Sexily ever after: how romance bookstores took over America

From The Guardian:

Five years ago, there was just one. Now bookshops exclusively stocking romance novels are everywhere – aiming to ‘undo generations of shame’

When Jonlyn Scrogham decided to open a romance novel bookstore last year in Louisville, Kentucky, the 37-year-old had modest expectations. The space she rented was tiny; her annual sales projections were small, too.

Though she had been an avid romance reader for decades, she wasn’t sure how many others shared her excitement. She worried that people would think the concept was silly, or that not many people would visit.

But not long after A Novel Romance opened in July, she said, customers were showing up from Tennessee and Virginia, saying they had traveled three or four hours just to visit. Within two months, Scrogham was already halfway to what she had projected would be her annual sales total. And all of this happened without her spending “a single dollar” on marketing.

“It’s all been driven by Instagram, TikTok, word of mouth and Facebook,” she said. “People coming in, and the romance community talking to each other.”

Scrogham is part of a quiet but rapidly growing trend. At least eight other dedicated romance novel bookstores opened across the US in 2023, in cities from Wichita, Kansas, to Belfast, Maine. At least three more have opened so far in 2024, in Florida and in Utah, with another planned in Portland, Oregon.

“People are driving from states away – people who are seeing us online and want to come,” said Jaclyn Wooten, the founder of Blush Bookstore in Kansas. An employee said that one customer described flying in from Baltimore on a private jet. “All the businesses around us are like, ‘What is going on over there? What are they doing?’”

As a genre, romance is defined by its focus on a central love story, and by its promise of a “happily ever after” for its main characters – or at least, in more contemporary novels, a “happy for now”. Romance connoisseurs often refer to the amount of sex in the novels as a book’s “spice level”, which from ranges from quite mild to very spicy indeed.

Six years ago, there was only one romance bookstore in the US: the Ripped Bodice, in Los Angeles, named after the “bodice ripper” historical romances of the 80s and 90s. But as romance publishing has boomed, with US print book sales increasing 117% over the past three years, romance fans are opening up more brick and mortar stores to meet the demand.

Annual print sales of romance novels more than doubled in the past three years, from 18m in 2020 to 36m in 2023, driven in part by BookTok, according to Circana, a consumer analytics firm.

Over the same time, the number of romance-focused bookstores in the US grew from just two to at least 15, with a handful more in Canada and Australia. Many of them have names that play on favorite romance tropes, like Grump and Sunshine, Meet Cute and Slow Burn Books. Their decor – often heavy on the pink – is playful and celebratory, designed as a backdrop for TikTok and Instagram content.

The stores stock a wide variety of popular romance genres, from the Regency-era love stories that inspired Bridgerton, to contemporary novels about hot hockey players, to “romantasy” series like A Court of Thorns and Roses, to a wide range of LGBTQ+ romances. Despite book bans in some US states, 1m LGBTQ+ romance novels were sold between May 2022 and May 2023, a 40% increase compared with the year before, according to Circana.

When the sisters Leah Koch and Bea Hodges-Koch began raising money for the Ripped Bodice in 2015, the idea of a romance-only bookstore had plenty of doubters. Some family members and friends thought the idea was too “niche” to succeed, Leah Koch said. A few older romance novelists criticized the store’s cheeky name, arguing they were portraying the genre in a bad light. Some critics suggested a bookstore focused on sexy romance novels was an affront to religious values.

But the idea also struck a chord among romance fans: the sisters raised more than $90,000 from supporters on Kickstarter to make the Ripped Bodice a reality.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Local bestselling author opens store for banned books

From WRTV:

As a Black, queer woman, Leah Johnson always dreamed of being a storyteller.

“When you can see yourself in fiction, where you can see your experiences reflected back to you, it is an assertion that there is nothing wrong with you. You are not alone,” she said.

Johnson’s debut young adult novel, “You Should See Me in a Crown,” follows Liz Lighty, a Black teen who runs for prom queen to get a scholarship, only to fall in love with her classmate, Mack, who is also competing for the crown.

Time Magazine named the book one of the “100 Best YA Books of All Time” and in 2021 Johnson won an honorary Stonewall Book Award for young adult novels that reflect the LGBTQ experience.

And then came the book bans.

In 2022, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office told local outlets it would review more than 50 school library books for alleged “obscene” material. Johnson’s novel was among the books challenged, according to a list obtained and published by The Frontier.

The state’s Attorney General’s office later walked back its investigation, but for Johnson, an author who primarily writes about people of color and the LGBTQ experience, the damage had been done.

This year, after her home state of Indiana passed a law that bans books deemed to be “obscene” or “harmful to minors” from school libraries, Johnson said she felt she had to act.

“I was raised very religious. And one of the things I learned growing up is that when the spirit calls, you gotta answer – and I felt called to open the bookstore,” she told CNN.

So, Johnson opened the doors to Loudmouth Books, a bookstore in Indianapolis dedicated to the books so often targeted by bans.

“Our principle of the store is that we highlight banned books and uplift marginalized authors,” she said. “And so, every book in the store is for, by or about marginalized people.”

Link to the rest at WRTV

The Burden and Necessity of Genre

From The Millions:

When you write a book, there are certain questions you can expect: How long did it take you? Will you write a sequel? And—the inevitable—what is it?

What it is: thousands of hours tapping away on a keyboard between swiping student IDs at the Sarah Lawrence gym, months of crippling doubt, dozens of rewrites, maddening rounds of edits, the culmination of years of dreaming and plotting condensed into a 300-page manuscript with which I’ve imbued the emotional vulnerability of a pubescent diary.

No, they will persist. What is it?

I rehearsed this answer in my query letter, tweaked depending on the interest and need of the agent addressed: Complete at 80,000 words, this

Sometimes it was a literary novel. Sometimes a literary commercial novel. Sometimes a literary novel with commercial appeal. Once, upmarket women’s fiction.

It’s adult literary fiction, I tell people. I think of the many times I’ve been prompted to make such unambiguous designations, usually without issue: I am Female. I am White. But something doesn’t feel right about defining my novel, about giving it a genre (a word that has always conjured for me cover images of bursting corsets and rippled abdominals). Something doesn’t feel right about defining novels at all.

As a bookseller, I compartmentalize novels everyday. If it’s not Science Fiction, Mystery, or Romance, then it falls under the catch-all umbrella of Literature. I watch our erudite Upper West Side clientele squint warily at the shelves. The other day, a man held up a novel with a beach on the cover—a cartoon woman sunning herself on a striped towel pictured—and sniffed distastefully. As though a thought bubble appeared above his head, he tossed the novel back on its stack of identical copies in a way that said, You call this literature?

If prompted, I couldn’t say with any tact what distinguishes literary from commercial fiction. Literary fiction values prose over plot, I might say. Commercial fiction is about the story, whereas literary fiction is about the characters. Like an indie flick verses a Hollywood blockbuster, one novel wears a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and the other mirrored Ray-Ban Aviators. A literary agent I once interned for cut to the chase: “We’re looking for new literary voices,” she told me. “Try to find submissions with a mention of an MFA.”

As reluctant as I am to call my novel commercial, to call it “literary” can feel snobbish in its insistence. Who am I to say that I am more Mary Gaitskill than Mary Kay Andrews? Who am I to say what my novel is at all?

That’s the thing I’ve learned: once you release a novel into the world, you relinquish your control over how it is defined. What my “adult literary fiction” novel has become: Coming of Age. Contemporary Women. Romance. Suspense. Genre Fiction. My novel is amorphous, ready to be whatever it needs to be given the audience. What I can’t decide is whether this ability to sit on many different shelves is a benefit or a hindrance.

Claiming multiple genres feels akin to presenting a business card with the title Artist/Writer/Dancer/Freelance DJ—a worse offense, perhaps, than asserting literary value. But in working in a bookstore, in placing books onto their various shelves and thinking, This doesn’t belong here, I’ve come to appreciate what a misnomer and a crutch a genre can be. When I pressed a copy of Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan into a customer’s hand and told her, “It’s a sort of literary science fiction novel,” she stopped me there. “I don’t read science fiction,” she insisted, and I realized not even the modifier of “literary” could combat the negative connotation of genre fiction.

Few books are what they initially appear. I almost didn’t pick up Ben Dolick’s The Ghost Notebooks, put off by the word “supernatural” on its back cover and its placement on the Sci-Fi shelf. When a friend gave me the ARC of Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature that the bookstore had received, he said, “You read thrillers, right? This sounds like a thriller,” and I almost felt insulted. I put off reading the copy of Paullina Simons’s The Bronze Horseman that my coworker lent me, its promise of a “historical romance “ enough to raise my skepticism. “I promise, it has literary merit,” she told me. It took me a while to admit what I always knew: that to me, “literary” is synonymous with “well-written.”

. . . .

The question is whether genres need to be abandoned, or if our definitions of genres need to be expanded. Few novels fit snuggly into one category, though there are no doubt novels that do: Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance. It was Octavia Butler and Junot Díaz who allowed me to start to question those classifications in college with Kindred and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, respectively. I hadn’t known that literary novels could have time travel and magic and, knowing this, it didn’t seem fair or even possible that Kindred and Keith Roberts’s The Furies could occupy the same shelf. It only occurred to me then that I’d always thought “literary” also meant taking place in the real world. The Furies is science fiction. Kindred is more complicated than that.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG says genre is a marketing tool. If prospective customers don’t understand what the title of a genre means, it’s a less effective marketing tool than it could be.

Genre in a physical bookstore is more difficult because if a book is placed in the wrong genre section, customers who would otherwise be interested in reading it may never see it.

PG doesn’t want to be too geeky, but compared with a search engine, discovery in a bookstore is bronze-age.

USA – Bookstore Sales Fell 17% in August. Ebooks fell, or rose, depending on where you look.

From The New Publishing Standard:

Publishers Weekly carries news of a US census Bureau report showing that US bookstore sales “dropped 17.3% in August, falling to $872 million.”

Per PW, “traditionally, August and January are two of biggest sales months for bookstores, since they incorporate the rush period at college campuses.

Jim Milliot notes, “For instance, Barnes & Noble Education, one of the nation’s largest college store chains, is making a major effort this semester to promote its First Day Complete program, which provides students with all the course materials they need—mostly digital—which are included as a fee or as part of tuition; the strategy has resulted in the decline of print textbooks.”

Thus far, it is not clear just how much college books shifting to digital are contributing to the 17% August decline, but the overall message is clear – print sales in bricks & mortar stores slumped in August compared to last year.

At the same time, the AAP BookStat reports book sales overall (inc. online) up 8.5% in August, with PW’s John Maher running with the headline “Publishing Industry Sales Rebounded in August“, but noting ebooks were down 5.4%.

Important to remember here that, while print sales, easily tracked by ISBNs, cover pretty much all the market, the ebook numbers tell only a partial story.

Contrast the 5.4% AAP-recorded decline in ebook sales against the 10% rise, year on year, in the Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out for August.

August 2023 saw Amazon pay out $49.6 million in royalties, mostly to self-publishers and small presses, all untracked by the AAP.

(PG note: This report appears to include only Kindle Unlimited payments, not the almost certainly higher total for royalties on sales of indie authors who don’t participate in KU or participate with some books, but not all books.)

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Print Book Sales Fell 4.1% In First Nine Months of 2023

From Publishers Weekly:

Unit sales of print books fell 4.1% in the first nine months of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022, at outlets that report to Circana BookScan. A weak third quarter, in which sales dropped 6.7%, accelerated the decline; for the first half of 2023, sales were down 2.7%.

Sales in every major category fell, with the most notable development being the third-quarter swoon in adult fiction, where sales dropped 7.6%, leaving it 0.2% below the first nine months of 2022. (To be fair, adult fiction sales in last year’s third quarter had jumped 38.5% over the third quarter of 2021.) Graphic novels, which posted huge gains in 2021 and 2022, continued to see sales slide in 2023, with units down 24.3% in the nine-month period. Even with the big decline, graphic novels was the third-biggest adult fiction subcategory, trailing only general fiction and romance.

Despite cooling in the summer, the romance genre was up 16.5% over the first nine months of 2022. While Colleen Hoover didn’t generate the huge numbers she did last year, when sales of It Ends with Us had reached nearly two million copies by the end of September and Verity and Ugly Love had sales of more than one million copies each, It Ends with Us and It Starts with Us each sold about 1.1 million copies so far this year. Other genres that posted good gains through the first nine months were fantasy, with sales up 32.4%, and horror/occult/psychological, where sales increased 21.2%.

Sales in adult nonfiction dropped 4.5% in the quarter, which is slightly better than how the category performed in the first half of 2023, and sales through September were off 4.8%. Adult nonfiction does have the bestselling book of the year so far: Spare by Prince Harry has sold just over 1.2 million copies, helping to lift sales 1.7% in the biography/autobiography/memoir subcategory. James Clear’s Atomic Habits, first published in late 2018, has become a backlist hit, having sold nearly 858,000 copies through September. The computer book category continued to slump, with sales down 16.9%, while sales of home and gardening titles fell 14.5%. The travel category continued its rebound, with sales up 8.6%.

Juvenile fiction sales declined 5.9% in the nine-month period. Only one subcategory had a sales increase, with animal books up 11.7%. The top-selling juvenile fiction title was Dav Pilkey’s Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea (Dog Man #11), which sold more than 923,000 copies, but total sales in the sci-fi/fantasy/magic subcategory, which is where the Dog Man series’ sales appear, dropped 10.9%.

The juvenile nonfiction category had the biggest decline through September, with sales down almost 10%. Its two largest subcategories—history/sports/people/places and education/reference/language—both posted drops of more than 12%. Only sales of holiday/festivals/religion books managed to hold even with 2022.

Sales of young adult fiction had a relatively small nine-month decline of 3.6%. If He Had Been with Me by Laura Nowlin was the category’s star performer, selling more than 506,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Bookstores Can’t Avoid Politics

From Publishers Weekly:

The most glaring challenge to access to books today stems from attacks on school and public libraries by right-wing politicians and activists. In Texas, lawmakers are trying to regulate how books are sold to schools. Libraries frequently receive bomb threats, including in a recent spate in the Chicago area. These are brazen and dangerous attacks on our democracy as well as fundamental challenges to bookstores—but they’re not the only challenge that books and booksellers face.

Almost every bookseller has heard some version of “$18 for a paperback! Books are so expensive!” Given the thousands of hours of skilled labor a book requires, $18 really should be considered cheap. But $18 is still too much for many people. Once they’ve paid their rent, health insurance premiums, student loans, car loans, phone bills, and other utility bills, and fed and clothed their families, there isn’t enough left to buy the books they want. Readers who should be booksellers’ customers aren’t.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. The minimum wage in 1968, when adjusted for inflation, would have been worth $12 per hour today. According to data from the Federal Reserve and Realtime Inequality, if the federal minimum wage were to have grown with increases in productivity since 1968, it would’ve been $21.50 in 2020. Since 1980, the top 1% has seen its income grow 235.3%, while the bottom 50% has only seen an increase of 29.8%. We talk about the erosion of the American middle class in many other contexts, but I rarely see it discussed in terms of the ways in which it impacts small businesses in a consumer-spending-driven economy.

Those same expenses that eat into customers’ discretionary spending strain bookstore owners, too. We pay for health insurance for our employees, dramatically reducing our potential wages. We get squeezed on rent; too often we are forced to move from successful locations because landlords want more money. These economic conditions aren’t natural phenomena. Low wages and exorbitant healthcare, housing, and education costs are the result of policy decisions made to support some populations at the expense of others. And though none of those policies target bookstores, they still hit us.

My book, The Art of Libromancy, focuses on the changes booksellers can make to stores that will impact the publishing industry and the wider world. But booksellers also need to look at the challenges facing all small businesses and all Americans, and consider techniques for change that may have made us uncomfortable in the past. The American Booksellers Association has used litigation in the past, notably when it sued publishers and Barnes & Noble over unfair discounts; the shop local movement seeks to change both the culture of individual communities and influence municipal, state, and federal policy; and the ABA and many booksellers engage in antitrust and anti-censorship advocacy. These political actions have a direct focus on bookstores. But, taking a larger view, can we really argue that the collapse of the American middle class only indirectly affects our industry?

. . . .

That confronting these specific challenges overlaps with other political conflicts over social and economic justice shouldn’t make us fear accusations of partisanship. Rather we should look at is as an opportunity for solidarity and community with those who have been fighting these battles for decades.

Too many people in this country can’t afford the goods and services—and books—they want because of policies that transfer wealth from the working class to the rich and powerful. As much as booksellers may want to remain nonpartisan, we have to recognize that many of the challenges our stores face are political and, at least today, partisan. I believe if bookstore owners focus on community building and cultivating long-term booksellers, we can run profitable bookstores that pay livable wages—even if we are hamstrung by these challenges. But imagine if we weren’t.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“My book, The Art of Libromancy, focuses on the changes booksellers can make to stores that will impact the publishing industry and the wider world.”

When PG goes into a physical bookstore, the last thing he wants to be confronted with is politics. If a bookstore couldn’t avoid politics, PG would head out the door and order a book from Amazon.

PG notes that the author of the OP is the co-owner of a bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While the author is correct that the federal minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour, Massachusetts has set a state minimum wage of $15.00 per hour and PG hopes that the employees of his bookstore are paid that amount.

The Art of Libromancy is published by Biblioasis, “a literary press based in Windsor, Ontario, committed to publishing the best poetry, fiction and non-fiction in beautifully crafted editions.”

From the Biblioasis website:

If books are important to you because you’re a reader or a writer, then how books are sold should be important to you as well. If it matters to you that your vegetables are organic, your clothes made without child labor, your beer brewed without a culture of misogyny, then it should matter how books are made and sold to you.

For the record, although Biblioasis and The Art of Libromancy don’t appear to be PG’s cup of tea, he thinks child labor and misogyny are bad things.

He’s happy to have fresh vegetables, regardless of how they’re raised or fertilized.

However, if you’re worried about the welfare of those who aren’t as wealthy as many others in society, you should understand that organic produce costs substantially more to raise and purchase than produce raised with fertilizer and harvested mechanically.

Using the most efficient means of cultivating food grains, America and Canada are able to raise far more food than their populations can eat. Every year, each nation exports a huge amount of food to the rest of the world at very low prices.

If you would like a bit more Mom and apple pie, per research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “family farms remain a key part of U.S. agriculture, making up 98% of all farms and providing 88% of production.”

PG grew up on family farms and ranches and drank milk from various dairy cows milked mostly by his father but also by PG on occasion. PG helped his family raise beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens in varying quantities until he left home to attend college.

PG has been chased by upset cattle and mother pigs under a wide range of circumstances and shoveled (and occasionally slipped and fallen onto) a lot of nasty-smelling manure on more occasions than he can remember.

After such adventures, his mother almost always made younger PG leave his boots outside then strip to his underwear in the basement or mud room, where he rinsed his dirty clothing in a large basement sink used for dealing with those sorts of adventures. Thereafter, he put his clothes into a washing machine with a little extra soap to clean them up for their next outdoor adventure.

Book Business Applauds Government Lawsuit Against Amazon

From Publishers Weekly:

The Federal Trade Commission, supported by 17 state attorneys general, finally filed its long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Amazon yesterday. In a 172-page complaint, the government alleged that the e-tailer “uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power.” The use of that power, the government continued, allows Amazon “to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.”

The immediate industry reaction to the news of the suit was uniform: “What took so long?” Or, in the words of Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson, that it was “about ******** time.” An industry lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, gave a more nuanced view in wondering why it took the government so long to act, pointing to the infamous buy button case in 2010, when Amazon pulled Macmillan’s buy buttons in a dispute over e-book terms.

Even with Amazon’s dominant position over the sale of e-books and print books, the suit doesn’t mention books, which, of course, were Amazon’s first line of business. The suit does, however, highlight Amazon’s hold over the companies who use its online marketplace to sell a range of products, including books, to consumers.

Jed Lyons, CEO of Rowman & Littlefield, was skeptical about how the case will play out, pointing to the government’s “sketchy” track record in lawsuits against major corporations. But even though the FTC lawsuit is more about third party sellers, Lyons said, if “it shuts down unauthorized sellers of new books, which we know are not new books, then that will be a win for book publishers.”

Independent booksellers, which were the first physical retailers impacted by Amazon and the steep discounting on books it employed to attract customers, praised the FTC’s long-awaited action. The lawsuit, said ABA CEO Allison Hill, “is good news for indie bookstores and good news for all small business. ABA applauds the FTC and states’ effort to release Amazon’s stranglehold, and we look forward to the transparency this lawsuit will provide into Amazon’s business practices.”

. . . .

Other industry groups, including the AAP and Authors Guild, have also long advocated that the government investigate many of Amazon’s practices.

No bookseller has been more active in attacking Amazon’s book practices than Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kans., and author of How to Resist Amazon and Why. Caine acknowledged that, “while the suit doesn’t go after Amazon’s book business in particular, it can still do a lot to level the playing field. For one thing, it can prove that Amazon is acting illegally or anti-competitively via tactics like preferencing its own products, placing unfair pressure on sellers who list their products for lower prices elsewhere, and forcing sellers and customers onto their Prime platform.”

The head of one independent publisher, who wished to remain anonymous, said that if the government prevails, “it could be very beneficial to publishers.” She then laid out the many challenges publishers face in dealing with Amazon: “I think [the suit] could affect tactics around the negotiation of discounts and fees, etc., with publishers. This would also be a good thing. The negotiations over the years between publishers and Amazon have been brutal. At first, Amazon got big discounts since they were buying non-returnable. Then, predictably, they started returning books and kept the discounts.”

She continued: “Publishers were simply too fearful and too powerless to stand up to their biggest customer. And then Amazon started added all manner of fees, effectively increasing their discount even further. To the extent that Amazon was able to discount books to lure customers away from other booksellers, publishers were effectively subsidizing Amazon’s growth and dominance while watching their margins erode.”

Melville’s Johnson made many of the same points, lamenting that the government’s lack of action up until now and allowing Amazon to use books as a “loss leader” got the company to where it is today. The government further strengthened Amazon’s hand, Johnson maintained, when it sued the major publishers over their e-book pricing policies. That decision “really pounded Amazon’s suppliers, and thus altered the business of making and selling books, probably irrevocably.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here are a few questions PG would like to put to the traditional publishers celebrating the FTC’s suit against Amazon:

  1. Do you really want your biggest customer to stop selling your books? That’s an option for Amazon. Traditionally-published books are a minuscule part of Amazon’s total sales, a rounding error.
  2. If Amazon decided to shut down its book business on a temporary or permanent basis, would Americans buy more or fewer books? Would Americans change their behavior and travel to physical bookstores once again (assuming they live within a reasonable distance from a remaining physical bookstore)?
  3. Do you really not care about readers who live a long way from a physical bookstore? Have you ever even visited North or South Dakota? Nebraska? Wyoming? New Mexico? Idaho? Nevada (outside of Las Vegas)? Kansas?
  4. Do you understand that the internet provides endless reading material at no charge to readers, reading material that doesn’t include commercial books?
  5. Do you really think your books are not competing for reader attention against free reading material on the internet?
  6. Do you understand how many more Americans log on to the internet every day instead of visiting a physical store of any sort, let alone a book store?

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

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

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