On the Experience of Entering a Bookstore in Your Forties (vs. Your Twenties)

8 January 2019

From LitHub:

In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers. I didn’t have much money and had to be intentional in my selections. I’d pull a book from the shelf and study its cover, smell its pages, wander into the weather of its first lines and imagine the storms to come—imagine a wiser, wilder me for having been swept away by them. It’s something I still feel in my forties. I’m still dazzled by possibilities when I walk into a bookstore.

But it’s not the same.

Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.

I’d started coming to bookstores because I wanted to learn how to write and the only consistent advice I got from established writers was to read everything. It was good advice. It’s still good advice. It’s also impossible. No one reads everything, nor even all the books they’d like to. You make your choices, come what may. John Muir’s famous quote about ecology might as well have been about choosing what books to buy: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The bookstore is a liminal space. Even if like me you don’t have the cash to buy a box of new titles and reinvent yourself week to week, you have the moment of the choosing and everything it tugs upon.

. . . .

Now I live a dozen miles from Walden Pond. In the “local authors” section of the bookstore I frequent Henry David’s guileless, lamb-chopped mug peers out from cover after cover, reminding me of where I am—and who I am. Other books do the same. They’re not merely items on a shelf but points on a map, convergences I can trace to former versions of myself. Last week my nine-year-old son and I wandered into an aisle given over to coffee table books with stunning photographs of the natural world. One was about rivers and I opened it and turned to a picture of the Rogue River. I showed him. I said, “This is where Daddy lived a long time ago—in Oregon—before you were born. Isn’t it beautiful?” But to him it was just another picture of a scenic river. He took a quick glance and said it was pretty cool and drifted off in search of his own possibilities.

. . . .

Choosing is always a sweet sorrow. I don’t mean to lament that fact only to point out that, as with rivers, you never step into the same bookstore twice. And while I remain dazzled by the promise and possibility bookstores offer, I’ve found myself becoming somewhat apprehensive of them. Who needs the reminder of all you never were? Or of all you were but won’t ever be again? At 44 I feel a pressure that wasn’t there in my twenties. As my father so eloquently reminded me last year when I mentioned I’d been shoveling snow: “Be careful, Bud: You’re in the heart-attack zone.” How many books do I have left to read?

Link to the rest at LitHub

Any more, PG seldom enters physical bookstores. When he does, he tends to wonder if the employees are earning a living wage.

In a Barnes & Noble, he wonders what the employees, particularly the long-term employees who started work planning to make bookselling a career, will do when the company files for bankruptcy protection. He wonders what happened to all the people who worked at Borders when it closed.

When he gets back into the stacks to look at the kind of books he really enjoys, he hopes the traditionally-published authors he sees there have day jobs.

If, as the OP says, “you never step into the same bookstore twice,” is an unintentional extra meaning beyond the turnover of store stock hiding there? The next time you step into this store, will all the books be gone?

Indie Booksellers Report Strong Holiday Finish

6 January 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Although independent booksellers reported difficulty in keeping certain titles in stock, the problem was not enough to dampen sales at independent stores this holiday season.

In fact, reports from around the country indicated overall sales throughout the holiday season were strong, even record-breaking. Some stores reported having their best sales days ever. Lots of interest in Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming (Crown) brought customers into stores, as did a range of other titles, including Educated by Tara Westover (Random House) and Circe by Madeline Miller (Little, Brown) on the adult side and Snowy Nap by Jan Brett (Putnam) and The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Cowley (Scholastic), on the children’s side.

“The Friday before Christmas, when the stock market tanked, was the biggest sales day we’ve had in 43 years! And the Saturday after that set another record,” said Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan., a Kansas City suburb, who noted that this year saw an unexpected doubling in gift card sales. Jennings said the store kept Becoming in stock throughout the holidays in part by clearing out all local Costco locations of their inventory. “We also watched inventory runs very carefully, and jumped ahead if we saw anything trending,” Jennings said, adding that, overall, sales were up 10% over 2017 for the season.

Jennings was among several booksellers who cited difficulty in keeping Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, illus. by Wendy MacNaughton (S&S); The Overstory by Richard Powers (Norton); and Frederick Douglas by David Blight (S&S) in stock.

“Those were the three titles we had the most trouble with,” said Todd Gross, manager of Phoenix Books in Downtown Burlington, Vt. “We only got 30 of Salt, but could have sold 150.” He remarked that getting books from S&S has been particularly challenging for quite some time. “They can take 10 days to get us books, compared with two or three for Penguin Random House.” Gross noted delays in getting books can kill sales, and he praised Bookazine and Baker & Taylor in particular for great service during the holiday season. “They were quick to tell us when in-demand titles were back in stock,” said Gross, who said that his holiday orders flip from relying on publishers 90% of the time during the year, to relying on wholesalers for 90% of orders during the holidays.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says the shipping operations of publishers only have one thing to do – ship books. They have been performing this function for a long time.

Likewise, the production departments of publishers have only one thing to do – print enough books to meet demand. They also have been performing this function for a long time.

A long time ago when PG was a baby lawyer, he was working for a law firm in Los Angeles and talking to one of the firm’s clients.

This client had started the first book wholesaler in Los Angeles and PG was learning about the client’s business. Basically, the business worked this way:

  • Bookstores could purchase books from publishers at lower prices than they could from the client.
  • However, publishers were not good at processing orders and shipping books.
  • The client was very good at processing orders and shipping books.

So, the client bought books from publishers and put them in a warehouse. Because he bought a lot of books, he had negotiated maximum volume discounts.

Bookstores bought their books from the client, even though he charged higher prices than the publishers did, when they didn’t want to wait for books to arrive from the publishers.

The client made a lot of money doing this, particularly when there was a bestseller. The bookstores wanted copies to sell to customers and they could get them from the client within a day. This client later made even more money when he sold his business to Baker & Taylor several years later.

Some businesses are set up to sell their products only through wholesale channels. This can work financially because they don’t spend any money fulfilling small orders. They crate and ship an order for a thousand widgets using bulk shippers instead of individually packing one hundred boxes, each with ten widgets inside, and paying UPS to deliver each one to a separate location.

Other businesses are set up to sell directly to retailers. This can work financially because they can sell to the retailers at a higher price because they’ve cut out the costs and profits of a middleman.

Apparently, typical book publishers still try to do both, so they bear the expenses of each type of business without being terribly effective at satisfying their customers.

‘Showrooming’ Solution: Sign for the Times

20 December 2018

From Shelf Awareness:

The Golden Notebook, Woodstock, N.Y., has an answer for “showrooming,” the habit of some bookstore customers to learn about books at bookstores and then order them online on their phones, sometimes in front of booksellers who just made the recommendation.

. . . .


. . . .

 At the Golden Notebook, a sign on the front door reads, “Please inquire at counter regarding in-store photography. Thank you!” As a result, wrote co-owner James Conrad, “we have no issue approaching a customer photographing and saying ‘excuse me, we do not allow in-store photography.’ We then attempt a teaching conversation about how we struggle against the internet and how hard we work to find the unique and sometimes extremely hard to find types of titles that reflect our unique community and customers. Usually people are extremely apologetic and sometimes they just say nothing because we basically told them we know exactly what they were doing.

“The sign also gives people the chance to just ask at the counter first and when they say they have a blog and want to promote us or live far away and can’t carry the hardcover home we say go ahead and photograph! (Just make sure to use an independent bookstore when you get home!)”

Conrad added: “Without the sign, you seem rude to mention it, but with it you can have a more polite moment to tell people the importance of small businesses and the struggles we face.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

While PG doesn’t take joy from the struggles of any small business, he thinks this is a little pathetic.

Do the proprietors of a bookstore in Woodstock, a noted upscale tourist destination known for its art, music, etc., think their customers don’t know about Amazon? Do they think their customers don’t know that the bookstore is trying to keep them from making purchases at Amazon?

Are the store owners trying to persuade visitors to purchase a product by making the visitors feel guilty?

Is a first-time visitor to the store who uses a cell phone camera in a way they are completely accustomed to doing almost everywhere else in the world going to be more or less inclined to visit the bookstore again if they view the management as being a bit unfriendly?

Is it possible a reasonably intelligent visitor might see the sign and think, “Oh, yes, I can buy anything in the store cheaper at Amazon?” How about a visitor who prefers ebooks to printed books for any of a number of reasons? Is he/she being told there’s nothing the store is interested in selling him/her?


B&N Announces Holiday Half-Off Sale

6 December 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

In another initiative to drive customers to its stores and website, Barnes & Noble will discount more than 100 books at 50% off from today until December 24 in its bricks-and-mortar locations and until December 25 online, provided supplies last.

. . . .

“Nobody knows books like Barnes & Noble, and this holiday we want to delight our customers with many of the year’s best books at half-price for their seasonal shopping,” Tim Mantel, B&N’s chief merchandising officer, said in a statement. “Whether you’re getting a book for a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or just looking for a good read for the holiday, there’s sure to be a perfect book in our selection of 50% off titles.”

After a long stretch in which quarterly comparable store sales have fallen, B&N has repeatedly said that it expects same store sales to increase in the holiday season.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Q2 Sales Dropped 8.1% at Barnes & Noble Education

5 December 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Revenue fell 8.1% at Barnes & Noble Education in the second quarter ended October 27, 2018, compared to the second quarter last year. In the crucial back-to-school period, total sales were $814.7 million, down from $886.9 million a year ago. Operating income slipped to $78.5 million from $83.3 million, but net income, thanks to $16 million in lower taxes, rose 8.3%, to $59.7 million.

At the company’s largest operating group, B&N College, sales decreased 7.2%, to $702.8 million, compared to the prior year period. B&NE blamed the decline primarily on a 5.6% drop in comparable store sales, which it said was largely due to lower textbook sales.

Revenue at the MBS Textbook Exchange division fell 11.8%, to $118.9 million, in the quarter. Sales at the MBS Wholesale unit dropped 20.2% compared to last year’s second quarter, due to what B&NE said was lower rental revenue plus lower net sales of traditional wholesale textbooks. At MBS Direct, sales fell 7.2%, due to lower sales from Higher Ed accounts and net new stores, the company said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Declare the Strand Bookstore a City Landmark? No Thanks, the Strand Says

5 December 2018

From The New York Times:

Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges — soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books — that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.

With its “18 Miles of Books” slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile’s haven has become a cultural landmark.

Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand’s building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.

There’s only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.

Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.

. . . .

Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.

“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”

That the Strand could be threatened by its own preservation seems like a plot twist worthy of one of its books, she said: The very agency entrusted with preserving the city’s treasures is endangering one of them.

Another rich twist, Ms. Wyden said, was that the move coincides with the announcement that Amazon — not exactly beloved by brick-and-mortar booksellers — plans to open a headquarters in Queens, after city and state leaders offered upwards of $2 billion in incentives to Amazon and its multibillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos.

. . . .

“The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”

. . . .

Owners of buildings with landmark status are in many cases barred from using plans, materials and even paint colors that vary from the original design without the commission’s approval.

. . . .

“Usually I’m on the side of the preservationists, but in this case, I agree with Nancy, because I know the Strand is a store, but it’s really a cultural institution that’s essential to the city,” she said. “And to put that” — meaning, landmark restrictions — “on top of a bookstore is just not fair.”

But Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, an advocacy group, said she believed the Strand’s concerns were unfounded.

“No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties,” she said. “They’re doing it to honor the building.”

. . . .

Ms. Wyden — who is married to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, whom she met at the similarly renowned Powell’s book store in Portland — is a third-generation owner of the Strand, which stocks roughly 2.5 million used, rare and new books and employs 230 people.

Her grandfather Benjamin Bass opened the Strand in 1927 on Fourth Avenue’s “Book Row,” which was lined with nearly 50 bookstores. Her father, and Benjamin’s son, Fred Bass, took over the business and worked there until his death in January at age 89.

The family moved the Strand to its current location in 1957 and rented space for decades before buying the building in 1996 for $8.2 million to ensure survival amid rising rents, Ms. Wyden said. The city assessed the building’s value at over $31 million in January.

Though landmark designation is often used to protect buildings from demolition or significant alteration, Ms. Wyden said she has no intention of selling to a developer, and is already restricted by existing zoning from further developing the building.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

This holiday season could seal Barnes & Noble’s fate

1 December 2018

From CNBC:

This could be the most crucial holiday season in Barnes & Noble’s history.

Its sales have been in a decline for six years as the bookseller cedes market share to Amazon and consumers turn to their phones or portable tablets instead of books. There’s been a revolving door in the retailer’s C-suite, and activist investors have piled on. Now, Barnes & Noble is considering a sale of its business after receiving interest from a handful of parties, including its founder and executive chairman, Leonard Riggio, and reportedly, U.K. retailer W.H. Smith.

Barnes & Noble must prove it can deliver sales growth in its core book business this holiday season. The retail industry as a whole is expected to benefit from strong consumer spending, with the average American household expected to spend $1,536 through the holidays, according to a survey by Deloitte. That’s up 25 percent from a year ago. If Barnes & Noble can’t grow sales against such a healthy, economic backdrop, the company could ultimately head down the same path as its former rival Borders, or shuttered Toys R Us or Sears, which is in bankruptcy court.

All things considered, Barnes & Noble still has high hopes ahead of the holidays.

“We’ve done a lot of things this year to try to put ourselves on the right track and to get our comp-store sales number to head in the positive direction,” Riggio told CNBC. “And we are hoping that that comes — we are planning for it to come — during this holiday season.”

. . . .

Last holiday season, the bookseller’s sales tumbled more than 6 percent, with e-commerce sales also in the red. After the dismal results, the company slashed its staff.

Now, it has a new plan in place for this year. In a new ad campaign that’s being rolled out this week in movie theaters and on cable television, Barnes & Noble touts its more than 20,000 current employees, along with their knowledge of books, as reasons why its stores are unique. “Nobody Knows Books Like We Do” is the message of the campaign, which will run though the middle of January.

Barnes & Noble also will be testing roughly 10 to 15 store layouts during the holidays, featuring different spreads of merchandise, to see what sticks.

“We have a lot of things out there in test form,” Riggio said. “Retail is all about that. … If you’re smart, you conduct tests during the holiday season, and that informs you how to run the next holiday.”

. . . .

Within just the past five years, Barnes & Noble has lost more than $1 billion in market value. Its shares have fallen about 4 percent from a year ago, having spiked more recently on deal speculation, and now trade under $7.

“To have a company with a small market cap is somewhat problematic,” Riggio said. “Our market cap is an indicator that we should be a private business.”

. . . .

Amazon all the while has managed to take almost 50 percent of new book sales, according to Codex Group, a book audience research firm. While it doesn’t break out Barnes & Noble’s share, Codex says Walmart has about 4.2 percent of the new book market, tied with the category of independent booksellers, which after a period of decline are staging a comeback.

. . . .

More recently, however, analysts say Barnes & Noble has struggled from perhaps innovating too much. It’s tested restaurants called “The Kitchen,” but the concept proved too expensive to grow at scale. It still has just five of these eateries, offering $12 avocado toast and $16 brisket burgers. “The top line on our restaurants is good. The bottom line is awful,” Riggio said on a recent earnings call.

America’s independent book chains, meanwhile, are gaining their footing again by sticking to what’s simple and what they know best — selling books. There are still more than 2,300 independent book stores in the U.S., according to the American Booksellers Association.

. . . .

“This is a very fragile industry now,” Codex Group CEO Peter Hildick-Smith said. “Our data is suggesting a lot of the books business today is behind the Amazon curtain.” He said more than two-thirds of all books sold on a unit basis are now transacted online.

Taking note of this trend, Riggio has said investments online will be the company’s next priority. Still, he explained, “the magnitude of what the Amazons and the Apples and the Googles can achieve in terms of technology is so far beyond that which we could achieve, we’ve really got to carve out a space for ourselves. … We can’t do it all.”

Link to the rest at CNBC

Here’s How It Will Go

1 December 2018

From The Layoff:

B&N will struggle through the holiday, and will probably fall short, since it has for the previous six seasons, and there’s nothing to suggest that it’s doing anything new to prevent it this year.

The money guys will come in on a certain Monday morning, and call the people who are providing the line of credit that the company has been relying on, and ask for a short term loan to make payroll for the coming Friday. And, they’ll be told, no, we’re not going to continue servicing this loan. And, not only that, but we’re calling in all your paper.

Then, the money guys will sit there in shock for a few minutes, drink some coffee, maybe head out to the street to smoke a c-gare–e, which they had quit some years ago but which seems like a good idea today. Then, they’ll start calling everybody they know and their uncle, whomever has some cash laying around. Maybe they’ll find some shylock who will front the money, or maybe they won’t. Word will get out on the street that B&N isn’t solvent, and can’t make their payroll for the week. And fewer and fewer calls will be answered, and if they can find somebody who will front the money, the interest will be usurious.

Worst case scenario: booksellers show up to work, and the stores are padlocked.

Best case scenario: stores stay open, but the company goes to the receiver and Chapter Eleven.

If you’re a bookseller at B&N, start looking for a new job now. Forget about severance and all the rest of that b—s—, because you won’t get it at this point.

This is how it will go.

Link to the rest at The Layoff and thanks to Felix for the tip.

You can see more anonymous comments at the Barnes & Noble section of The Layoff.

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