also crowded out some perennial chart toppers, including James Patterson, whose Run, Rose, Run (written with Dolly Parton) was at #26 (with about 515,000 copies sold), and John Grisham, whose The Boys from Biloxi sold about 495,000 copies, landing it at #29 on the overall list.

The list clearly shows that readers were ready for some escapism in 2022, after nearly three years of pandemic concerns and an ever more divisive political environment. The bestselling title related to politics last year was Red Handed: How American Elites Get Rich by Helping China Win by Peter Schweizer, which sold about 245,000 copies. The top-performing book critical of former president Trump was Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man, which sold about 127,000 copies; former vice president Mike Pence’s memoir sold approximately 112,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG checked the NPD BookScan numbers which provided the basis for the Publishers Weekly OP against Amazon’s list of best selling books for 2022 and it was almost identical.

NPD data is based on roughly 85 percent of trade print books sold in the United States through direct reporting from major retailers, including Amazon, so the overlap is almost inevitable. For PG, the overlap is an indicator of Amazon’s domination of the bookselling business.

What Can We Learn from Barnes & Noble’s Surprising Turnaround?

From The Honest Broker:

I’ve written too many negative stories about digital media platforms in recent months. I’ve started to worry. Am I turning into Dr. Doom and Mr. Gloom?

In all fairness, my predictions have proven sadly accurate. After I served up these dismal forecasts for Facebook, Spotify, Netflix, and others, their share prices took a steep dive.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing—I’d like to see digital media improve and flourish. When they falter, we all pay a price. But each of these companies is now suffering for a good reason. Their dominance led to arrogance, and they decided to impose all sorts of heavy-handed policies on users.

But I finally have good news to share. I have a positive case study—and we can learn from it.

Here’s the surprise: This company has been a failure at digital media, and has succeeded by embracing the most antiquated technology of them all: the printed book.

That’s quite an achievement. So let’s look at the turnaround at Barnes & Noble.

. . . .

But Barnes & Noble is flourishing. After a long decline, the company is profitable and growing again—and last week announced plans to open 30 new stores. In some instances, they are taking over locations where Amazon tried (and failed) to operate bookstores.

Amazon seems invincible. So the idea that Barnes & Noble can succeed where its much larger competitor failed is hard to believe. But the turnaround at B&N is real. In many instances they have already re-opened in locations where they previously shut down.

Barnes & Noble is no tech startup, and is about as un-cool as retailers get. It’s like The Gap, but for books. The company was founded in 1886, and it flourished during the 20th century. But the digital age caught the company by surprise.

For a while, Barnes & Noble tried to imitate Amazon. It ramped up online sales, and introduced its own eBook reader (the Nook), but with little success.

Even after its leading bricks-and-mortar competitor Borders shut down in 2011, B&N still couldn’t find a winning strategy. By 2018 the company was in total collapse. Barnes & Noble lost $18 million that year, and fired 1,800 full time employees—in essence shifting almost all store operations to part time staff. Around that same time, the company fired its CEO due to sexual harassment claims.

Every indicator was miserable. Same-store sales were down. Online sales were down. The share price was down more than 80%.

. . . .

It’s amazing how much difference a new boss can make.

I’ve seen that firsthand so many times. I now have a rule of thumb: “There is no substitute for good decisions at the top—and no remedy for stupid ones.”

It’s really that simple. When the CEO makes foolish blunders, all the wisdom and hard work of everyone else in the company is insufficient to compensate. You only fix these problems by starting at the top.

In the case of Barnes & Noble, the new boss was named James Daunt. And he had already turned around Waterstones, a struggling book retailing chain in Britain.

Back when he was 26, Daunt had started out running a single bookstore in London—and it was a beautiful store. He had to borrow the money to do it, but he wanted a store that was a showplace for books. And he succeeded despite breaking all the rules.

For a start, he refused to discount his books, despite intense price competition in the market. If you asked him why, he had a simple answer: “I don’t think books are overpriced.”

. . . .

This is James Daunt’s super power: He loves books.

“Staff are now in control of their own shops,” he explained. “Hopefully they’re enjoying their work more. They’re creating something very different in each store.”

This crazy strategy proved so successful at Waterstones, that returns fell almost to zero—97% of the books placed on the shelves were purchased by customers. That’s an amazing figure in the book business.

On the basis of this success, Daunt was put in charge of Barnes & Noble in August 2019. But could he really bring that dinosaur, on the brink of extinction, back to life?

The timing was awful. The COVID pandemic hurt all retailing, especially for discretionary items like books. Even worse, the Barnes & Noble stores were, in Daunt’s own words, “crucifyingly boring.”

But Daunt used the pandemic as an opportunity to “weed out the rubbish” in the stores. He asked employees in the outlets to take every book off the shelf, and re-evaluate whether it should stay. Every section of the store needed to be refreshed and made appealing.

As this example makes clear, Daunt started giving more power to the stores. But publishers complained bitterly. They now had to make more sales calls, and convince local bookbuyers—and that’s hard work. Even worse, when a new book doesn’t live up to expectations, the local workers see this immediately. Books are expected to appeal to readers—and just convincing a head buyer at headquarters was no longer enough.

Daunt also refused to dumb-down the store offerings. The key challenge, he claimed was to “create an environment that’s intellectually satisfying—and not in a snobbish way, but in the sense of feeding your mind.”

That’s an extraordinary thing to hear from a corporate CEO. Daunt wanted to run a bookstore that was “intellectually satisfying” and “feeds your mind.” The first time I heard an interview with him, I decided I trusted James Daunt. I wanted him to succeed. But the odds seemed stacked against him.

. . . .

The turnaround has delivered remarkable results. Barnes & Noble opened 16 new bookstores in 2022, and now will double that pace of openings in 2023. In a year of collapsing digital platforms, this 136-year-old purveyor of print media is enjoying boom times.

Of course, there’s a lesson here. And it’s not just for books. You could also apply it to music, newspapers, films, and a host of other media.

But I almost hate to say it, because the lesson is so simple.

If you want to sell music, you must love those songs. If you want to succeed in journalism, you must love those newspapers. If you want to succeed in movies, you must love the cinema.

. . . .

But here’s the problem. If you don’t really love the music (or books or newspapers or cinema or whatever), those cash flow projections turn out to be wrong. That’s because creative fields like music and writing live and die based on creativity, not financial statements and branding deals.

Link to the rest at The Honest Broker and thanks to J. for the tip.

As PG has said previously, he doesn’t believe the happy talk floating around the publishing world about Barnes & Noble and its superhero, James Daunt.

We don’t have real numbers to back up the public relations campaign. Barnes & Noble’s owner, Elliott Management Corp. has kept that sort of information locked up tight.

PG happened upon another investment of Elliott – litigation finance.

Basically, a deep pocketed organization subsidizes a lawsuit, often a class-action suit against a large corporation, in exchange for 30-50% of the amount awarded. That’s litigation finance. This arrangement takes a lot of risk out of the lawsuit for plaintiffs’ counsel because they know they’ll get paid a significant amount by the outside investor even if the clients they’re representing don’t get anything.

Typically, this type of litigation is handled by a law firm on a contingency fee basis. The firm earns nothing unless it wins the lawsuit and its clients are paid for their injuries/losses. The firm receives its money by delivering a good result for the injured parties.

Perhaps PG is old-fashioned, but he’s always thought that, after the attorneys are paid for their work, the injured party or parties should receive the remainder of the money awarded by a court after a trial or received via a negotiated settlement to avoid trial.

About That Englishman In New York Who Turned The Page On Barnes & Noble…

From The New Publishing Standard:

And somehow Daunt magically beat the ogre at its own game and apparently, they will all live happily ever after.

The Forbes headline ran “How an Englishman In New York Turned The Page On Barnes & Noble”. Unfortunately there’s not much “how” in this Forbes post.

Hedge-fund buys B&N, appoints British CEO. CEO fires lots of people, uses savings and hedge-fund money to open new stores. The end.

That said, I did appreciate this little gem that was new to me:

Barnes & Noble has two Boston-area locations that were formerly Amazon Books stores (oh the irony) slated among 30 new stores due to open in 2023.

It was worth reading the Forbes article just for that. But that’s one of only three mentions of Amazon, and the other two contribute nothing we didn’t already know.

For our plot we have a traditional retailer threatened by a huge, new-fangled corporate (that will be Amazon)”, and “Barnes & Noble, like other physical booksellers, struggled for about a decade as Amazon and other online book sellers ran roughshod through their market share.

And somehow Daunt magically beat the ogre at its own game and apparently, they will all live happily ever after.

Elliott Advisors is likely to exit its investment over the course of the next few years, which could see Waterstones and Barnes & Noble go public.

Well, yes, Elliott’s exit is a given, because that’s what hedge-funds do. Buy in, make a tidy profit, get out.

And exit becomes all the more likely given the supply chain crisis facing the entire industry amid a recession. 

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG was a bit confused by the OP.

James Daunt became the CEO of Barnes & Noble in August, 2019. According to PG’s online research, it appears that Barnes & Noble had about 627 store locations at that time, down from its peak of 726 locations in 2008.

Barnes & Noble is privately owned by a company called Elliott Investment Management L.P. , a privately-held investment/hedge fund which, among other things, means it does not have to tell the general public or anybody except its managing partners very much about what’s going on, including what’s happening with Barnes & Noble.

When Elliott hired Daunt to attempt to save Barnes & Noble, it is generally agreed that BN was in terrible financial shape. Daunt was chosen, in large part because he was credited with saving Waterstones Books in Great Britain.

One of the ways Daunt “turned Barnes & Noble around” is by firing about half of the corporate employees and moving out of Barnes & Noble’s former New York City headquarters into a smaller location.

As the OP says, Elliott is interested in selling Barnes & Noble. PG suspects that Mr. Daunt is in a position to earn a very nice bonus if Elliott can sell Barnes & Noble at a significantly higher price than Elliott paid to acquire the company, which qualified as damaged goods at the time.

In an April 15, 2022, New York Times article titled, How Barnes & Noble Went From Villain to Hero, a Times books and publishing reporter, produced what, in PG’s overwhelmingly modest opinion, was a puff piece for Barnes & Noble and James Daunt, rescuing hero.

Here’s a short excerpt:

Today, virtually the entire publishing industry is rooting for Barnes & Noble — including most independent booksellers. Its unique role in the book ecosystem, where it helps readers discover new titles and publishers stay invested in physical stores, makes it an essential anchor in a world upended by online sales and a much larger player: Amazon.

“It would be a disaster if they went out of business,” said Jane Dystel, a literary agent with clients including Colleen Hoover, who has four books on this week’s New York Times best-seller list. “There’s a real fear that without this book chain, the print business would be way off.”

To be fair to Daunt and Barnes & Noble, the organization was a sinking ship before the Covid lockdowns and even businesses who PG would not classify as sinking ships were hard-hit and are still in recovery mode.

Plus, for a variety of reasons, the US economy looks very likely to drop into a recession in the near future.

The combination of all the various things PG has blabbered about lead him to conclude that the future of Barnes & Noble is not bright and smart money is likely to steer clear of Barnes & Noble in the foreseeable future.

But PG could be completely wrong.

And PG definitely doesn’t discount the possible appearance of dumb money to save Barnes & Noble, Elliott Partners and Daunt from public embarrassment.

U.S. Booksellers Embrace Books in Spanish

From Publisher’s Weekly:

A range of factors are leading U.S. bookstores to expand their Spanish-language offerings. Driven by language-immersion schools and bilingual families, many stores are now specializing in bilingual books for young readers. Others serve heritage-language customers who want to practice their Spanish, as well as language learners seeking cultural immersion.

Booksellers often flag their Spanish-language selections with bilingual shelftalkers, encourage handselling and promotion on social media, and ask book clubs for buzzworthy bilingual picks. At Cellar Door Books in Riverside, Calif., a Latinx book club plans to read Desideria Mesa’s Bindle Punk Bruja and Tehlor Kay Meija’s We Set the Dark on Fire, and store owner Linda Sherman-Nurick sees potential in Spanish-language editions of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Not “a Nation of Immigrants”.

“Either because they are more comfortable reading in Spanish, or they want to read books in their original language as the author intended, or they are learning Spanish, people want access to good-quality Spanish-language books,” said Veronica Johnson, who operates Libros Bookmobile in Hutto, Tex. “Many Latinx folks are bilingual, and we want materials in both languages,” yet “even non-native speakers and non-Latinx folks ask for Spanish-language titles.”

While classics from Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda remain popular, readers are also gravitating toward Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros’s new Mujer sin vergüenza, and bestsellers like Erika Sánchez’s Yo no soy tu perfecta hija Mexicana. Several stores, including Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, Calif., reported strong sales of Los cuatro acuerdos by Don Miguel Ruiz.

At Palabras Bilingual Bookstore in Phoenix, owner Chawa Magaña said readers love well-known authors Laura Esquivel, Elena Poniatowska, and Samanta Schweblin, along with “Latinx authors who consistently translate their work from English to Spanish and make it easily available here in the U.S.,” such as Julia Alvarez, Pat Mora, and Yung Pueblo.

General-interest bookstores are increasing their Spanish-language offerings, too. Claudia Vega of Whose Books in Dallas said she’s “looking to expand our adult section” because bilingual kids’ books do so well. And at Elliott Bay Book Co. in Seattle, general manager John Duvernoy called Spanish-language fiction “our most reliable selling foreign-language section.”

Curious customers may not have an author or a title in mind, yet “they want titles to peruse,” said Susan Post, co-owner of BookWoman in Austin. Post singled out local favorites: Liliana Valenzuela’s bilingual poetry book Codex of Love: Bendita ternura, as well as Honduran Colombian creator Kat Fajardo’s graphic novel Miss Quinces.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

From Book Browser to Published Writer

From Publisher’s Weekly:

For 16 years [my mother] recommended the perfect books to people and shared her love of reading with others, spreading that joy the same way she blessed me with it.

Whenever my mother and I drove through our little downtown in Madison, Ct., we always stopped at our local bookstore, RJ Julia. It was a ritual for us, a bit of magic.

Each visit was special, but I can remember a particular instance so vividly: I step in the door in a Spice Girls T-shirt and cargo pants. At 10 years old, I’m young enough that girls’ clothes still had pockets. My goal is to empty those pockets of hard-saved allowance on what this store has to offer.

There is a buzz of excitement walking into a bookstore that all book lovers know so well: the delicious smell of paper and ink, coffee wafting from the café as people chat about their latest reads.

I make a beeline for the stairs to check out the children’s books section. It’s like stepping into a toy store, only better: in a toy store I wouldn’t be able to buy everything I wanted, but in my family, when it comes to books, there’s no self-control.

That’s because we’re a family of storytellers. Be it through books, movies, songs, jokes, or exaggerated anecdotes, storytelling is our first language. As soon as I realized I could make up my own worlds, I did—constantly. I’d build upon the stories I read and fill crinkled notebooks full of my own fantasies and walking daydreams. It made my own world make more sense.

Sometimes fiction felt more honest than reality—that one story, one scene, better at evoking everything stirring inside me. The stakes inside my 10-year-old brain were more perfectly explained by the epic battles and quests and magic than homework or chores.

Every night I’d fall asleep thinking about the chapter I’d just read and dreaming up new stories. When I finally realized in my early 30s that I was neurodivergent and was eventually diagnosed, a lot of this started to make sense. Stories always flowed through me. On one level, they entertained my overactive mind with fun adventures, and on another level, they spoke to the unnamed emotions within me and helped me understand myself and the world around me.

. . . .

My mother ended up working at RJ Julia when I went off to university. For 16 years she recommended the perfect books to people and shared her love of reading with others, spreading that joy the same way she blessed me with it. All these many years, many jobs, many countries later, and that passion has stayed with me. Life took so many twisty turns to get me here (have I told you about the monkeys in Guatemala?). But here I am, living halfway around the world, and RJ Julia is still there in Madison—but now with my books on its shelves.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Waterstones warehouse system ‘now stable and effective’ as chain tackles backlog of books

From The Bookseller:

Waterstones’ new warehouse system is now “stable and effective” but the chain needs to clear a backlog of orders before the “painful process” is over, chief operating officer Kate Skipper has said.

The retailer has been battling problems since July, when it upgraded its stock distribution technology. Although it initially said it aimed to resolve the issues by the end of August, problems have persisted, causing a build-up of orders to bookshops that have left authors, customers and publishers frustrated.

Waterstones said it has been working with Blue Yonder, the company providing the new system, to resolve the problems after installation. In an email seen by The Bookseller, Skipper apologised and thanked clients for their “forbearance and support”, and said the company believes it is now on the “home stretch” in terms of resuming normal service. However, she said “a significant volume of unfulfilled orders needs to be worked through” and excessive levels of stock in the chain’s Hub are “hampering efficient operations”.

“We are now processing significant volumes, both inbound and outbound, with the level at about that we would normally expect for this time of year,” clients were told. “The backlog, however, both requires that we achieve higher levels and simultaneously hampers our ability to achieve this. In consequence we remain some way from getting our stock, both in the Hub and in the shops, back to normal and for this to be supported by a regular flow of stock from the Hub.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG notes that James Daunt, the CEO of Waterstones, is also the CEO of Barnes & Noble.

What Do We Lose—and Gain—As Book Tours Move Online?

From The Literary Hub:

When I was young, in a distant century, there was an odd feature of the literary community: celebrated authors writing essays for magazines or newspaper book sections chronicling the horrors of their tours. Usually amusingly, sometimes just trying to be. Laments about arriving at a bookstore to find many people waiting, but no copies of the book. Or many books but no people, because someone had forgotten to promote the event (or there was a playoff game in any relevant sport that night). A reading for five people, two of whom were the mother and father of the bookstore manager, under orders to look attentive and enthused. Or, airline chaos with a luggage follies subplot. Hotel booking failures, weather events. Interviewers confusing the author for someone entirely else. (This is real, by the way, happened to someone I knew well.)

The lede buried in all of this, for today’s writers (and readers) is, of course, that there were book tours once. All over. For so many authors. There used to be a joke that in October you couldn’t go through an airport without colliding with a writer on tour. I went cross-Canada from the start of my career, and down into the United States, at a time when I was barely known. And in most cases there were actual people gathered for a reading and signing, besides the manager’s parents. An author coming into town could be an event of sorts, back when.

Sometimes a colossal one. One older friend had a launch in Toronto one night. I went with a third, mutual friend. The bookstore was… flat-out mobbed. Buzzing. Hundreds of the city’s best and brightest had gathered. The author was well known and well liked in the legal community and word had definitely gotten out. No slackness on the part of publicists or bookstore at all. People were lined up holding three, four, five copies of the new book to be signed.

I got in line with two copies (the mutual friend elected to mingle and chat). When I finally arrived at the signing table the author leaped up and we embraced. I said, “X, this is amazing!”(His name isn’t really X, by the way.)

X said, “Guy, you understand nothing!”

I said, “Always a possibility. Why, in this case?”

“Because tonight, tonight, I will sell three quarters of all the books I am ever going to sell of this title!”

But he did sell them. (And the book is still in print, decades after. Just checked.)

For my own second book, as a callow thirty-one year old, I remember arriving in a city for two days allocated to media and a signing. The local publicist met me and handed me a printout of my schedule. I looked at it and blinked. There were ten events. Five radio gigs, two television, one magazine interview, one newspaper interview, and the bookstore signing that night. Plus what I always call “drive-by signings,” when you drop into a store to sign their stock and head off into the midday sun, or whatever, tipping your hat.

. . . .

Is a tour really the best way to allocate budget and time? Will it be a painful experience? Awkward for everyone? Might email or telephone interviews with whatever media exists in a given city not be smarter? While aggressively going the online route: magazines, blogs, social media? Or, more recently, Zoom conversations with an audience logging in and asking questions? One rarely loses luggage en route to one’s computer, after all.

What’s been lost in the transition is the personal. The direct connection with readers. If you’ve spent, as I do, years writing a book at your desk, brooding and swearing, but then find yourself in a library’s reading room, church hall, bookstore, literary festival, to encounter those who have come out to express their affection for your work… that’s profoundly rewarding.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

A Bookshelf for All Ages

From Publishers Weekly:

Hey, old people, do you remember the song “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis and the News? Of course you do. Young people: find the video, you might like it.

I bring it up because after nearly a decade of hearing “I like it, but I don’t know what shelf it goes on” about my book Kiya and the Morian Treasure, I want a new shelf. One where parents aren’t nervous wondering what to do. One that makes us read like families used to do. Okay, enough with the song.

Here’s a revelation for some people: the age of the audience is not a genre. When I was pitching Kiya and the Morian Treasure, I spoke with famed science fiction agent Cherry Weiner. Off my pitch, she had requested a full manuscript, which she liked enough call me.

“This is not sci-fi,” she said.

Not sci-fi? It’s Xena: Warrior Princess meets Star Wars. How can that not be sci-fi?

She continued: “It’s not sci-fi, and you don’t want it to be. It’s YA.” She also said she didn’t represent YA, so she was passing on the manuscript. I was devastated for about 30 minutes. That’s when Emmanuelle Morgen called. She also liked it, but saw it more as middle grade. After a round of changes to age my narrator down, we went out with it. Some editors saw it as YA, others saw it as middle grade, depending on whether they identified with the narrator or the subject of her narration. They saw this as a problem. I disagreed.

Target marketing by age has been around long enough that most people think it’s the only way to sell books, but if you take a longer view of commercial art, you’ll see that excluding the majority of your potential audience is a new concept. And by “new,” I mean since the turn of the previous century.

Before radio, movies, television, and the internet split audiences into tiny chunks, there were basically two markets: children and adults. Even at the beginning of these technologies, artists had to create work that would satisfy whomever might receive the signal from the air. Going back even further, when books were expensive to print and buy, one book had to entertain the entire family.

Look at Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo and Three Musketeers. Look at Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Look at anything by Shakespeare, Dickens, or Twain. They all contain elements that today would get an author the dreaded “I don’t know what shelf it goes on” rejection. These elements include the following:

● Characters of various ages, or the entire lives of characters, not just kids

● Sex being left to what anyone might witness in public

● Age groups being targeted by beats within each story, not the entire work

I said that Kiya and the Morian Treasure is unapologetically Xena: Warrior Princess meets Star Wars. I worked on Xena and saw the numbers: they were equal across all ages. In some markets, the show aired on Saturday afternoons for kids. In others, you could catch it Saturday at midnight for the college crowd.

Publishing might think this is an outlier, but anyone like me, who has worked in film and television since Huey Lewis was big, can tell you it’s typical 8 p.m. programming. If you’d like a trip down memory lane, you can find loads of network TV schedules from the past. Scan them and you’ll also find titles that have become franchises, stories enjoyed by people of all ages—and they aired before 9 p.m.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Trade facing industry-wide burnout, Bookseller survey finds

From The Bookseller:

Publishing is facing “industry-wide burnout” according to a survey conducted by The Bookseller, which revealed 89% of staffers responding to the survey had experienced stress during the course of their work over the last year, while 69% reported burnout.  

The survey also found a significant number of employees are working more than their contracted hours each week, with many unhappy at the state of their work-life balance.  

With more than 230 responses, heavily dominated by publishing staffers (87%), the survey found 64% of people working in the industry felt their work had impacted their mental health in the last year. Many attributed this to unsustainable workloads and an “always on” culture, worsened by the pandemic. 

One editor, who has worked in the industry for seven years, said they are required to do “entire strands” of their job outside of contracted hours, to the extent they feel unable to start a family and are “seriously considering” leaving the industry. 

In total 63% of respondents said they worked more than their contracted hours each week, with some saying they worked up to 20 or 30 hours extra. Nearly three quarters (73%) agreed that their workload had increased in the last year, while 37% said they were not satisfied with their work-life balance. 

One senior desk editor who has been in the industry for nine years said working from home during the pandemic had “definitely” promoted a culture of working extra hours. “Work-life balance is a joke! I’ve heard editorial assistants not taking their lunch break and even cancelling training sessions as they felt they had to continue with their work,” they said. “Morale has severely decreased since the pandemic, lots of colleagues have left (either to other publishers or out of the industry) as they did not enjoy their jobs and were not valued as staff or compensated well enough.” 

The survey showed 38% of respondents wanted to leave their job. An assistant editor, who has worked in the industry for four years, said they “love” their job but were working more than two extra hours a day “not to even catch up, but to fall behind less”. They said: “I have had to work weekends. I am constantly stressed about the deadlines I am missing, as they impact my colleagues. This should not be the workload of a junior staff member. And, quite frankly, the workload and the pay do not add up. This is not worth it, and I am making plans to get out of the industry.” 

. . . .

 “Junior members of staff are often doing enough work for two people but are only in rare instances offered external help such as being able to freelance certain tasks out. There is an expectation from senior leadership that the company will continue to buy more and more books, but no corresponding communication re hiring more staff to help with this. People have been stretched beyond their limits over the last two years particularly and that’s why we’re seeing a mass exodus from the industry.” 

A marketing executive, who has worked in publishing for seven years, agreed. “There’s been a huge change in focus over the past two years, driven by the pandemic, to look at backlist titles and perennial sellers as well as more focus on e-books and audio, but the expectation that teams can do that on top of their pre-existing workload is going to lead to workforce-wide burnout.” They added: “My line manager recognises the issue and is understanding but there seems to be limited appetite higher up in the company to take steps to address the issues.” 

Another assistant editor, working in the industry for five years, said they had “not known burnout like it was in November” due to supply chain issues. They said: “We’re all exhausted and we know everyone else is exhausted, as an editor you don’t want to give marketing and publicity more because you know they are overworked too so it’s just this cycle of piling more on your own plate and drowning in it.”

They said their manager also felt the same. “It’s industry-wide burnout and change needs to come from the top, I can’t expect my mid-level manager to be able to solve this.”

A former publishing staffer, who recently switched to agenting, said they experienced “horrific” working conditions as an editor. “My last year as an editor I took only five days of holiday because I didn’t have an assistant and there was no one to cover even the basics of my day-to-day when I was away, so going on holiday meant a month of working through the weekends to make up for it.” 

They said they “love” being an agent now, because it has made them enjoy books again. “I see my friends who still work as editors continuing to struggle while their line managers refuse to give them anything approaching help or support. The bright, hardworking young people who work in publishing because they love books leave to go to better industries—as I nearly did—and nothing changes. M.d.s and c.e.o.s need to have a hard look at the workloads they place on their junior staff and start making real and consequential changes.” 

However burnout is not limited to publishing staffers. A number of booksellers also reported issues with stress due to working conditions. An archives assistant, who has worked in the industry for 10 years, said: “Rotas would be provided with only a week or two notice at times, trying to secure holidays was always a protracted affair, trying to speak to management about any HR/pay issues was always impossible, trying to view payslips was a convoluted affair, working hours would regularly be unsociable—you were supposed to be on a pattern of lates and earlies but management would just put you in for what suited them, so you would regularly be working weeks of mostly late shifts, you’d be lucky if you got weekends off, and you’d be expected to just accept very last minute changes to your rota.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A Bookstore Revival Channels Nostalgia for Big Box Chains

From Bloomberg:

When the final Harry Potter installment was published on July 21, 2007, bookstores across the U.S. celebrated with midnight release parties — some with booze, befitting a series whose earliest readers were now in their 20s. These parties took place at thousands of bookstores at a time that was, in retrospect, Peak Bookstore.

“That era, 1997 to 2007, was truly a sweet spot for readers,” Jenna Amatulli reminisced in HuffPost in 2017. “They watched the fandom bloom from nothing, lined up willingly outside of a physical store — oftentimes without a celebrity-sighting incentive — and read without the fear of a push-alert or Twitter spoiler.”

Turnout for the same release today would be lower, because of Amazon.com Inc., because of dying malls, because of J.K. Rowling’s support for gender essentialism — and because there are simply fewer bookstores. Between 1991 and 2011, the U.S. lost 1,000 chain bookstores. A story in The Bulwark checking in on Borders locations 10 years after its 2011 bankruptcy revealed that some had become Books-A-Million, but many more of their “medium-box” locations now sold food, furniture or clothes.

Even so, that HuffPost story, now five years old, may have played taps for the chain bookstore too soon.

. . . .

Plenty of Millennials who grew up with a Waldenbooks, a Crown or a Borders have the same nostalgia for those chains that they feel for the malls that once contained them. At the same time, Gen Z is taking to TikTok to talk about books — driving billions of views as well as sales for authors’ backlists — and staging those videos at Barnes & Noble. B&N’s green-and-cream decor persists as an accessible symbol for books and, in a country recently starved for social interaction, a place where one day we will browse together again. Trends may come and go, but wooden shelves and squishy chairs will always mean, “Curl up with a book.”

The last of the major chains is betting on that rebound: Barnes & Noble, which once said it would whittle itself down to 450 stores by 2022, started the year with 625 — and plans to add 20 to 25 more in 2022. James Daunt, who took over as chief executive officer in 2019 after hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. acquired the company, has been refurbishing existing stores and empowering store managers to use their local knowledge. Book sales have boomed during the pandemic, up 13% year over year, and at least 172 new independent bookstores opened in 2021. Some of those indies have even taken to the mall.

Chain box stores were big businesses, sure, but they were also a crucial third space for casual hangouts and serendipitous run-ins that metro suburbs, smaller cities and rural places often lack. As literary critic Adam Morgan tweeted in January, “I grew up in post-boom textile mill towns in North and South Carolina; we had no independent bookstores, so Barnes & Noble was the only literary space I knew until grad school … It felt like New York to me. That forest green and warm polished wood was like walking into another world I didn’t want to leave.”

Why do we have nostalgia for these shops that were, by many rubrics, worse than the bookstores we have now? More generic, more plastic, less curated, less authentic. Because those bookstores were never just about books — they were about access, and freedom. The chains reached deeper into America, and brought books to a wider demographic, than today’s approximately 6,000 stores can. Yes, we have Amazon now. But it will never be the same as sitting on the carpet in some under-trafficked aisle and reading your first Sweet Valley High, your first Stephen King, or your first biography of The Great One.

. . . .

“The big-box store was a glorious thing while it lasted. To people in many parts of America, they were a kind of Aladdin’s cave,” Wharton management professor Dan Raff told All Things Considered in 2011.

The chain stores were pick-up joints without the alcohol, teen hangouts without the style pressures of the mall, opportunities to explore identity.

Barnes & Noble bought B. Dalton in 1986, setting off a race to be the biggest national bookstore chain, with the various stores adding software, music and standalone kids shops. But the downfall of the mall spelled trouble for both Borders and B&N, leading to bigger and bigger locations, selling more and more items that weren’t books. The stores added cafes, whimsical children’s sections and big comfy chairs, expanding to multi-level spaces of the type satirized in the 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail.

. . . .

It’s not until you add the coffee shop to the chain bookstore, circa 1990, that it becomes the best illustration of sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the “third place.” The chain stores were pick-up joints without the alcohol, teen hangouts without the style pressures of the mall, opportunities to explore identity both socially and via reading material out from under the thumb of parents and teachers. As with the malls and shopping centers that often support a bookstore, these private enterprises offered accommodation to a broad range of people, in terms of class, race and age.

“Nowadays you look at a Best Buy, a Ross, and you shop and you get out,” says Daniel Gerber, regional director for Barnes & Noble in the south. “But with the cafes, people would go in there and spend five and six hours. It was a pick-up place, the antithesis of the bar scene.”

Readers found platonic community in the aisles as well. “Romance readers know where they are welcome,” says Sarah MacLean, bestselling romance author, co-host of the podcast Fated Mates, and one-time Cranston, Rhode Island, Borders employee. “They know they can get their books at a supermarket, at Costco, at Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million and they can get them without judgment.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

PG suggests that basing a come-back business plan on nostalgia may be a little risky, but his type is definitely not in the business plan for any big box store, so what does he know?

How this ‘booktender’ has kept the family bookstore going through thick and thin

From The Deseret News:

In 1959, four years before he was born, Richard Frost’s destiny was already set in place.

That was the year his grandmother and grandfather, Zelma and Joseph Frost, following a successful career in the construction industry in Colorado, moved to Utah and Zelma opened a bookstore in Foothill Village in Salt Lake City.

She called it Frost’s Books.

Her motivation, according to her grandson: “She wanted a business where her children could interact with interesting people.”

More than six decades later, Richard is living proof that his grandmother’s goal was met, and then some.

He is sitting behind the counter at Frost’s Books, holding court, as it were; a third-generation bookseller — the family business passing down from his grandparents to his parents, Clarence and Rosalie, to him — who is as much a fixture as the bookshelves.

Customers walk in and he’s there if they need him. But there is nothing intense or high pressure about him. He’s like the bartenders you see in the movies: clearly approachable, but on your terms. A booktender.

. . . .

“If I have a quality it’s probably being able to interact with people in a way that makes them feel valuable, or listened to,” says Richard. “That’s something my grandfather and father were good at, just being interested in people. I’m generally a curious person, so whatever someone is interested in or whatever they’re doing, I have an interest in it, and it’s not because they’re a customer, it’s because I’m interested. Anyway, I think that’s worked well for me.”

Not only has curiosity kept Frost’s Books an enduring presence on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley — an independent bookstore, no less, that has weathered the internet storm and is still standing — but it has given Richard a chance to meet an unending stream of interesting people.

“I throw everybody a softball,” he says of his benign approach to starting a conversation, “and I let them hit it just as far as they can.”

If people want to pontificate, they have the floor.

“I enjoy chatting and people sharing their feelings and what their thoughts are, even political rants,” he says. “I’m a very conservative person, but I know of at least 20 people who think I’m a raging liberal; not because or anything I’ve said, but just because I’ve listened to them without arguing.”

Sometimes it gets very personal. “I have anywhere from two to five significant conversations throughout the day, that might last 10, 15 minutes,” he says. “One customer calls me her therapist, and she does as much therapy or counseling for me as I do for her.”

Of course, at some point people have to buy something.

That’s where the true book lovers come in — those folks who choose to spend their disposable (and sometimes not disposable) income on the printed word over all else.

“The lifeblood of a bookstore is having 50 people who spend $100 to $200 in a visit,” says Richard. “Vegas would call them whales. Then you have to have, what, 200 other people who are regulars, and then you count on new people to come by and hopefully replace the old people who died or moved or whatever. But, really, you gotta have one whale a day. I don’t know if we should refer to my best customers as whales, but it just makes all the difference.”

Link to the rest at the Deseret News

The Mom-and-Popcalypse

From Slate:

To visit Philadelphia’s Joseph Fox Bookshop in the last two weeks of January was to attend a wake.

Tucked away on a narrow one-way street in the heart of Center City, the 71-year-old institution held a special magic. Its neatly curated selection of hip novels, architectural tomes, and children’s literature was framed by pleasantly tasteful interior decor and soothing lighting. Everyone behind the counter knew their stuff and would gladly recommend a gift, even if you were only half-sure about the recipient’s favorite novel.

So when rumors began to spread on Twitter that the beloved staple might soon close, a story soon confirmed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the reaction was dramatic.

. . . .

“I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of emotion,” says Michael Fox, 69, whose father opened the shop in 1951. “People were crying outside the book store, people were bringing us presents and food. There’s been this extraordinary outpouring of affection and sadness.”

Joseph Fox was thronged in those last weeks of business, its narrow rowhouse confines bursting with grieving loyalists. While locals mourned for one Philadelphia icon, however, there were also dark murmurings about a potentially much greater malady.

Is Center City experiencing a retail meltdown? Nearly two years into the era of remote work, are Philadelphia’s downtown, and other central business districts around the country, finally collapsing? The relatively high-end commercial corridors of Walnut and Chestnut streets—both hit hard by the shutdown and looting and property destruction in 2020—are still pocked with vacancies. Their counterparts on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and Manhattan’s SoHo all saw vacancy rates of 20 percent or higher in 2021.

“Walnut Street used to be this vibrant, thriving, amazing community of stores, all these big chain clothing stores—and they’re just not reopening,” says Fox. “At six o’clock when we close, there’s no one on the street. That’s a real indication that something changed. People are not in town, they aren’t working.”

. . . .

This is very specifically a downtown problem. At the macro level, the national retail market is proving resilient two years into the pandemic, with many of its weaker performers already culled by the “retail apocalypse” of 2018 and 2019. For the first time since 2014, the real estate analytics company CoStar Group tracked more store openings than closings last year.

Buoyed by unprecedented amounts of federal support for households and businesses in 2020 and early 2021, paired with increased savings due to inactivity earlier in the pandemic, Americans pounded down the doors of national retailers last year.

“Retail sales blew through the roof at a much higher rate than we would have ever expected and consumption hit all-time highs,” says Brandon Svec, national director of U.S. retail analytics with the CoStar Group. “The consumer was unleashed back into the world with vaccines in their arms and a couple extra trillion dollars in their bank accounts.”

That larger truth obscures inequities. The booming metropolitan areas of the Southeast and Southwest are outperforming more stagnant counterparts in the Northeast and Midwest. Rural regions continue to suffer from a dearth of retail activity, while suburbs are outperforming urban cores especially in older, denser cities like Philadelphia.

Michael Fox isn’t imagining things when he laments reduced foot traffic and boarded up storefronts. By the count of Philadelphia’s Center City District, a third of downtown consumers are still absent. In 2019, an average of 428,000 people walked the streets of central Philadelphia every day. In 2021, there were only 267,000—a gap almost entirely explained by the continued prevalence of remote work.

Link to the rest at Slate

Bookstore Sales Rose 28% in 2021

From Publishers Weekly:

Riding strong gains in the second half of the year, bookstore sales increased 39% in 2021 over 2020, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $9.03 billion, compared to sales of $6.50 billion in pandemic-ravaged 2020.

The rebound was not quite enough to bring 2021 bookstore sales back to 2019 levels, falling 1% below 2019 sales of $9.13 billion.

Consumers apparently did buy books early and often in the fourth quarter of 2021. December bookstore sales increased 33.6% over December 2020, rising to $1.20 billion from $900 million in December 2020. The December increase followed sales jumps of 53% in October and 43% in November.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

When Is It Okay to Let a Bookstore Die?

From Book Riot:

Readers love bookstores. Even the most devoted library power user, audiobook aficionado, or ebook devotee enjoys wiling time away in the aisles. There’s perhaps nothing more romanticized in the bookish world than a secondhand bookstore brimming with stacks of books precariously balanced on every surface. They make for great Instagram pictures — but do they make for a good business model?

Speaking of romanticization, books are often conferred a certain status that almost no other object is. Reading isn’t just a hobby; it’s a lofty pursuit. Books aren’t just widgets; they’re sacred objects. Reading and books aren’t just associated with status and education. They’re also often associated with a kind of moral weight. It’s not unusual for everyone from BookTokers to booksellers to say they promote literacy, which certainly sounds like a noble pursuit.

Getting people to read (or buy) more books isn’t the same thing as promoting literacy, though, if we’re being completely honest. Increasing literacy would involve teaching people (whether kids or adults) the skills of reading, from the most basic phonics and decoding knowledge to more intricate strategies, like spotting motifs and themes, critically engaging with a text, and recognizing bias.

Convincing someone to pick up a random book doesn’t necessarily achieve any of those goals, and yet it still feels like a victory. Bookstores have an air of improving society, of being ethically superior to other businesses. When that veneer is scratched away, though, you’re left with a business that needs to make money. Apart from a handful of not-for-profit or communist/anarchist bookstores, they function in much the same way any other business does.

But while it’s fairly common for independent bookstores to do GoFundMe-style crowdfunding campaigns or to simply ask customers to place orders to keep the lights on, it’s unlikely that a local soap and cosmetics store or a boutique fashion location doing something like this would be received similarly. After all, they’re businesses. If they’re not profitable, why should they stay open?

. . . .

When I started working for a used bookstore, there were piles of books on the ground, and nothing was catalogued online. It was exactly the kind of ~aesthetic~ used bookstore you might see on Instagram. People would come in and exclaim at how lovely it was…and often those same people would leave after 15 minutes of looking around without buying anything. Because the stacks were overwhelming, they trapped dust, and they blocked shelves.

. . . .

Since then, the store has expanded (hooray!) and changed locations. There are no more piles on the floor, and everything is catalogued online. The booksellers there still have people come in and say how they miss the charm of the old store, and specifically that they miss the piles of books on the floor. The staff who had to spend hours moving piles of books around, lugging tubs of books up stairs without an elevator, and searching through the 18 places a title might be shelved largely disagree.

There’s a vision of used bookstores as tiny, cramped spaces filled from floor to ceiling with books in very little order at all. Tucked away in a corner is someone reading, who is likely cranky and will criticize your reading taste. They do not have the newest releases. The idea of finding a treasure in those piles is enticing, but it’s just not a sound business strategy most of the time, and it’s no surprise that these shops have largely disappeared. And that’s okay.

. . . .

Bookstores are not inherently morally superior to any other business, though, and sometimes they just aren’t a good fit. Maybe it isn’t run effectively. Maybe there aren’t enough customers or the rent is too high. Maybe the staff is condescending or unhelpful. Maybe there’s too much competition. I don’t think readers have an obligation to support every physical bookstore. Sometimes, it’s their time to shut up shop.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG isn’t certain exactly what the author of the OP is trying to demonstrate other than bookstores have a past.

PG agrees that “bookstores are not inherently morally superior to any other business” even though he enjoyed physical bookstores in the past.

The problem with physical bookstores today is entirely financial. After the rise of Barnes & Noble and Borders, only a relatively small group of people made much money owning/operating an independent bookstore. Long before Amazon showed up, a typical independent bookstore could expect an annual profit margin of 1-2%.

The widespread shutdown in the United States during the Age of Covid was disastrous for physical bookstores.

From the Open Education Database (PG thinks in 2002):

  • Today, there are around 10,800 bookstores in the U.S.Though it might seem that bookstores are closing at a rapid pace, there are actually still an impressive amount of bookstores in the U.S.; about 10,800 in all, ranging from small, independent retailers to major chains, according to census data from 2002. Yet that number is considerably lower than the number recorded in 1997 when there were 12,363 stores, a 12.2% drop.
  • There are more bookstores today than there were in 1930.

. . . .

  • E-books have captured $3.2 billion of the market.E-books offer readers convenience and the chance to save money on buying books, but they’re also causing bookstores to take a major hit. In 2011, e-books captured $3.2 billion of the bookselling market, and by 2016 that number is projected to grow to nearly $10 billion. That estimate could be pretty close to reality based on past trends; between 2010 and 2011 alone e-book sales rose by 210% and comprised 30% of all sales of adult fiction. Prior to the introduction of the Amazon Kindle, the e-book market was fairly insignificant. Now, with nearly 28% of Americans owning an e-reader device, it’s not uncommon to see sales jump exponentially from year to year.

Link to the rest at Open Education Database

PG notes that the stats listed above are twenty years old.

From The United States Census:

According to data from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns . . . the number of U.S. Book stores . . . dropped from 12,151 in 1998 to 6,045 in 2019.

Link to the rest at The United States Census

PG suggests that sales from physical bookstores were under siege a long time before Amazon was founded in 1994. You’ll recall that Barnes & Noble and Borders put a large number of independent bookstores out of business during their rise to the top of the traditional bookstore market.

From The New York Times (October 15,2020):

The signs started appearing in bookstore windows this week.

“Buy books from people who want to sell books, not colonize the moon.”

“Amazon, please leave the dystopia to Orwell.”

“If you want Amazon to be the world’s only retailer, keep shopping there.”

The message: Buy from these shops, or they won’t be around much longer. According to the American Booksellers Association, which developed the campaign, more than one independent bookstore has closed each week since the pandemic began. Many of those still standing are staring down the crucial holiday season and seeing a toxic mix of higher expenses, lower sales and enormous uncertainty.

Even though book sales have been a bright spot in an exceedingly grim national economy — they rose more than 6 percent so far this year compared with last year, according to NPD BookScan — most of those purchases are not going through independent stores.

. . . .

Still, local independent stores have hustled and reinvented themselves during the pandemic. Mailing books to customers, which used to be a minuscule revenue stream for most shops, can now be more than half of a store’s income, or virtually all of it for places that are not yet open for in-person shopping. Curbside pickup has become commonplace.

Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., sends personalized URLs to customers with a list of handpicked recommendations. Green Apple Books in San Francisco raised $20,000 selling T-shirts, hoodies and masks that said “Stay home, read books.” Other stores have pleaded for customers to donate money.

All that still may not be enough.

“Somebody said to me, ‘Boy, you must be raking it in with all the online business you’re getting,’” said Christine Onorati, an owner of Word bookstores in Brooklyn and Jersey City, N.J. “It makes me laugh.”

Bookstores across the country face different challenges depending on any number of factors, including their local economies and how they have been affected by the coronavirus. But some broad trend lines have started to emerge, perhaps most of all that bigger, right now, is not better.

Take Vroman’s Bookstore, a 126-year-old institution in Pasadena, Calif. It has more than 200 employees, 20,000 square feet of space and the rent to go along with it. In a normal year, it hosts anywhere from 300 to 400 events, bringing in authors for readings and signings, along with customers who buy books and maybe a glass of wine from the bar. But none of that is happening this year.

Like many other stores, Vroman’s is hosting online events to promote new books, which can attract attendees from all over the country but generally bring in almost no money. Last month, it emailed customers, imploring them to come back.

“Our foot traffic and sales are improving, but still down almost 40 percent, which will not keep us in business,” it said. “If Vroman’s is to survive, sales must increase significantly from now through the holidays.”

At McNally Jackson Books, which has four locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn along with two stationery shops, sales are “unimaginably bad,” according to its owner, Sarah McNally. All six shops combined are now bringing in less than its SoHo location would in a typical month.

. . . .

Allison K. Hill, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, said the group surveyed its 1,750 members in July and received responses from about 400 of them. Of those who answered, about a third said their sales were down 40 percent or more for the year. But another 26 percent said their sales were flat, or even up. The organization plans to do another survey in January, and Ms. Hill said she expects that positive number to have eroded.

. . . .

Even at stores where sales have held on, profits are often down, Ms. Hill said. In the best of times, the margins at a bookstore are paper thin — traditionally, a successful shop hopes to make 2 percent in profits — but operating during a pandemic is even more expensive.

“We’re working harder for less this year,” said Kelly Estep, one of the owners of Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Ky.

Mailing a book to a customer requires more time and labor than ringing it up at the register. Some stores are offering hazard pay to their employees or have dedicated a staff member to greet people at the door, making sure they’re wearing masks and sanitizing their hands before they start running their fingers across the books.

. . . .

“If someone told me this time last year I would be spending $20,000 on postage and shipping materials and P.P.E. and extra cleaning for the stores,” said Jamie Fiocco, an owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, N.C., and the board president of the American Bookseller Association, she wouldn’t have believed it. “We just didn’t have those line items in our budget, or if we did, they were inconsequential.”

Hanging over all this is the holiday season. Ms. Fiocco said her store does about 30 percent of its business in the last eight weeks of the year, and there are days in December when she sells more in an hour than in a normal day. But this year, customers won’t be able to freely swarm the store at the last minute, so booksellers are trying to encourage early shopping.

Perhaps most worrying is that the supply chain has been under strain. There have been issues with shippers, limited capacity at warehouses and backlogs at printing companies, where books delayed from the spring are running up against releases planned for the fall. Among those is a new memoir by former President Barack Obama, which is scheduled for publication Nov. 17 and expected to be the biggest book of the year.

“There’s a Hail Mary here where the holiday season could really change things,” said Ms. Hill. “To have a book like that come out right at this critical time, it could make a huge difference.”

Many store owners are afraid the printers won’t be able to keep up with demand, or that publishers won’t prioritize indies if supply gets tight, so they’re placing large orders up front for some of the biggest books of the season, like a new cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. (Mr. Obama’s book has required other adjustments: At 768 pages, it will weigh 2.5 pounds, said Matt Keliher at Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minn., so the store had to raise shipping fees or else it would lose money on every sale.) Because the demand has been so enormous, Mr. Obama’s publisher Penguin Random House will be sending orders out in batches for stores across the country, from little indies to the big boxes.

“If we could sell 1,000 copies between November 17 and the New Year, that’s going to make a huge difference in us being viable, so we need those books,” said Gayle Shanks, an owner of Changing Hands Bookstore, which has locations in Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz. “We’re really trying to get the message out, to help customers understand that not just for bookstores but local retailers and local restaurants, if they want them to be there when the pandemic over, they have to support those businesses now.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

From Kirkus Reviews (14 October 2020):

Twenty percent of independent bookstores across the country are in danger of closing, according to a news release from the American Booksellers Association.

Link to the rest at Kirkus Reviews

From The Los Angeles Times (5 October 2020), a piece written by Allison K Hill, President of the American Booksellers Association:

On the side of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena is a mural of a red and black typewriter with a painted piece of paper bearing the words, “I will forever be in love with you. And that’s not fiction.”

When I commissioned this piece in November 2019 as the store’s CEO, it didn’t seem far-fetched to think that Vroman’s, a Pasadena literary institution since 1894, would be around, if not forever, then for a very long time.

Now the store has said it may not make it through the year.

Anyone who has wandered Vroman’s two stories of curated books and gifts, caught up with a friend there for coffee or wine, or met a favorite author at a book signing, knows the shop’s value to the community. But the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt it — and many other beloved independent bookstores across the United States — an unexpected blow.

I left Vroman’s in February to become CEO of American Booksellers Assn. It’s a dream job for me; I love bookstores and I know that Vroman’s and the other 1,745 independent bookstores that we support across the country are heartbeats of their communities. They are run by individuals who love books and are known for their community support, customer service and curation. Recommendations are made by booksellers, not algorithms; displays are inspired by individuals, not corporate planograms.

In my new job I witness on a daily basis what it takes for indies to do this in an industry not known for its financial robustness. As the joke goes: “How do you make a small fortune in the book business? Start with a large fortune.” Independent booksellers are creative, resourceful, hard-working and resilient, and they’ve needed to be during the pandemic.

Since March many independent bookstores have found themselves having to depend on e-commerce and forced to pivot to curbside pickup. They’ve had to replace live events with virtual ones and enforce social distancing, if their stores are open at all. A July American Booksellers’ Assn. survey of 400 member stores found that many have seen sharp sales declines over last year, and results suggest that some 20% of those surveyed may not survive until January 2021.

This statistic mirrors the Small Business Majority’s survey results from August. The group found that, without additional funding, 26% of small-business owners across the United States may not survive past the next three months, and nearly 44% say they may be unable to survive another six months.

If these businesses close, COVID-19 will be listed as the cause of death, but the preexisting condition for many will be Amazon, whose packages have become ubiquitous in apartment building lobbies and on porches across the U.S. Amazon has been boxing out local bookstores and other small businesses all across the country, resulting in the loss of local jobs, local sales tax revenue, and a sense of neighborhood personality, community and tradition. People may not realize the cost and consequences of Amazon’s “convenience” until it’s too late.

. . . .

The COVID-19 crisis has been heartbreaking on so many levels. People have lost loved ones, jobs and businesses. People have lost hope. On a good day I contemplate all the things I’m grateful for, but like all of us there is so much that I miss from my pre-COVID-19 life, particularly browsing the bustling aisles of my favorite bookstores. The Vroman’s announcement was a jolting reminder that on the other side of the crisis we will have lost many of the things we take for granted.

With this realization comes an opportunity for action: Now is the time to create the post-COVID-19 world we want to live in.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

WH Smith’s ‘bestselling’ book charts filled with titles publishers have paid to feature in rankings

From Inews UK:

Book lovers are unwittingly paying for titles which appear to be the top-selling releases of the moment, when in some cases a publisher has paid the retailer to feature them in its “bestseller” charts, multiple industry figures have claimed.

Rankings displayed at shops such as WH Smith, as well as those compiled by online retailers, are determined partly by whether a book has been boosted in a deal with publishers, industry insiders say.

The practice has come to light after a former WH Smith employee alleged that when he worked at the retailer, staff were instructed to display author and TV presenter Richard Osman’s novel The Thursday Murder Club in the number one slot in stores, regardless of sales figures, because publisher Penguin Random House had paid for the space.

“When the last Richard Osman came out, Penguin bought the number one spot on all WH Smith in-store bestseller charts so it had to be displayed as the bestseller in every single store, whether it actually was or not,” Barry Pierce, who worked at the retailer from 2020 to 2021, recently claimed on social media.

. . . .

[T]he chart comprised books that WH Smith wanted to “push”, and was treated as a “promotional space” rather than a “legitimate chart” based on which books were selling the most copies, he claimed.

“Often… our area manager would come in and rearrange the chart so certain books [would] appear higher,” Mr Pierce added.

True bestseller charts based on figures from Nielsen BookScan – which collects point-of-sale data from more than 6,500 UK retailers – are widely regarded as the most accurate reflection of the top selling titles and authors.

The admission has prompted astonishment from readers and authors, but industry figures, who backed up Mr Pierce’s claim, maintained that such agreements have long been part of the way publishers and retailers do business and should not come as a surprise to the book-buying public.

James Daunt, managing director at Waterstones, the UK’s largest bookshop chain, said it was commonplace for other retailers to exchange spots in their charts for money.

Waterstones itself previously accepted millions of pounds each year from publishers to position titles in its “bestseller” charts, but Mr Daunt said he put an end to these deals as soon as he was appointed.

“Since I took over in 2011, Waterstones has never taken one penny to place books [on shelves]. The year before, Waterstones took £27 million [from publishers],” Mr Daunt said.

Link to the rest at Inews UK and thanks to H for the tip.

The question that occurred to PG was, “If a publisher was ethical in its business practices, would it pay for phony best-seller rankings.”

PG is certain a publisher would respond that this was just a time-honored method to increase sales and, thus, profits.

Inquiring minds might ask if calculations of the amount of royalties owed to authors were ever subject to this sort of “publishing industry practice.”

Barnes & Noble Unveils Union Square & Company

From Publishers Weekly:

Approximately one year after Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt tapped Emily Meehan to reinvent the retailer’s publishing operation, Meehan has unveiled a new name for the press as well as a host of new initiatives.

Union Square & Co. is the new public-facing name of what has been known as Sterling Publishing. Meehan explained that the underlying business will still be called Sterling Publishing, but that all books will be released under the Union Square & Co. and Union Square Kids imprints, plus two existing imprints: Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright. Books bearing the Union Square name will roll out this fall, while the publisher’s website and email addresses will be updated January 10.

Meehan said she is keeping the Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright names because they are so well known in their categories of magic and mystic publishing and pencil-and-paper puzzles, respectively. Meehan said Puzzlewright accounts for about 10% of Union Square’s revenue, and she sees more opportunity to grow both that business as well as the business of Sterling Ethos. Specifically, she plans to take hit titles within those imprints and expand them across a variety of formats, including calendars and journals, with the goal of reaching not only existing fans but also a wider audience. Kate Zimmermann is heading up Sterling Ethos and Francis Heaney is leading Puzzlewright.

The launch of the Union Square brand is in keeping with Meehan’s previously announced strategy to broaden the types of books that the group publishes for both adults and children. She believes Union Square is well positioned both to help authors who are looking to reboot their careers and to assist new authors with launching theirs. She said Union Square will be looking for authors who are writing on subjects that reflect shifts in the culture.

“We will be placing bets in the areas where we believe we have a good chance to grow,” Meehan explained, noting that she has no intention of going head-to-head with the Big Five on a regular basis. “We’ll act on books in categories where we want to put a stake in the ground.”

Meehan said a good example of the type of author and book Union Square will focus on is a new untitled interior design book by Carmeon Hamilton, the winner of HGTV’s Design Star: Next Gen and star of the Reno My Rental show. Hamilton “wants to move design in some new ways,” Meehan noted. The author was signed by Amanda Englander, who joined Union Square from Clarkson Potter and who will oversee the publisher’s lifestyle efforts, which include the decorating, food and drink, and health and wellness categories.

Growing Union Square’s fiction list is another Meehan priority, and to that end she signed the Wolf Den trilogy by Elodie Harper. The first installment, The Wolf Den, was a U.K. bestseller, and the series has been touted by B&N’s U.K. sister company Waterstones. Meehan said Union Square will use Waterstones’ merch team as a sounding board when looking to sign other U.K. authors.

. . . .

Accompanying changes to Union Square’s editorial approach, Meehan has made changes to its sales operations, with an eye to improving the publisher’s sales across the entire trade. To that end, Elena Blanco has joined as director, trade sales, and her duties include expanding Union Square’s outreach to independent booksellers. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG checked out Union Square’s website and found a word salad of tired clichés.

We focus on making publishing a partnership. Through collaboration and a team approach publishing is made easier and more profitable while providing business skill and global reach.

We combine industry-best experience with business creativity and expertise, then collaborate to help realize the possibilities you created from the first moment you set pen to paper.

. . . .

Authors become part of our Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem which establishes the best future for the author and title.

PG is certain that a great deal of research went into what authors really want – an Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem.

PG wondered if this new collection of English majors who couldn’t get work elsewhere had ever created an algorithm.

Perhaps they started off with “How to Create an Algorithm” with MS Word 2010 on a PC.

Of course, every talented contemporary author who recalls the first moment you set pen to paper will, without a doubt, be thoroughly enchanted.

PG can barely restrain his enthusiasm. His first moment produced something like “Acme Construction (hereafter “The Party of the First Part”)”.

Just how big in media does Apple want to be?

From The Economist:

AS VIOLINS PLAY mournfully, Jon Stewart, an American comic, makes a mock-emotional appeal to viewers. “Every year thousands of hours of high-quality content go unwatched,” he says seriously. “Because good, hard-working people…don’t know how to find Apple TV+.”

The world’s most valuable company can afford a few jokes at its own expense. In the past year the tech colossus has raked in $366bn in revenue, a third more than in 2020. On January 3rd its market capitalisation briefly exceeded $3trn (see chart 1). The mere billions that it is investing in media, including a new television show hosted by Mr Stewart, represent pocket change to the Silicon Valley giant.

Yet some 300 miles (480km) away in Hollywood, where executives used to snigger about the dilettantes from big-tech land up north, Apple’s dabbling in media is no joke. Though it lags well behind Netflix and the like, Apple has enough money to ride out the increasingly expensive streaming wars, which threaten to bankrupt other players. One question keeps its rivals awake at night: just how big in media does Apple want to be?

Apple became a big noise in music when it launched iTunes almost exactly 21 years ago. It took a cut of songs’ sales, and shifted hundreds of millions of iPods for people to play them. Later iTunes sold movies, too, and the firm hoped to make the same model work in television, where the market is an order of magnitude larger than music. But paying for downloads was superseded by all-you-can-eat subscriptions, pioneered by Spotify in music and Netflix in TV. Unlike downloaded music or films, subscriptions could be easily transferred between platforms. So Apple, seeing little opportunity to lock consumers into its devices, sat out the streaming revolution.

Today it is back in the media game, and a bigger force than Mr Stewart’s joke implies (see chart 2). Apple Music, launched in 2015, is the second-largest streamer after Spotify. Apple TV+, now two years old, is the fourth-largest video service outside China by the number of subscribers, according to Omdia, a data company. In the past couple of years Apple has made smaller media bets including Arcade, a subscription gaming package, News+, a publishing bundle, and Fitness+, which offers video aerobics classes. There is talk of an audiobooks service later this year.

Like Amazon, another tech giant with a sideline in media, Apple has been able to roll out its offerings more quickly in more countries than most of its Hollywood rivals, which have had to build direct-to-consumer businesses from scratch. And it can afford to be generous with free trials: less than a third of Apple TV+ subscribers pay for the service, Omdia believes. It has had some hits, notably “Ted Lasso”, which won a string of Emmy awards in September. But it lacks a back-catalogue, leading to high rates of customer churn. Smaller competitors like Paramount+ (part of ViacomCBS) and Peacock (from NBCUniversal) have limited new offerings but decades-old libraries.

. . . .

Apple’s renewed interest in media is best explained by the transformation in the company’s scale, which radically changes the calculation of which side-projects are worthwhile. Fifteen years ago, when Netflix started streaming, the billions involved in running a film studio would have represented close to a double-digit chunk of Apple’s annual revenues. Back then, Silicon Valley executives would fly down to Los Angeles, thinking “We’ve got a big chequebook, we could go and buy a bunch of content,” says Benedict Evans, a tech analyst and former venture capitalist. “And they would go and have their first meeting in LA. And the LA people would tell them the price”—at which point the tech people would go home. In 2021 Apple TV+’s estimated content budget represented 0.6% of company revenues: “play money”, as Mr Evans puts it.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Reading through the OP, PG thought it might be very interesting if Apple got into the book business. It could afford to buy any New York (or London, Paris, etc.) publisher it fancied with a few days worth of profits and could then give Amazon the first serious competition it’s had in the book business for a long time. Amazon pioneered the model and Apple could copy what worked.

By purchasing an established traditional publisher, Apple could also lock up a whole lot of non-Mickey-Mouse intellectual property for its video business. Amazon is too big in books to do that without getting caught up in significant antitrust issues, but Apple could play the anti-Amazon card to capture more than a little sympathetic noise from the book business.

PG also bets that Apple could buy Barnes & Noble at a very nice price and turn BN’s retail locations into Disney bookstores.

PG is just whirling his brain cells and hasn’t devoted any serious consideration of potential Disney antitrust issues that might arise. That said, PG thinks serious competition on this scale would sharpen up Amazon’s book business quite a lot.

PG is a big fan of Amazon for indie authors, but in his excessively-humble opinion, Amazon’s indie and commercial publishing arms haven’t done a whole lot of Amazon-brainy things for some time.

Exhibit A would be the difference between the POD backends of the Zon and Draft2Digital. Exhibit A.1 would be the limited and clunky POD templates Zon provides compared to D2D’s much more sophisticated looks.

E-Commerce Needs Real Store Locations Now More Than Ever

From The Wall Street Journal:

After losing ground to e-commerce, bricks-and-mortar stores are back in style.

Retailers this year are expected to open more stores than they close for the first time since 2017, according to an analysis of more than 900 chains by IHL Group, a research and advisory company. Most of the growth is coming from mass merchants, food, drugs and convenience chains.

Department stores and specialty retailers, which experienced the biggest shakeout over the past five years, are still closing more stores than they are opening. But the pace of closures has slowed from record levels.

Behind the shift are changing views about the value of physical stores, industry executives and analysts said.

Stores have become integral in fulfilling e-commerce orders. They serve as distribution hubs and convenient places for shoppers to pick up and return online purchases—services that will be key this holiday season as orders once again threaten to overwhelm shipping carriers.

As the cost of acquiring customers online has skyrocketed, stores also are a less expensive way to attract new shoppers. And as landlords have become more willing to accept shorter and more flexible lease terms, retailers are less likely to wind up locked into unproductive locations, the executives and analysts said.

“Five or six years ago, there was lots of discussion about whether e-commerce would gobble up bricks-and-mortar retail,” said Toni Roeller, senior vice president of in-store environment and visual merchandising at Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. Instead, she said, the online and store experience became more closely linked, which translated into a need for more stores.

The stores that retailers are opening today are different. Some are smaller, and more of them offer experiences beyond browsing.

Dick’s is adding to its fleet of more than 800 stores by opening newer concepts that include House of Sport, Public Lands and Golf Galaxy stores that have interactive features such as batting cages, rock-climbing walls and putting greens. It also has added some of those features to its namesake Dick’s stores.

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

The Supply Chain Grinch

From Writers Digest:

I started drafting my YA rom-com I’m Dreaming of A Wyatt Christmas the day my world stopped. It was March 2020 and my three children were home on their first day of spring break. At the time, we didn’t know that they wouldn’t be back in the classroom until September 2021.

Wyatt Christmas was written in the scraps of time I stitched together between figuring out if I needed to wipe down groceries and quarantine mail, where to buy toilet paper, and how to entertain and prevent a school-less preschooler from interrupting his brothers’ virtual classes. I wrote from 10 p.m. to midnight, from 3 a.m. until whenever my then three-year-old woke up and came looking for me.

In order to keep myself awake enough to write at 3 a.m., I had to really love this story—really love this world—and I do. I filled this book with all the warmth and Christmas feeling I could cram into the chapters. Working on it was an escape—one I hope translates to the readers. And like so many books written during the early pandemic months, my cozy Christmas book was about to make its way to bookstores.

At least I thought it was. Like so many in the publishing industry, I’ve gotten a crash course in supply chains these past few weeks. Wyatt Christmas was supposed to hit bookstore shelves October 5. It didn’t.

This is not my first pandemic release. I’m typically a book-a-year author, but I’m Dreaming of a Wyatt Christmas will be my third release in the past 18 months. The last two books in my Bookish Boyfriends series came out in May 2020 and January 2021. While launching without in-person events hasn’t been fun, I thought I knew how to make it work. I bought a ring light, signed up to embarrass myself on TikTok, and made a virtual escape room for school visits. But publishing has always been a roller coaster—you never know if the next drop is going to leave you elated or nauseated—and I was about to encounter one more loop on the track.

Who knew back when we all giggled about the boat stuck in the Suez Canal that it was just the beginning of what we’d be learning about shipping and supply chains? Not me! Dangit, karma!

A few weeks ago, my publisher emailed me with the news: Wyatt Christmas wasn’t going to arrive in time for its original release date, and they gave me a new one: October 26. I took a deep breath and made some corrections to my planner. We all agreed that this was fine. This was good, even; my Christmas book would come out closer to Christmas.

I made graphics. I filmed Instagram stories. I decided to proceed with the virtual launch event I had scheduled on October 5 with author Jen Calonita at Doylestown Bookshop. It wouldn’t be a “launch” event for me, but Jen’s middle grade novel, Heroes, the final book in her Royal Academy Rebels series, was coming out that day, and I could use our talk to encourage preorders.

Ninety minutes before the event started, I got an email from the bookstore: their preorder link was down. While Doylestown Bookshop pivoted to accepting phone and email orders, and I sent frantic emails to my publicist, we realized it wasn’t just a one-store issue. The buy links didn’t work on any of the bookstores I checked. It didn’t work on IndieBound or Bookshop.org, or on Barnes & Noble’s website. The book was unbuyable, due to complications with the on-sale date change.

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

Yet one other reason to stay away from traditional publishers.

That said, an innovative organization would have improvised a strategy to launch the book in a different way.

Book sales were way up during the Covid lockdown. These were, of course, virtually all online.

An innovative organization might have organized an online launch for the ebook and a POD hardcopy.

As it is, when the supply chain is worked through, there will be a zillion other book launches because traditional publishing can’t figure out how to launch a book without their highest-cost/lowest-profit sales outlet – the traditional bookstsore.

Pandemic sparks union activity where it was rare: Bookstores

From The Associated Press:

Britta Larson, a shift leader at Half Price Books in Roseville, Minnesota, has been with the store for nearly 12 years but only recently thought about whether she wanted to join a union.

“With the pandemic going on, we all were just weary of the constant dismissals we got when we raised concerns about staffing and workload to upper management,” said Larson, noting that the staff had been reduced when the store shut down for a time and was “stretched extremely thin” once it opened again.

“Before the pandemic, I’d say we would have kind of just thought ‘Things aren’t great’ because it was all we had ever known. The pandemic forced us to do some things differently and we learned from that.”

Labor action has surged in many industries over the past two years, including in bookselling, a business where unions had been rare. Since 2020, employees have unionized or are attempting to do so everywhere from Printed Matter in New York City to Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle and Bookshop Santa Cruz in California. In Minnesota, workers at four Half Price Books stores have announced plans to affiliate with locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

“I think COVID-19 was a rude awakening for bookstore workers, and really anyone who works with the public,” says Owen Hill, a buyer at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, California, which unionized earlier this year. “We were given no say regarding safe working conditions, even though we were risking our health by showing up for work. We had to organize in order to be a part of the conversation around worker safety.”

The publishing world has not a magnet for those seeking to get rich. Bookselling, especially independent bookselling, has a long affinity with liberal politics and a long sense of mission that transcends the desire to make a profit. Larson told The Associated Press that she and fellow Half Price staffers would rather unionize than quit because of their “enjoyment of books and love of our jobs as booksellers.”

But when workers organize, even the most progressive-minded owners might object.

Moe’s Books was co-founded in 1959 by the cigar-smoking Moe Moskowitz, a longtime activist and agitator known in part for letting his store serve as a refuge for anti-war protesters in the 1960s. Moe’s is now run by his daughter, Doris Moskowitz, who has spoken of the store’s egalitarian atmosphere and tradition of valuing dissent and social consciousness.

But when the staff announced in March that it was affiliating with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union, Moskowitz acknowledged mixed feelings, telling the digital news site Berkeleyside that the “decision to unionize, which I deeply respect from a political perspective, has left me very sad and confused.” In September, workers picketed the store and alleged unfair labor practices (denied by Moskowitz), though Hill says the situation has since improved.

“After lots of ups and downs, and major disagreements, the parties have come together,” Hill said. “We’re zeroing in on a contract, and both sides are negotiating in good faith. I expect that we will be voting on a new contract just after Thanksgiving (fingers crossed). I think management realized that both sides are committed to keeping the store open — we’re such an important part of the community.”

. . . .

Half Price Books also has its roots in the anti-establishment. It was co-founded in 1972 by Ken Gjemre, a former executive at the Zale Corporation who in middle age wanted to make a living more in line with his ideals as a pacifist, environmentalist and civil libertarian. A 2003 article in PR Week, published a year after Gjemre’s death, described Half Price as “forgiving and generous to its unconventional workforce, which is peppered with aging hippies and liberal-arts majors.”

Half Price has grown from a former laundromat in Dallas to more than 100 locations around the country. In response to a request for comment on the current labor action in Minnesota, Half Price Books executive vice president and chief strategy officer Kathy Doyle Thomas said in a statement: “Half Price Books strives to provide competitive benefits and good working conditions for all 1,900 employees across the country. We understand there is a movement to organize workers, and we respect the right of employees to vote. We are committed to following all procedures required by law.”

The company sent a different message to employees. In a statement posted for a time in some of the Minnesota stores, workers were told that Half Price would oppose unionization “with every legal means available to us.” Forming a union, the company added, was “a very serious decision, one that could affect your working future, and the future of those that depend on you. We believe that, once you get all the facts about the union, you will decide that our future will be better without a union.”

Link to the rest at Associated Press

France is trying to protect booksellers from Amazon. Is it a decade too late?

From Quartz:

French lawmakers are coming to the defense of booksellers who continue to lose business to major retailers like Amazon with a law that would set a fixed minimum delivery rate for books.

The bill, which was presented before the National Assembly today (Sept. 29), is the latest move to even the playing field for independent booksellers, who face competition not only from Amazon, but also French online retailers such as Fnac and Cultura.

“Small booksellers face costs that are far away from those of major retailers,” Géraldine Bannier, the law’s sponsor, said before the National Assembly. In the age of Amazon, she argued, booksellers have to make a choice between eating the cost of delivery themselves or charging their customers, in which case they may risk losing a sale.

French bookshops have for years been protected by a 1981 law that mandated books be sold at a fixed price, and not be discounted at more than 5%. The National Assembly passed another law in 2014 forbidding online booksellers from giving a 5% discount or free delivery to customers, though Amazon fought back by setting delivery fees at just 1 cent.

. . . .

Ryan Raffaelli, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied how bookstores remain resilient despite Amazon competition, says that independent sellers tend to do well by “bringing people into physical spaces and creating spaces for conversation.” This has proven challenging for stores during the coronavirus pandemic, and some French sellers have suffered for it. The iconic Paris bookstore Gibert Jeune closed its doors in May.

No matter whether France’s law passes, Amazon will continue to take risks that independent booksellers cannot, Raffaelli says. The retailer is willing to be a “loss leader”—that is, sell products at a loss—because it can bring in revenue across other categories.

This approach paid off for the company between 2008 and 2018, when independent booksellers’ retail sales declined by an annual average of 3%, whereas e-commerce sites including Amazon and Apple boosted book sales by 5.6% and captured 16.5% of the French market, according to the SLF.

Still, Raffaelli says the latest French tactic is different from similar anti-competition lawsuits brought by US booksellers against Amazon because the legislation is underpinned by the belief that bookstores are not just a form of commerce, but a cultural product. Culture minister Roselyne Bachelot echoed the same belief after the law was passed by the French Senate in June, saying “a book is not a good like others.”

“When you think about a bookstore as a cultural product, that creates a different rationale for why you would protect an industry,” Raffaelli says. “If you truly believe that bookstores are a form of art and culture, then you can potentially approach how you regulate it differently than if it’s just about transaction and free trade.”

Link to the rest at Quartz

How can independent bookstores begin to pay their booksellers a fair and living wage?

From Literary Hub:

We love indie bookstores. Even people who don’t read books love them. Insofar as movies and TV are a technicolor mirror of public perception, indie bookstores are wonderful and pure, quaint and charming—no one who works at (or owns!) an indie bookstore could be anything but a selfless and thoughtful champion of truth and beauty (even if they’re mean and sarcastic on the outside they most definitely have a heart of gold on the inside).

The problem with this widespread and rose-tinted version of independent bookstores is that it makes it easy to forget that to be a bookseller is to work an often thankless retail job for barely living wages with little to no benefits except for free books and the occasional opportunity to introduce local teens to the stories of Breece D’J Pancake or the early work of Anne Carson.

So how do we make bookselling—which, if we understand books as central to the ongoing attempt to puzzle out humanity and its complexities, is a worthy job—a better, longer-term career option for those who are most passionate about books?

This is one of the central questions at the heart of an upcoming two-part event called “Reimagining Bookstores.” Don’t let the title alarm you, this is not an app-based attempt to “disrupt” bookselling—in fact, the open forum is being co-hosted by a who’s-who of some of this country’s best bookstores, including Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA, San Francisco’s Booksmith, Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA, Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstore, and Seattle’s Third Place Books.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

PG doesn’t usually include multiple excerpts from the same source on the same day, but he was surprised to see the OP’s topic.

The unfortunate reality is that almost all bookstores are marginal businesses.

PG doubts that anyone who thinks much about a career that will allow her/him to support a family in the absence of a wealthy spouse would seriously consider employment in a bookstore as any sort of long-term solution to anything. If PG’s unsystematic assessment of the few physical bookstores he has entered during the last year or two is correct, many people who work in bookstores would not be likely candidates for any sort of work that could support a middle-class lifestyle.

PG lives in an area that includes a couple of large universities and occasionally sees a college-student type in a bookstore. Still, primarily, the employees strike PG as more of the drop-out, need-a-job-now types who worry that waiting tables in a restaurant would be too much work. At least, when you go home after your shift in the bookstore is finished, you don’t smell like french-fry oil.

Given the existence of Amazon, even bookstores in smaller communities where they’re the only bookstore in town don’t have much real pricing power. If they can sell pastries from a local bakery or even a local grocery store, they may earn higher profits from those sales than from books.

This situation is not just a reflection of the Amazon effect, however. When PG first learned that bookstores could return unsold copies of books to the publisher (via the distributor) for full credit, that was his first clue that the book business had significant built-in problems.

PG would be happy to know if any other class of retailers can routinely return as many unsold goods as they wish to the manufacturers without paying anything for the privilege of doing so after the goods had been handled, picked over, etc., by a significant number of prospective buyers.

A Mystery Writer’s Ode to Bookstore Romances

From CrimeReads:

Let’s face it, all readers have the same dream—to own a bookstore! Ah, the images it conjures. Spending our days with books, reveling in the aromas of paper and ink, tingling with anticipation when we think of the fictional worlds waiting for us inside the covers of books

. . . .

The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s financially strapped bookshop and also becomes the caretaker of her ailing grandfather. When Grandpa’s health declines, Natalie decides to sell the shop and the aging building that houses it. There’s only one problem: Grandpa owns the building and he refuses to sell. Enter Peach Gallagher, a contractor hired to handle repairs. So begins Natalie’s journey of making new connections and discovering the truth about her family, her future, and her own heart.

Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter

The responsibilities of raising her siblings have meant that Sophie has had to put aside her dream of owning a bookstore in Piper’s Cove. Now, her sibs are all grown up, and Sophie’s going to make her bookshop dream come true. A wedding reunites Sophie with Aiden Maddox the high school sweetheart who walked out on her without a backward glance. Can she trust Aiden to stick around and help her get the shop up and running? And while she’s at it, can she trust him with her heart?

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

Thea Mottram’s husband walks out on her just when her uncle passes and she inherits his antique book collection. She travels to Scotland to check sell the books and comes to love the town of Baldochrie and its quirky residents. The only person she can’t win over Edward Maltravers, the bookstore owner she’d like to sell her uncle’s collection to. Somehow bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Publishers, Amazon Move to Dismiss Booksellers’ Antitrust Suit

From Publishers Weekly:

In separate motions this week, Amazon and the Big Five publishers asked a federal court to dismiss the latest iteration of a potential class-action price-fixing claim filed against them on behalf of indie booksellers.

According to court filings, the booksellers’ Amended Complaint, which was filed in July, accuses Amazon and the publishers of illegal price discrimination under the Robinson-Patman Act. But in their motions to dismiss, both Amazon and the publishers insist there is no illegal agreement to fix or otherwise restrain prices, and that the amended complaint is legally deficient and must be tossed.

“The Complaint recites that Amazon is a leading book retailer, takes issue with ordinary price competition, and tries to illogically and conclusorily claim that Publisher Defendants conspired with each other and with Amazon to confer a monopoly on Amazon, despite Publisher Defendants resisting Amazon’s growing position in the market for decades,” reads the publishers motion to dismiss. “This is simply not plausible. After realizing its originally pled Sherman Act conspiracy claims had no basis, Plaintiff tried to repackage them in its Complaint and bolster them with a price discrimination claim under the Robinson-Patman Act. The Complaint, however, is fatally deficient under either statute and must be dismissed.”

In its motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers also insist that there is no conspiracy with the publishers, no evidence of illegal collusion, and that its bargaining for lower print book prices is simply good business—and good for consumers.

“Bargaining between buyers and sellers is one of the most commonplace, precompetitive actions that can occur in any market,” the Amazon brief states. “As the Supreme Court has stressed repeatedly, it would do great damage to competition and consumers alike if the [Robinson-Patman Act] were misconstrued as having outlawed competitive bargaining.”

The suit was first filed in March, 2021, when Evanston, Ill.-based Indie bookseller Bookends & Beginnings teamed up with the law firm currently leading a sprawling class action price-fixing suit against Amazon and the Big Five publishers in the e-book market to file an antitrust lawsuit on behalf of a potential class of booksellers accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House) of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book market.

Similar to the claims made in the in ongoing e-book price-fixing case, the initial complaint turned on Amazon’s use of Most Favored Nation clauses in its contracts with the Big Five publishers, which, lawyers for Hagens Berman claim, have “the intent and effect of controlling wholesale prices of print trade books and preventing competition with Amazon in the retail sale of print trade books.”

But in their motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers note that the factual basis for much of the booksellers’ initial complaint—the use of MFN clauses—simply does not exist. And, Amazon lawyers insist, the price discrimination claims in the amended complaint are ill-conceived.

“The premise of Plaintiff’s Complaint was that [the use of MFN] clauses prevented other retailers from competing to ‘gain market share’ by negotiating better wholesale prices for themselves,” the Amazon motion notes. “Plaintiff withdrew its Complaint after Defendants demonstrated that there was no factual basis for Plaintiff’s core allegation: those agreements do not and never did contain any such MFN clauses. Rather than dismiss its claims, however, Plaintiff pivoted dramatically to allege effectively the opposite theory, that Amazon violated [The Robinson-Patman Act]…by negotiating for discounted wholesale prices and passing those savings along to consumers by charging ‘comparatively lower retail book prices’ to improve its market position…Plaintiffs new theory, in other words, attacks the very essence of robust and healthy competition that the antitrust laws overwhelmingly seek to promote. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is baseless and should be dismissed.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Englishman trying to save American bookstores from Amazon

From FT Magazine (June 2, 2021):

On a bright Tuesday in April, the car parks at Fosse Park, an out-of-town shopping centre south of Leicester, are packed. Recently eased lockdown rules have allowed shops to reopen, and many people are enjoying their freedom. Eager customers line up in the sunshine.

One of the visitors is Oana Bacos, a 26-year-old who works nearby. Today, Bacos is giving herself a treat in a newly opened outlet of bookshop Waterstones. She stands by the shelves, holding a paperback of Convenience Store Woman by the Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata. “The bookseller recommended this, and we had a nice chat about what she enjoys, what I enjoy and all the books we have in common,” she says. “I love being here and browsing. It’s so different from ­looking online.”

Before the pandemic, Bacos was a regular at the Waterstones in the centre of Leicester, one of 286 stores run by the UK’s largest book chain. Her presence in Fosse Park is an omen: more retailers are now moving out of town. “People are happy to return to shops but bookstores are special,” says the store’s manager, Louise Walker, who joined a chain in 1987 that was later taken over by Waterstones. “They are so pleased just to be here, they talk about it like a lifeline. They want to touch the books, even smell them.”

The future of this precious experience is far from assured in the age of Amazon, ebooks and the pervasive strain on physical retailers of all kinds. A great deal depends on the benign dictator of English-language bookstores, James Daunt.

The 57-year-old executive is well known in the UK for founding Daunt Books, a quirky but much-loved group of nine shops, 31 years ago. In 2011, as the might of Jeff Bezos’s juggernaut shook publishing, Daunt was called in to rescue Waterstones from threatened extinction. Now he is attempting to repeat the trick.

In 2019, the investment fund that owns Waterstones, Elliott Advisors, purchased the ailing Barnes & Noble and its 607 US bookstores for $638m and put Daunt in charge. Then the pandemic struck.

While many stores suffered during lockdown, book sales rose sharply as people sought diversion. “I’m optimistic that people have enjoyed reading books, and they’ll continue to do so,” says Daunt, sitting by a tome-piled table at his own chain’s first store in London’s upmarket Marylebone district. “The big question is, will they find it most pleasurable to buy them in places like this?”

Another pressing question is whether Daunt can conquer the larger and more diverse US market using a formula honed in the UK. The number of bookstores in America fell from 11,200 in 2004 to 6,200 in 2018, and some doubt whether anything can halt the decline.

“If his mission is to turn Barnes & Noble into a ­successful chain, it can’t be done,” says Mike Shatzkin, a veteran New York-based analyst. “It’s impossible. The best strategy for the owners is to take out cash as long as they can, and then sell the bones.”

Daunt knows that failing would hurt more than his reputation. It would jeopardise the distribution infrastructure that supports thousands of independent bookstores across the US, with knock-on effects in UK books. “If we go bust, our world is pretty much screwed. You end up with only Amazon and the publishers,” he says. “Amazon is the predator that has culled the weak in this business and left only the strongest. If we relax for a second, it will eat us.”

When Daunt arrived in New York to take charge of Barnes & Noble two years ago, he attended a party held by Madeline McIntosh, US chief executive of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publisher. Editors were eager to meet the new B&N boss, but McIntosh thought Daunt seemed distracted. “He kept on looking around at my bookshelves,” she recalls. “When he was leaving, he said, ‘I hope I can come back to browse. That’s what I’d really like to do.’ So he’s a book nerd, like us. That’s why we like him.”

This bookishness is not an act. But it is easily misread as softness, especially by Americans. Daunt is, in fact, distinctly determined, sometimes ruthlessly so. As he puts it, “Don’t assume good fortune. Do whatever is necessary to get through.” His first step at B&N was to halve the staff at its New York head office, and he later laid off 5,000 employees. “Behind his cool exterior, there’s an emotional intensity. He’s incredibly committed and driven,” says Tom Weldon, who heads Penguin Random House in the UK.

. . . .

The iron entered his soul when he set up his first bookshop in an Edwardian building on ­Marylebone High Street in 1990. He soon discovered that it was not an easy life. He had to sit on a lot of expensive stock, which took a long time to sell. He needed large spaces in desirable locations with high rents, and he required a lot of knowledgeable staff.

“I found,” Daunt says, “that the economics of a bookshop are ­terrible, like shit.” He spent his first four years ­fearing bankruptcy. Sometimes he did not pay ­creditors because he was short of cash. ­“If there were two men in suits in the queue, I knew the ­bailiffs had turned up,” he says.

. . . .

Amid this struggle, Daunt developed his distinctive style: ­recommending books that he and his staff had actually read and enjoyed, rather than publishers’ favourites, and displaying them artfully with their covers face out, sometimes with handwritten notes of recommendation. Most retail chains now grasp the importance of creating an enticing atmosphere in stores, but he mastered it early. He understood bookshops work best if they feel like clubs in which dedicated readers can consult expert curators.

Despite the scale of the operations over which he now presides, Daunt retains the manner of his early years. He gets around his London shops by bicycle. When we meet in Marylebone, he sports a plaster on his forehead, having hit himself by accident while pruning an apple tree at his home in Hampstead. (The family also has a second home in Suffolk.)

His spartan habits extend to holidays. The family bought “a wreck of a house” on the Scottish island of Jura four years ago but have yet to refurbish it, and instead stay with old friends on their annual visits. “It’s a big, wild island, a magical place,” Daunt says. If you walk up the west side, there are some wonderful beaches. You carry a tent or stay [overnight] in a bothy, but the most fun is to sleep in a cave.”

Daunt’s distinctive personality, his charm married to deliberate reticence, can puzzle some US executives. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘Is this because you’re James or because you’re British?’” says Jackie De Leo, B&N’s vice-president for bookstores. “I have to pull out what he really means. He doesn’t give you all the answers, but I think there’s a method there.”

Link to the rest at FT Magazine

A good time for magazines, a great time for books: Publishing Pandemic Roundtable

From What’s New in Publishing:

Few retailers are more important to specialty magazine publishers than Barnes and Noble. The Publishing Pandemic Roundtable (Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Gemma Peckham, Sherin Pierce, and me) met with Krifka Steffey, the Director of Merchandise for Newsstand and Media, to talk about the chain’s recovery in 2021, and the fresh, innovative product she’d like to see.

Since we last spoke, Barnes and Noble has closed two of their New York offices, the one on 6th Avenue and the 5th Avenue office where magazine publishers have been accustomed to go for their meetings.

The majority of the Barnes and Noble personnel will have their offices in the location above Union Square, along with new office space in Clifton NJ.  While Krifka expects to be in the office many days, others she will work remote or from one of the stores.

She’s taken advantage of this time to visit the stores. While the chain was already moving in the direction of refreshing and customizing their stores by location, that change was accelerated by the temporary closings and shorter hours of the COVID lockdown. One of biggest changes Krifka finds is that the cookie-cutter approach of former years is now gone. Each of the individual stores in the chain are molding themselves into unique bookstores. The look and feel of the stores, the books set out front, the hand selling, the books recommended—all are now individualized.

Bo: I think the direction you’re taking is one hundred percent fabulous.

Krifka: It’s a work in progress, changing a direction that had been set for years.

Joe: What difference do these changes make in the product buying?

Krifka: For magazines, we’re still doing it the same; but, for example, with trade books, headquarters will do the initial distribution, and then there are district-level replenishment buyers and store managers who will make local decisions. When something is regionally focused, an author from an area, you’ll see it reflected. It’s a big shift to more local control.

Sherin: Where each store is operating almost as an independent bookstore.

Krifka: Right. On our newsstand, the way we’ve always bought has been individualized. Our work with magazines is highly curated. It’s nice that the book side is starting to mirror that.

Joe: Is store traffic increasing?

Krifka: Yes, overall. New York City has shown a slower recovery than elsewhere. But everywhere we’re seeing positive year-over-year growth week after week. We’re also comparing to two years ago and seeing positive trends even against pre-COVID sales levels.

Sherin: It’s the same with our products. The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide has grown dramatically. Comparing to 2019, we’re through the roof.

Krifka: Yes, we’re seeing nice growth in Home and Garden. And we’re seeing a switch from digital back to physical. Our customer likes the experience of print copies.

Bo: Are you seeing an influence from Book Tok?

Krifka: Anything that does well on Book Tok sells like crazy in our stores.

Bo: It’s at almost ten billion views.

Krifka: And they’re the right age group, young adults turning into loyal customers. Manga, for example, is huge, and we’ve got a great assortment. Outrageous food trends are big.

Joe: How are things developing in the magazine world?

Krifka: We’re not seeing a lot of surprises. Customers are following their former patterns, buying what we’d expect them to buy. There aren’t many new launches or big things pending. I’m seeing some missed opportunities. We should have seen some publications on outer space, that could have been big. Post-COVID, they’ll be a lot of people struggling to get back into new routines; where’s the product for that?

Publishers need to dig in, to ask, what are people going to need from us, what are they going to use? People are moving back into schedules. Hotel bookings are up, people are moving around more; we need to see those publications for drives, for traveling. There are holes in our assortments, and we need fresh, new, relevant product. I can get the customers back into the store, I can get the magazines out on the shelves, but if I don’t have exciting new product sales are not going to improve.

Link to the rest at What’s New in Publishing