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

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

When did the virus first start to disrupt the business?

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

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

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

. . . .

What is the outlook for the next few months?

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

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

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

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

Why book prizes matter more than ever

From The Bookseller:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Booksellers Can Plan for an Uncertain Future

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

For many customers, their bookstores likely seem safe. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

From Nieman Lab:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Nieman Lab

Confessions of a Bookseller

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the coastal Scotland community of Wigtown, tourists can pay to operate a bookstore called The Open Book for a week or two and live in an upstairs apartment, fulfilling their dream to run their own bookshop. The rental attraction is typically booked years ahead, proving that running a bookstore is a popular dream for bibliophiles.

Wigtown, known for its many bookstores, is also home to Shaun Bythell, who’s owned the prosaically named The Book Shop—“Largest in Scotland”—since 2001. Mr. Bythell has a more cautionary view of the business, as he made clear in “The Diary of a Bookseller,” published in an American edition in 2018, and “Confessions of a Bookseller,” just out in a U.S. edition, too. “Confessions,” which like its predecessor unfolds in the form of a daily journal, excels at the same kind of acid comedy that made “Diary” such a guilty treat. Those who can’t peruse the shelves of their local second-hand bookstore during this lockdown season will find Mr. Bythell’s diaries a sharp reminder of what they’re missing. But it’s probably better to shop at a bookstore than to own one, or so readers gather from Mr. Bythell’s wryly observed accounts of his tribulations in the trade.

In “Diary,” the 40-something author takes as his muse a 1936 George Orwell essay, “Bookshop Memories,” in which Orwell pointed to his time as a bookstore clerk as a personal purgatory. For outsiders, Orwell noted, old bookshops can easily seem “a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios.” In reality, Orwell countered, bookstores draw a lot of hapless souls “because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money.” Dealing with this clientele, Mr. Bythell writes, has turned quite a few bookshop owners into “a stereotype of the impatient, intolerant, antisocial proprietor.” He counts himself among them. “The constant barrage of dull questions, the parlous finances of the business, the incessant arguments with staff and the unending, exhausting, haggling customers have reduced me to this,” Mr. Bythell tells readers.

In his diary, though, Mr. Bythell gets the last word. His wicked pen and keen eye for the absurd recall what comic Ricky Gervais might say if he ran a bookshop. A “short man with a wispy beard” buys a copy of “The Hobbit,” which suggests a theory: “I am putting a mental jigsaw together,” Mr. Bythell writes, “of what a hobbit looks like, based on a composite of every customer I have ever sold a copy to.” 

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

Books-A-Million re-opens bookstores with curbside pick-up, staff in PPE, telephone experts, and cosmetic cases in beautiful floral prints

From The New Publishing Standard:

America’s second-largest bookstore chain, Books-A-Million, is readying for Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 10 in USA) and is opening all but a handful of its 200 stores across the country, the exceptions being states or counties where full lockdown continues.

In a press release Books-A-Million CEO Terrance G. Finley said,

We are extremely appreciative of the support we have received from our customers during these difficult times. Through online ordering; the buy online, pick-up in store option; and curbside pick-up, our guests have continued to seek out great books, educational materials, puzzles and toys.

Now that we are able to welcome our customers back to the stores in time for Mother’s Day, our booksellers stand ready to share the rich assortment of new books and products that we have been curating over the past weeks.

“Cosmetic cases in beautiful floral prints and a wide assortment of Mom mugs,” along with “items for self-care, including journals, relaxation kits, candles and more” will be edging books off the shelves as Books-A-Million’s new normal looks remarkably like the old normal. A book store that believes that books aren’t attractive enough on their own to keep customers coming through the doors.

But to be fair, books are the primary focus still. Recognising that post-pandemic booklovers who do choose to visit the stores (open from 11AM through 7PM), won’t want to be standing around shouting across to staff standing six feet away to discuss the latest releases, Books-A-Million has,

launched its new program “Talk to a Bookseller,” which gives book lovers the opportunity to speak to bookselling experts for recommendations by calling 866-544-1468.

Further, the newly launched curbside pick-up offering will continue to be available to at least entice customers to the vicinity of the store. and for those few that are willing to risk walking through the doors Books-A-Million has,

implemented additional efforts to provide a safe shopping environment for guests and associates with some noticeable precautions in place, including providing personal protective equipment for associates, installing acrylic register guards at all check-out areas and implementing self-distancing markers in aisles and at the registers.

In other words, the post-pandemic shopping experience at Books-A-Million will be about as far removed from the old normal as one can get while still operating a book store.

But hold on, did I say “post-pandemic”?

Wishful thinking.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Booksellers Association criticises Amazon for ‘ill-judged’ hardship fund donation

From The Bookseller:

The Booksellers Association (BA) has branded Amazon’s £250,000 donation to a booksellers hardship fund an “ill-judged attempt to mitigate a decades-long campaign to undermine the bookselling sector”.

Yesterday, it was revealed the retail giant was behind a huge donation to the Book Trade Charity fund for booksellers facing hardship during the pandemic. The pledge was sparked by a trade crowdfunder and brought the total fund up to £380,000.

Meryl Halls, m.d. of the BA, earlier supported the crowdfunding effort and praised the “heartfelt and moving response” from the trade for her struggling members.

However, Halls said she was now shocked by the revelation that Amazon had donated the large sum and said many of her members were angry and had responded by calling for the company to pay its fair share of tax.

She said: “The BA and our independent booksellers are taken aback by the revelation that the recent large donation is from the company held responsible by the majority of booksellers for the long-term demise of high street bookselling, and booksellers’ responses have been first stunned silence as they process the dissonance of the situation, followed quickly by a real sense of anger at the discordance at the heart of the gesture.

“There is a definite sense that this seems like an ill-judged attempt to mitigate a decades-long campaign to undermine the bookselling sector at the moment when we are facing the biggest existential threat we have ever faced.

“A common reaction amongst booksellers has been – ‘if Amazon really wants to support independent bookshops, then let them join bookshops in paying its fair share of tax’.”

The identity of the donor was originally not revealed by the charity, who said only that it had come from someone “committed to independent bookshops as part of a mixed bookselling economy”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Perhaps he missed it, but PG didn’t see anything in the OP indicating that The Booksellers Association had refused to accept the £250,000 donation from Amazon or sent the money to Chancellor of the Exchequer as a portion of Amazon’s fair share of tax payments.

Causeway Bay Books Owner Attacked

From Shelf Awareness:

Lam Wing-kee, one of the five Hong Kong publishers and booksellers kidnapped by China in 2015, was attacked yesterday by a man who threw red paint at him, days before he was to open a bookstore in Taiwan.

. . . .

“I was attacked with red paint in the cafe,” Lam told Reuters. “Some people don’t want me to open the bookshop in Taiwan.” He described the attack as a threat by supporters of Beijing.

Last week, Lam said he plans to open Causeway Bay Books, named after the original store in Hong Kong, this coming Saturday, April 25, in Taipei.

Lam moved to Taiwan last year, when a law that would have allowed people to be sent to China for trial came close to passage in Hong Kong. Mass protests led to the withdrawal of the law. But in recent days, Hong Kong authorities have arrested many pro-democracy activists.

The five owners and staff members of publisher Mighty Current and its bookstore, Causeway Bay Books, were kidnapped and detained in 2015 by China, which was unhappy that they published and sold books critical of the Chinese leadership. In 2016, Lam was released on bail and allowed to return to Hong Kong to retrieve a hard drive listing the bookstore’s customers, but he went public, telling about being blindfolded by police and being interrogated for months.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG thinks it’s good to be reminded that, as difficult as the book business can be for authors, publishers and booksellers in Western nations, our challenges are minuscule compared to those doing the same things elsewhere in the world.

Here’s a 2016 article about this same subject, from The Bookseller:

Author publishes missing Hong Kong booksellers’ title online

The author of a controversial book on China’s president has released the title online.

The provocative book, believed to be the reason five booksellers from the Mighty Current publishing house in Hong Kong went missing between October and December 2015, is a tell-all about the love life of China’s president, Xi Jinping, entitled Xi Jinping and His Lover.

Its US-based Chinese author, who writes under the pseudonym Xi Nuo, told the BBC he published it online to challenge the Chinese authorities and that the publishers should not be held responsible. His co-author has not been named in the interests of safety.

The book was completed in 2014, but publisher Gui Minhai decided against releasing it, according to Xi Nuo, following a visit from a Chinese government agent.

Described by the BBC as “written in simple and almost vulgur language”, the title is presented as a work of fiction but includes real life figures, with details of purported affairs of China’s leader as well as “alleged incidents” within his marriages.

Xi Nuo told the BBC: “I decided to publish this book. I want to tell the Chinese authorities and Xi Jinping, the president of China, that you are wrong. Completely wrong. You better release the five guys. Let them go back home.”

The author of a controversial book on China’s president has released the title online.

The provocative book, believed to be the reason five booksellers from the Mighty Current publishing house in Hong Kong went missing between October and December 2015, is a tell-all about the love life of China’s president, Xi Jinping, entitled Xi Jinping and His Lover.

Its US-based Chinese author, who writes under the pseudonym Xi Nuo, told the BBC he published it online to challenge the Chinese authorities and that the publishers should not be held responsible. His co-author has not been named in the interests of safety.

The book was completed in 2014, but publisher Gui Minhai decided against releasing it, according to Xi Nuo, following a visit from a Chinese government agent.

Described by the BBC as “written in simple and almost vulgur language”, the title is presented as a work of fiction but includes real life figures, with details of purported affairs of China’s leader as well as “alleged incidents” within his marriages.

Xi Nuo told the BBC: “I decided to publish this book. I want to tell the Chinese authorities and Xi Jinping, the president of China, that you are wrong. Completely wrong. You better release the five guys. Let them go back home.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Penguin Random House India opens an exclusive ebook store – on Amazon

From The New Publishing Standard:

When India’s Prime Minister extended one of the world’s harshest national lockdowns to May 3, as the country tries to ensure the coronavirus tragedy in West Europe and the USA is not replicated, it became clear publishers needed to adapt, and fast.

Penguin Random House India did so in style, launching a 400-title ebook store within the Kindle India store on Amazon, to make sure eager readers could still access the books they want to read.

. . . .

In a press release, PRH India’s senior vice president marketing, digital and communications Niti Kumar said:

India is an up and coming market in ebook consumption and we are confident that with over 500 million internet users, there is definite potential that more people can take to reading ebooks.

Initiatives built on ebooks can bring the spotlight on a mode of reading, which in addition to being safe and easily accessible, is also more affordable and comes with additional features that make reading more pleasurable and informational.

The press release adds in broader terms:

In a time when so many people find themselves housebound, reading has come up as one the top activities they are engaging in. Getting hold of new books can pose a challenge since many e-commerce websites are prioritizing deliveries to essential products and delivery of physical books has been affected. So, in these strange and difficult times, ebooks are gaining popularity as a convenient, accessible and safe ways to keep one occupied, entertained and fulfilled.

. . . .

As the country’s largest English language trade publisher Penguin Random House India pushes out 250 new titles each year and has an active backlist of over 3000 titles.

It’s not clear from the press release why the PRH India ebook store features only 400 titles, given a 3,000 title catalogue. Possibly this reflects the level of digitisation PRH India has achieved thus far and the other books have yet to be made available in digital format.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG suspects that Penguin Random House India would not have taken this step without prior approval from the PRH Mothership.

Assuming that PRH operates in a reasonable way on Amazon (or its contract with Amazon for the PRH store requires it to do so), this potentially implies that it will release books to the PRH Amazon bookstore at the same time it releases them to bricks & mortar stores.

As PG has suggested before, after a long Coronavirus shutdown of traditional bookstores in many parts of the world, an unfortunately large number of these stores may be unable to open again or will open in a manner that carries a scent of going out of business.

If several B&M bookstores (or one large bookstore) in a geographic area are pricing in a manner that expresses or implies they’re going out of business, that’s going to be a drag on the sales and profitability of other bookstores who are reopening with traditional product pricing.

Then there’s the new ownership of Barnes & Noble, hedge fund Elliott Management.

From CNBC:

Billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management said global stocks could tumble more — ultimately losing half of their value from February’s high— as the world braces for the deepest recession since the 1930s-era Great Depression, according to a letter sent to clients on Wednesday and reviewed by Reuters.

The New York-based hedge fund firm, which controls $40.4 billion in assets and whose views on markets and economics are closely watched by investors, wrote that the sharp market decline seen between late February and late March “provided a heavy bookend to a dozen years of basically nonstop positive returns in global stocks, bonds and real estate.“
And the rout is likely not yet over.

“Our gut tells us that a 50% or deeper decline from the February top might be the ultimate path of global stock markets,” the letter said.

Link to the rest at CNBC

Will Elliott be in the mood to drop a bunch of additional money into helping Barnes & Noble to stagger to its feet?

PG was not able to find any reliable online sources that opined one way or the other. Given the scope of the worldwide financial disaster, Barnes & Noble is a very small fish indeed.

How an Indie Bookstore Keeps Fighting On

From Publishers Weekly:

Driving to my empty store on a Saturday in mid-March, physically hurting from two weeks of manic bookselling, I made the usual 30-minute trip in 20, cruising through an empty college town that should be full of life. As I drove, I tried to prioritize what to worry about. I imagined a flow chart. Health is at the top. Then there is emotional well-being—and don’t forget about money.

How can I satisfy my personal and company debts with no or greatly reduced income? Moving forward, how will I provide for my family and my staff? How does the bookstore stay relevant and connected to our community while our doors are closed?

All the love from our customers, our reps, and publishers has allowed me to think about a positive outcome, and the encouraging, productive posts from other booksellers on social media—many going through an even harder time than I am—give me great hope for our industry. I am not a social media regular, but late one night I peeked at the store’s accounts. Despite the long hours, our marketing manager was still posting, and the love and support were pouring in. This sustains me.

I’m so very grateful for my staff, smart people with can-do attitudes. Today, there are a lot fewer. A staff of 15 became a staff of six two weeks ago. Some folks were not comfortable working with the public, some had a cold (or was it just a cold?) and had to stay away, and some did not have the skills we needed as we pivoted to a phone-and-online-only business overnight. The six of us, using Slack like it was oxygen, worked together for 14 hours a day, seven days a week for two weeks straight.

Behind locked doors we were placing orders, washing our hands, fulfilling online and phone orders, receiving, cleaning, shelving, packing shipments, placing curbside orders outside on the “pickup bench,” and washing our hands again. Every morning we gathered and identified tasks and made assignments for the day. Every day at the “close of phones” the frantic ringing stopped, and we met again and assessed our emotional and physical states as well as our ideas about how to better the systems we had devised less than 24 hours earlier. We agreed it was good to be busy and not at home.

I’ve been dreaming of showering in hand sanitizer.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Coronavirus Has Shut Stores, and Retailers Are Running Out of Time

From The Wall Street Journal:

First, the store doors shut. Now, the walls are closing in.

Retailers have furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers, cut executive pay and stopped paying rent, all to conserve cash. For the most indebted retailers, particularly those already struggling before the crisis began, those measures may not be enough.

Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., both of which have looming debt payments, have been reaching out to creditors in the hopes of buying more time, according to people familiar with the situation. Representatives for Neiman Marcus and Penney declined to comment.

. . . .

The retail industry was going through a shakeout before the coronavirus pandemic hit. As shoppers migrated away from malls and bought more online, specialty-apparel retailers and department stores were among the hardest hit. A record number of chains have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years, and others have closed hundreds of stores. As the virus keeps American businesses temporarily closed, the weak will only get weaker, analysts said.

“Companies we weren’t that concerned about a month ago, we are now concerned about,” said Mickey Chadha, a senior analyst with Moody’s Investors Service. Mr. Chadha estimated that operating income for department stores, which have been losing market share to fast-fashion retailers and discounters, will fall 20% this year. He predicted operating profit for the retail sector overall will fall by 2% to 5%, a drop not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

. . . .

The National Retail Federation has been lobbying the government to ensure that companies with credit ratings that fall below investment grade have access to loans. “We want them to design these programs to be broad enough to tackle the significant problems of distressed industries such as retailing, which employs a large chunk of the population,” said David French, the trade group’s senior vice president of government relations.

. . . .

Retailers are cutting every cost they can, including delaying payments to suppliers and canceling orders. “In this environment in which 90% of our stores are closed to the public, we are forced to make difficult decisions,” wrote an executive of Harmon Stores Inc., a health and beauty-products chain that is owned by Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., in a letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The letter notified suppliers that payments would be delayed by an additional 60 days.

“Retailers have cut variable costs, but there are a lot of fixed costs that they can’t reduce,” said James Gellert, CEO of RapidRatings, which analyzes the financial health of companies.

. . . .

“Retail bankruptcies are coming, but not necessarily immediately,” said Deborah Newman, a lawyer in the bankruptcy and restructuring practice of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP. She said there are public-relations and economic ramifications when companies are forced into bankruptcy during the pandemic. “Now is not a good time to find buyers for assets,” she added. “It’s also hard to get a true sense of a company’s value.”

. . . .

Chains that survive will have to grapple with consumer demand that may not snap back quickly. Consumer spending had buoyed chains before the crisis, but now many shoppers are facing reduced income and they may be skittish about rushing back to public spaces.

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

PG reluctantly suggests that a great many independent bookstores, often thinly capitalized, relying on the effective equivalent to no-interest loans from publishers in the form of books shipped to stores at no charge with payments for those books happening later as the books are sold.

If there are bookstore bankruptcies on a widespread basis, not only will traditional publishers lose a significant portion of their distribution systems, but their financials will be hit with a lot of debts that will never be paid.

For publishers which are public companies with publicly-traded stock, PG suggests that those stock prices will drop like a rock. If some Wall Street financial engineers leveraged the assets of the publishers to the hilt in some complex financing scheme, the survival of such publishers, even with radical downsizing of their staffs, will be in doubt.

Advertising and publicity budgets that support new releases by these publishers will see a very sharp knife.

For traditionally-published authors, PG is afraid that advances will be hit hard. Those who live from advance to advance will be particularly stressed. When five-figure advances become four-figure advances, maximal mental stress may not have a positive impact on artistic output.

New authors striving to get into traditional publishing will find rejection slips arriving in repeating waves may force those who would have managed to snag a first contract in earlier times into alternate employment.

PG suggests that a substantial portion of traditionally-published authors who desperately want to continue their careers will be sheepishly contacting the handful of indie authors that are casual acquaintances for tips on how to make money on Amazon.

Very few major companies will exit from the current world-wide panic without picking up some bruises. Amazon has become such a complex skein of businesses that what sort of company will come out the other side of the current maelstrom is difficult for experts (and impossible for PG) to predict.

However, in the face of closed stores, Amazon has gained a great many new customers. PG suggests a meaningful number of those who didn’t use Amazon in their past lives or used it on rare occasions will be more enthusiastic Amazon customers in the future, particularly if physical retail stores continue to be hit hard.

Lots of people who are self-isolating in their homes are doing a lot of reading these days. Care to guess where they’re buying their books of access to physical book outlets is prohibited by executive orders from various public officials?

And when you’re stuck in your home and need a good book quickly, where do you point your iPad? Kindle ebooks are always ready to serve.

Bookshop, Hummingbird Sales Skyrocket

From Shelf Awareness:

At Hummingbird Digital Media, which is an American Booksellers Association Marketplace partner for e-books (Hummingbird also sells downloadable audio), sales in the last four weeks have risen 1,315% over the previous four weeks, according to president and chief visionary officer Stephen Black Mettee. For the year to date, sales are up 1,000%.

Hummingbird’s bookstore count has jumped 25% since the coronavirus began spreading in the U.S. although there are still some bookstores that haven’t signed on.

Mettee’s take: “Some bookstores had been slow to embrace e-books and audiobooks. I think as we come out of this–and we will–we’ll find bookstores making digital sales a more important part of their business. That will just make independent bookstores stronger overall. A silver lining in a particularly dark cloud?”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

B&N to Renovate Empty Stores

From Shelf Awareness:

At Barnes & Noble, most of its 627 stores are closed to the public “and it seems likely that the few that remain open may shortly be required also to close,” CEO James Daunt wrote in a letter to employees on Friday afternoon. “We will offer BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) via curbside pick-up where this is permitted, as is presently the case for most stores. This service is helping a dramatic increase in sales through BN.com. Notwithstanding this success, our revenues have declined in an unprecedented manner.”

As a result, as B&N has closed stores, the company has laid off staff with less than six months of employment and furloughed most of the rest, keeping only “a core of booksellers to service BOPIS.” The company has also furloughed more than 260 employees in the home office. Daunt called it “a brutal process and something that we hope will be of the shortest possible duration.”

The “small silver lining to this calamity,” Daunt continued, is that B&N is using the period to renovate most of its stores, a project “we had otherwise intended to work through over the next 18 months to two years.” This includes moving bookcases and furniture and “improving visually our stores with better fixtures.” In addition, teams of booksellers are being brought back to “work through all our book categories. We aim, to the best of our abilities, to direct an appropriate allocation of space and the best possible backlist assortment. This is an exercise in bookselling curation that is very long overdue and which we hope will improve dramatically the quality of our bookstores.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG thinks this is an excellent idea, one of the first Barnes & Noble has had in a very long time.

PG expect many of those who enjoy going to a physical bookstore will do so after the Coronavirus period ends. For them to find an intelligently refurbished Barnes & Noble would prove very attractive.

Will this move save Barnes & Noble? PG declines to venture out on that thin limb.

Lots of people are buying lots of products from Amazon at the moment, including ebooks they can download instantly. Some percentage will stick with ebooks, to the exclusion of printed books into the future.

PG doubts the Nook Store can/will be brought up to Amazon standards.

UK online print at risk as Gardners and Hive suspend activity and Waterstones struggles

From The New Publishing Standard:

If it seemed, for a while, that online print sales could sustain publishers and booksellers through the pandemic crisis, it now looks increasingly like the UK will follow the path of Italy and Spain where print distribution is at a virtual standstill.

Here’s the thing: it may well be convenient and safe for consumers to sit at home and order their next print book without having to get off the sofa, but that order has to be processed at a warehouse, packed for shipping, and then it has to work its way through the delivery system to the customer’s door.

At every stage there needs to be someone risking infection with the coronavirus for that delivery to happen, and increasingly, where such actions are not yet barred, workers are reluctant to put themselves on the line.

In the UK the book wholesaler Gardners which also operates the indie bookstore website Hive, at first tried to carry on as the UK entered lockdown. No longer.

A statement on the Gardners website states:

It is with great sadness that we have taken the difficult decision to temporarily suspend taking new orders for physical product at Gardners due to the current Corona Virus Pandemic, however our digital services will be unaffected. We will be working hard to clear all outstanding orders over the coming days, so any existing orders should be processed.

We have continued over the past few weeks providing our usual high quality service to the Book and Entertainment trades around the world, however this is becoming increasingly more difficult as this crisis develops. The safety and well-being of our amazing workforce is the primary reason for making this decision.

We will be looking to see what key services we can turn back on as soon as possible, and will be updating all our customers and suppliers on regular basis as to the progress we are making.

Waterstones, for now, believes it can continue its warehouse operations, but admits on its website that things will be slower than usual

How long the UK government will allow loopholes like this to continue, always assuming the workers continue to turn out, is unclear, but it’s unlikely to be long.

With all the Waterstones stores closed for business across the country the warehousing operation is the company’s only income generator right now, and no question that will welcomed by consumers wanting more books during the lockdown.

But James Daunt must be regretting shutting down the Waterstones ebook site, which might otherwise now be a vital survival lifeline for the company.

While Gardners have suspended the warehouse operation their digital books sector continues unaffected.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG doesn’t claim any detailed knowledge of the printed book business in Britain, but, nevertheless, will opine that Mr. Daunt was an idiot to shut down Waterstones ebookstore. In the short term, it doesn’t cost much to keep an ecommerce site running once it’s set up and, with Waterstone’s retail business shut down, there are likely a lot of empty offices where any ecommerce support staff could be installed with ample distance between each person.

PG doubts that publishers are going to release many new books until at least a few weeks following major decline in the British portion of the virus pandemic so Daunt doesn’t need to pay people to set up new titles for sale. Just keep the link between Waterstone’s computers and those of its payment processors up and at least some money keeps coming in the door.

In a little longer view, with retail bookshops and physical libraries likely closed for the duration, some serious print readers are almost certain to point their iPads somewhere to buy an ebook to fill the reading gap.

Would Mr. Daunt prefer they buy an ebook from Waterstones or Amazon? If Waterstones ebookstore is closed, these customers will be quite likely to fall under the Zon’s spell. For a great many people, once they are exposed to the power, pricing and majesty of the Zon, they start chanting Bezos’ name over and over and are never seen in polite book society again.

Back to the more familiar territory of the US book business.

The new owner of Barnes & Noble, Elliott Management Corporation, is an investment management company. Its management committee (nine men, one woman who runs Human Resources) appears to be made up of typical finance guys, nary a book person or a retail mavin in the bunch.

Under the What We Do tab on Elliott’s website, the first entry is “Distressed Securities” which, in PG’s distressingly cynical opinion, fits Barnes & Noble to a T although he would not apply any variation of the adjective secure to the company.

“What,” you may ask, “are Distressed Securities?”

The firm’s distressed-securities trading strategies are rooted in complexity, either by itself or together with process, rather than business-value-driven situations. To create value in complex, dynamic situations, distressed securities are highly dependent on deep skill sets and lengthy, intensive hands-on efforts. Our primary focus is uncorrelated situations governed by process, complexity, negotiations, and factors unrelated to the forces impacting stocks and bonds generally.

So now you know.

PG notes no mention of anything that sounds like the business of selling books (although uncorrelated situations governed by process might be a subtle indirect reference).

In PG’s distressingly firm opinion, once the last Corona is chased back to hell (Per the CDC, Coronaviruses derive their name from the fact that under electron microscopic examination, each virion is surrounded by a “corona,” or halo. [No, PG doesn’t know what a virion is.]), Elliott will cast its uncorrelated eye on BN and see a bunch of commercial real estate leases, a lot of unsold inventory that has not become more valuable with the passage of time and a bunch of debts plus a few other random factors unrelated to forces impacting BN’s share price.

PG suspects one of the conclusions Elliott will reach is that BN is worth a lot less than the price they paid. Speaking technically, it has become a far more distressed security than it was when they bought it.

Bringing BN back to life will cost a lot of money and take more than a bit of time. You have over 600 stores full of a wide range of merchandise that may or may not be something customers may find interesting.

You probably can’t reopen a store without hiring several people. One or two employees can’t run a Barnes & Noble by themselves. Will all the employees Barnes & Noble fired be anxious to return to their low-wage jobs? Probably not unless they can’t find a better job.

One way of reducing the corporate obligations of Barnes & Noble is to return a whole lot of unsold books to their publishers for credit and then having the publishers send you a large number of new books for which payment is not required until you sell them.

Barnes & Noble probably can’t return the tchotchkes and trinkets in the stores for any sort of credit, assuming the manufacturers can even be located. Those will constitute distressed inventory, maybe another of Elliott’s specialties.

Assuming that Elliott is not willing to write off its investment and send everything that used to be BN to bankruptcy court, PG suspects it will be very choosy about which stores to resuscitate and which stores to let the mall owner take back. So, instead of 600+ bookstores, BN will consist of 200 or so bookstores located in upscale areas plus the honor of beind the defendant in a bunch of breach of contract lawsuits that Elliott will strive to settle for pennies on the dollar.

PG’s bottom line is that he doesn’t believe that the post-Corona Barnes & Noble will ever sell as many books as it did before anybody had heard of Wuhon.

A very large piece of the sales and distribution system relied upon by traditional publishers will be gone, gone, gone and it won’t be coming back. Print book sales won’t ever return to pre-Corona numbers.

The Zon will have to be careful to avoid antitrust charges for having an effective monopoly on the retail book trade, print and electronic.

Since predicting the future is not one of PG’s practice area, he could be dead wrong. His analysis and conclusions above are pretty much stream of consciousness and sometimes the stream gets pretty muddy without PG noticing.

Barnes & Noble Closes 400+ Stores; Employees Question What Happens Next

From Book Riot:

Barnes & Noble has temporarily closed over 400 of their 627 U.S. stores in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As differing guidance is issued across the country, the bookselling giant confirmed that they are working with state and local officials to determine next steps to best protect customers and employees.

. . . .

In a letter sent to Barnes & Noble’s 23,000+ employees on March 17, prior to closing the majority of their stores, CEO James Daunt warned that layoffs may be inevitable. “With the closure of stores, we are obliged to make the hardest of choices,” Daunt warned, adding that Barnes & Noble does not have the resources necessary to continue paying employees as other companies have promised, including Apple, Nike, Patagonia, and REI. “This is a devastating situation in which to find ourselves and we understand the personal impacts of such action.”

Daunt warned employees that as stores closed, employees with less than six months of employment would be laid off. Other employees would be first asked to use available paid time off, after which those employed at Barnes & Noble for at least one year could receive up to two additional weeks of pay. “When a closed store is permitted to reopen, we will do so, and we intend to rehire.”

As over 400 stores temporarily close across the country, layoffs have already begun. Employees who have worked at Barnes & Noble for less than six months were furloughed at the time their store locations closed, regardless of title. Employees with a longer tenure are utilizing paid time off.

. . . .

Aidan* began working at a New Jersey Barnes & Noble location last October, five months before a statewide “stay at home” order forced the store to close. “I got a call from one of my managers saying that I and every other employee that had been hired less than six months ago would be laid off, and that when they knew that they were going to reopen, they would call me and I would be rehired,” Aidan shared in an interview with Book Riot.

But even before layoffs began, Aidan already suffered from reduced shifts. On March 15, “I came in and saw that our store hours were being shaved down. One of my managers talked to all the booksellers individually about how she was trying to keep people’s shifts, but that hours would be cut.”

Now, Aidan is among the over 150,000 New Jersey residents filing for unemployment, an increase of 2,000% over the same week last year. 

. . . .

When it comes to COVID-19 protocols in open stores, Barnes & Noble employees report mixed messages from headquarters, regional leadership, and individual store management. Courtney*, a Barnes & Noble employee based in Missouri, told Book Riot that doors remain open, and safety precautions aren’t being regularly taken by customers or managers of her store. “[Corporate has] left a lot up to individual stores to implement. And that’s fine when it comes to what books are selling in your region, but the gray area during a pandemic is not.”

While individual stores have received guidance from headquarters on cleaning protocols and social distancing recommendations for customers, enforcement is up to individual store management. At Courtney’s store, adherence to recommendations is minimal. “Corporate mandates we clean the doors, so we do. But there’s nothing about cleaning registers or countertops or keyboards and touch screens, so it just isn’t done unless one of us decides, ‘Hey, that should be done.’”

Enforcement of social distancing for customers is even more lax. Courtney reports that, although chairs have been removed from reading areas and the cafe at her store has been closed, customers continue to visit the store and linger in public areas. “There are very few customers who actually are taking precautions. Others don’t seem to care or understand that there’s a virus that we could catch. They stand as close to us as possible, even as we take great care to put distance between us, and cough into the air. With such light foot traffic anyway, I don’t see the point in being open to people to walk around who could potentially put booksellers at risk.”

At storefronts that remain open, some employees have chosen not to come to work out of fear and are using available paid time off. Others, even some that are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, continue coming to work out of fear of unemployment. Courtney shared that she and many colleagues would feel more comfortable continuing to work if stores moved to pick-up only and stop accepting cash payments. “I want us to be able to continue doing business, but not at the expense of all of us here.”

. . . .

“When [CEO Daunt] gives interviews about how essential books are, he leaves out anything about booksellers being essential,” Courtney said. “I love books too, but they aren’t essential during a pandemic, and none of the booksellers are less important than a book.”

. . . .

As Amazon’s customer base has expanded, traditional bookstores like Barnes & Noble have seen a downturn in market shares. Bookselling chain Borders closed all locations in 2011, and Waterstones experienced a similar downturn at the same time, prompting them to bring Daunt on board. His efforts to create a more intimate customer experience turned the company around to make a profit within four years.

Daunt’s March 17 letter assured employees that Barnes & Noble was financially strong prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While sales were down somewhat at the time of writing, the company had “well within what we need to remain profitable.” In fact, Dial shared that online sales and children’s book sales were actually above average.

. . . .

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those interviewed.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Coronavirus Means Everyone Wants Jigsaw Puzzles

From The Wall Street Journal:

As if things weren’t bad enough, now there’s a shortage of jigsaw puzzles just when we need them most.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans to hunker down in their homes and find ways to entertain themselves. A lot of them are thinking the same thought: jigsaw puzzle.

Of the top 10 items that shoppers searched for on Amazon.com last Tuesday, nine were antivirus cleaning supplies or personal-hygiene products (read: toilet paper). No. 7 was “puzzles for adults.”

More people were hunting desperately for jigsaw puzzles that day than Clorox wipes.

That should be good news for Filip Francke, chief executive of Ravensburger North America. Its parent, privately held German puzzle giant Ravensburger AG, is the world’s largest purveyor of jigsaw puzzles and does $600 million in business a year in puzzles, toys and other products.

. . . .

Ravensburger’s sales in North America over the past two weeks are up 370% year-over-year, the company says. On a single day, March 26, sales were 10 times what they were a year earlier.

Yet 137-year-old Ravensburger finds itself with fewer ways to get puzzles to puzzlers. “The demand is pretty infinite right now,” says Mr. Francke. “The challenge is to find ways to get it to consumers.”

. . . .

Barnes & Noble has closed 450 out of 620 stores nationwide, but Chief Executive James Daunt says online jigsaw shoppers are making up the difference. B&N salespeople will also deliver puzzles to people waiting in their cars outside of the stores.

“Demand has far exceeded supply,” Mr. Daunt said Sunday. “We’re pretty much selling it as we get it in.”

Customers with time on their hands are looking for fatter books and more-complicated puzzles, Mr. Daunt says. “This helps them spend time more productively and hopefully with more entertainment than Netflix and Apple TV can provide,” he says.

. . . .

Ravensburger has suspended sales from its own website in order to redirect its remaining puzzle supply to Target, B&N and mom-and-pop toy stores. Ravensburger says its factories in Europe are running at full capacity, and it’s hoping more stock will arrive in the U.S. next month to replenish its own website and Amazon, once it reopens its warehouses to puzzle deliveries.

. . . .

Sullivan’s Toys & Art Supplies, in Washington, D.C., doesn’t allow customers inside, but will hand off puzzles curbside. About 30 times a day, a masked-and-gloved Sullivan’s agent goes on a delivery run around the neighborhood to drop off toys at customers’ doors. Half of those deliveries include jigsaw puzzles, when they’re available.

. . . .

“It’s really hard to find a puzzle in the market,” says Mr. Francke.

The company, he suggests dryly, might have to stretch its output capacity by leaving one piece out of each puzzle.

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

I miss the smell of the books mixed with coffee

From The Bookseller:

For 32 years my shop has been my home from home! Bookselling has been my passion for so long, everything I do and think involves books in one way or another. Every book I read I think “I know exactly which one of our customers will love this” or “I think I will go big on this one” .

I nose at people’s bookcases on TV and in photos, try my utmost to see what people read on public transport. The thought of my lovely shop empty and unloved with no energy and laughter from our customers is making me sad beyond words. I worry about our lovely customers quite a few are over 70. To a lot of them we really are so important.

I will miss my colleagues who are like second family to me, and yes of course I worry about how long this will last and what impact it will have on us in the long term.

But above all I miss my shop and I miss the smell of the books mixed with coffee. I miss the deliveries which after all these years in the business hold the same excitement for me when I open a tote and wonder what’s in it.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

As New York’s Indie Bookstores Close Their Doors, They Search for Community Online

PG Note: The OP was published on March 17.

From The Vulture:

Last Tuesday, Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene hosted a talk with the author Kate Elizabeth Russell. Few signs of anything amiss could be discerned. The event was so well attended that dozens of audience members had to stand in the aisles, and no one seemed particularly concerned about the possibility that deadly germs were lingering on their plastic cups of wine.

By Thursday, Greenlight had decided to cancel all events, but its doors remained open, and customers continued to file into the store, stocking up on books and puzzles to occupy their minds during the lonely days to come. Stories of pandemics were selling well — Ling Ma’s Severance, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven — as were the sorts of thick, ambitious tomes that are more often spoken of than read.

And then came Monday, when the city and state tightened restrictions on bars and restaurants and students stopped going to school. Greenlight sent out an email to its customers noting that “the moment has come to do more.” Along with most of the city’s other indie bookstores, it was shutting its doors to the public.

The sense of doom and gloom that has suddenly descended over the world is, in some ways, not altogether unfamiliar to people in the publishing business. For the last decade, as the internet has encroached on the mental space we once reserved for reading, people who rely on books for a living have wondered how long their jobs will last. But amid the shuttering of chains like Borders, the rise of the indie bookstore has been a bright spot. These stores have thrived and multiplied because they provide what Amazon can’t: conversations with authors, story hours for kids, cozy spaces where readers can gather, staff members eager to recommend something to fill the void once you’ve torn through all of Tana French’s mysteries. In an increasingly atomized, online world, they offer a sense of community that augments the value of the books themselves, and that was never clearer than in the days before they closed.

On Friday, at Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill, the co-owner and author Emma Straub sat on a leather couch wearing a hand-drawn pin reminding customers to wash their hands. Nearby, kids and their parents slouched in beanbag chairs, flipping through picture books about dragons and princesses and snow days. The cozy scene stood in stark contrast to the fear and uncertainty of the world outside the store. “This is the whole point,” said Straub, looking at the families wistfully. By then, she had made the difficult decision to cancel all events. 

. . . .

Many of the shops are looking for creative solutions to stay open for online business, as well as the communities they’ve fostered. Astoria Bookshop, in Queens, is offering books for pickup. “The vast majority of our customers live in Astoria,” Lexi Beach, the owner, told me, “so if they’re well enough to go out for a walk, they can come to the store, knock on the door, we’ll have their book ready for them.” Beach was intrigued by an idea she’d seen on Twitter from a bookstore in D.C. that was offering customers exclusive occupancy of the store for one-hour time slots.

. . . .

“We’re trying to think about the ways we can still be an inspiring space without the physical space,” she said. “There’s a silver lining to all of this — that we can reinvent how we talk about storytelling.”

. . . .

“We’re talking about setting up virtual book tours,” she said. “The internet has always been a thing that we, as a store, have been good at, so I feel like this is the time for us to really use that force for good and try to shine the light on as many writers as we can.”

Meanwhile, at Idlewild, a bookstore specializing in travel books and language classes, the owner, David Del Vecchio, has begun experimenting with offering classes on Zoom. So far, he said, it had gone surprisingly well. “At first Zoom seemed like a compromise,” he wrote in an email, “but it works great for a small class. Even though it sucks not to be able to be in a room together, it’s not that different in some ways.”

Link to the rest at The Vulture

PG suggests having an interesting online presence is always likely to help a bookstore. It’s easier to have online up and running prior to anything that might require the physical store to close, however.

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

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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

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

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

From Retail Touchpoints:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Retail Touchpoints

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

More Temporary Bookstore Closings

From Shelf Awareness:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

From Slate:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Slate

Waterstones booksellers given 6.2% pay rise

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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

From The South China Morning Post:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The South China Morning Post

New Tools are Leveling the Playing Field for Booksellers

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barnes & Noble Cancels Black History Month Covers After Backlash

From The Huffington Post:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

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

This Startup Wants to Help Indie Booksellers Take on Amazon

From Wired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Wired

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

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

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

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

What is causing the uptick in independent bookstores?

From veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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