Porter Square Books to Open in New Boston Literary Center

7 April 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Porter Square Books will open a second location in Boston’s Seaport District, taking a ground floor space in a new literary center that will house the creative writing non-profit GrubStreet and the poetry non-profit Mass Poetry. GrubStreet executive director Eve Bridburg made the announcement at the organization’s annual Muse and the Marketplace conference at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel on April 6.

“It is so exciting,” said Porter Square Books co-owner David Sandberg. “These days successful bookstores are successful community places. We’ve had a really close relationship with GrubStreet because there is a philosophical affinity between what we care about and what they care about, and this played right into it.”

GrubStreet’s Bridburg has led the effort to create the facility, which will house classrooms, offices, a performance space, a café and the 1,300 sq. ft. bookstore. “We’ve always thought of Boston as a literary city, but this marks a true turning point,” Bridburg said.

After an initial plan to partner with Harvard Book Store did not advance, Porter Square Books stepped in; a decision that Bridburg said is essential to establishing the new center as a literary hub. “They are a terrific local bookstore, known for their incredible support of writers and the local writing scene,” said Bridburg. “They are excited to sell books relevant to our classes and the craft of writing and to highlight local writers. We can’t wait to partner with them on book launches. They share our values.”

The addition of a second store would have been impossible a year ago, Sandberg said, but with the implementation of a financing agreement that gave 10 of the Cambridge-based store’s booksellers an ownership stake in the store, they were able to consider expanding operations.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says that, with the second and third floors occupied by nonprofit organizations, he hopes Porter Square Books makes some money to keep the building’s finances afloat.

Lifeway Christian Closing Brick-And-Mortar Bookstores

29 March 2019

From KUAR:

LifeWay Christian Stores plans to close all of its locations by end of the year and move all of the company’s retailing online. Its bricks-and-mortar division has been losing money since 2013, and the company says it’s tried just about everything to keep the business going, including overhauling several stores last summer and experimenting with features like coffee bars.

Some of those innovations succeeded in increasing foot traffic. But nothing increased sales, which the company says plunged by more than 10 percent again over the Christmas shopping season.

“That’s kind of when we knew that we were going to have to make a change,” says chief executive Brad Waggoner.

LifeWay is more than a bookseller. Its history goes all the way back to Reconstruction, just after the Civil War, when it started producing Sunday school materials for Baptist churches. That grew into a church supply business and two publishing imprints, Broadman and Holman, now known as B&H Publishing.

. . . .

The company didn’t get into retail until about three decades ago, when box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders were taking off. But those chains typically devoted just a few shelves to faith and spirituality.

LifeWay opened stores that sold nothing else.

“The brick-and-mortar strategy was there to be salt and light out in those communities and to assist churches in doing what they do,” Waggoner says, referring to Biblical verses that call on Christians to be the “salt for the earth,” and “light of the world.” “So it’s always been motivated by the ministry impact,” he continued.

. . . .

Rachel Held Evans is a Christian author who grew up in an evangelical household in Dayton, Tenn. Today she identifies as Episcopalian and writes about her struggles with faith, including Christianity’s historic relationships with women and LGBT people.

She says the chain’s large presence in Christian bookselling has affected authors — even those, like her, who aren’t published by LifeWay.

“It was my agents and my editors telling me that, ‘If you want to be carried in LifeWay, you’ll need to make these changes,'” Evans says. “Of course, I ultimately said, ‘Well, I don’t want to be carried in LifeWay then.'”

Evans hopes LifeWay’s decision to get out of bricks-and-mortar retail will loosen up Christian publishing. But, she confesses, a bit of her still hates to see another bookseller close its doors.

Link to the rest at KUAR

Barnes & Noble Stock Plunges, with Shares Selling for Less Than a Kid’s Paperback

8 March 2019

From CBS:

Barnes & Noble is predicting a fraught chapter ahead, slashing its profit forecast and sending its shares down 12.5 percent. Its stock price is cheaper than the cost of a children’s paperback.

The company on Thursday reported disappointing holiday sales and forecast lower-than-expected profit for 2019. The problems began early in the holiday season, when sales dipped and customers failed to buy some of the big blockbuster books, the company said.

Shares dropped to $5.11 on Thursday, or less than the average $6.99 price for a children’s mass-market paperback. Its stock has plunged by 28 percent since the year’s start, when it traded at $7.11

The dismal holiday quarter and lower-than-expected outlook may raise questions about Barnes & Noble’s strategy as it continues to battle rival, as well as resurgent local booksellers. The company said its online sales fell as well, even as online sales are generally growing for most retailers. At the same time, Barnes & Noble remodeled 91 stores, but the payoffs of that investment aren’t yet clear, its executives said.

. . . .

But it’s not only books that are suffering at Barnes & Noble. The store, known for a place where readers can grab a cup of coffee while browsing the shelves, also saw “slowness” at its cafes. On top of that, sales for seasonal gifts and the tchotchkes it sells as “impulse” purchases were slow.

Link to the rest at CBS

Why Are New York’s Bookstores Disappearing?

4 March 2019

From The Guardian:

Like payphones, typewriter repair shops and middle-class housing, bookstores are a vanishing presence in New York City. In 1950, Manhattan had 386 bookstores, according to Gothamist; by 2015, the number was down to 106. Now, according to a count by the city’s best-known bookstore, the Strand, there are fewer than 80. Book Row, a stretch of Fourth Avenue between Union Square and Astor Place that once housed almost 50 used and antiquarian bookstores, now claims just one: Alabaster Bookshop at Fourth Avenue and 12th Street. (Plus the Strand, which relocated a block away in 1957.)

. . . .

The Strand, the city’s largest independent bookstore, owns its building, which insulates it from some of the economic pressures faced by its peers. But when a city commission recently proposed landmarking the 11-storey Renaissance Revival building, it was cause for panic, not celebration. Owner Nancy Bass Wyden is lobbying against the proposal because she says it will make maintenance costs prohibitively expensive.

“I just want the city to leave me alone,” Wyden tells me. Her grandfather Fred Bass founded the store in 1927. Her father, who started working at the store when he was 13, saved for years to buy the property, she said, precisely to avoid the fate that befell the rest of Book Row.

“I have been told that I have no chance,” Wyden says, but she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t fight it. She could make more money renting the bookstore’s three-floor space to other commercial tenants but has no plans to do so, nor to sell the building. As landmarking only applies to physical architecture, a new status for the Strand wouldn’t protect it from becoming, in her words, a “bank or a Lululemon, like the Scribner building”.

. . . .

Some sociologists believe that reading is becoming a minority, elite activity – the “province of a special ‘reading class’”, as the writer Caleb Crain put it in a 2007 New Yorker article – and that society is effectively returning to the situation before the advent of mass literacy. In a follow-up piece last year, Crain argued that the statistics continue to “paint a fairly grim picture of America’s reading habits”.

But the biggest culprit, at least in New York, is the same seemingly unstoppable force shuttering small businesses across the city: rising rent. Rent is a particular concern for bookstores because they operate on low margins but require large storage space.

Bookstores “have weathered many economic challenges over the decades, but there is nothing they can do when the landlord triples or quadruples the rent, or simply refuses to renew the lease”, Jeremiah Moss, author of Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul, tells me. “Every time I step into a bookstore in the city, it is packed with people who are browsing and buying books. In a truly fair market, this would be sustaining success, but there is nothing fair about the current market.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG did not include the portions of the OP which blamed Amazon for the plight of bookstores.

Certainly, Amazon is a factor, but PG suggests the major factor for bookstores inside and outside of New York is that they are low-margin businesses as the OP mentioned. That was the case before Amazon as well as today.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, generates an annual net profit margin of about 3% year in and year out. In rough terms, out of the sales that Walmart makes during a typical month, the company’s only profit is equivalent to the sales it makes on the last day of the month. All the sales that occur during the rest of the month are spent on salaries, cost of goods, rent, utilities, returns, shrinkage (shoplifting, employee theft), taxes, etc., etc.

Of course, Borders filed for bankruptcy protection and was liquidated in 2011.

Since the beginning of 2010, Barnes & Noble has been profitable in 9 calendar quarters and reported a net loss in 27 calendar quarters.

PG did a little online research that disclosed the average net profit margin for an independent bookseller is 2-2.5% percent. On an annual revenue of $1 million, that represents $20,000-$25,000. According to The Washington Post, Politics and Prose, a highly-successful independent store in Washington, D.C., generated $6.8 million in revenue in 2009, with $173,000 in profit that was split between the store’s two co-owners.

PG suggests that if you want to help out the owner of an independent bookstore, just give some money directly to her/him instead of buying a book.

If you buy a book for $10.00, the owner will receive a profit of 20 cents. If you give the owner $10.00, the owner will receive the same amont of money she/he would receive if you purchased $500 worth of books.

Additionally, bookstores fall into the class of retailers that rely on discretionary spending for the large majority of their sales. While many people have to purchase at least some food at a retail store, nobody has to buy a book at a bookstore.

As the OP suggests, sky-high New York rents also contribute to the decline of bookstores. In addition to geographical constraints on rental property in the city, the amount of available space is further reduced by legislation that was designed to keep rents low for favored constituencies in the past.

Following World War II, concerned about rising residential rents during the post-war boom, New York politicians established Rent Control on apartments, a complex set of laws and regulations limiting the maximum rent a landlord could charge a tenant while the tenant continued to live in the apartment. Rent control continues to this day, over 70 years following the emergency it was established to address. Another set of complex regulations, Rent Stabilization, governs the amount by which monthly rent can increase in almost a million rental properties. When an apartment is finally free from rent control, it becomes a rent-stabilized apartment.

Among other things, these rent regulations can prevent landlords from tearing down an old apartment building to provide room for new residential or commercial space.

This type of regulation alone increases the costs of doing business in New York City, including the costs of operating a bookstore, by a huge margin.


Red Emma’s

3 March 2019

From Wikipedia:

Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse is a radical infoshop located in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and run by a worker-owner collective. Named for anarchist Emma Goldman, Red Emma’s opened in November 2004 and sells fair trade coffee, vegetarian and vegan foods and books. The space also provides free computer access to the Baltimore community, wireless internet and film screenings, political teach-ins, and community events.

. . . .

Since before the official opening in 2004, all decisions regarding the operations of the space have been made by consensus. The collective of worker-owners has ranged in size from 10 to 20 over the 7 years the shop has been open, usually hovering around 15. Collective meetings are open to the public.

The Red Emma’s Collective is a closed shop, organized with the Industrial Workers of the World. That means that all collective members are also members of IU 660—the “One Big Union”.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

From Red Emma’s:

Our project started in 2004, rising from the ashes of Black Planet Books, a volunteer-run anarchist collective bookstore in Fells Point. In building a cafe component in the new space, we wanted to both establish a firmer financial foundation to keep the new project afloat, but also to create a more welcoming environment. There’s no point, after all, in a space dedicated to spreading radical information if the only people who ever come in are already radicalized!

Baltimore in 2004 was a very different place then it is today. When we started, radical, self-managed collective spaces were few and far between. While there were many amazing activists, radical artists, and politically engaged thinkers and writers in the city, there was no place to bring them together to spark encounters and conversations. If Baltimore today has a stronger network of social justice movements, and a rapidly proliferating movement of collectively run spaces and businesses, we’d like to think that our project has had some small part in making that happen.

Our mission is twofold: first, to demonstrate, concretely, that it’s possible to build institutions that directly put values like sustainability and democracy to work, and second, in doing so, to build a resource for movements for social justice here in Baltimore.

. . . .

At Red Emma’s, we’ve decided to call ourselves a “radical” project, rather than an “anarchist” or “communist” one. This doesn’t mean that we think anarchism and communism have nothing to offer as ways of thinking about what’s fundamentally wrong with the current world, and how to go about fixing it. But as a space that’s intended to welcome both people who have been in the struggle for decades and people just getting their feet wet for the first time, we felt that committing ourselves to a label and a specific ideological tradition was unecessarily limiting. The people working on the project may be anarchists or communists, but the space is both and neither, or something else entirely.

“Radical” sums this up for us quite nicely; it’s a word derived from the Latin word for “root”, and to be “radical” is to go to the root of the problem, to not be afraid to attack root causes rather than be distracted by the symptoms on the surface. Being “radical” means that we’re always working to redevelop and reinforce our own political committments, and to reach out to other people and communities who share our sense of outrage at injustice, but we’re not hamstringing ourselves in this work by insisting that every thing we do or every book we carry passes some dogmatic political litmus test.

. . . .

Our immediate model and inspiration for our space is the “infoshop”: the DIY anarchist spaces that have started to spring up like mushrooms across the globe in the past few decades, building on long traditions of underground bookstores, hobohemian hangouts, and Utopian alternatives.

Practically, these kind of spaces arose to provide points of distribution for viewpoints and information that could never get a hearing in mainstream media and bookstores: not just books, but radical newspapers and periodicals, and self-published material like zines. In a world where information is treated like a commodity, an infoshop turns it back into something that belongs to a community. If an infoshop sells books and other merchandise, and even depends on these sales to keep the doors open, it’s never because of a desire to turn a profit: the mission is to distribute information you can’t find elsewhere, and to do so in a way which maximally agrees with the principles we’re preaching. Even as the internet has made getting access to radical information easier, the physical presence of an infoshop can help pop “filter bubbles”, exposing people to new ideas, and above all helps to bring people together to dream and scheme on how to turn information into a weapon in the fight for a better world.

. . . .

A big part of our project is demonstrating that the ideals we have politically are possible to translate into the real world. We want to show that anarchism doesn’t mean being disorganized and that anticapitalism doesn’t mean being unable to operate effectively and efficiently. If you’ve ever had to defend your conviction that the world would be a better place without bosses against hostile questions about who would take out the trash and who would scrub the toilets, you can point to Red Emma’s and win your argument. No bosses and no hierarchy, but we’ve been taking out the trash, ordering books, running a restaurant, dealing with the accounting, and a thousand other things for the better part of a decade.

Technically speaking, Red Emma’s is organized as a worker cooperative: everybody who is a part of the collective owns an equal share of the business, and has an equal voice in the decisions we make to run it. Worker cooperatives—which are taking off all around the country—are a way to build a world without bosses one workplace at a time, creating real world projects that meet the real needs of individuals and communities while at the same time staying true to the ideals of workplace democracy and an egalitarian division of wealth and labor.

Link to the rest at Red Emma’s


Boom Time for Used Booksellers?

19 February 2019

As PG was opening a couple of packages of hardcopy books for Mrs. PG (she does read a lot of ebooks, but, in some cases, used books are less expensive and some books she wants in hardcopy to share with family and/or friends), it occurred to him that Amazon has almost certainly given used booksellers an opportunity to reach a far wider group of prospective purchasers than were ever available to them in physical used bookstores.

Most of the hardcopy used books that arrive in the mail come well-packaged and most are clearly packed by more sophisticated equipment than a roll of stamps and a stack of envelopes.

So, is PG correct about Amazon and used booksellers?

Has the ability to sell to a much wider online audience affected the pricing of used books?

Has the used book business undergone consolidation with small used bookstores closing and selling their inventory to large, online-focused used booksellers?

Are there people who are paid by larger used booksellers to be scouts for large quantities of available used books?

Independent book stores ‘thriving’

3 February 2019


 The book publishing industry experienced a slight shift in 2018.

 Print book sales are rising, and independent bookstores are doing better compared to past years. The shift is that after years of rising numbers, e-book sales are stagnant in favor of physical books. Some news outlets suggest print books could be becoming more popular.

 Karen Piacentini, owner of Fenton’s Open Book, said, “Book sales are up compared to e-book sales because people still like that book in their hand.”

. . . .

 By November 2018, e-book sales slipped 3.9 percent last year, according to the Association of American Publishers. Hardback and paperback book sales grew 6.2 percent and 2.2 percent respectively. During the first nine months of 2018, hardback and paperback sales were at $4 billion combined, while e-book sales were at $770.9 million.

 Fenton’s Open Book, and other independent bookstores, don’t only sell physical books. They also sell audio books through, which often has better prices than Amazon,

Piacentini said. Readers can use the service on their phone and listen to the books in their car using Bluetooth. They also sell e-books, but rarely.

. . . .

The number of independent booksellers increased by 35 percent from 2009 to 2015, according to the ABA.

 “I think that our sales went up or stayed the same,” Piacentini said. “Independent bookstores are thriving. There was a couple hundred bookstores opening last year. Indies are growing every year. If you see a store closing, it’s because they lost their lease or they’ve been open for 30, 40 years and just want to close and couldn’t find a buyer.”

Link to the rest at

American Booksellers Association past Presidents Reflect on a Changing Industry

30 January 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Last week at Winter Institute 14 in Albuquerque, N.M., five of the past presidents of the American Booksellers Association sat for a panel discussion moderated by ABA CEO Oren Teicher, focusing on where the industry is at the moment and where it is headed. The conversation echoed several others at Winter Institute, where it became clear that the ongoing collaboration between publishers and booksellers to reduce the cost of goods and streamline delivery times is central to the profitability of many booksellers.

Michael Tucker, ABA president from 2009 to 2011, and president and CEO of Books Inc., headquartered in San Francisco, with 11 stores in California, acknowledged that this key relationship is “in a better place” than it had been during the period following the settlement between the ABA and the publishers and bookstore chains for anti-trust in 2001. For several years thereafter, tensions in the industry were high. “The challenge was to open up a dialog with the publishers,” said Tucker.

Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore with locations in Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz., concurred that the relationship and the general bookselling environment has improved, but she also offered a cautionary note: “When I have to take out a case of books to replace them with tea towels or socks so i can meet the minimum wage increase or put in new floors, that worries me.” She said that young booksellers in particular are vulnerable. “They say [the economics] don’t pencil out.”

. . . .

Several times at Winter Institute Teicher and others pointed out that sales in the indie channel have been improving overall, with sale up some 5% in 2018. That said, there are still issues, particularly among the bottom third of bookstores, which are averaging a net loss of 8% per year, according to the most recent ABACUS data presented by the ABA earlier last week. One supposition is that profits are rising due to an increase in sales of non-book items and smaller footprint stores are struggling to raise profitability as a result of their inability to stock as many of these higher margin items.

Mitchell Kaplan, president of Books & Books, headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla., who held the ABA presidency from 2004 to 2006, said that the path to profits leads through community work. “We need to look at what the challenges are for small business today, whether that is rent, bad landlords, or a main street that is falling apart. We need to figure out for our communities how to sharpen what we do.” He pointed to the grants the city of San Francisco recently extended to small businesses, including a handful of booksellers, as one possible model.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly



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