Saturday, October 1, 2011

What book decline? Knock wood.

My sales in new books were up 29% last month.

I think they've been up just about every month since I started carrying them.

Maybe that's why I'm so bemused by all the talk of books not selling.

The reason I'm selling books is that I'm selling to casual customers who walk in off the street. Tourists, more often than not. So it only matters that I have enough interesting books to sell to them. I'm paying the big rent to be in a downtown location that has healthy foot-traffic.

But really, I have no doubts that books are becoming problematic for most stores.

I think being a destination bookstore is going to be increasingly tough. I see family and friends who buy e-books because: "I just didn't have time to go looking for it." Or: "I didn't want to haul books on my vacation." Or....well, you've all heard all the reasons.

I see every day how hard it is to satisfy those customers who come in looking for specific titles and authors. I think, however, that even in the best of circumstances this is hard, and bookstores have probably always made most of their money from book readers who are open to the possibilities than they do from that customers who only wants that one book -- I'd guess it's probably 80/20. Maybe 90/10.

I've had the luxury of picking the low hanging fruit. My inventory consists of my favorites, other people's favorites, classics, cult books, and just interesting and quirky books that catch my attention. I probably tend toward buying fantastical books -- which matches my regular clientele -- but I've also tried to have enough selection that any reader will find something.

I just have to lay out a sumptuous enough banquet, and as long as I have people coming in the door, I'll sell some of it. If I have steak, and roast beef, and ham to offer, and the customer wants mutton, so be it.

Because I glean the books that catch my interest, I can buy from discount houses. What difference, I say, to having a English copy of The Sun Also Rises, that I can price competitively, but which I can buy cheaper? A book is a book.

Buying classics at cheaper prices allows me to carry more books.

Maybe I have wide interests, but I find lots of books being offered by the discount houses that seem really intriguing. So I can mix these books with the books that I buy at regular price, and create a diverse selection, and one that probably doesn't look like any other bookstore.

I'm not really sure what would happen if I devoted more space to books. For instance, I don't really pursue non-fiction books all that much, so there goes -- what, 50% of the potential sales?
I don't do new best-seller hardcovers, usually.

The more books I sell, the harder it will get. If I was a little younger, I think I'd like to take on the challenge of having a full-service bookstore. But -- I have a thriving business already in place, so that would be vain-glorious.

So I do what I can in my little space.

So far, I've been able to do it my way. It helps that I came in with my eyes wide open, knowing all the pitfalls before I started.

Much harder if you are already established and you have the rug pulled out from under you. You've got fixed expenses based on previous sales, and any serious decline might be hard to deal with. Me? I need to worry about inventory costs, and lost opportunity costs (taking space and money for books that could be used on something else) -- but my fixed expenses aren't affected by the addition.

There are still hundreds of titles that I know will sell that I haven't gotten in yet. And there are thousands upon thousands of books I don't know about, that I can browse and experiment with.

It's fun. It's fun because I'm doing it on my terms and getting away with it.

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