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

From The Literary Hub:

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

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

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

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

X said, “Guy, you understand nothing!”

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

A Bookshelf for All Ages

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

“This is not sci-fi,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

● Sex being left to what anyone might witness in public

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Trade facing industry-wide burnout, Bookseller survey finds

From The Bookseller:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A Bookstore Revival Channels Nostalgia for Big Box Chains

From Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

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

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

From The Deseret News:

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

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

She called it Frost’s Books.

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

If people want to pontificate, they have the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at the Deseret News

The Mom-and-Popcalypse

From Slate:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Slate

Bookstore Sales Rose 28% in 2021

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

When Is It Okay to Let a Bookstore Die?

From Book Riot:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Book Riot

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Open Education Database

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

From The United States Census:

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

Link to the rest at The United States Census

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

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

The signs started appearing in bookstore windows this week.

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

“Amazon, please leave the dystopia to Orwell.”

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

All that still may not be enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

From Kirkus Reviews (14 October 2020):

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

Link to the rest at Kirkus Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

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

From Inews UK:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barnes & Noble Unveils Union Square & Company

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just how big in media does Apple want to be?

From The Economist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-Commerce Needs Real Store Locations Now More Than Ever

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Supply Chain Grinch

From Writers Digest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

Yet one other reason to stay away from traditional publishers.

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

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

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

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

Pandemic sparks union activity where it was rare: Bookstores

From The Associated Press:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Associated Press

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

From Quartz:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Quartz

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

From Literary Hub:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Mystery Writer’s Ode to Bookstore Romances

From CrimeReads:

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

. . . .

The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

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

Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter

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

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

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

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Publishers, Amazon Move to Dismiss Booksellers’ Antitrust Suit

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Englishman trying to save American bookstores from Amazon

From FT Magazine (June 2, 2021):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at FT Magazine

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

From What’s New in Publishing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe: Is store traffic increasing?

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

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

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

Bo: Are you seeing an influence from Book Tok?

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

Bo: It’s at almost ten billion views.

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

Joe: How are things developing in the magazine world?

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

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

Link to the rest at What’s New in Publishing

‘Hot vaxxed summer’ fizzled, but ‘hot books fall’ feels like a safe bet

From The Los Angeles Times:

What was it like seeing book sales explode during the coronavirus pandemic? Jonathan Karp, Simon & Schuster’s president and CEO, couldn’t help quoting Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“A lot of people had extra time at home and they turned to books,” Karp said. Virtual sales and appearances, meanwhile, “made it easier to reach readers directly.”

Still, it’s been a rocky 18 months for U.S. publishers, whose jobs are defined by predictability: They work on monthslong publishing schedules, orchestrate book tours and promotional plans and calibrate printings based on expectations.

As COVID-19 swept across the world last year, they had to throw many of those plans out the window — canceling tours, delaying books and having their media rollouts drowned out by breaking news. Nevertheless, fueled by online sales and the demand of the quarantined and bored, total unit sales for print books in the generally flat industry rose 8% between 2019 and 2020, according to NPD BookScan.

This fall promises something almost as valuable as a boom year: a return to some semblance of normal.

“This year, we’re not letting the pandemic dictate our decisions,” said Reagan Arthur, publisher and executive vice president of Knopf, an imprint of Penguin Random House. “The pandemic’s been with us longer than some of these books have, and so we scheduled them having a much better sense of how we would publish them, whatever the current climate was.”

It’s been a strong 2021 for adult fiction, led by Amazon bestsellers such as Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds,” Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library” and Laura Dave’s “The Last Thing He Told Me.” This fall is equally promising, with new titles from crossover literary stars including Richard Powers, Anthony Doerr, Jonathan Franzen, Sandra Cisneros and debut thriller novelist Hillary Rodham Clinton (with Louise Penny).

. . . .

The pandemic fueled some surprising — and perhaps temporary — areas of growth. George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” is among Amazon’s top 20 bestsellers of the year (so far). And last March, just as the state was preparing for its first shutdown, Albert Camus’ “The Plague” was flying off of the shelves of local stores.

. . . .

Tobi Harper, deputy director at Red Hen Press, has noticed an uptick in reader interest in dark fiction. (Dystopia has certainly dominated critical attention.) Last fall, even before the rise of phenom Amanda Gorman, it was poetry. “Any time of extreme political turmoil,” Harper said, “there’s a noticeable jump in poetry sales.”

Sales of Japanese manga skyrocketed 243%, according to NPD BookScan, making it the largest adult fiction category in the U.S. Those sales are expected to decline as people return to offices and schools and reading habits revert to the mean.

. . . .

Whatever normal looks like, it’s clear to publishers that we aren’t there yet.

Last year, after book tours were canceled, authors took to virtual platforms to promote their books, wiping out a major source of revenue for bookstores. Though online sales have buoyed publishing, they tend to help those with established platforms. Bricks-and-mortar shops, which operate through hand sales, recommendations and word of mouth, remain an important avenue for up-and-coming authors.

“An author who has a strong presence or following can certainly sell a lot of books at virtual events,” says Burnham of HarperCollins, “but it’s harder for newer voices to get the kind of sales that you might get from in-person events versus virtual, because there’s so much competition for people’s time in the evenings.”

Going into the fall, many writers are doing hybrid events — while keeping a close eye, day by day, on the surging Delta variant.

. . . .

The country’s varying reactions to the health crisis have posed a major challenge in planning tours and readings.

“Every state responds differently, counties respond differently, and that certainly impacts artists that want to be connecting with the world,” Lewis said.

Harper at Red Hen said they’re not counting on a fully open country this fall.

“We’re trying not to depress our authors by saying things like that quite so intensely, but basically we’re saying, ‘If you want to do an in-person event, let’s talk to the bookstore and see how they’re living,’” Harper said.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Times

As PG has mentioned before, he thinks more than a few authors dislike book tours. Moving from city to city to present your speil at a new bookstore every night might sound fun at first, but, for an introvert, that experience can be pretty stressful. If attendance is light, the experience can be downright depressing.

Certainly, a great many traditionally-published authors want so seem cheerful and upbeat to encourage their publishers to put lots of money and effort behind new releases, but PG wonders if, five or ten years from now, whether one of the many unexpected consequences of Covid is the end of the book tour.

Barnes & Noble Climbs Back

From Publishers Weekly:

A little more than a year ago, Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt used the forced closure of nearly all of his physical stores to begin refurbishing the interior of each location, as well as to review each store’s title selection. Daunt had planned to remake the stores over an 18-month to two-year span, but the retail lockdown, coming less than six months after Daunt took over as CEO following the acquisition of B&N by Elliott Advisors, forced his hand.

While Daunt appeared confident B&N could weather the Covid storm, others in the industry were not so sure how much time the new owners would give Daunt to turn around the bookstore chain at a time when the viability of physical retail was being called into question. However, as bookstore sales have bounced back from the depth of last year’s slump (bookstore sales were up 30% in the first half of 2021 over the comparable period last year), publishers say B&N has been performing well. Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp credited Daunt with “revitalizing” the retailer, while HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray praised Daunt’s decision to remake the stores during the pandemic and for his ability to convince Elliott to keep investing in the business, adding that HC’s sales with B&N are up.

Daunt said total B&N sales are up about 5% to 6% so far this year, compared to 2019, with book sales up by double digits. The pandemic has continued to hurt B&N’s café and newsstand results, but books and other core areas, such as educational games, puzzles, and workbooks, have done well, Daunt said. Urban areas are having the hardest time recovering from the pandemic, and New York City in particular, Daunt said, has been “a drag” on the overall rebound.

Unlike his first few months on the job, Daunt said trends now seem to be in B&N’s favor. Book sales have remained resilient during the recession, interest in reading is up, all B&N stores have undergone at least one round of refurbishing, and rents are down. The most important change Daunt has made to B&N—giving local store managers more control over what, and how, they sell in their stores-has kicked in. Daunt acknowledged that most stores will carry many of the same titles, but where the books are placed, and in what quantities they are ordered, is now left to managers. “Managers are in charge of the way the titles are presented,” Daunt said. The goal is to make sure books that are selling well have the necessary quantities, and books that aren’t working are returned quickly. Resupplying stores is a “central focus,” Daunt said, and the company has invested in its distribution centers and people to make its internal supply chain operate more efficiently. Lowering returns has been one of Daunt’s priorities since he took over B&N, and while progress has been made, he said there is still room for improvement.

. . . .

Staying out of the way doesn’t mean more change isn’t coming, however. The stores are still adding new fixtures and are beginning to get ready for the fall by adding such things as new cash wraps. This spring, Elliott bought the stationery and gift retailer Paper Source and put Daunt in charge. Daunt said he will use B&N’s “stable mate” to create better, though not necessarily bigger, stationery sections. At the other end of the spectrum, Daunt remains committed to B&N’s Nook business; earlier this year B&N introduced a new Nook tablet in partnership with Lenovo, and he expects sales for the device to build.

B&N has opened six new stores since Daunt took over, and he said he expects to open eight more over the next month. B&N will also continue to close underperforming outlets, and Daunt expects to finish the year with about the same number of locations—about 625 stores—as B&N had at the start of the year. (“Sometimes staying even is moving ahead,” he said.) In 2022, however, Daunt hopes to open new stores “in decent numbers” and to have a net gain in outlets. “We make good tenants for landlords,” he said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders how much of this is happy talk.

How American retailers have adapted to the Amazon effect

From The Economist:

After reeling from the shock of the pandemic, America’s consumers came roaring back early this year, fuelled by vaccines, stimulus cheques and their instinctive bullishness. Now their enthusiasm is starting to ebb. Retail sales in July were 1.1% lower than a month earlier and a consumer-confidence survey by the University of Michigan suggests that shoppers lost more of their swagger in early August. The Delta variant has played on their nerves while price spikes and supply-chain glitches have dulled enthusiasm for buying some products such as cars—sales of which dropped by 3.9% last month, compared with June. There is now a sense that the rate of growth in consumer spending is returning to a more pedestrian pace after 18 giddy months of wild shrinkages and splurges.

Yet even as normality beckons it is ever clearer that the pattern of spending has been transformed. One change is well-known: a lift in the level of e-commerce. The other is less familiar. An industry that was supposed to have been annihilated by Amazon has bounced back.

In 2017-19 all the talk was of a “retail apocalypse” and “retailmaggedon”. The fear was that a steady rise in e-commerce and Amazon’s relentless expansion into new products would drive traditional retailers towards extinction, just as Kodak failed to adapt to the digital-photography revolution and eventually went bust.

. . . .

Things have turned out rather differently. The pandemic has certainly sped up the shift towards e-commerce sales, which have risen from 14% of the total in 2018 to 20% this year according to JPMorgan Chase, a bank. Although the pace of growth has slowed in the past few months there will be no return to the past.

Meanwhile the industry’s structure is starting to look different. Amazon has thrived: its market share of e-commerce stands at about 40% overall and is far higher than that in some categories, such as books. Shopping centres have struggled to attract the same numbers of visitors as before, and some have defaulted on their debt. Nonetheless, the health of the non-Amazon retail industry looks better than it once did. At $2.5trn, for example, the market value of American listed retailers is 88% higher than at the start of 2018, while their total net debt burden has been easing since the end of 2019. The number of people employed in the retail trade is only 4% below its post-war peak in 2017.

Behind these numbers there are three types of fightback. First, the biggest retailers have embraced the digital world. This week Walmart predicted that its global e-commerce revenues would reach $75bn for the full year (about 13% of the firm’s total sales). It has made a big push in hybrid types of shopping that involve online activity but harness its stores, such as “click-and-collect” and online memberships. Target has promoted a similar service and digital sales now make up almost a fifth of its total.

The second fightback is from digital-only alternatives to Amazon. Although the veteran marketplace eBay has struggled over the years, Shopify, which helps merchants sell online and fulfil orders, has seen its share of American online sales reach 9% and its market value soar to $188bn. Many other digital firms are operating in lucrative niches, from Instacart in grocery delivery to Etsy in interactive shopping for artisanal goods.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG has checked out Walmart’s ecommerce interface and found it to be less sophisticated and well-designed than the ecommerce offerings of many much-smaller etailers, but perhaps he’s missed something.

Hot People Unlearn Fatphobia and Stories+Spells for the Dog Days – the latest from Bookshop.org

From Bookshop.org:

Bookshop.org Reaches $15 Million Earned for Independent Bookstores in Support of the Fight Against Amazon

Bookshop.org, the ethical online marketplace which supports independent bookstores, announced today that it has generated $15 million for its affiliated stores since the site launched in January 2020.

The platform financially supports over 1,200 indie bookstores across the US, with an additional 26,000 non-store affiliates contributing to the impressive results by offering online shoppers an ethical alternative to Amazon that supports local businesses. With a 17% year-on-year growth, Bookshop.org has demonstrated the value of the young start-up not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as the bookstores, and the local communities they serve, face the ever-growing threat of Amazon.

Booksellers using the platform have reported the many ways in which Bookshop.org has been a financial lifeline in a particularly challenging time, with the additional income allowing many to survive the challenges of the pandemic, pay rent, create corporate orders for e-gift cards, and even open new stores.

Fawn Fernandes, Owner of Curious Capybara Bookshop (Hendersonville, TN), said: “I opened my children’s bookstore in September 2020 – right smack dab in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. I did it because I believed our area needed a children’s bookstore, now more than ever. And I was right! But of course, with the struggle of opening any new business, let alone a bookstore, let alone during a pandemic – well, it’s not been easy. We received our semi-annual Bookshop.org funds at a time when I wasn’t sure we would be able to make rent. And while it may not make a huge impact on some of the larger stores, for my small start-up it was literally a game-changer. But it gave me more than funds in my bank account. It gave me hope. It gave me encouragement that not only could I make this work, but I had a huge network of people – other bookstores, the staff at Bookshop, people who SHOP at Bookshop.org – that had my back, that loved books as much as I did, that wanted me to succeed with my little shop. These funds mean more than money. It means community to me. And for that, I will be forever grateful.”

In addition, Bookshop.org has been offering more than just financial support to booksellers: it’s been strengthening their online presence, helping them with social media exposure, enabling them to reach wider audiences, expanding their offer and inventory, allowing them to share personalised lists and recommendations with customers, and creating a sense of community.

Link to the rest at Bookshop.org via Midas Public Relations Ltd.

PG will be happy to hear contrary opinions, but primarily positioning your company as fighting against one of the world’s most-admired companies seems to be a marketing proposition that’s much more attractive to the PR firm’s client than it will be to the general English-speaking world of readers and other book purchasers.

PG doesn’t doubt that the owners of most physical bookstores don’t like Amazon, but how much further does that attitude extend?

PG is willing to agree that most of those working for traditional publishers don’t like Amazon, even though Amazon is their largest customer, miles larger than whoever is #2 this month.

That said, as regular visitors to TPV will know, PG is of the opinion that most employees of traditional publishers are there because they can’t get a job anywhere else (excluding the fast food industry), so what would you expect?

Do most people who buy books really dislike Amazon?

Do most people who don’t buy books right now, but might consider doing so in the future really dislike Amazon?

UPDATE: PG just went to Bookshop.org to check out what the purchasing experience was like.

One of the site’s featured books was How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith.

The following editions of Mr. Smith’s book were on offer:

  1. Hardcover English$26.68, marked down from $29.00
  2. Hardcover English – Large Print$28.52, marked down from $31.00
  3. Compact Disk English – $36.80, marked down from $40.00

A quick online trip to Amazon revealed the following editions of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America on offer:

  1. Kindle – $14.99
  2. Audible Audiobook – Free with Audible trial, $29.65 otherwise
  3. Hardcover English – $17.84

All three editions of Mr. Smith’s book were ranked in the top five of Amazon’s best-seller list for African-American Studies/African American History and Historiography, which likely generated additional sales of the book.

Bookshop.org’s Bestsellers of the Week list did not include any of Mr. Smith’s books, although PG is pretty certain that Bookshop.org has a lock on the market for audiobooks on CD.

Additionally Bookshop.org’s other bestseller lists did not include any of Mr. Smith’s books. For your general information, other than Bestsellers of the Week, Bookshop.org’s bestseller lists which PG was able to find were as follows:

  • Queer Books by Black Authors
  • Special Abilities
  • Staff Picks, Summer 2021
  • The Natural World
  • All We Can Save: More Nonfiction from the Climate Anthology Contributors
  • stories + spells for the Dog Days
  • Ancient Greek Myth Retellings
  • Kristen Radtke’s Must-Read Graphic Novels for 2021
  • 100 Books Every Teacher Needs to Read 2021
  • Hot People Unlearn Fatphobia (PG’s personal favorite category)
  • History
  • Immigration
  • Pen Parentis Writers – Books adapted for the Screen and Stage
  • Celebrate National Foreign Language Month with Your Child!
  • In this Week’s Newsletter

PG finds some of these bestseller lists to be . . . whimsical . . . although he certainly knows where to go for all his fatphobia reading needs.

See even more at Bookshop.org

Will Barnes & Noble’s Next Chapter Be Its Last?

From Forbes:

Barnes & Noble’s Chief Executive James Daunt is leaving behind the strategy that, decades ago, made it a bookselling behemoth.

Instead of focusing on maximizing economies of scale and simplifying the in-store shopping experience—tactics that once fostered success but, in the age of Amazon, are now leaving stacks empty—Mr. Daunt is looking to empower individual store managers to curate their shelves based on local tastes. In doing so, he is letting go of those who supervised large groups of stores and firing nearly half of the company’s New York-based book buyers who once decided which titles to put on shelves.

Personally, I think this is a really smart strategy, yet the question remains: will this turnaround effort be enough to save the bookselling giant in a post-pandemic world?

When I first read the news of Barnes & Noble’s seismic shifts, I’ll admit, I was shocked.

Yet as I thought about it more, I came to realize that in a time when purchasing the latest bestseller can be done with just a few clicks from the comfort of one’s own home, Mr. Daunt’s new approach may not be so far-fetched.

Barnes & Noble has suffered from seven years of declining revenue as Amazon’s dominance in online retail grows. By giving store managers more autonomy to make decisions based on their knowledge of the local market, Barnes & Noble may be better able to tailor what it does within its individual stores to give shoppers the experience they’re craving.

Rather than just being a place where you could buy a book, what if Barnes & Noble could become a place where you could discover a book? I spend a fair bit of time in Duck, North Carolina where our family loves Duck’s Cottage—a charming book and coffee store that has a very well-curated selection of titles. We have all bought a number of books from there, almost entirely based on the owner’s handwritten recommendation notes.

As we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic and start the long process of recovery, what will bring shoppers through Barnes & Noble’s doors may not be the desire to simply purchase a book, but the desire to be a part of something in the community. I would suggest that is something shoppers will remember, talk about and that will bring them back.

. . . .

The prior operating model for this 50+ year old business did not have a strong balance between local autonomy and standard processes across all locations, which meant clients did not have a consistent experience. This created an operational management nightmare—a challenge when trying to delight clients—and allowed competitors to find easy ways to chip away at their market share. Fast forward to the introduction of one national set of processes and the permission for local leaders to do what they thought necessary to appeal to their market, and the results were transformed.

. . . .

Contrary to a lot of decisions coming out of corporate HQ, consumers across the nation are looking to support their local businesses during the pandemic. We are seeing more and more “Buy Local” campaigns targeted to smaller communities, whether through Facebook or other platforms, and there is strong support for the local service provider or restaurant owner who remembers our usual order. Fundamentally, the team who manages every local Barnes & Noble store knows what their community is talking about, what they are interested in, what the local issues are and who the influencers are.

Link to the rest at Forbes

In many places large enough to support a Barnes & Noble store, there are are independent bookstores that really know how to do local very well and which have (for PG) a more welcoming quirky little bookstore feeling than the bland corporate design that characterizes every BN store that PG has ever entered, even in college/university towns where one might expect more local touches.

While PG has some good memories of quirky bookstores with a local flavor that he last entered a long time ago, no particular memories of any Barnes & Noble store come to mind (even some where Mrs. PG did author signings during ancient days and PG came along to provide unskilled labor for a couple of hours).

And it’s not just the small size of memorable unique bookstores that PG remembers. He still has clear recollections of going to the giant Powell’s Books mothership in Portland, wandering around their immense stacks and talking to a couple of employees who would probably not have been anxious to work at Barnes & Noble.

There’s also the fact that PG doesn’t think Daunt has a lot of money to throw around to remake the physical design of Barnes & Noble stores everywhere. This is a company that went bankrupt a few years ago and hasn’t really turned around anything since.

PG suspects that a great many BN store managers who could get work elsewhere have already done so. Plus, Covid has taken down retailers with much more savvy people running stores than BN has.

Finally, although Daunt is very good at getting press for himself, PG questions how many smart people are left on BN’s headquarter staff to put Daunt’s visions into actions. What sort of person would go to work there or stay there if they had other viable options?

BN is owned by a hedge fund (approximately $41.8 billion in assets) that didn’t buy it out of bankruptcy because the hedge fund partners all loved books. This private ownership means that the general public will only hear the Barnes & Noble financial performance information that the hedge fund wants the public to hear.

Bookshop.org Continues to See Strong Sales

From Publishers Weekly:

Online bookseller Bookshop.org is on track this month to surpass $15 million returned to independent bookstores since the company began in 2019. That figure is in addition to the $250,000 it donated to Binc’s “Survive to Thrive” campaign. “It is a milestone we are anticipating surpassing by the end of July,” Andy Hunter, CEO of Bookshop.org, said.

Sales have reached $29 million this year, including tax and shipping, and are up 17% for the first half of 2021 compared with 2020. That increase comes despite an expected decline in sales compared to a year ago since April, when most bookstores around the country began to reopen form normal business. In the April-June period, sales were down 20% from the comparable time in 2020, less than the 30% drop that Hunter had been expecting. “Last year, June was very busy for us, particularly with the huge sales of antiracist books with the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the country. This year is more like a normal June.”

The site currently hosts 1,100 bookstores, with 400 using Bookshop exclusively for their e-commerce and another 700 that use it in addition to their own e-commerce solutions. Notably, among the top 10 highest earning bookstore sites on Bookshop, six are Black-owned bookstores, Hunter said. Of the sites top-selling books, several are multicultural and diverse titles, including How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith (Little, Brown), Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford (Flatiron), Yoke by Jessamyn Stanley (Workman), and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (Knopf), The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris(Atria) and Long Division by Kiese Laymon (Scribner).

“Our bestseller list does not look like the typical list,” Hunter said. “It reflects the diversity and iconoclastic nature of the community we serve.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

ABA Brings Back #BoxedOut Marketing Campaign

From Publishers Weekly:

Hoping to take advantage of new government scrutiny aimed at Amazon and other high-tech powers, the American Booksellers Association is bringing back its #BoxedOut marketing campaign. The campaign is designed to highlight Amazon’s dominance in bookselling as well as what the ABA says is the danger that it poses to local communities.

The new campaign will be rolled out on June 20 and 21, ahead of Amazon’s June 21 and 22 Prime Day sales event. Last year’s effort featured independent bookstore storefronts covered with cardboard facades in an attempt to reflect the Amazon brown boxes that appeared in growing numbers on porches and in lobbies during the pandemic. The cardboard facades, which included quotes such as “Don’t box out bookstores” and “Books curated by a real person, not a creepy algorithm,” were augmented by a social media campaign conducted by hundreds of indie bookstores. The ABA said new boxes are being sent to stores and new materials will be available online.

In announcing the return of #BoxedOut, the ABA noted that while more than one bookstore a week closed during the pandemic, Amazon’s profits soared. And though the majority of indie bookstores, helped by new innovations and community support, managed to remain in business after last year, they still face a variety of challenges as the pandemic eases, ranging from supply chain disruptions to labor shortages.

The ABA also pointed to “a significant national conversation about antitrust and monopolies” that is already underway, and cited the lawsuit filed by District of Columbia attorney general Karl Racine against Amazon as an example of action that could temper the conduct of the online giant. In addition, the ABA, as well as the AAP, were cheered by the appointment of Lina Khan—a critic of the power held by high tech companies—as chair of the Federal Trade Commission.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Of course, the #BoxedOut Marketing Campaign has had such a devastating effect on Amazon’s book sales in prior years that everybody in Seattle is shaking in their boots.

PG hasn’t seen any third-party data about the number of bookstore closings resulting from the pandemic, so he’s not certain exactly what “the majority of indie bookstores . . . managed to remain in business” means. For those who are detail-oriented, 51% is a “majority.”

Lots of other business groups have placed their hopes on antitrust litigation to save them.

The 1998 antitrust suit against Microsoft certainly captured a lot of attention from MS executives, but didn’t save Netscape’s browser business or the company. (For the record, PG was a big Netscape fan and knew several people who worked there. He probably has an old Netscape t-shirt buried somewhere in his closet.) Microsoft is still the second most-valuable company in the US (after Apple).

PG thinks that physical retail stores aren’t going to disappear as a significant class of retailers, but many, including bookstores, aren’t going to be as numerous as they’ve been in decades past.

If the ABA asked his opinion (they haven’t and aren’t likely to do so), he would suggest a more positive and upbeat campaign about the benefits of local indie bookstores.

However, those bookstores have lots and lots of boxes they usually throw away (just like Zon customers), so #BoxedOut are easy for their underpaid staffs to stack up in front of the store.

A new Barnes & Noble opens in Kirkland, showing how the bookstore chain is changing

From the Seattle Times:

The opening of a new bookstore is always an act of optimism: a determined belief that there continue to be many people who prefer to pick out books from an actual shelf or table, and buy them while exchanging pleasantries or book recommendations with an actual person. But when the new bookstore is a Barnes & Noble, a national chain that has shuttered three stores in the Seattle area in recent years, it’s not just optimism, but a vast reset, one that takes its principles from small, independent bookstores.

Barnes & Noble, whose newest branch formally opens Wednesday at The Village at Totem Lake in Kirkland, is no indie; it’s owned, since 2019, by the same British private equity firm that owns the U.K. bookstore chain Waterstones. But its current CEO, James Daunt, got his start running his own bookshop (he still owns Daunt Books in London). Since taking the reins at Barnes & Noble nearly two years ago, his goal has been to transform the company by giving local staff more control over the stores. It’s been a successful strategy for the Waterstones chain, over which Daunt also presides, and he’s encouraged by its early results in the U.S. stores.

“What I think we should be able to do at Barnes & Noble is use the resources and capacities of a large bookstore, but effectively harness them within a culture which is much more independently minded,” he said in a telephone interview from New York this week. This means, he explained, that bookstore managers take their cue from their customers in choosing what to stock, and have much more leeway in how to display it.

Giving this freedom to the stores — a process that began last year, when many stores that were closed during the pandemic used the time to reorganize the stock — has been good for business, Daunt said. During his tenure, he said that the Barnes & Noble send-back rate to publishers — the bookstore business is structured on returning books that don’t sell — has gone from about 25% to 10-12% percent. “We’ll keep on driving it down,” he said. “Waterstones has been about 3%. Which I think is about the level a bookstore should be.”

And why open again in the Seattle area, where the West Seattle, Issaquah and downtown Barnes & Noble stores so recently shut down? “It’s a very good area for communities that read and are engaged and well-educated — all the things that one would expect to support a successful bookstore,” he said. The previous closures were largely due to real estate issues — leases, redevelopment — “and of course the stores were getting quite old,” he said. “If you’re going to keep yourself as a vibrant retailer, you have to open (new stores) because you’re always going to be closing, frankly.”

. . . .

It’s been a rocky few decades for Barnes & Noble, whose business model has struggled since the arrival of Amazon in the 1990s. Barnes & Noble currently has 607 stores (including the Kirkland one), with three more planned to open this summer. That’s down from its peak of 1,046 stores in 1996 (though most of those stores were of a “small footprint” format that have since been phased out).

At the shiny new Totem Lake store, located between a bustling Whole Foods and an equally busy Trader Joe’s, manager Dave Rossiter, a 17-year Barnes & Noble employee who previously managed the Issaquah store, led a walk-through of the layout early this week. Its 8,200 square feet hold not straight-line rows of shelves, but room-like nooks for each genre. Within those nooks are thousands of books, a small selection of DVDs, puzzles and gift items, and a cafe.

. . . .

Rossiter said the store currently employs about 22 people, most of them part-time. While he looked for retail experience in hiring, he said his first interview question was always some variant of “tell me why you are passionate about reading.” You can see that passion in the store: dozens of handwritten cards dot the shelves, with enthusiastic recommendations from booksellers. (One charmingly — and accurately — refers to an edition of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as “the original emo.”) It’s a sight that’s typical at an indie bookstore, but wouldn’t have been seen at an old-style Barnes & Noble — part of Daunt’s goal to create “bookstores with a genuine local personality.”

While Daunt acknowledged that many of these staff positions would be at or close to minimum wage, he said the company is in the process of changing its employment structure for its stores. Formerly, a Barnes & Noble store would have a number of minimum-wage workers, then a large step up in pay for the few who became managers or assistant managers. The new structure adds rungs on the ladder — senior bookseller, lead bookseller, expert bookseller — with higher pay at each step, to allow “young people to embark on and sustain careers in bookselling,” he said. This would mean, in all likelihood, fewer employees per store, but more of them full-time and better-paid.

. . . .

The reverberations of a new, sizable chain bookstore are felt not only by potential customers, but by local booksellers, particularly the few currently on the Eastside. Daunt says he makes a point of not opening new Barnes & Noble stores in neighborhoods already served by independent stores — “I celebrate the opening of independents as much as I do our stores, and we would never go into direct competition,” he said. But while no local indies are in the immediate vicinity of the Totem Lake location, two are a short distance away: BookTree in Kirkland and Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond, about 4 and 5 miles away, respectively.

“I am hoping of course that the impact on BookTree’s sales will be minimal but there’s really no way of knowing,” owner Chris Jarmick said. “I am a little worried that we might not see as many first-time customers looking for a bookstore, and that could impact how many new loyal customers we add to our BookTree family. … It’s important people are aware how fragile a small business truly is and will continue to support BookTree.”

Dan Ullom, an owner of Brick & Mortar, expressed optimism. “Another bookstore opening in the region is a positive, a rising tide that elevates all ships,” he said. “Our hope is that their opening inspires more people to become readers and inspires current readers to read more.”

Link to the rest at the Seattle Times

Perhaps PG was in a cynical mood, but there seemed to be a lot of happy talk and not much journalistic skepticism in the OP. It’s great to add more minimum wage jobs to Kirkland, a city where, per Zillow, the average home price is $934,710.00.

Per DollarTimes, to afford a house that costs $930,000 with a down payment of $186,000, you’d need to earn $138,769 per year before tax. The monthly mortgage payment would be $3,238.

“Daunt acknowledged that many of these staff positions would be at or close to minimum wage”.

The state of Washington has a state minimum wage of $13.69 per hour, well above the federal minimum wage. Assuming that, unlike many bookstore employees who are only part time, let’s assume that Mr. Daunt’s new Kirkland store pays a full-time employee the Washington minimum hourly wage.

Per the Washington State Tax Calculator, this results in a semi-monthly take-home pay of $984 or a monthly take-home pay of $1968 (It’s common to calculate a month’s pay based on four 40-hour work-weeks, but, as everybody knows, every month but February has a few additional days beyond 28.)

This would result in a total annual take-home pay of $23,616 for a minimum-wage employee at Barnes & Noble’s Kirkland store.

One might conclude that nobody who starts working at this new Barnes & Noble store when it opens will ever be able to afford to buy a home in Kirkland absent a spouse/partner who earns way, way more than Barnes & Noble pays or wealthy close relatives who die and leave a substantial inheritance.

Per glassdoor.com, a Barnes & Noble store manager (only one of these per store and they had to spend several years working their way up) earns an average base pay of $73,528 plus an average bonus of $6,798 for a total annual income of $80,326, still not nearly enough to buy a house in Kirkland.

PG is not an expert on Kirkland, but understands it’s a pleasant Seattle suburb, but doesn’t recall ever hearing it included in a description of up-scale suburbs. He’s happy to be corrected in any misconceptions he has about Kirkland by those with more knowledge than he has.

Black Bookstore Owners On Business One Year Later

From National Public Radio:

On the day George Floyd was murdered — Monday, May 25, 2020 — there weren’t any books exclusively tackling white privilege, anti-Blackness, or policing on the New York Times’ Best Sellers list. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo was the only book to break through the week of May 31, but by June 21, almost 70% of the Times’ Best Seller list confronted race.

With the sale of print books rising just over 8% and all unit sales of books surpassing 750 million, Black bookstores would play an integral role in feeding the nation’s “sudden” appetite in the plight of Black people.

Black bookstore owners like VaLinda Miller of Turning Page Bookshop in Goose Creek, S.C., can attest to the book boom.

“It was crazy and extremely overwhelming. And I had to hire some more staff members just to mail out the books,” Miller says. From June through August, Miller says they “were getting [anywhere] from 100 to 200 to 300 orders a day.”

. . . .

Even though anti-Blackness is an indiscriminate system that pays little attention to borders, Miller was especially shocked by the international shipping addresses.

“About 70% of my customers were from the United States… [but] I was surprised I got so many people from Brazil and Venezuela and so many other foreign countries,” Miller says.

She called the surge “unbelievable,” and that word resonates twofold for Miller, who had to close her first bookstore, The BookSmith, after only a few years when “people weren’t interested” in what she had to offer.”

After Miller reopened in June of 2019, she learned from this and took on a different approach when engaging this past summer’s burgeoning readers. She prodded customers to buy a book from their favorite genre in addition to the book on race that they were solemnly after. Miller vividly recounts an instance where an elderly white man entered her store looking for White Fragility.

“He said ‘My wife told me to come in here and buy a book by a Black author so I can support a Black-owned bookstore,’ ” Miller says. Her store is the only Black-owned, brick-and-mortar bookstore in the state.

“I want you to support my store,” she remembers saying, “but if you’re going to buy this book, especially considering what’s going on, I need you to also buy another book because I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to take this book home, put it down, and read the other book,” Miller says.

A few months later, this same gentleman stopped by Turning Page Bookstore to confess that he did exactly that.

. . . .

While print book sales are still surging, the Black bookstore owners who spoke to NPR say sales are down for them when compared to last summer, when they were handling 100-300 orders per day. Some of the books purchased at the apex of last summer’s protests were never finished. And there are no longer legions of protesters marching for accountability for consecutive days, despite their personal feelings toward the Black Lives Matter global network.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

Booksellers to CDC: In My Store, You Mask Up

From Publishers Weekly:

Many independent bookstore owners and managers across the country view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s loosening of mask guidelines for vaccinated people as a failure of public policy, according to a recent informal survey by PW. Of the 31 booksellers we spoke with, 47% said the guidelines—which advise that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most settings—are unclear and unhelpful, while another 33% said the announcement makes no difference for their bookstore’s operations. Only one in five respondents reported finding the guidelines useful. Two-thirds say they will continue to require masks in their stores.

For Nicole Sullivan at BookBar in Denver, the announcement was a frustrating disruption to her store’s careful planning. “We were unprepared for this, so we scrambled to come up with policies and messaging,” she said. BookBar will continue to require masks indoors, until “the U.S. vaccination rate is at 70% and vaccines have been approved for children under 12 years of age.” As of the third week of May, Colorado’s vaccination rate was just shy of 42%.

Other booksellers cited vaccine distribution disparities as a major factor in their decision to continue to require masks. Chris Abouzeid, co-owner of Belmont Books in Belmont, Mass., called the guidance “overly broad.” His store is in a county that was pummeled by the virus, and, he said, “the safety of all our employees and customers remains our top priority. We will continue to require masks at all times in the store until we can be sure that either everyone is vaccinated or the risk of infection has been reduced enough to no longer be a concern.”

Kenny Brechner, owner of Devaney, Doak, and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, said he deeply resents the guidance. “I will be continuing to require masks because the safety of unvaccinated children and immunocompromised customers is a paramount concern,” he noted. “Losing the business of people who do not respect that is a cost I would rather pay than the alternative.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

As background, PG and Mrs. PG were vaccinated for COVID at the first opportunity. They have also abided by government mask mandates and retail establishment mask signs every place they have gone.

That said, in the PGs’ local environs, government guidance has made masks optional in a great many (but not all) public places and PG and Mrs. PG have enjoyed going out and about without masks. By unscientific recent observations of the numbers of people in various commercial establishments, it appears to PG that a lot of other people enjoy going into public places without masks.

If PG was thinking about going into a local bookstore and saw a sign that required him to wear a mask, there’s a good chance he would choose to go somewhere else.

PG thinks that retailers are foolish to require prospective customers to wear masks when those who understand a great deal more about virus dangers and are in a position to mandate or not mandate masks believe it is safe for retailers to operate without masked customers. By this, PG is not saying that any squeamish retailer or retail employee who wishes to wear a mask should not be free to do so.

For some, mask-wearing has seemingly evolved from a common-sense, simple and temporary public health practice into some sort of bizarre virtue-signaling behavior.

But PG could be wrong.

Why Bookshop.org is not the saviour the book world needs

From NewStatesman:

When Bookshop.org arrived in the UK on 2 November [2020], the announcement was met by a huge amount of public enthusiasm from bookshops, publishers, authors, literary critics and readers alike. “This is revolutionary”, read a Guardian headline, while authors including Margaret Atwood, Richard Osman and Caitlin Moran directed their Twitter followers to purchase their latest books from the site. For many, it was a welcome initiative – finally, it seemed, here was an efficient, competitively priced platform dedicated to supporting independent bookshops.

But a number of high street booksellers and independent publishers are increasingly sceptical of Bookshop.org. “What sticks in the throat is that it seems not remotely to be what it purports to be,” said James Daunt, founder of the independent book chain Daunt Books and managing director of high street bookseller Waterstones. “But they do just enough for it to appear credible and it’s a really nice story: who doesn’t love an anti-Amazon story?”

Tamsin Rosewell, a bookseller at Kenilworth Books, Warwickshire, said Bookshop.org “crashed in like a juggernaut, and seems to be attempting to homogenise all indie bookshops into one online presence”. Its launch, she said, was “arrogant and clumsy”.

Bookshop.org, which launched in the US in early 2020, is “an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops”, its website states.

. . . .

Bookshop.org works by enabling independent bookshops to create their own virtual shopfronts on their site. Bookshops receive 30 per cent of a book’s cover price for each sale made through their shopfront. If a customer buys a book without going through a specific shop, 10 per cent of that book’s cover price is put into a central pot split among all participating shops. The books are sourced and shipped by Gardners, the UK’s largest book wholesaler. Titles are offered at a small discount – 7 per cent, typically still more expensive than Amazon – and are delivered within two to three days.

. . . .

But Bookshop.org’s arrival has caused great unease in parts of the book trade. After a difficult year for the industry, with many small presses and independent shops at risk of closure due to the pressures of the pandemic, many told me Bookshop.org is far from the saviour they need. Bookshops earn less through sales on Bookshop.org than they would from selling their books direct to customers, and booksellers fear the site, rather than competing with Amazon, is diverting shoppers away from the high street.

. . . .

First, the finances. One independent bookseller, who asked not to be named, told me: “We’re losing out substantially.” For every book sold via Bookshop.org, they explained, their shop makes 13-20 per cent less than if the customer had bought the same book, at the same cover price directly from the shop. “Bookshops would usually take between 43 and 50 per cent on a book,” they said. The 30 per cent an independent shop receives from each Bookshop.org sale has been described widely as a “full profit margin”. This, the website’s CEO, Andy Hunter, explained, is the money left after the 7 per cent customer discount, payments to the publisher, wholesaler and payment processor, and the 4 per cent Bookshop.org takes. But the anonymous bookseller claimed the phrase is “misleading”.

Jules Button, owner of Woodbridge Emporium bookshop in Suffolk, agrees. She said customers had ordered books from Bookshop.org thinking they were buying direct from her, unknowingly leaving Woodbridge Emporium to miss out on 13-20 per cent of the takings. “The general public genuinely think they are helping independent bookshops,” said Button. “I don’t think a lot of them realise it’s just another big warehouse and it’s a fulfilment service.”

The numbers don’t work in favour of publishers either. The publishing director of a small independent press, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that when Bookshop.org launched, they felt under pressure from the wider industry to open a page on the site because it seemed every other shop and publisher was – they didn’t want to be left behind. Amazon buys the publisher’s books at 40 per cent of the cover price. But to sell books via Bookshop.org the publisher must go via wholesaler Gardners, with which it already has an agreement of a 55 per cent discount, alongside extra costs like commissions to sales representatives and distribution fees. The director said that, with all these costs included, they sell books to Bookshop.org at around 35 per cent of the cover price: for every book sold on Bookshop.org, they earn 5 per cent less than if they had sold that book on Amazon, the very company Bookshop.org claims to be “fairer” than.

These concerns are keenly felt in a letter sent by a bookseller, drawing on “messages from fellow booksellers”, to industry trade group the Booksellers Association (BA). The letter, seen by the New Statesman, calls Bookshop.org’s launch marketing “aggressive”, describes the “discontent” among booksellers and publishers as growing “increasingly bitter”, and outlines a list of queries about the running of Bookshop.org, questioning the BA’s “very fast” and “forceful” endorsement of the site.

The biggest fear among those I spoke to is that Bookshop.org is not denting Amazon’s sales, but that it is instead attracting customers who usually shop on the high street – whether at a chain such as Waterstones, Blackwells or Foyles, or at an independent.

“My feeling is they’re preaching to the converted,” said author and artist Karin Celestine. She said that when she posted news of her latest book on social media, encouraging potential readers to buy it via their local bookshop, she was met with a flurry of support instead for Bookshop.org – from “people who were already shopping at their local bookshops”.

“To be comfortable about what Bookshop.org is doing,” Tamsin Rosewell said, “and the way it is marketing itself as an ethical alternative to Amazon, I’d like to see detailed, unambiguous data that shows it creating a movement of sales away from Amazon. If it can’t show that data, then in effect all it is doing is driving online many of the sales that would have come to the high street, to indies and to Waterstones, at a time when the high street economy most needs that trade.”

Link to the rest at NewStatesman

PG notes that Bookshop.org, despite the non-profit .org extension, is effectively a front for Ingram in the United States, where Bookshop.org started.

Ingram is a huge printer/book fulfillment organization that is very dedicated to earning a lot of money for its owners. The address to which patrons of Bookshop.org return any books for a refund (at least in the US) is Bookshop LLC, Ingram Customer Returns Center, 1210 Ingram Drive, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Ingram is a large privately-held corporation (no public disclosures about the business are required) whose announced managers tend to be named Ingram and regularly show up on lists of US billionaires. The company has two major lines of business, Ingram Content, which is the book side of the business, and Ingram Marine, which operates 5,000 barges and 150 towboats on America’s inland waterways.

PG tends to think of Ingram as Barges and Books.

Linking up with Gardners, the UK’s largest book wholesaler, would be natural for Ingram because the two companies already know each other well.

The entire business plan of Bookshop.org is to be the anti-Amazon. The marketing messages position Bookshop.org as the online face of your charming local bookshop owner. However, as the OP discloses, Bookshop.org is more about Ingram and Gardners than about anyone’s local bookstore.

Bookshop.org urges industry to back indies with links in Independent Bookshop Week

From The Bookseller:

Online indie retailer Bookshop.org is calling for publishers and authors to link to independent bookshops and its own site for the duration of Independent Bookshop Week (IBW).

Running from 19th to 26th June and sponsored by Hachette UK, IBW is an annual celebration of independent bookshops run by the Booksellers Association. It seeks to highlight and support the bookselling community and is part of the Books are My Bag Campaign.

Bookshop.org provides booksellers on the platform with two revenue streams, including 30% commission earned on sales that come through the store’s links, book lists or shop page, and a 10% cut on all other sales on the platform. The company is planning to increase this second shared pool, which is divided equally among all participating bookshops, to 20% for the duration of IBW.

The platform hopes this will encourage non-bookshop affiliates of all types to take the pledge and add at least one link to all their social media posts including Bookshop.org or indie bookshops directly.

Jasper Sutcliffe, publisher and affiliate manager at Bookshop UK, said: “During Independent Bookshop Week, we are keen to show our support for indies even more. Not only will our initiative allow independent booksellers to increase their revenue during the week, but we’re also hoping to raise awareness on the issue of book links. When a publisher or an author connects a reader to Bookshop.org, Blackwell’s or another independent bookshop, a link becomes more than a link. It supports the cultural ecosystem and ensures online purchases support independent bookshops. Our hope is that the publishing industry will pledge to link to indies and Bookshop.org for the whole of IBW, and beyond.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

The Synergy Between Bookselling and Writing

From Publishers Weekly:

There was a time when I viewed working in a bookstore as just a good side job. I started working in a bookstore at the now-defunct BookCourt in Brooklyn. It had its perks: it was within walking distance from my apartment, there was a Starbucks next door, and it was the sort of work that made me feel smart. I was in my mid-20s, often drifting around to different jobs. Bookseller was a job right out of a 1990s rom-com: smart, hip, discerning.

But it wasn’t long before I realized that there is a lot more soul to bookselling than there is to your standard retail gig. People approached me with deep longings, casual impulses, a need for a particular distraction, and then they would seek counsel: “I’m going to the beach with a bunch of lit snobs, can you find me something that’s fun but also well written?”; “I’m travelling to Turkey, do you have any novels set in Istanbul?”; “I just broke up with my partner, and I need a good cry.”

And so on. I felt less like a retail worker and more like a bartender, or perhaps a fortune-teller. The store regularly held reading events that included free wine handed out in little plastic cocktail cups, so sometimes I even played actual bartender.

Maybe it was the wood shelves, or the old, lumpy couches inviting people to sit and sample the wares. Maybe it was all that paper absorbing the noise, maximizing coziness. Maybe it was the free wine. But as time wore on, those four walls felt less like a store and more like a warm communal hall. As an employee, I gave customers my time, attention, and advice—but astoundingly, I found they also gave the same back to me.

Julia, an author who ran the local Sackett Street Writers Workshop and hosted readings at our store, gave me discounts on classes and later blurbed my novel. Emma, once a coworker and now a bestselling author with her own wonderful store, Books Are Magic, gave me writing tips and recommendation letters. Tim, a local environmental lawyer and fixture at all the store’s reading events, personally helped my husband and I move into our first apartment together in Queens.

Now we live in Long Island, and I work at Sag Harbor Books. Covid is in full swing; we’re not allowed to gather for readings like we used to, but the feeling of community is still strong. People still approach, now in masks, and ask for counsel, their questions similar to, and different from, what they were before: “I haven’t been able to read much since the pandemic started, do you have something that will soothe me?”; “I know it makes no sense, but I can’t get enough of apocalypse stories. What can you recommend?”; “My kids are bouncing off the walls from being stuck inside, do you have anything that will hold their attention?”

And then there are the people who walk into the store with no questions, just hushed awe. They look around with tears brimming in their eyes and say, “It’s been so long since I’ve been in a bookstore.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Outcry over book ‘censorship’ reveals how online retailers choose books — or don’t

From The Washington Post:

Crying “Censorship!” has become the right’s favorite book marketing technique.

Roger Kimball, president of Encounter Books, is the latest publisher to hawk his wares this way in the Wall Street Journal. Last week, on the op-ed page, Kimball complained that Amazon had stopped selling “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” by social conservative Ryan T. Anderson. Kimball called the move “a deliberate act of censorship” — presumably to placate critics who call the book transphobic. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Kimball went on to note that “When Harry Became Sally” has also been dropped by Bookshop.org, the indie alternative to Amazon. Far from providing an alternative, “Bookshop,” he claimed, “turns out to be little more than another minion for the Emperor of Wokeness.”

That’s silly, but one point Kimball made draws blood: How can Bookshop defend removing this 2018 book that offends liberal sensibilities while continuing to offer about 20 different editions of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”?

Bookshop did not respond to a request for comment. But the reason you can buy the Führer’s memoir from a woke online bookseller says a lot about how Web-based merchants function and how they’re changing our relationship to retailers.

Consider that your local indie bookstore contains titles that have been carefully curated according to how much physical space is available, which books the managers consider worthy and what they anticipate customers will want to buy.

The World Wide Web is a different world. Large online book retailers are essentially search engines. They populate their sites by automatically sucking up inventory data from vast wholesalers, such as Ingram, so that they can, in effect, offer every book that exists. In the 1990s, that was part of Amazon’s great innovation, which allowed it to be the World’s Largest Bookstore, despite the fact that it began in Bezos’s garage.

But the convenience of having more than 10 million titles at our fingertips fundamentally changes retailers’ function in ways people don’t often acknowledge or readily understand. There is, it turns out, a price for that infinite inventory. Unlike the cozy bookstore in your town, online booksellers don’t choose each book they’re offering. The role of curator — if it exists at all — has effectively been passed from seller to customer.

Under this system, if a title attracts sufficiently convincing and public objections, that title is taken down from the website. I saw this process firsthand in 2019 when I asked Barnes & Noble why it was selling David Icke’s antisemitic book “The Trigger.” B&N blamed “an independent publishing distributor,” and the book vanished. Earlier this year, I asked Walmart why it was offering the racist “Turner Diaries” on its website; I never got an answer, but the title stopped showing up.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone at Barnes & Noble or Walmart ever looked at these bizarre and hateful books and decided, “Yes, I think our white supremacist customers will love this!” Instead, these books were simply swept up in the retailing equivalent of bottom trawling that drags a net across the ocean floor, catching cod and shrimp along with old barrels of toxic waste.

This feels like a problematic way to curate literature. I don’t want to read antisemitic, racist or transphobic books, but I also don’t want the marketplace of available titles to be shaped by my own or other customers’ objections. If these massive book retailers aren’t really choosing which books to sell except in rare occasions when a few titles are excluded — then perhaps they’ve relinquished their editorial control and become merely administrators of public space, in which case the public may have the right to make certain demands on them.

. . . .

[Justice Clarence Thomas] went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

He went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

Thomas wrote, “There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner.”

If that’s true — or if the court later decides it’s true — large online booksellers could find themselves in a very different universe. At the moment, Amazon, Bookshop and others are playing two different characters simultaneously: They essentially function as common carriers, offering everything their wholesale databases and distributors can supply. But when a particular book attracts negative attention and offends public sensitivities, these same booksellers act as private businesses and remove that title. The time may be approaching when that clever maneuver is no longer tenable.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG wonders who exactly decided that book curators were necessary or desirable.

He suggests that “book curation” was and is, more or less, a marketing slogan designed to attract potential purchasers who want to elevate themselves above the hoi polloi who don’t see any particular virtue in a self-appointed tastemaker deciding what they will or won’t be permitted to ready.

For those outside the US, the reference to a “common carrier” is a US legal term that describes is a person or company that transports goods or people for any person or company.

Per Wikipedia:

A common carrier (also called a public carrier in British English) is distinguished from a contract carrier, which is a carrier that transports goods for only a certain number of clients and that can refuse to transport goods for anyone else, and from a private carrier. A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator’s quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public’s interest) for the “public convenience and necessity.” A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is “fit, willing, and able” to provide those services for which it is granted authority. Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules, and rate tables upon the approval of regulators. Public airlines, railroads, bus lines, taxicab companies, phone companies, internet service providers,[4] cruise ships, motor carriers (i.e., canal operating companies, trucking companies), and other freight companies generally operate as common carriers.

An important legal requirement for common carrier as public provider is that it cannot discriminate, that is refuse the service unless there is some compelling reason. 

(per Wikipedia)

Generally common carriers have a competitive advantage over private carriers because they are cost-effective and convenient. Common carriers typically offer standard or quite similar terms and conditions and often compete on pricing.

In many cases, common carriers are regulated by law in various ways to provide a more predictable and reliable service to shippers as opposed to a private carrier which may not be operate according to industry standard terms and expectations.

Back to bookstores, PG tends to prefer a store that is likely to have a book that he desires, regardless of whether the book PG desires is part of the book mainstream or not. For that reason, if Amazon starts to delist a wider range of books because one or more pressure groups find objectionable, PG will begin to look elsewhere on a regular basis rather than wasting his time on a site that is not a reliable purveyor of books he likes.

Additionally, rallying groups of people to demand book banning can definitely go more than one way. People with a wide variety of beliefs and opinions are fully capable to organizing themselves online to bring pressure on Amazon or any other vendor that has shown it will respond to pressure to delist this or that book.

No logo?

From The Bookseller:

There’s definitely a thing about birds and publishing houses. Not just in the UK, but all around the world. 

Off the top of my head, I could name dozens of publishers who have gone for birds for their logo. Perhaps for obvious reasons – wings can look like book pages, and the ability to fly evokes what we do when we read – many publishers have chosen a feathered creature. 

Forty years ago, when they founded Edizioni E/O (Europa UK’s Italian sister house), my parents picked the stork. There is no particular love for birds in my household as far as I can tell, but the stork is a migrating bird which, in the collective imagination, carries something in its beak (usually a newborn). The stork migrates from east to west, and that’s precisely what E/O stands for, est/ovest (east/west), because, at the time the name of company was chosen, it focused on bringing the very best of Eastern European literature westward, to Italy. 

This bird with its elegant long legs seemed made to grace a book spine. And that’s exactly where you find it on our Italian editions, while the front cover carries only the company’s full name.  

Our stork grew restless and ambitious, and eventually, following the dictates of its nature, migrated again, further west, from Italy to New York, where we established Europa US, and then flew back east to the UK, landing on the front cover of our English editions. As a matter of fact, our stork keeps migrating every which way: altogether we publish authors from around 70 countries, motivated by the deeply rooted belief that literature can and must travel far. 

The reason I’m telling the story of our stork is that there’s also a thing about publishers’ logos appearing – or not – on book covers. Apart from a few exceptions (notably Penguin and Faber), few UK publishers persist in this practice.  There are several sensible reasons for this – to leave enough space for quotes, to stress the author’s importance, to ensure a tidy look, and, ultimately, to convey that every book is unique and should be published to reflect this.

Also, most imprints have over time lost their original identity, adopting an approach which is both more general and more eclectic. So, books are often purposely aesthetically undistinguishable from one another, and branding is an insider game, something that happens within the trade, as a way to communicate publishing and acquisition strategies to fellow publishing professionals.

It would seem that a logo on the front cover is a privilege accorded only to prestigious publishers with a long history: because unless a publisher is renowned among readers, what is the point of having a logo that only a few would be able to recognize?

. . . .

Europa is a UK company founded by and staffed with cosmopolitan people. In continental Europe, where some of us are from, all publishers, from the biggest corporate conglomerates to the tiniest independent houses, from academic to trade to children’s publishers, put their logos on book jackets. It’s always been a straightforward way to communicate to readers that behind every single book there is a unifying editorial vision (in Italy we call it “il progetto”, the project). A way to tell readers that just as every author and every book is unique, every publisher is also unique and follow its own taste and ethos. All tools that can help readers make informed choices. 

In Italy, one can often overhear readers saying things like “I can’t wait to head to the bookshop for the Adelphi promo”, or, “I just adore Sellerio”, and, “I think Feltrinelli have the best books”.  The same is true of readers in France, Germany, Spain and in other countries. When browsing in a bookshop, the publishing house becomes one of the basic criteria for their purchases. The fact that, in addition to having their logo on the cover, publishers almost invariably adopt a coherent overall design policy, makes this process even more radical. In Italian bookshops, books are frequently grouped by publisher, not just on display tables, but on the shelves too. Vertical displays of a publishers’ backlist often provide readers with an overview, a sense of how a list is curated, and ultimately why it exists. Seeing a whole wall covered with titles by a single publisher or imprint focuses attention on “the project”, helping readers discover new authors.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Although PG loves Italy and many of the Italians he has met, he thinks the OP is vastly over-emphasizing the weight most book purchasers place on the publisher of a book which they may find interesting. Or not.

PG admits he may be projecting since he virtually never pays attention to the identity of the publisher when making a book purchase and couldn’t tell you the name of the publisher of any book he has read either recently or in ancient times.

The OP also assumes, like many others before it, that most people are buying/will buy most of their books from physical bookstores.

Amazon Is the Target of Small-Business Antitrust Campaign

From The Wall Street Journal:

Merchant groups are forming a national coalition to campaign for stricter antitrust laws, including measures they hope could force Amazon.com Inc. to spin off some of its business lines.

The effort is being launched Tuesday by trade groups that represent small hardware stores, office suppliers, booksellers, grocers and others, along with business groups from 12 cities, organizers say. Merchants plan to push their congressional representatives for stricter antitrust laws and tougher enforcement of existing ones.

The groups, which collectively represent thousands of businesses, want federal legislation that would prevent the owner of a dominant online marketplace from selling its own products in competition with other sellers, a policy that could effectively separate Amazon’s retail product business from its online marketplace.

Members of the House Antitrust Subcommittee are considering legislation along those lines as they weigh changes to U.S. antitrust law, though no bill has yet been introduced.

The merchant groups also want tougher enforcement of competition laws and legal changes that would make it easier for the government to win antitrust lawsuits against big companies.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company’s critics “are suggesting misguided interventions in the free market that would kill off independent retailers and punish consumers by forcing small businesses out of popular online stores, raising prices, and reducing consumer choice and convenience.”

“Amazon and third-party sellers complement each other, and sellers having the opportunity to sell right alongside a retailer’s products is the very competition that most benefits consumers and has made the marketplace model so successful for third-party sellers,” the spokesperson added.

Members of the coalition, dubbed Small Business Rising, include the National Grocers Association, the American Booksellers Association and the Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding.

They aim to capitalize on local business owners’ connections to their hometowns by meeting with members of Congress and staff, writing letters, seeking coverage in local media, and other efforts.

“Those stories are powerful and are motivating for lawmakers,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy group that has previously partnered with unions and others to oppose what it views as excessive corporate power and spearheaded the campaign. “It’s a real business that is really going to go under with a real community that is going to suffer as a result.”

. . . .

The business owners come from different industries, but competition from Amazon is a common thread.

Doug Mrdeza, a Michigan-based merchant on Amazon’s marketplace, said he laid off close to 40 employees in late 2019 after Amazon raised his fees and struck deals with some of his suppliers to sell products itself, cutting him out of the supply chain.

David Guernsey, chief executive of Virginia-based office supplier Guernsey Inc., says government agencies are buying more on Amazon’s site, but he is wary of selling there because it would mean giving Amazon access to data on his prices, transactions and customers.

“I’ve never had a competitor that had that kind of insight to my business,” he said.

. . . .

Allison Hill, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, said some of the group’s roughly 1,800 independent bookstores have started “sleeping with the enemy”—selling on Amazon’s marketplace—to survive.

“If a company was operating that marketplace and was not your competitor, they would be offering very different support and services,” she said.

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

So what does the American Booksellers Association want its members to do – survive or die? Trying to force someone to come to your store by denying them their preferred way of purchasing books is a loser’s game.

Clamp down on Amazon, force its book prices up and you’ll see a zillion mini-Amazons springing up online, following the same recipe that made Jeff Bezos rich.

Every day, those who purchase books and everything else vote for their favorite way of purchasing goods and services. There is no standard method consumers use in making this decision that can be captured by a single style of retailer.

If PG runs out of milk at 10:00 AM, he’ll probably put together a list of other things Mrs. PG tells him he should purchase and make a grocery run at a convenient time (which he selects based on his own personal calculations and preferences and what’s happening that day) and pick up milk and a number of other items.

If PG runs out of milk at 10:00 PM, he’ll think about waiting til morning, but he’ll probably take a trip to the closest place to buy milk, purchase that and whatever candy catches his eye at the checkout counter, and get home a few minutes after he left.

Is PG going to buy milk from Amazon? He might if 1. the price was good, 2. He could get it delivered within a reasonable period of time and 3. Amazon provided some means of keeping 8 gallons of milk cold until PG used it all because there is not enough room in PG’s fridge to hold that much milk.

PG doubts that Amazon is going to try to sell him milk any time soon.

Amazon is succeeding because consumers are voting with their dollars. PG suspects that 99.9% of those who purchase books through Amazon know that there is such a thing as a physical bookstore, so knowledge of alternative ways to purchase books is widespread. They still choose Amazon.

Action to impair Amazon’s ability to sell books the way it does so successfully impacts people across the country, including:

  1. Those who live twenty miles (or more, sometimes much more) away from the nearest bookstore.
  2. Those for whom the closest bookstore is a hellhole that’s run by a nasty old man who smells like cheap cigars and doesn’t stock any books for women other than Harlequin Romances (nothing specifically against Harlequin – some intelligent people who read a lot like Harlequin, but others don’t.). The old man leers at women who buy romances (or anything else) as they wait for him to count out their change. Some women use a disposable wipe to clean their hands and their change after they get out of the store.
  3. Those who like to buy and read hardcopy books, but are on a limited budget.
  4. Those readers whose interests Barnes & Noble and its New York purchasing department don’t understand.
  5. Those who like to read books by indie authors and indie presses.
  6. Those who prefer ebooks and barfed the last time they picked up a Nook.
  7. Those who really enjoy Amazon’s ability to suggest other books they might like to read. (PS: Amazon is much, much, much better at this than any bookstore clerk anywhere with whom PG has held a conversation about book recommendations. Traditional bookstores and their low-paid employees (regardless of how pleasant they may be) are quite crude tools for book discovery compared to the Zon. The farther your tastes stray from the NYT bestseller list, the worse they are.)

Bookstore owner suing Amazon over alleged price-fixing scheme that makes it impossible for other retailers to compete

From The Chicago Sun Times:

An Evanston bookstore owner wants to take on Amazon.

Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends and Beginnings, signed on as the named plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed last week that accuses Amazon of orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with the nation’s leading book publishers that makes it impossible for other retailers to beat their prices.

According to the suit, contracts that Amazon has with the nation’s “Big Five” publishers — Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster — block the publishers from giving other retailers better prices.

“I, along with most independent bookstore owners in America, feel incredibly frustrated because we’ve seen that the playing field is not level,” Barrett told the Sun-Times. “We have to talk to our customers all the time about why we can’t match Amazon’s pricing.”

. . . .

The suit, which was filed in New York, seeks to include all booksellers that bought books from the Big Five after March 25, 2017. It seeks damages and an injunction on the “anti-competitive” practice.

“It’s been very frustrating to watch the growth of Amazon and think, ‘Me, just little old me by myself, I can’t stop this, but I can see that it’s unfair,’” Barrett said.

. . . .

Attorney Eamon Kelly, who lives in Evanston and regularly shops for biographies at Barrett’s store, pitched Barrett to his fellow attorneys and then pitched Barrett, who said she “jumped on the idea.”

Barrett’s shop, with its alleyway entrance, is “a magical place to look at books,” Kelly said.

Barrett, 60, opened her bookstore in 2014.

The financial pain felt by her bookstore due to Amazon’s pricing is real, Barrett said, and would have been more acute during the pandemic if not for an online fundraising campaign that raised nearly $50,000, money her business received through the Paycheck Protection Program and the fact that a Barnes and Noble about a block from her store closed last year, funneling more customers her way.

She called Amazon a “juggernaut” and a “bully.”

“We think that being a place matters, that the browsing experience matters,” she said.

“We get up and battle and fight every day to make our business model work, and we do it out of passion. But no one of us would ever have the power to be able to take on Amazon,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Sun Times

The OP makes Ms. Barrett and her bookstore seem quite nice. PG is very familiar with Evanston and can report that it’s a pleasant tree-filled upscale university town on the shores of Lake Michigan filled with lots of people who have plenty of disposable income. If any location could support a traditional bookstore these days, Evanston could.

The OP didn’t mention whether Ms. Barrett buys the books she sells through a wholesaler like Ingram or not. At least some of Ms. Barrett’s cost of goods can be attributed to Ingram’s markup and shipping fees.

There are a lot of good attorneys in Chicago, although PG is not acquainted with any of the attorneys or firms named in the OP. If they’re not already familiar with the strange and expensive supply chain used by major publishers to get books to retail bookstores, they will certainly become familiar with it soon.

That said, regardless of how much some people think traditional bookstores “matter”, that doesn’t mean they will necessarily continue to be financially viable or have any sort of “right” to be viable.

All sorts of business that were common in PG’s youth are non-existent or effectively non-existent these days. More than a few businesses that have closed their doors during the Time of Covid are not going to reopen.

Perhaps the closure of the Barnes & Noble near Ms. Barrett’s bookstore was indicative that it had problems with a business model quite similar to the model Ms. Barrett is fighting to make work in her store.

For the Relief of Unbearable Bookstores

From The Millions:

I’ve reached the point in life where my relationship with bookstores is—how to put this?—well, it’s complicated. I love the idea of bookstores. I smile when I see their bright windows on a block. I talk about a new bookshop like normal people talk about newborns. And after the global pandemic loosens its grip on New York, I know one of the first things I’ll do is visit a bookstore in my neighborhood. In my imagination, this means spending a long lazy afternoon browsing shelves and flipping the pages of dozens of new books. There’s just one problem: I long ago ceased to enjoy bookstores. Even before the pandemic, I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes inside one without wanting to leave; no, without wanting to flee, shoulders hunched, like a child caught trespassing.

I once burned for bookstores. And not just because I thought the right books made me look smart, either. This was a love affair that began before I knew pretension. The very first bookstore that I loved as a boy was a mall bookstore. Its name, Abbey Road Books, made no sense to me because it was located on Gull Road, not Abbey Road. The mall would be gone long before I got the Beatles reference.

Abbey Road Books was not large but it was big enough for a guileless boy: a rack near the cash register held comic books. A half dozen long rows running front to back offered popular paperbacks and—I assume—serious literary fiction. I never really looked. I was too busy with the Garfield collections, the Dragonriders of Pern fantasies or the sci-fi pulp. This was where I found my first favorite novel, Laura J. Mixon’Astro Pilots, a YA book about a teenager whose revenge on a bully is complicated by the temporal effect of traveling at light speed. Pure nerd bliss.

Years of browsing and buying books freely has produced what you would expect: my home is a book orphanage, and the unread books are almost as numerous as the read ones. Based on a recent roll call, a quarter of the books on the shelves are critically praised titles I have not yet read. Let the Great World SpinWhite TeethThe Wings of the Dove.

In the pre-pandemic era, there were six book shops within the lunchtime walking radius of my office near Union Square. The Strand, Alabaster Books, Three Lives, McNally Jackson, Housingworks, and Barnes & Noble. All of the shops except Alabaster (which was smaller than a studio apartment) had display tables at the store entrance. The intention of a bookstore display table is noble; the effect is, for me, pernicious. From the get go, I am reminded of how many unread books exist and how many new unread books are added to that list daily. All the tables and all the books take on an undifferentiated, daunting sheen. You can judge a book by its cover but what you’re judging is sometimes hard to say. To Keep the Sun AliveHouse of Stone? Great book covers, lovely fonts, and crackerjack titles; how do you pick between them? The blurb on every other book promises it is “Like nothing you’ve read before.” Or “More knife than novel.” I want to read the work of this “rising star of Arab fiction,” but I also want to read a dozen others, and in the end, overwhelmed by choice, I choose to flee.

. . . .

The global Covid pandemic put an abrupt end to this ongoing bookstore angst, for a time. Overnight, bookstores became more theoretical than real. I shifted to curbside pick up for drinks and dinners, and I pivoted to ordering books over the phone from local stores. The first time that I picked up a book purchase curbside was in the Early Covid Era, and I doused all the brand new books with rubbing alcohol before I stowed them in the trunk for a three-day quarantine. Just to be safe. By summer, I was less anxious about touching books; at a pick-up window for a bookstore in Connecticut, I waited while inside a bookstore employee searched for the title I wanted among all the books in their cells. One day, I thought, one day we’ll all be able to go inside again. Won’t that be something?

I want to believe that everything will be different when we turn life back on. I want to believe a year apart from bookstores has changed me. I want to believe I have re-learned how to be casual, how to relax, how to bathe in the bliss of booksellers. I want to believe. But here’s the truth: rather than rewire me for patience, a year at home has probably made me even less able to downshift and enjoy a bookstore properly. I spend more hours than ever each day digging into the larder of my smartphone for the fatty byproducts of the Internet. Social distancing for months has increased the hours spent as a parent mediating fights, insisting on chores, refereeing screen time. Given my jumpy, angsty, barely-nuanced attention span, does anyone really think I’m capable of slipping with ease into the heady trance that is necessary to enjoy an afternoon among books?

. . . .

The unforgivable sin of bookstores is this: so many of the books that they offer are physical reminders of passing time. Here are the Kazuo Ishiguros I read while in my fresh-faced 20s. Here are the Joan Didions of my 30s. Here are the Tracy Kidders I discovered after my kids were born. A visit to any kind of bookstore will eventually make me jealous for the younger version of me, the person who was unshaped, unaccountable, unknown. Both the books that I have read and not read all remind me that what I am is not what I was; and they point out to me that for all the work of living that I have done, there remains an impossible amount of work that I have not and cannot do. I cannot change course and pursue a life of ornithology. I am no longer a penniless apprentice writing his first novel. I cannot sell everything and live on an arctic freighter. I cannot be what I am not, and by definition what I am not remains so much larger than what I am.

. . . .

{T]hen I saw Draft No. 4, a John McPhee book on writing, and I decided, well, let me look inside that one. I scanned the first page. My insides went calm. I was like a parched man cutting open a spindly cactus and finding watery relief. I skipped to the back, read more words that struck me as perfect, and true: “It is toward the end of the second draft, if I’m lucky,” McPhee writes, “when the feeling comes over me that I have something I want to show to other people, something that seems to be working and is not going to go away.” I closed the book, realizing that I would buy it, damn the torpedoes and all the unread books waiting at home.

I brought the McPhee book to the register. A girl with dirty blond hair and a tired, guarded look was handling sales.

“Are you a member of our book club?”

“I’m sure that I was once,” I said. There was no way for her to hear the ironic undertone.

She asked for my first and last name. I told her. She typed, furrowed her brow. “Nope,” she said. “You want to join? It’s quick.”

Of course, I had been forgotten. Emptiness began to swell inside. Then, a thought: “Did you put a space,” I said, “between Van and Dyke?”

She sighed, hit the delete key lightly, then enter, and her eyes brightened. “There you are,” she said, as if she had just learned I was her cousin twice removed. They knew me. I was one of the remembered ones. I still belonged. This made me so happy that now, in retrospect, it makes me sad.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Independent bookstore owners look back at a year spent trying to stay afloat. Not all of them succeeded.

From The Washington Post:

Some independent bookstores prospered during year one of the coronavirus pandemic — their stories silver linings that pop against so much darkness. Others decided to call it a day. And for others yet, it’s too soon to predict which way the plot might twist.

The Washington Post talked to the owners of six indies about how they weathered the year. What follows is an oral history of these shops’ highs and lows as the pandemic knocked life and business upside down.

March

Emily Powell, owner of Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore.: One of the first things to happen in Portland was that the public libraries closed down, so more people came into our stores than we normally would have seen. On March 15, we reached a tipping point. The store opens at 9 a.m., and by 10 we said, “We need to close. Everybody needs to leave.”

. . . .

Michael Fusco-Straub, who runs Books Are Magic in Brooklyn with his wife, novelist Emma Straub: The week before the shutdown was a really weird week for us, because we had these two giant off-site events. One had around 800 people, and the other had 500, and it was nerve-racking. Within a couple days, we had turned on a dime and basically became a fulfillment center for online orders.

Malik Muhammad, who runs Malik Books in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles with his wife, April: For us, it was devastating, because we got a memo that said, “The mall is gonna be shut down, and you have 24 hours to gather everything you need.” And that was going to be the only time you were able to have access to your business. All our inventory was locked up in the mall. It was horrifying. We in the underserved community, we don’t have months of resources sitting around, like savings and things like that.

. . . .

April and May

Julie Beddingfield, the owner of Inkwood Books in Haddonfield, N.J.: In November 2019, we had signed a lease to move into a new, bigger location so that we could expand everything we were doing. Once the pandemic started, I had to decide: Am I moving or not moving? And I’m looking at my husband like, I don’t know what to do. If we move, what if we don’t get to reopen? What if we shut down? And he said, “If you think you want to be there in a year, then just do it.”

. . . .

Janet Berns, who owns the Book Nook in Monroe, Mich.: I work the store mostly by myself. We’re really small. You look at some local chain that has four or five big stores, and you say that’s an independent bookstore — no, no, no. I’m an independent bookstore. It’s just me. There’s an alley that runs behind the building, so I said, okay, this is going to be our curbside. You’re going to run through the alley, give me a call and we’ll come running out. I got my steps in on my Fitbit, running back and forth.

. . . .

June through August

Ramunda Young: Throughout the climax of emotional events that were happening across the nation, there was this almost immediate outpouring of customers — White customers, to be frank — looking for books that pull back the veil on racism. There was a gentleman on social media who came out and said, “If you’re gonna go and look for Black books, don’t go just anywhere. Go to a Black bookstore.” And people did. If you had a website that was functioning and easy to use, people were coming from all across the nation.

. . . .

Powell: The country had George Floyd, and the social justice movement that arose in the wake of that, and then we had huge wildfires in Oregon in August. Our operations were down for the better part of a week because people couldn’t leave their homes. It was very intense smoke. I mean, it was really awful. I continue to feel at this point in this whole ordeal that every six to 10 weeks, something else happens. I’d give my left arm for any kind of consistency or predictability to our work.

Ramunda Young: The biggest thing that was out of our control was the book industry. There was a paper shortage, and some of the printers were acting up. So we had all these customers saying, “I want these books.” And now we couldn’t fulfill the orders. And it wasn’t a MahoganyBooks thing; it was an industry thing. So the tenor kind of switched from, “I want to learn and educate myself about White privilege” to, “I’ve been looking for my book forever. Where is it? Give me my refund.”

. . . .

September through December

Beddingfield: We allow 10 people in the store at a time, and that includes us. We’re just constantly counting people. The holiday season was insanity. I have never worked as hard in my entire life, and I was an attorney for 12 years. We had lines down the street, and at one point the people at the coffee shop next door were like, “Is there a rock star in there?” So I hired a bouncer — I call her the bookstore bouncer. She worked on Fridays and Saturdays, sitting at the door and counting people.

. . . .

Muhammad: I was already in debt, I couldn’t pay my debt, and I had to go in debt even further to put the store in a position where we could continue in the midst of this pandemic. It was a leap of faith. We’ve been biting our nails.

. . . .

Looking back, and forward

Fusco-Straub: It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was backbreaking. I was gone from the house for 10 hours a day, and most days I was lucky if I walked in the door to say good night to [my kids]. The good thing is that we learned so much that the store right now, as a whole, runs better than it ever would have if we hadn’t gone through it. When things get back to normal, I think it’s going to be operating on a level I never even thought could exist.

. . . .

Ramunda Young: It was hectic. It was tiresome. It was draining. It was exhausting. But, man, it was glorious. There’s a lot of pride and fulfillment. Going through a pandemic allowed us to reach our goal — to get Black books into people’s hands, no matter where they live — to a level we had not anticipated, and it was a gift.

Beddingfield: I had many moments of just losing it, and I could do that because I was there by myself. I could swear, I could curl up in the fetal position and cry. I was with my books, and they don’t judge. Still, at the end of the day, you run these reports and look at how many books you sold. And as a business owner, you’re like, “Oh, great sales.” But as a human, you go, “That’s how many books we put out there in the world.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Book sales are up, but bookstores are struggling. It matters where you shop.

An Opinion Piece from The Chicago Tribune:

Two striking statistics recently reported by Publishers Weekly:

  • Print book sales rose 8.2% in 2020 versus 2019, according to NPD BookScan.
  • Bookstore sales fell 28.3% in 2020 versus 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The year-to-year increase in book sales was the largest since 2010, and was led by demand for books to keep children occupied during the period of remote schooling. Juvenile nonfiction was up by 23%, young-adult nonfiction by 38%. But adult books were up as well. By every measure, more books were sold in 2020 than in 2019.

Those gains aren’t reflected in bookstore sales, though, as pandemic-related closures and restrictions kept us away. The worst months for bookstores were April and May, the leading edge of the lockdowns, but even as restrictions loosened, sales remained 20% or so below previous year levels.

. . . .

I want to suggest that books are not merely a consumer product. Instead, I’d like us to consider books as part of a larger ecosystem, which includes writers, publishers, booksellers and readers, and that good books depend on all parts of the ecosystem being healthy. As such, we cannot be indifferent about where we buy them.

Bookstores are a key component in making sure there is an interesting variety of books that connect with readers of differing stripes. If we lose bookstores, we will lose the places where word-of-mouth hits are born. We will lose the places where we may discover something we’d never heard of, simply because we brush past it on a table. We will lose one of the important congregating places where people who value books come together in fellowship. We will lose the place we might stop in after brunch on a beautiful afternoon when we need to walk off a meal and aren’t ready to go home yet.

We will lose booksellers, the people who tend to book system the same way a gardener works the greenhouse.

. . . .

Right now, with publishing and books, we could be at peak variety. The somewhat worrisome consolidation in corporate publishing is being offset with a greater thirst for diverse voices and books, not to mention the continuing growth of scrappy independent publishers.

But if we narrow the channels through which books are sold, we will also narrow the kinds and varieties of books that will be sold. Books will still sell, because just like apples, you have to have books, but we will be missing something if we lose that variety.

It is fantastic news that book sales have weathered the pandemic — better news than we could have hoped for — but to revivify the ecosystem as a whole will require us to examine our patterns of purchase. We need to make intentional choices about where we shop to seed the return of bookstores.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

PG suggests that this is one of the weaker special-favor pleas for traditional bookstores that he recalls reading during the past few months.

The very best place to find diverse voices and for diverse voices to flourish is online.

What about costs for readers of varying income levels?

Ebooks are usually less expensive than printed books. They certainly cost less to manufacture, transport and warehouse.

What about environmental impact? P-books v. E-books = No Comparison.

Ebooks win production, transportation and disposal/recycling hands-down.

Available inventory to allow a customer to buy the book they really want?

Every physical bookstore in constrained in exactly the same manner – it has only so many linear feet of shelf space.

That shelf space must be used to sell books. The fewer copies a book is expected to sell, the less shelf space it will be allocated by the operator of the store.

As a general proposition, having several copies of a given book on the shelf is more likely to catch the eye of a browser than having only a single copy of a book. Several copies on the shelf also means that if someone buys a copy, there are still other copies available to be sold. An employee doesn’t have to immediately recognize that a single book has been sold, then restock the shelf in order for a book to be effectively on sale for customers.

Limited size = limited inventory. Limited inventory = more white-bread, mass market books.

Like many others, PG has enjoyed exploring megabookstores like Blackwells in Oxford, Powell’s in Portland and The Strand in New York. However, giant bookstores are a dying breed. See, for example, Barnes & Noble. And even a giant bookstore has a limit to the number of books it can stock.

Plus, absent a lot of free browsing time, a customer’s discovery experience in a physical bookstore, large or small, can be less than ideal. If you like to wile away the afternoon looking for a good read, go physical. If you prefer to wile away your afternoon actually reading a good book, go online.

Back to inventory, online bookstores can and do stock a much wider variety of books than a physical store. Do you want to allow an author who is a member of an under-represented group in the book business a chance – online is your solution. Would you like to encourage Navajo voices to share their experiences and views with a larger audience off the reservation? Online, baby.

Plus a good online bookstore (like Amazon) makes it much easier for most prospective purchasers to locate a book they will like than Powell’s, even though PG has experienced excellent (for a physical bookstore) customer service in Portland.

There are simply far more methods of locating a desirable book online than there are in a physical bookstore and a much better likelihood of finding a book you will love online.

As one example, one word: Reviews.

Yes, some online book reviews are unreliable, but so are book reviews in newspapers and magazines. At least online, you are much more likely to be able to read more than one review by a single person, reflecting that single person’s class, education, preferences and biases.

Plus, on Amazon, in addition to seeing which books people are buying, Amazon Charts lets you see which books people are actually reading.

Hint for those purchasing gifts, particularly for young adults and children: Seven of the top Ten Most-Read Fiction Books when PG wrote this post were written by J.K. Rowling. The list of Most-Sold Fiction Books was much different.

Comparing the Top Ten Most-Read and Most-Sold Fiction Books, PG noted only two books that were on both lists:

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

and

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Does anyone working in a Barnes & Noble store at minimum wage (or the equivalent of minimum wage for a wealthier community) have that knowledge?

As they say in movies and on TV (but not that often in the courtroom) PG rests his case.

Forging Bonds at the Bookstore

From Publishers Weekly:

When I first got a job as a bookseller at Malvern Books, a small independent bookstore in Austin, Tex., I thought it would be roughly akin to working at a major chain: I’d stand behind the counter and ring people up, but without the discomfort of having to upsell memberships. It was through observing my gifted coworkers that I learned that bookselling is an art. At first, I wasn’t used to customers asking me for book recommendations and often felt like I was stumbling over my words. Once I started to think of myself as a sort of matchmaker, I began to have fun.

Malvern is unique in that we sell new books, mostly fiction and poetry, from small and independent presses exclusively. A good portion of the store is devoted to books in translation. When I first walked in, as a customer, I was astonished to see not just a few shelves labeled “poetry” but an entire wall. As a poet, I was in heaven.

When I became an employee, I’d often watch people do a quick loop around the store and leave, disappointed, I believed, because we don’t stock the latest bestsellers or books from the Big Five (or Big Four) publishers, and therefore they didn’t recognize our titles. But for customers who were open to suggestions, I had the joy of matching readers with authors they were not aware of.

Sometimes the handselling stakes were high. Once a frazzled looking young woman told me that she was about to spend two weeks “trapped” with her conservative family for the holidays. I knew just the ticket—an engrossing feminist book about a 1950s Hollywood starlet who’d lived a wild life and experienced an unfortunate fall from grace.

Another man announced that he’d just fallen in love and was looking for poems. He asked for two poetry book recommendations: one to celebrate his newfound amour and another to protect him from heartbreak if the relationship failed. “I’ve been hurt before,” he said. I handed him the perfect antidote (which he later told me worked like a charm)

The more I worked at the store, the more I began to notice that people yearn for connection beyond book recommendations. Even before the pandemic began, I’d answered phone calls that didn’t have much to do with the books at all. One elderly woman wanted help looking up something on the internet, which I happily obliged. Another gentleman wanted information about how to get out of a parking ticket. A fair number of callers want to know how to get their books published, in which case I’d refer them to an organization like the Writers’ League of Texas for a sense of community and support.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG was inclined to lay on the snark before he decided the author of the OP was probably a nice person who genuinely cared for the people who came into the store.

The article did depict at least some bookstore patrons as lonely people, however, not something that caused PG’s marketing juices to begin flowing.

Bookstore Sales Fell 28.3% in 2020

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales rallied slightly in December from deep monthly slumps for most of 2020, but were still down 15.2% in the last month of the year compared to December 2019. For all of 2020, bookstore sales fell 28.3% from 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

December bookstore sales were $879 million, down from $1.04 billion in December 2019. The 15.2% December drop was the smallest decline since February, when sales slipped 0.7% before the global pandemic struck. In March, sales fell 33.2% as retail lockdowns kicked in, then plunged 74.2% in April as stay at home orders fully took hold. May sales were slightly better, falling 60% from May 2019.

Bookstore sales declines generally eased as 2020 moved toward the end of the year. November sales were down 21.5%, following a 28.9% decline in October. For the full year, bookstore sales were $6.34 billion compared to $8.84 billion in 2019.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly