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

Publishing Has A New York Problem

From SFWA:

Like so many others connected to this [small-yet-all-consuming] publishing industry, books were my first love. Legend has it that a tiny version of me set eyes on my first library and yelped “oh, Mommy, all these books are for me?!”, convinced that somehow the universe had conspired to erect a house of stories on my behalf. Over time, my relationship with books went from assuming they were all made for me, to hoping I could play a role in making them all. But lovely as books are, the publishing machine is flawed, as all things are (as this op-ed likely is). Evidence of this creeps up in the corners of the internet from sources brave enough to give voice to their frustrations, in the private DMs and group chats where authors, publishing professionals, and readers alike sound off to avoid the disaster of blasting their grievances on front street. Not that feeling any of this is a betrayal. It’s entirely possible to love a thing and still criticize it. And as writers of speculative fiction, it sometimes falls to us to imagine better futures before people with the tools can make them realities.

Publishing has received a rather steady stream of criticism regarding its exclusivity. While my experience has been filtered through the lens of race, I’m not simply referring to what seems like gatekeeping for racial or ethnic diversity. This exclusivity extends to anyone that doesn’t fit into the box labelled “I-can-miraculously-afford-living-in-this-wallet-draining-city,” lumping everyone else into an unruly rejection pile. The centralization of publishing in one of the most expensive cities in the world shuts out anyone not privileged enough to be able to live here comfortably, despite their relevant experience or talent. The effect is that potentially great candidates are either never considered for inclusion or end up leaving the industry and its paltry entry-level paychecks altogether. Here’s the one-two punch that keeps so many of the voices we need on the fringes, screaming from the shores while the lucky ones sail off into the fortunate sunset. And while publishing might not be ready to admit it (or who knows, perhaps internally it has), this act of leaving behind certain voices does everyone a massive disservice. Recently, that’s never been more clear.

. . . .

[T]here is a path forward for an inclusive publishing industry. One that values and retains voices, and one that, despite my unshakeable love for the city, doesn’t have to be centered in New York.

. . . .

The industry has already made significant changes to its operation in response to the challenges presented by the coronavirus. Beginning with the shifting of publication dates at the start of the crisis, professionals attested to adjustments made in collaboration with multiple departments, the author, and the author’s agent. Instead of hanging their hats on delayed release schedules, many publishing houses changed tack. They introduced virtual methods to get the job done as employees transitioned to working from home for their safety. The same way we can read a book from the comfort of our own home, we can (mostly) publish one from there, too. And the adjusted operations to manage the effects of the coronavirus provide the framework. 

Firstly, several departments can operate remotely rather easily. It’s been widely accepted that agents don’t have to operate from New York to sign and sell stellar books. Several agents work remotely, and some agencies are established in other cities around the country, such as Los Angeles Denver, and Washington D.C. The same logic applies to several other publishing departments, such as editorial, scouting, contracts, and subsidiary rights. The introduction of meetings applications like Zoom and Google Meet into our everyday lives puts virtual meetings and maintaining connections at the tips of our fingers.

. . . .

Virtual connectivity aside, those who work from their home in these departments can do their jobs effectively. Editors and scouts are often inundated by reading, which can be done everywhere.

. . . .

And when it comes down to it, contracts and subsidiary rights are words on a page no matter where they are interpreted and are honestly best consumed with sides of solitude and silence in which the legalese can wash over and drown you. 

Secondly, while marketing, publicity, and sales are not as simple, there have been great examples of COVID-related functions already that can easily transition over to post-COVID times. In combination with the usual virtual practices of curating social media platforms, hosting online giveaways, and distributing both mailed and digital advance copies to readers and reviewers, publishing houses are finding ways to generate content that promotes books in socially-distanced ways.

. . . .

In a recent article in Forbes, Brett Cohen, President and Publisher of Quirk Books, outlined what his team is doing to counteract the change in promotion. Among other things, Cohen discussed how Quirk Books, which publishes unconventional books out of Philadelphia, instituted a weekly theme where authors discuss their books and offered resources to entice purchases, including reading guides and downloadable kits. The publisher released the greatly anticipated The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix at the height of the virus in April. Due to these promotional efforts, and likely the author’s platform, the book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list and sold television rights to Amazon. Cohen stated in Forbes that he hopes short-term changes can transition into long-term ones.

“Whether it’s a shift in what content people want or how we promote books in this new environment or where people shop for books or how we engage with readers, retailers and partners, we are doing valuable and creative work now to meet consumers where they are and it’s laying the groundwork for what future consumer engagement might look like.”

Link to the rest at SFWA

PG wonders what all these remote publisher people do, exactly, to justify their taking the large majority of the revenue earned by the book the author created?

They get you into physical bookstores?

Oh.

Physical bookstores.

How’s that working out these days?

James Daunt, the hoped-for savior of Barnes & Noble is reported to have been closing Waterstones retail locations in Britain over the last several weeks and complaining about British taxes on retailers.

PG did find a relatively recent Daunt quote, however:

Mr. Daunt is working to improve Barnes & Noble’s online store, but his main focus is on physical stores. “It’s in stores that you retain your customers,” he says. “If you get your stores right, your online sales will follow. If your stores are crap, so will your online.

PG doesn’t recall any successful online merchant who sells anything mentioning that getting a physical retail site operating properly provided any meaningful benefit to a related online store.

Especially if the online store was trying to compete with Amazon.

PG just checked Barnes & Noble’s online store and found a prominent display of six “Now Trending” books.

Only one title out of the six had any reviews. For that single book (publication date: 05/11/2021) there were two reviews. One of the reviews just said, “BUY IT NOW!” and the second review began, “i still have yet to read it but from the previews” – both were five-star reviews. (PG didn’t notice if either review ended with, “Love, Your Mom”)

Speaking of the physical side of Barnes & Noble, while searching to see if there were any signs of intelligent life at Barnes & Noble HQ (he couldn’t find any), PG found the following account from Fargo, North Dakota:

“I was at Barnes and Noble today and noticed a man staying near my girls and I. We went and had a treat at their cafe and he continued to stick close by. On our way to the check out, I noticed two other men with their phones out, occasionally looking at me. All of them were wandering the store and seemed to not be looking at any specific books, etc… two of them left the store. One was standing by the door and the other by some vehicles. The third guy was still wandering the store and saw me at the check out. I informed management and had someone walk me to my vehicle. The two gentlemen who were outside saw that I had someone with me. They met up outside the store and went back in. I followed up with management afterwards and she said she confronted them and asked them to leave. 5 gentlemen and a women left together and all got in to one van. I may have been paranoid but I’d rather be safe than sorry… Please pay attention to your surroundings. This has put me into a bit of a tizzy today. Pay attention when you are out and about.”

A Reminder: Chairman Daunt says, “If you get your stores right, your online sales will follow.”

Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A team of independent publishing consultants with broad and deep experience in the industry have produced an excellent report on the effects of the past year’s pandemic on the book publishing business called “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021”. Cliff Guren, Thad McIlroy, and Steven Sieck are real pros and they have been systematic and rigorous in their methodology. The report is free (here) and is bound to be among the most widely-read papers in our industry very quickly.

The notion was to look at the changes that have taken place in the worlds publishing lives in and work back to the impact on the publishers. This approach makes sense. You can’t analyze or predict the future about trade publishing without looking at what is happening in the world of retail. You need to understand what the impact of change is on schools and colleges to gain insight into how publishers will have to adjust. Indeed, that’s how publishers themselves will approach the challenge: they will try to understand the environments they have to live in to formulate their go-forward strategies.

And the authors have captured the reality that the pandemic was not really bad for the book business. In fact, for many publishers it has been a boon. The authors amply document that most book sales have been sustained and that most book publishing operations have managed to shift staff to working remotely and are still able to continue to produce effectively.

One impact of the pandemic on retailing that was thoroughly appreciated by Guren, McIlroy, and Sieck (and seldom remarked on elsewhere) is the rise in importance of the brick-and-mortar “equivalents” to Amazon: like Target, Walmart, and Costco. Those stores have long had the in-store presence of a limited number of book titles but in the online environment, with Ingram in the background, they can sell just about any book except some proprietary Amazon titles. Online non-book consumers can put books in their grocery basket with these retailers as readily as they can with Amazon and more and more of them appear to be doing that. Although it is more likely that many of these new book customers for them were filched from local brick and mortar retail rather than from Amazon, the net effect has been to really grow books in importance to them.

. . . .

Discovery that shifts from bookstores to online favors backlist. And publishers have been challenged to deliver new titles with the same marketplace impact in the readjusted book marketplace. Some new title production has continued, to be sure. But there are anecdotal reports of postponements with some publishers choosing to hold back quite a bit until things change.

. . . .

“Covid Impacts and Insights” discusses the relative ease with which publishers have maintained their operations without using their offices. Discovering how to work this way is bound to have implications on the future of offices — where they’ll be, how full they’ll be, and what percentage of each employee’s time will be spent in them — in our business. The report notes the fact that a lot of publishers spend big money on Manhattan real estate. In a margin-challenged business like ours, that is bound to come under closer scrutiny as the pandemic fades.

. . . .

One is touched on in the Executive Summary at the top and not returned to: the efforts by publishers to compensate for a declining infrastructure of intermediaries (particularly bookstores) with more D2C — direct to consumer — efforts. For well over a decade, even the most general of the general trade publishers have been building those efforts. They all have databases with millions of consumer names that they are able to use with varying amounts of success. This creates subtle distinctions between the sales capabilities of the houses based on their different abilities to reach direct audiences.

So when Penguin Random House acquires Simon & Schuster (assuming the sale is allowed to proceed), the chances are that they will both get some new books that are appropriate for some of their “captive” audiences and, conversely, that they will acquire some D2C reach that S&S developed that can now be applied to PRH books. Not much is known about the specific proprietary D2C capabilities the houses have, but those sales assets, however slowly they grow, become increasingly important as bookstore opportunities shrink. Both the publisher marketing efforts and the brick-and-mortar erosion are accelerated by the pandemic.

There is another change that has been slow and inexorable over the past decade or more and which the pandemic can only exacerbate. Since the center of gravity has shifted away from bookstores, a domain publishers “controlled” and which shielded them from competition from books that had no powerful publisher, it has become increasingly difficult for publishers to make new books “work”.

. . . .

How does new title production of the established trade houses today compare to what they issued ten or twenty years ago? (One hint: it is almost certain that the combined new title output of PRH and S&S will be less after the merger than it was before.) And how do sales of new titles compare to sales of backlist? And how much of the new title output survives to become contributing backlist?

This is a tough set of facts to compile, but it is almost certain they’d show that big publishers are living off their backlist and not making it grow like they did in past decades. The “moat” around established publishers was always the bookstores; real publishers could put inventory into them and mere aspirants could not. When there were thousands of bookstores carrying tens of thousands of titles (or even hundreds of thousands) and almost all the books were sold through brick-and-mortar retailers (a fair description of the world before 1995, or even before 2005), the big publishers had an advantage that no number of D2C names can win back for them.

. . . .

In pandemic times, when output is constrained in many ways, the ability to print at the point of distribution changes everything. The striking example of how much this matters was a NY Times paperback bestseller list at the end of June which had a majority of the titles being printed and distributed by Ingram.

Having learned the many benefits of being able to meet substantial demand without inventory in place, the publishers aren’t likely to forget it. The fact that a unit costs more to deliver when you print one was always well understood; now it can also be seen that shipping and handling and returns costs are avoided so the difference in profits is not as great as the difference in unit cost. Publishers know this now. It will change things going forward.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Mike points out that the ability of traditional publishers to put product into physical bookstores (and the larger publishers could do this more successfully than most small publishers) was important for their success and prosperity. Fundamentally, traditional publishers controlled this retail channel and large publishers paid a lot of attention to large bookstores and even more to large bookstore chains.

However, Barnes & Noble is about the only large bookstore chain still in business. The latest pre-Covid data PG could find was that there were 633 BN physical stores in the US. Books-a-Million was second with 260 stores in 32 states and store numbers dropped quickly farther down the list. These numbers are almost certain to decline when the retail sector can finally open up and have a reasonable expectation of customers entering their stores. PG’s bet is that there will be a lot fewer physical bookstores after Covid than there were before.

A whole lot of readers who purchased their books from physical bookstores pre-Covid have learned that Amazon has everything and can deliver a physical book to their home tomorrow or the next day if they order it as soon as they leave Barnes & Noble. Even early books by current bestsellers may be a special-order item in a physical bookstore. And those readers will quite possibly pay less than if they waited for a BN special order to arrive in a week or two. Smaller bookstore chains may require an even longer wait.

PG was interested in Mike’s observations that publishers’ back list had become a larger contributor to revenue and sales than it had been prior to Covid. He rightly pointed out that the migration of sales from physical bookstores to Amazon and other online bookstores had been a primary cause of this rebalancing.

PG suspects that some veteran authors who were/are traditionally-published may wonder whether it’s fair for their publishers to be harvesting the large majority of the money from these backlist sales when the author’s advance has long been spent and the publishers haven’t devoted any significant amounts of money or effort promoting the author or her books for a very long time, particularly if the publisher isn’t providing much in the way of advances for new books the author has written lately.

You can download the complete COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021 HERE. While Mike focuses mostly on the trade publishing business (which is likely the most interesting part of for most visitors to TPV), the complete report includes some information about academic and research publishing which is under pressure because its primary customers – academic institutions – has been severely stressed by Covid.

Agent Laurie McLean Gives 10 Publishing Predictions for 2021

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Hold onto your pens, people…it’s going to be a wild ride.

It’s that time of year again. I present to you Predictions in Publishing: the 2021 Edition!

It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I was bemoaning the fact that the book publishing industry seemed to have stagnated and not a lot was changing. Then, WHOOSH, in March everything changed all at once. And here we are counting down the days to the final end to the Year of the Great Pause, where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel into 2021. Let’s hope it’s not a train! (It’s not a train…)

. . . .

1) Publishing Professionals Leave New York

More editors, agents and other publishing pros have moved out of the New York City metro area, and are working from homes in other cities, and even states, where the cost of living is significantly lower. If they bought or rented a house with a yard and several bedrooms/office space elsewhere, or moved in with their parents and find it delightful, the thought of moving back into a comparably-priced studio or one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan or Brooklyn might not be strong enough to get them to return.

They have gotten comfortable with working remotely. They are now Zoom or Google Meeting pros. And they see how much more work they can get done (especially editing) if they don’t have to commute or do endless in-person meetings every day. Even art departments have developed successful workarounds. This has fundamentally changed the publishing process.

As we move into the future, I believe you’ll see a diaspora of publishing professionals, just like tech workers or other non-geographically-tied workers have experienced, and eventually they will either be located in a smaller building in NYC or will Zoom-in remotely when needed, only visiting the main office once a month or so. It has long been the case with agents and even the odd editor, but now it will be commonplace among the major houses. New York will be the center of publishing in name only. Virtual companies will have the edge.

. . . .

3) Reading on Screens Increases

Everyone got used to buying all kinds of things online, and that includes ebooks. But will this trend continue once bookstores are open again?

I believe so. Readers have become comfortable with reading on a screen as part of the total ecosystem of reading, just as they’ve become comfortable with shopping at their local retail stores as well as Amazon, Bookshop.org, indie bookstores, reading apps, etc.

They will consume hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, ebooks, audiobooks and any new format that comes along. Publishers need to understand that and work it into their P&Ls on stories and worlds they want to license.

. . . .

5) Bookstores Adapt

Indie bookstores (traditional publishing’s main retail outlet) have been severely disrupted. Do they survive and thrive or collapse? Will Barnes & Noble make it? Will Amazon continue to dominate or will Bookshop.org challenge them? I think all these issues will play out in the latter half of 2021.

I think indie bookstores have already pivoted successfully by being creative and community-minded. They rocked drive-by distribution and deliveries. They figured out how to do many of their promotional events and author “signings” online.

It’s the larger box bookstores like Barnes & Noble, now under a new management team led by Brit James Daunt, who I see fumbling the ball and perhaps not being fiscally viable much longer. Five years and they’ll either be gone or severely smaller. That’s my prediction. Amazon is hastening their exit. Look back at prediction number 3.

. . . .

8) Online Book Promotion Becomes the Norm

Virtual book promotion is here to stay. It already was not making economic sense to send an author on a multi-city tour to promote a book, when only a handful of fans would show up at the local Barnes & Noble in each city. If all bookstores, even small ones in rural locations, can get an author to do a 1-hour Zoom chat about their book with fans who’ve already ordered the pre-autographed book from said indie bookstore, it’s going to catch on. It’s affordable, easy to accomplish, and readers will like it if they can watch their author heroes while in their jammies.

Also, need I say, school visits will become a lot more accessible and affordable if done virtually. This way authors can earn a few dollars and bookstores can scale up or down depending on the popularity of the authors virtually visiting their locales.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

It is 2021, but PG still does not always agree with everything he posts on TPV.

For one thing, Bookshop.org hasn’t a chance in hell of taking a hundredth of one-percent of Amazon’s share of the book business.

PG will note that, although more honored in the breach than in the observance, the .org extension was originally intended to be reserved for non-profit organizations.

In the case of Bookshop.org, the website is run by a Limited Liability Company (LLC) which, at least in the United States, denotes an organization that strives to earn a profit. Again, in the United States, a charitable organization is typically operated as a non-profit corporation. Corrected per CE Petit’s comment and superior knowledge of current LLC practices and law.

That said, regardless of its intent, PG suggests that Bookshop.org will have quite a bit of difficulty generating a profit of any sort and its business and commission structure is designed for traditional publishers, so it will generate teeny-tiny royalties for the authors who make books possible in the first place.

PG says that, if you or your reading friends wish to encourage and compensate authors, buying through Amazon is the only way you go.

GPO Closes Venerable Headquarters Bookstore

From FedWeek:

In a sign of the times, the GPO is closing the venerable bookstore at its headquarters, saying a review “determined that the bookstore is no longer financially viable due to changes in customer behavior which have resulted in sustained losses over the last five years.”

The store just north of the Capitol Building opened in the 1920s and served for decades as Washington’s main access point for documents ranging from reports of obscure study commissions to the annual White House budget proposal. It was the setting for annual news photos of the budget being released, even in recent years as the budget also is released online.

Before online distribution of the budget began, lines stretched down the street well in advance on the morning of the release. Similarly, before the Congressional Record and Federal Register became available online each morning, the store often was a first stop of the day by federal officials and congressional staffers for those publications.

Using language similar to that used in private sector bookstore closings of recent times, the GPO said that as more free information has been posted and for-sale information can be purchased online, “the business case for maintaining a separate physical bookstore evaporated.”

Link to the rest at FedWeek and thanks to DM for the tip.

More bookshops to close doors as further areas enter Tier 4

From The Bookseller:

More areas in England will be added to Tier 4 from Boxing Day, with non-essential shops closing their doors, the government has announced.

In a press conference on 23rd December, health secretary Matt Hancock said Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, the parts of Essex not already in tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire (excluding the New Forest) would be subject to the highest level of restrictions. Some other areas, including Gloucestershire and Cheshire, will be bumped up to Tier 3, while Cornwall and Herefordshire will rise to Tier 2, he said.

The restrictions will come into effect at 12.01 a.m. on Boxing Day.

London, Kent, parts of Essex and Berkshire had already entered Tier 4 on Sunday, requiring all non-essential retailers to shut, although bookshops can still offer a call/click and collect service. Wales has also entered Tier 4, while Scotland will do so from Boxing Day. Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown from Christmas Eve.

. . . .

“We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for.”

. . . .

Patrick Neale at Jaffe & Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, said he had mixed feeling about the news. He told The Bookseller: “We just felt that was an air of inevitability about it and it’s better that it happens. I’m very conflicted about it because I want us to solve this horrible problem but commercially I didn’t want to lose any big trading days. So that will be difficult in that we normally are very busy between Christmas and New Year and certainly the first year of January but we also want to solve this problem and don’t want to be part of the problem.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Publishing saw upheaval in 2020, but ‘books are resilient’

From the Associated Press:

Book publishing in 2020 was a story of how much an industry can change and how much it can, or wants to, remain the same.

“A lot of what has happened this year — if it were a novel, I would say that it had a little too much plot,” said Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp.

Three narratives ran through the book world for much of the year: an industry pressed to acknowledge that the status quo was unacceptable, an industry offering comfort and enlightenment during traumatic times, and an industry ever more consolidated around the power of Penguin Random House and Amazon.com.

. . . .

To its benefit and to its dismay, publishing was drawn into the events of the moment. The pandemic halted and threatened to wipe out a decade of growth for independent bookstores, forced the postponement of countless new releases and led to countless others being forgotten. The annual national convention, BookExpo, was called off and may be gone permanently after show organizers Reed Exhibitions announced they were “retiring” it.

. . . .

The industry had long regarded itself as a facilitator of open expression and high ideals, but in 2020 debates over diversity and #MeToo highlighted blind spots about race and gender and challenged the reputations of everyone from poetry publishers to Oprah Winfrey, from book critics to the late editor of Ernest Hemingway. Employees themselves helped take the lead: They staged protests in support of Black Lives Matters and walked off the job at Hachette Book Group after the publisher announced it had acquired Woody Allen’s memoir, which Hachette soon dropped. ( Skyhorse Publishing eventually released it.)

. . . .

“My main takeaways from 2020 are that books are resilient and that the industry has indicated a willingness to change (about diversity) and to make opening gestures towards sufficient, industry-wide change,” said Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, who next year will take over at two prestigious Penguin Random House imprints, Pantheon and Schocken Books.

. . . .

An alarm bell rang early in the new year. Jeanine Cummins’ novel about Mexican immigrants, “American Dirt,” had been widely cited as a top seller and critical favorite for 2020 and was likened by “The Cartel” author Don Winslow to John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic “The Grapes of Wrath.” In January, Oprah Winfrey announced she had chosen it for her book club and Cummins began a nationwide tour.

. . . .

But to the surprise of the publisher, Macmillan, and Winfrey, Latino authors and critics alleged that Cummins had reinforced stereotypes about Mexico and Mexican immigrants. Along with Cummins, Winfrey invited a panel of detractors who faulted an industry that is an estimated 75 percent white, and the talk show host herself for choosing few works by Latino writers. Cummins’ tour was called off after Macmillan cited threats of violence, even as her book remained on bestseller lists.

. . . .

In the following months, leaders at the National Book Critics Circle, the Poetry Foundation and International Thriller Writers resigned or were forced out amid allegations they had failed to address issues of diversity and racial justice. The Center for Fiction removed the late Maxwell Perkins’ name from its award for editorial excellence, noting that besides working with Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald he published books by eugenicists supporting white supremacy.

. . . .

Saraciea J. Fennell, who leads the advocacy group of book professionals Latinx in Publishing, worries that the wave of new hirings and imprints is simply cyclical and asked, “How long are they going to last? Is all this going to be around in 10-15 years?”

Macmillan CEO Don Weisberg, who cited a wide range of diversity programs at the publishing house that began before “American Dirt,” said he “understands the skepticism.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Weisberg said. ”You’ve got to build an entire infrastructure that makes it part of the norm.”

. . . .

As Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt acknowledged to the AP: “This was Amazon’s year,” when the online retailer was ideally positioned for a public turn toward the internet not just for convenience but for safety. Daunt said Barnes & Noble managed better than he had expected, but still results were “spotty.” The superstore chain ended 2020 with fewer employees than when the year began, he said.

. . . .

For independent stores and publishers, the pandemic amplified the divide between the industry’s biggest players and everyone else. At the same time Penguin Random House was preparing to buy Simon & Schuster, a transaction that if approved would create the largest publishing entity in U.S. history, smaller companies such as Archipelago and Cinco Puntos Press were starting GoFundMe campaigns.

“It’s been very hard to survive,” said Archipalego publisher Jill Schoolman. “The cash flow is really tough and we owe our printers.”

Link to the rest at the Associated Press

PG notes that the author of the OP managed to write the entire summary of US publishing in 2020 without mentioning ebooks. If any of the major players in the US publishing business had mentioned ebooks, PG would have expected such a mention to have appeared in the OP.

Dead trees and more dead trees, as far into the future as the traditional publishing eye can see.

For L.A. bookstores during COVID-19, this holiday season is make or break

From the Los Angeles Times:

Two days after Thanksgiving, on what is sometimes known as Small Business Saturday, Jennifer Gracie plopped a stack of hardcovers onto the checkout desk of Chevalier’s Books, a charming shop in Larchmont Village. The haul for Gracie, a 54-year-old transplant from New York, included an Italian cookbook for her husband; a crime novel for her mother; guidebooks for her daughter and friends; and a David Bowie puzzle for her sister-in-law.

It could have been any other holiday shopping season, except for the masks, the plexiglass barrier separating Gracie from the salesclerk and the sign at the window that read, in part, “Max Occupancy 6 Customers.” There was, too, the sense of urgency and mission, among both store employees and customers lined up outside.

“Even if I see something that I know is easily available through overnight shipping through that behemoth we all know about, I have to buy it at a real bookstore,” said Gracie, referring to the dominance of Amazon. She chose to shop in person despite the pandemic, and also because of it. “It just makes me so sad when I see all the bookstores shuttered around the country, and it’ll be tragic if we keep losing them.”

. . . .

This time of year accounts for 20% or more of annual small-business sales, enough to get retailers out of the red — beginning of course with Black Friday. But this year, especially for bookstores, it’s not a question of balancing the books but mitigating the damage of a lost year. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, visits to three bookstores revealed devoted customers like Gracie braving the surge in advance of the latest lockdown. For local booksellers it was a day of promise but also renewed worry.

Despite the heartening lines, owners had to wonder whether it would be enough. With federal financial support depleted, further stimulus funding up in the air as of this writing, foot traffic still relatively low, popular events canceled and a record-breaking spike of cases, it’s going to be a close call for almost everyone.

. . . .

In the wake of the first lockdown, sales plummeted as much as 80% for local bookstores before improving steadily in recent months, though still significantly below that of previous years.

“The holiday shopping season is the make-it-or-break-it season for indie bookstores,” wrote ABA senior strategy officer Dan Cullen in an email. “Not only will their regular customers be shopping with them but this is when they see many first-time shoppers, who then can become new regular customers in the weeks and months ahead.”

Ultimately this is what success might hinge on — not only the goodwill of existing customers but an influx of new ones and, once the virus abates, the return of habitual in-store shopping. Because one of the biggest lessons learned for bookstores in 2020 is that online orders and loyal customers help, but not enough to ensure their long-term survival.

. . . .

“As a Black-owned business, you don’t have the luxury of just being a business, you have to be part of the community,” said Kokayi, 41, a regular customer who declined to give his last name. “You have to fight for Black businesses.”

. . . .

But the surge of web shopping “doesn’t make up for lost in-store sales,” said Cullen of the ABA. “This is definitely one of the most challenging holiday seasons that local businesses of all kinds have ever experienced.”

. . . .

Despite the dismal winter, booksellers said the spirit of giving is stronger than ever. One Diesel customer bought 200 copies of a children’s book as gifts, declining a volume discount. “We’re thinking of this as an idea, as a gift, so that we can sustain you,” Evans recalled the customer saying. He added, “A lot of people are extremely thoughtful right now, in a very civil way, about the things that they care about.”

. . . .

Diesel’s Evans put it simply at the end of an email: “Wish us luck.”

Link to the rest at the Los Angeles Times

Bookstore Sales Post Another Decline in October

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales fell 28.8% in October compared to 2019, according to preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $446 million, down from $627 million in October 2019.

The October decline was nearly identical to the drop reported in September, when bookstore sales fell 27.7% compared to the previous year—suggesting that, for the moment, bookstore sales appeared to have stabilized, albeit at a rate far below normal levels.

. . . .

For the first 10 months of 2020, bookstore sales fell 31% compared to a year ago, dropping to $4.97 billion, from $7.19 billion, in the comparable period in 2019. Sales for the entire retail market were flat in the January-October span.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says that most bookstores operate on relatively narrow margins. These sorts of sales declines suggest to PG that a lot of currently-shuttered bookstores will not be able to reopen even after Covid vaccines arrive.

Missing out on the Christmas sales season is particularly difficult for traditional bookstores.

This is in keeping with the likely future for a variety of other small retailers, at least in the United State.

While PG is pro-Amazon, primarily because Amazon treats authors well, he bears no animus towards retailers of any sort, particularly smaller ones. Each small bookstore that closes is a story of deeply disappointed dreams, likely of someone who loves books and reading.

What if Barnes & Noble went bankrupt?

From Nathan Bransford (in 2017):

I should emphasize from the start of this post that as of this writing there are no signs that Barnes & Noble is close to bankruptcy.

And yet in publishing circles, the prospect of Barnes & Noble going the way of Borders is sort of like a doomsday conversation that is impossible to resist. It’s the rare business lunch that does not at least reference this nightmare scenario.

But what would really happen if Barnes & Noble bit the dust?

I turned to publishing sage Mike Shatzkin, who has been involved in the book business for decades and has advised some of the biggest players in the publishing industry. Mike is currently working on a book about publishing with Robert Riger for Oxford University Press.

Nathan: Barnes & Noble has an uncertain future as a print bookseller, as its revenues decline and it transitions toward diversifying its products toward games and toys. It didn’t take long for B&N to go from being the bad guy in You’ve Got Mail to the equivalent of the little shop on the corner everyone is rooting for. What impact is this going to have on publishers?

Mike: These three sentences open up a world of things for publishers to be thinking about.

There are two big shifts taking place in the book business that are not favorable for Barnes & Noble.

1. More and more printed books are being purchased online and fewer and fewer are being purchased in stores. The takeaway: sales of books in stores in total are likely going down.

2. More and more book titles are being delivered to the market with motivations other than pure commercial intent and fewer and fewer are being delivered by publishers trying to make a profit from publishing books. The takeaway: sales of books issued by those not overtly trying to profit will steal markets and mindshare and reduce margins for the publishers trying to run businesses.

The movement away from brick-and-mortar stores is an obvious challenge for B&N, but the weakening of commercial publishing is too. Non-commercial publishers — authors or entities that do books as an ancillary activity — will not take the financial risks necessary to put books on bookstore shelves. And the very real risks involved in putting books on store shelves are going to be on the minds of the publishers whenever adverse news about B&N’s financial health surfaces.

But the big publishers are only slightly less dependent on Barnes & Noble’s success than B&N’s shareholders themselves. All of the big publishers were built around their ability to “put books on shelves”. That’s what they can do that authors can’t do for themselves and, up until now, Amazon couldn’t do for them either. Although big publishers sell bestsellers that are on mass merchants shelves as well as bookstore shelves, Barnes & Noble remains the one stop for bookstore exposure which handles most of the output of the big publishers. B&N delivers as many retail locations as the indies do and, for the most part, more sales.

. . . .

What would the landscape look like if B&N exited the book business entirely or, god forbid, went bankrupt?

Without Barnes & Noble, the business models of most of the publishers we know are severely challenged.

Although publishers would almost certainly have some warning about either a bankruptcy or an exit from the book business — neither would happen “suddenly” without at least a bit more “gradually” than we’ve yet seen — the absence of B&N would be a painful blow to the core business model of trade publishing. For about 100 years, the core proposition for mainstream publishers doing fiction and non-fiction for consumers has been “we put books on shelves”. That’s the proposition to the authors, as well as the service to consumers.

Putting books on bookstore shelves requires capital, knowhow, and organization. It is also the one function publishers perform that an author really can’t do for herself. Even the self-published authors who have made a print option available through print-on-demand — and both Amazon and Ingram enable that on what is almost entirely a marginal cost basis — don’t attempt to put speculative inventory on store shelves. The best they do is make their books available through established channels (Ingram) for special order on a customer request.

So were it to happen that the chain that supplies probably about ⅔ of the available shelf space for most titles were to disappear, the business model itself would be broken. The incentive for authors to shift to a self-publishing model, where they get a lot more per copy for ebooks and specially ordered POD books, would strengthen. And it would be pretty compelling in any case where the author brand was powerful or the author did most of the marketing of the book.

So publishers would be hurt at the revenue end and the IP supply end of their chain, which is the entry and the exit.

But the “financial risk” of losing B&N is one thing; there is also the financial risk and cash outlay involved in selling to B&N in the first place, namely that inventory has to be supplied to be paid for well after it is delivered. And return privileges have to be offered that involve taking back unsold books and attendant costs to accepting those returns, among which is — quite often — taking back inventory that will not be resold at full price.

Allowing bookstores and wholesalers to return unsold merchandise is one of the key and standard features of most publishers’ trading terms. It is so ingrained in the trade that booksellers would order without it only in extremely exceptional circumstances. For most books, it would be a non-starter for a store to take a book they couldn’t return if it didn’t sell.

The financial risk associated with returns is the main reason that indie authors don’t even attempt to get their books into bookstores. And it will suddenly be very much on publishers’ minds if B&N looks like it is hitting the financial rocks.

Were a bankruptcy to occur, the stock in B&N, even the books that were not yet paid for, would be owned by the company in receivership and the the amounts owed to the publishers would be in a queue for payment along with what is owed to other creditors.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG notes that when veterans in the book business keep talking about a particular major player going bankrupt, it’s not a good sign. As mentioned, the above-excerpted conversation happened in August of 2017.

BA and Bookshop.org respond to bookseller criticism

From The Bookseller:

he Booksellers Association and Bookshop.org have responded to criticism following the launch of the online website in the UK in November. The criticism, which is focused on how effective the website will be at supporting independent bookshops and the BA’s role in facilitating the launch, came in the form of a letter from bookseller Tamsin Rosewell to BA m.d. Meryl Halls following a social media discussion about the website. The letter was subsequently leaked to the press.

The letter, seen by The Bookseller, states that there is “discontent” among booksellers and publishers that is growing and “increasingly bitter”. Rosewell wrote that she had had numerous questions over how the affiliates scheme would work for indies, publishers, and authors, and described the launch marketing as “far more aggressive than is appropriate”. She also raised concerns over the BA’s own role in bringing Bookshop.org to the UK, as well as the requirement that participating bookshops should be members of the BA. Rosewell also queried what the impact would be on established bookshop websites such as those operated by Waterstones and Blackwell’s. “This general lack of transparency and accountability raises more complex questions.”

When approached by The Bookseller, Rosewell declined to comment further, and denied being the source of the leak. The letter is wide-ranging and contains a number of criticisms, some of which have been repeated in a New Statesman article. Speaking to The Bookseller, Meryl Halls, m.d. of the Booksellers Association, said the exchange of letters had been with Rosewell, and not with a number of booksellers as was being implied by the New Statesman.

In response to the letter from Rosewell, Halls wrote: “I understand that you remain unconvinced about Bookshop.org – plenty of booksellers remain unconvinced, I know – we have a pluralist membership and they will all have a different view. There is nothing compulsory about any of this; on the contrary, it is all optional.” On the question of the BA’s links to Bookshop.org–Halls sits on the board of the UK company—she said that the BA has no financial interest in Bookshop.org, and received no income from sales made. “We have made no investment, we have given them no funding, there is no introducer fee coming to the BA from Bookshop.org, or anything of the sort. We have no financial arrangement with Bookshop.org.”

On the criticism that indies had to be members of the BA, Halls responded that it was the same model as used in the US where indies must be part of the American Booksellers Association, and that its intention was to make sure that “only genuine, bricks and mortar indie bookshops would benefit”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Barnes & Noble’s New Boss Tries to Save the Chain—and Traditional Bookselling

From The Wall Street Journal:

A year ago, John Radford had little control over the book selection at the Barnes & Noble store he manages in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Executives in New York decided which titles to carry. The retailer’s 600-plus stores were expected to follow that blueprint.

Mr. Radford had to stock dozens of James Patterson and John Grisham books, even though there wasn’t that much local demand. Often, he’d have to return about half the inventory after a few months.

These days, he is the one calling the shots.

Led by Chief Executive James Daunt, Barnes & Noble Inc. is abandoning the strategy that made it a bookselling behemoth two decades ago—uniformity designed to create economies of scale and simplify the shopping experience. Instead, the company is empowering store managers to curate their shelves based on local tastes.

In recent months, Mr. Daunt has cut the ranks of once-powerful staffers who supervised large groups of stores and fired nearly half of the company’s New York-based book buyers, powerful tastemakers who decided which titles stores should carry. In the process, he has severed decadeslong relationships with publishers who paid to have their books placed in stores.

Mr. Daunt has made the most of pandemic-related closings in the spring to renovate and modernize stores.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble has suffered seven years of declining revenue in the face of Amazon.com Inc.’s dominance in online retail. The pandemic crushed sales in big cities, with revenue down 50% at major metropolitan stores, as well as the in-store cafe business.

In Mr. Daunt’s view, the very survival of bookstores is on the line. “I don’t think we have any God-given right to exist,” he recently told a group of publishing-industry professionals. “How is it that bookstores do justify themselves in the age of Amazon? They do so by being places in which you discover books with an enjoyment, with a pleasure, with a serendipity that is simply impossible to replicate online.”

In an interview, Mr. Daunt said empowering local store managers is central to his plans. “At the end of the day, I expect to give the booksellers complete freedom in all the things that I think should matter,” he said. “Freedom to put the books wherever they like, display them however they like, arrange them however they like.”

Mr. Radford, whose Idaho Falls store is tucked between a Macy’s and a J.C. Penney at the Grand Teton Mall, has begun offering books from homegrown literary noir stars such as C.J. Box and Craig Johnson, who write bestselling mystery series set in nearby Wyoming.

“This feels so much better,” he said. His store has increased profits this year.

. . . .

On top of trimming the ranks of corporate book buyers and district managers, Mr. Daunt closed some of Barnes & Noble’s most iconic branches, including the East 86th Street outpost in Manhattan that housed one of New York City’s most impressive art-book selections. “We’ve closed a couple of—frankly—albatross stores,” Mr. Daunt said.

The pending acquisition of book publisher Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House, a unit of German media company Bertelsmann SE, could create new problems for Barnes & Noble. The resulting enterprise, which will account for about one-third of all print books sold in the U.S., would have more power to press for higher prices and better retail display on behalf of its authors, said Laurence Kirshbaum, a literary agent and former publishing executive. “This world is about leverage,” he said.

. . . .

“As you let the stores diverge, a quarter will be brilliant and a quarter will be absolutely terrible,” Mr. Daunt said. “A significant number of your stores will become worse, not better. Then you teach and encourage them and, in time, everybody becomes better.”

. . . .

Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove Atlantic, a publisher whose authors include Lily King, Jim Harrison and Mark Bowden, said Mr. Daunt’s model “levels the playing field” while emphasizing the chain’s thousands of experienced booksellers who are enthusiastic readers. “It also lessens Barnes & Noble’s dependence on books sold by Target and Walmart, ” he said.

Barnes & Noble went through several unsuccessful turnaround attempts, including new store layouts and a greater emphasis on toys and gifts, as it churned through five CEOs between 2013 and 2019.

. . . .

Mr. Daunt first championed the tactic of ceding control to local managers at Waterstones, which was losing money when he got there. It took him four years to make the chain profitable again.

Waterstones has a 3.5% return rate. That’s the number of unsold books that retailers return to publishers. Barnes & Noble’s return rate is about 25%, and as high as 50% on new titles.

“A good bookseller has little to no returns,” Mr. Daunt said. “When you let the stores choose what they stock and choose how they price it, the returns more or less completely disappear.”

. . . .

Mr. Daunt is passionate about organizing books the proper way, down to the shape of display tables—round ones are the best, he says. He’s pushed Barnes & Noble to place books on shelves “face out,” so the whole cover can be seen. He believes in arranging by category, not alphabetically by author.

. . . .

A lot will ride on the performance of newly empowered store managers. Mr. Radford in Idaho Falls said he’s giving more shelf space to books related to local interests, including Yellowstone National Park and the Mormon faith.

Where books were once arranged alphabetically, Mr. Radford is mixing and matching similar titles by subject. On a bookcase devoted to U.S. history, Joseph J. Ellis’s “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson” is sandwiched between David McCullough’s “1776” and Rick Atkinson’s “The British Are Coming.”

Some Idaho Falls employees are struggling to adjust to the new playbook. Part of the problem, Mr. Radford said, is “having a teenager trying to shelve American history.”

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

North American Booksellers Join Pubeasy in Record Numbers

From Publishing Perspectives:

A record number of North American booksellers have joined Pubeasy in 2020, according to an announcement from MVB US, which operates Pubnet and Pubeasy North American services and is a subsidiary of Frankfurt-based company MVB.

The Pubeasy platform is an online ordering service which allows booksellers to place orders directly with publishers. Publishers pay to be on the platform, but the service is free to booksellers. The Pubeasy site says that “booksellers receive a better discount” when ordering direct from publishers, rather than ordering through distributors or wholesalers.

. . . .

So far in 2020, the company’s media messaging indicates, more than 750 North American booksellers have joined Pubeasy, representing a 600-percent increase over 2019.

In addition to Pubeasy—which offers current price, stock availability, and order status information from multiple suppliers in addition to electronic ordering—MVB markets Pubnet. That service “enables automated electronic ordering from the retailer’s point-of-sale system.

Taken together, the two services are engaged by more than 4,100 bookstores in more than 100 countries, connecting them to at least 3,500 publishers, conducting transactions based on global standards. MVB reports that it’s now planning a market entry in Brazil for both Pubnet and Pubeasy.

. . . .

Ronald Schild, MBV CEO in Germany, is quoted, saying, “Especially in these difficult times, efficient order management is extremely important for both bookstores and publishers. Supply chain issues such as inventory shortages and shipping delays make it necessary to have reliable visibility into the status of your orders at all times.

“The trend toward bundled, automated processes is thus further strengthened, as is clearly reflected in our user figures for Pubeasy and Pubnet.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

One in Four Books Is Purchased in the USA During the Holidays

From Publishing Perspectives:

Just to clarify the importance of the decorative season we’re entering, the NPD Books‘ Kristen McLean is clarifying today (November 23) that the United States’ book market is dependent on the winter holiday season for 25 percent of its annual print sales.

Almost 173 million books were sold in November and December last year, the company’s data shows.

McLean, who’s the lead books industry analyst for NPD, is bullish on the chances for the American industry to end this strange year strongly, telling the news media, “Book sales have been stronger than normal throughout the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, so publishers have reason to be hopeful for good holiday tidings, and a strong finish to 2020.

“Historically,” she says, “the uptick in sales begins in the first week of November, but as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are watching closely to see if we see the same book shopping patterns as in previous years.”

. . . .

“With volume 20 percent higher than the same week in 2019, this week marks the highest week of unit sales for the print market so far this year. The volume of 15.5 million units signals the start of the seasonal climb.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Bookstore Sales Down 27.7% in September

From Shelf Awareness:

In the seventh month of data reflecting public health measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, including the closure of many bookstores for a time and limited access since then, in September sales at bookstores dropped 27.7%, to $609 million, compared to September 2019, according to preliminary Census Bureau estimates.

April and May had the largest drops in sales this year, down 65.3% and 59.9%, respectively, reflecting the first wave of the pandemic. Since then, bookstore sales have been down in a range between 24.7% and 35.4%. During the first nine months of the year, bookstore sales fell 30.1%, to $4.5 billion.

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Pandemic Speeds Americans’ Embrace of Digital Commerce

PG doesn’t usually post excerpts of more than one Wall Street Journal each day, but thinks this one includes important information that, among other things, does not bode well for traditional bookstores and (he suspects) physical books.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Brooke Mallers recently bought a used car online, she uses food and grocery delivery services more and she makes telehealth appointments—new habits that she expects to last long after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever go into a car dealership again,” said the 58-year-old retired investor in Boulder, Colo. “It was fun to have an experience that’s new and the internet enables.”

The pandemic’s disruptions have transformed how American consumers behave by accelerating their embrace of digital commerce, and the changes are likely to prove permanent, according to businesses studying and adapting to the changes.

A recent survey by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that about three out of four people have tried a new shopping method due to the coronavirus and that more than half of all consumers intend to continue using curbside pickup and grocery-delivery services after the pandemic is over. Nearly 70% of consumers surveyed intend to continue buying online for store pickup.

The pandemic collapsed into three months a process of adopting e-commerce that otherwise would have taken 10 years in the U.S., the firm concluded.

. . . .

The lockdowns, social distancing and other effects of the crisis forced many consumers to try online shopping, medical appointments, yoga classes and tutoring services. And people new to the e-commerce game are “finding out it’s pretty useful,” said Brian Ruwadi, a senior partner at McKinsey.

This spurred businesses to step up their digital services. “You see significant movement on both sides, and that has to result in a significant increase, a fundamental shift in acceleration,” he said of the changes in business and consumer behavior.

“Consumers won’t go back to shopping the way they did before the pandemic,” said Stefan Larsson, the president of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger parent PVH Corp. “They will go forward into the new normal.”

. . . .

The rapid transition has positioned some businesses to thrive and grow, while others struggle or fail, reflecting the broader economy’s K-shaped recovery. Among the winners are those facilitating the shifts, including online retailers and service providers, technology firms and companies delivering the goods people are buying online. Peloton Interactive Inc. said its revenue more than tripled to $757.9 million in the September quarter. The company is capitalizing on surging demand for at-home fitness equipment, much of it internet-connected like its exercise bikes.

Faltering businesses include those unable to make the transition, such as many restaurants and bricks-and-mortar stores. Retail-store closings in the U.S. reached a record in the first half of 2020, and the year is on pace for record bankruptcies and liquidations, according to a report on the downturn’s severity.

Some pandemic-driven changes in what people spend money on may prove temporary, such as the shift away from activities requiring proximity to other people. With many Americans still shunning air travel and indoor dining, and with entertainment ticket windows still dark from Disneyland Park to Broadway, consumers spent 7.2% less on services in the third quarter than a year before. That left money to boost purchases of goods by 6.9% over the same period. But much of this could reverse once the virus is subdued.

Meantime, the change in how they buy things looks more lasting and spans generations.

“I will never go to a grocery store again in my life because it’s just so convenient and easy” to shop online, said Allan Schilter, an 81-year-old retired accountant in Springfield, Mo.

Mr. Schilter picks up his groceries curbside at Walmart, after ordering them online. “It’s safer; you don’t have to go into the store.”

E-commerce’s share of U.S. retail sales rose to 16.1% in the second quarter of this year, from 10.8% a year earlier and 0.9% of total retail sales two decades ago, according to the Commerce Department.

. . . .

Emily Kennedy said she is glad the pandemic prompted her to start ordering groceries.

“Being forced into that situation made me realize how much time I was spending every week walking those aisles,” said Ms. Kennedy, president of Marinus Analytics, an artificial-intelligence company. “People are realizing the time they save and the money they save,” said the 30-year old, who lives near Denver. “Once they get it, they’re reluctant to give it back later on.”

Shifts in consumer behavior are driving development of new distribution methods, such as online-only stores, or “dark stores,” where online purchases are gathered by workers for distribution to customers. Shoppers aren’t allowed in to browse the shelves or squeeze the fruit.

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

Retail Chains Shed Stores, but It Isn’t Good for Business

From The Wall Street Journal:

Retailers’ preferred solution for empty stores may only be adding to their problems, according to new research and industry executives.

Retail chains have announced thousands of closures this year after closing a record number of stores last year, as the pandemic crimps demand for nonessential items and shopping continues to migrate online.

The hope is that by cutting expenses associated with physical locations, the chains can become more profitable and start growing sales again as customer purchases shift to their remaining locations and websites. But that rarely happens, according to new research and interviews with industry executives.

“Closing stores isn’t going to solve a retailer’s underlying problems,” said Stephen Sadove, the former chief executive of Saks Inc. “You have to look at why the stores aren’t performing. What is their competitive advantage and their reason for being?”

Even before the pandemic, retailers were closing stores at a record pace. U.S. chains announced the closure of 9,275 outlets last year, the most since Coresight Research Inc. began tracking the figures in 2012. The tally exceeds 8,000 stores so far this year, according to Coresight.

The health of the industry will be on display this week as chains from Walmart Inc. to Macy’s Inc. report quarterly earnings, with the holiday shopping season already under way. Chains began offering Black-Friday-type discounts in October, instead of waiting until the traditional day after Thanksgiving.

Retailers that closed stores in recent years often continued to shrink, sometimes to the point of disappearing altogether, according to research from Citigroup Inc. and BMO Capital Markets.

. . . .

“No retailer ever announces one round of store cuts—it’s always the precursor to a store bleed,” said Simeon Siegel, a BMO senior analyst. “Most companies we looked at had lower revenue and profit than before they started closing stores.”

. . . .

The rise of e-commerce put an end to the store-opening juggernaut. As consumers bought more online, they visited physical stores less, making them less productive and more costly to operate. That led chains to close hundreds of locations with the hopes of stabilizing profits. For some, the strategy hastened their decline.

“When you look at all the retailers that are closing stores now, it’s easy to forget that so many have tried this in the past and they aren’t around anymore,” Citigroup analyst Paul Lejuez said.

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

The indie book platform trying to take on Amazon

From CNN:

New bookselling platform Bookshop is pitching itself as a way for independent bookstores to claw back sales from Amazon, which controls a lion’s share of a market worth nearly $26 billion in the US alone.

Bookshop, launched by literary publisher Andy Hunter in January, claims to be a “socially conscious” alternative to Amazon. A spokesperson for the enterprise also said it has already earned more than $7.5 million for US indie bookshops and taken 2 percent of Amazon’s share of the market in its first year.

The platform allows booksellers to create their own digital stores and receive the full profit margin (30 percent) from each sale through their page. 10 percent of sales through Bookshop also go towards a fund that is divided between indie bookshops whether or not they are part of the platform. Chris Doeblin, the owner of three Book Culture locations in New York, said he saw his sales plummet by half as Amazon grew in popularity in the late 1990s. “We’ve barely held on. It’s been horrible,” Doeblin said in a telephone interview. “Independent bookshops do wonderful things for a community — they populate the storefronts, they offer a place to go.”

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to N. for the tip

PG was prepared to wish this start-up well until he hit the “socially conscious alternative to Amazon” part of the OP.

For the record, PG is socially conscious. Mrs. PG is socially conscious. All the PG offspring and their friends are socially conscious.

And we’ve all used Amazon even more than ever during the Age of Covid.

Plus, referencing the OP, “populating the storefronts” is a community service that doesn’t require books. One populator fills up the space pretty much as well as another. PG suspects a retail establishment selling beer and liquor might generate more customer traffic and pay more state and local taxes to help the community than your typical indie bookstore would.

The Strand Shouldn’t Have to Beg Us Not to Die

From Slate:

On Friday, New York City’s legendary Strand bookstore announced it was in trouble. With revenue down 70 percent because of the pandemic, owner Nancy Bass Wyden warned in a post on social media, the “loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat these past months are depleted,” and the 93-year-old landmark is fighting for its survival.

Just as so many businesses and institutions have since March, Bass Wyden turned to her loyal customers for help, asking them to spend their money and spread the word, using the hashtag #SaveThe Strand. But alongside encomia from celebrities and Slate’s former editor in chief, another chorus arose, asking why Bass Wyden, a multimillionaire who is also the wife of a U.S. senator, was passing the hat rather than raiding her own piggy bank. As an article in the Baffler laid out in detail last month, the store received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of between $1 million and 2 million in April with the purpose of protecting the 212 jobs spread across its three locations, including the 188 workers Bass Wyden laid off in late March. Ultimately fewer than two dozen union jobs were restored, and Bass Wyden put her personal fortune to work purchasing stock in Amazon, a mortal enemy of brick-and-mortar booksellers she described as a necessary step toward keeping the Strand afloat.

. . . .

The Strand is a literary mecca, so beloved that the novelist in Sofia Coppola’s new movie On the Rocks sports two separate tote bags with its logo during the course of the film. But bad bosses suck, especially ones who use economic exigency as an excuse to gut union staff. Yet the infuriating thing about the Strand controversy isn’t not knowing which side to pick. (As a union employee myself, that part is pretty easy.) It’s that we even have to have this conversation.

More than seven months after the first lockdowns, American small businesses have been left to twist in the wind. The PPP, as Slate’s Jordan Weissman wrote back in July, was a bust, a poorly administered half-measure. But that policy blunder pales in comparison to how badly the federal government has managed the pandemic as a whole—not to mention how many cultural institutions will likely be diminished or destroyed as a result of the government’s failures.

. . . .

My guess is that the Strand, with its iconic status and well-heeled supporters, will end up being fine. San Francisco’s similarly storied City Lights raised more than half a million dollars in April to help it get through the pandemic. But what about all the other bookstores who don’t have their name recognition or the ability to fundraise outside their own neighborhoods—or simply those in neighborhoods where people are too concerned with keeping themselves afloat to even think of giving money away? 

Link to the rest at Slate

PG gently suggests the Pandemic has accelerated a trend that was already well underway before anybody had heard about Covid.

French Publishers Appeal to Government: Leave Our Bookstores Open

From Publishing Perspectives:

In an extraordinary appeal to the Emmanuel Macron government today (October 28), France’s publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), has joined with two of its associated organizations in issuing a “solemn, united, and responsible” request that French bookstores be allowed to remain open despite the anticipated announcement of new pandemic lockdown restrictions.

Perhaps the most compelling part of their letter: “We are ready to assume our cultural and health responsibilities.”

. . . .

Emmanuel Macron has been expected to make a televised address to the French people this evening, announcing new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that may go as far as a second national lockdown. Lauren Chadwick at EuroNews writes that such a confinement would not be expected to be as stringent as the spring lockdown but Kim Willsher’s write at The Guardian agrees with other press reports that the new constraint could be set to last as long as four weeks.

A curfew already has been imposed for at least eight major urban centers in the country, and the Worldometer tracking regime reflects the soaring numbers of new cases being registered in the French market. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

New York’s Strand bookstore appeals for help

From The Guardian:

The Strand Bookstore, a landmark of literary New York, is in serious trouble, appealing for customers to help it stave off closure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve survived just about everything for 93 years,” proprietor Nancy Bass-Wyden said in a statement, of the store her grandfather founded in 1927. “The Great Depression, two world wars, big box bookstores, ebooks and online behemoths. We are the last of the 48 bookstores still standing from 4th Avenue’s famous Book Row.

“Because of the impact of Covid-19, we cannot survive the huge decline in foot traffic, a near-complete loss of tourism and zero in-store events.”

Bass-Wyden said revenue was down nearly 70% from 2019. Though a government loan and cash reserves saw the store through the first eight months of the pandemic, she said, “we are now at a turning point where our business is unsustainable”.

Earlier this year, thanks to disclosures necessitated by her marriage to Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator from Oregon, Bass-Wyden was revealed to have spent between $115,000 and $250,000 on purchasing stock in Amazon, the “online behemoth” that has done most to damage independent bookstores.

Bass-Wyden said she made the purchase to support the Strand.

“It was necessary for me to diversify my personal portfolio and invest in stocks that are performing,” she said then. “I have to make sure that I have the resources to keep the Strand going.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

August Bookstore Sales Dropped 30.7%

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales tumbled 30.7% in August compared to one year ago, according to preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales fell to $754 million compared to $1.09 billion in August 2019.

The steep August drop put an end to a brief rally during which the rate of decline in bookstore sales had been slowing. In July, bookstore sales fell 24.6% compared to July 2019, an improvement over the 35% decline in June compared to August 2019.

. . . .

Bookstore sales through the first eight months of 2020 were down 31.4% from the comparable period in 2019. Sales were just under $4 billion in the most recent period, down from $5.72 billion in the January-August period in 2019. Sales for all of retail fell 1.7%.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG did some quick research and, at least in the US, the average profit margin of a bookstore was 2-3% prior to Covid.

PG doesn’t like to see any small business go through difficult financial times, but he expects the financial future of a great many small bookstores is bleak unless the owner has access to assets or cash from sources outside of the bookstore business.

Even smaller banks that cater to local small business borrowers might not be willing to provide much help.

Readings, reinvented

From The Bookseller:

I had been working throughout 2019 on widening out and experimenting with the format of book readings. I took my second novel, Lanny, on the road with two musicians. We did semi-improvised performances, somewhere in between a reading and a gig. Overseas, I re-wrote sections of the book using submitted text from local audiences so the readings became bespoke collaborative one-offs, and the book changed from place to place.

I guess at the root of this is a slight discomfort with the way we put authors on pedestals. I think it’s far more interesting to share the stage. More than that, it’s my basic responsibility. The privilege of having an audience or a readership, the sheer good fortune of that, means one should make every effort to support the work of others and where possible divide any limelight between many voices, many types of work. The old format of author on stage reading from the new book, followed by intelligent questions from a well-prepared chair, followed by audience questions (nine good questions and a mansplain, as the formula goes) can be wonderful, but we have plenty of it. It may be a little tired, and a little limited, as a way of sharing literature. It also perpetuates a fairly simplistic and limited economic model, which can also grate (I love a signing queue as much as the next bookseller) but perhaps not as generative or suitable to our increasingly diversified methods of cultural participation as it needs to be, if we want to keep books and book culture alive and relevant.

To this end we had been planning a project at the Union Chapel called ‘The English Soundwood’. It grew out of a multi-performer project I did when Cheltenham festival kindly invited me to curate events in October 2019. For that first event we had poets, novelists, memoirists and musicians, all performing together. The Union Chapel gig was going to widen it out further to include more musicians, a bigger visual element, audience participation, puppetry, live technological enhancement and so on. And, like everything, this has been postponed.

So this Sunday I will find myself a long way from sharing the stage with others. I will be standing alone in an empty venue, reading not new work, or collaborative work, but old work. In order to support a beloved venue and their extraordinary charity, the Margins Project, I’m reading the whole of my first book, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, as a livestream. The idea being that even if you hated my first book, you could buy a ticket and not watch the livestream, and you would be supporting a great organisation.

Readings are a funny thing, and I don’t know what it will be like to do a whole book in an empty chapel. I’m not an actor, so I don’t even know where to look, if there’s no audience. And will I lose my voice? Not that my book is very long, but still, when was the last time I spoke for over an hour with no break? Also peering over my shoulder like an intimidating crow, is Cillian Murphy, who very much made the book his own when he starred in Enda Walsh’s stage adaptation in 2018. I can hear him in my head. I can literally see him in the text because he drew all over my paperback copy. So I need to banish him, because nobody wants a cod-Cillian, a faux-Murphy.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG would love to see a robust analysis examining the economics of a reading/book signing for an author who isn’t a noted celebrity.

How much time does it take to prepare?

How much time and how expensive is it to travel to a bookstore, then return home afterwards? (PG understands that travel times may vary, depending on many circumstances, but he does know of at least some traditional publishers that expect non-famous authors to be willing to drive for 1-2 hours each way to appear at a book signing.)

How does the author feel after returning from a 2-4 hour book signing? Refreshed and ready to write? Or exhausted in the way some introverts are after being coerced into interacting with a bunch of strangers who have never heard of them or their books?

What’s the author’s hourly income generated by a book signing, considering time spent preparing, traveling back and forth, sitting behind a table for x hours, packing and unpacking whatever the author is taking to the signing, recovering after the signing is over.

PG thinks more than a few book signings take at least an entire day during which an author could be sitting comfortably at home working, researching, editing, etc.

Serious publishers pay a lot of money buying ads, pumping up the sales force, reaching out to bookstore owners, etc. In addition to advertising and promotion costs the publisher pays to third parties, the publisher is also paying its employees while they’re doing promotions, marketing, pitching store owners, etc., etc.

An author who is also a skilled public speaker or pitchperson might command high speaking fees or receive a generous commission for using those talents in a commercial venture other than promoting her/his book.

While sales commissions vary widely from industry to industry, it isn’t unusual for a commission sales person to receive 30-40% of the amount the employer receives from a customer who purchases goods after being pitched and charmed by a good sales rep.

No professional sales person would spend three or four hours to receive a commission equal to what a traditionally-published author receives from a book-signing at which she sells 25 trade paperbacks.

PG wonders if an author going shopping or running errands wearing a sandwich board might earn more than an author sitting in a bookstore signing books.

Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who is interested in exploring this marketing system can buy the materials necessary here.