For so many years we in independent stores longed to change the story about us from a relentless drone of bad news about closings and the death of our kind. It isn’t just morose it’s very bad for business. So a little boost went a long way and Borders closed and we really did find a new tune in the air that was almost cheerful. But don’t let’s get too excited about a recovery for book stores. Even for those of us with growth there are many segments within our stores that aren’t doing well and around the country many stores are still closing. And many of us are finding growth in new non book merchandise. And good news is good news compared to what. I see successful retailers in food and coffee and style and home goods spend a solid decade or more in their niche and their success seems more successful. From my point of view I see so many good good people doing so much for so little in an industry so at odds with it’s own.
I see in professional booksellers the intelligence, the analysis, the effort that other industries have. I also see more. I see people doing it for love; for the love of their community and for the love of books. If you wander for a minute into any indie website you can see the smiling faces and the cheery postings about books and some incredibly thoughtful presentations that are marketing product in most industries and just love in ours. I suspect that in liquor and makeup and clothing and automobiles and software and headphones and all the rest of all the stuff that gets sold in this country no group loves their merchandise more than people who sell books. And no one gets paid less.
As long as publishers continue to sell books to other retailers who discount in order to take our customers and close our stores we’ve got a problem.
Like many of you I’ve got a google alert on book stores and book business and so forth and I see a relentless list of closing stores.
This week I was heartbroken to hear of Giovanni’s Room and Marcus Books closing. These two stores, both refuges (read the sign) , epitomize the cultural and community service that book stores are at their best. Their focus on their community and the literature of their community was an indication of their love and commitment to books.
But the point here is not about the cultural capital or moral good, this is just business. Here you have two exemplars of industry mavens and taste makers. These kinds of stores are the equivalent of DJs that play your tune. They curate, host events, display your product in cities around the country and ask for nothing in return. Any other industry would be making people that so promote their product rich. Literally. And the only reason these marginally possible businesses close is because publishers allow huge massive discounters to put them out of business.
We can have both. We can use Target, Costco, Amazon all we want and all our readers want, just make your value proposition and stick to it. If you put all your products on huge discounts from the moment they are announced, months before these stores can do their promotion, they will die. They are dying. And Publishing is losing its last most valuable assets.
Destructive practices are destructive. Closing retailers that so love your product and who extoll the virtues of your products so well is bad business.
The fear is that we can’t do without Amazon’s revenue, that we are stuck.
How do we get across the revenue divide? Isn’t it impossible to do without Amazon’s revenue? No. It isn’t. This isn’t the same world on line that it was in 1996. There are thousands of bookstores that sell on line and a national infrastructure with Ingram and Baker Taylor. And beyond that if Amazon pulls the plug how many major national chains wouldn’t shout out loud ” I’d be glad to sell your books on your terms”. Because we in books have a powerful brand. Retailers will sell it at cost if you let them but they’ll sell it at your price point too. That’s good business.
You can never replace the kind of love for books that existed in these stores that have closed.
Read the signs.