Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bookstores in small towns.

The bookstore we used to visit in Crescent City was gone, which didn't surprise me none.  The magic store across the street was also gone, which also didn't surprise me none.

Anyway, there was a new bookstore in the place of the old one.  The space was smaller and fixed up, the inventory a little on the light side.  I wandered around the place trying to make sense of it.  It had a very odd inventory mix.

"Do you read much fiction?" I finally asked.

"Not much."

Well, that was apparent.  Very small selection.  But the non-fiction was also sort of limited in its scope.

"What did you do before you opened the store?"

"I worked in a state park bookstore."

Ah.  That clicked.  Lots of natural history and environmental books.  The more I looked, the more I saw that was his focus.

Now, I always make the case that a store should be unique, and reflect to some extent the owner's interests.  But I also think you need to have a broader and more varied selection to attract as many customers as possible.

He was selling most of his books at a discount, which I questioned him on, since his books are so unique that if someone was inclined to buy them, they'd probably be just as likely to buy them at full price.  He also had multiple copies of the same books, but not a huge variety, which in a world when you can replace books in one day seems like a waste of money to me.  (Though every bookstore I've ever been in does this, which mystifies me.  Are you going to sell more than two copies in one day?  If not, then sell one and order another and still have one in stock.) He also seemed focused on ordering direct from publishers to save a few percentage points on his profit margin.

He didn't want any advice.  Of course.  No one ever does.  I try to give advice by asking questions, but of course I know he won't listen.  If I was him, I would preserve what I was doing for about a third of the store, I would increase fiction to at least a third of the store, I would put my books at full price, and I would have one wall of used books.  If I was him, which I'm not.

I wish him luck, but having a bookstore in as small a town and with the demographics that Crescent City has is going to be hard even if you have the widest selection possible.  The smaller the town, the more general the store needs to be.  (The bigger the city, the more likely you can get away with being a specialty store.)

It was obvious that this owner had his interests and that was that.  Maybe he's so focused that he can make it work.  Maybe he can pull people in from out of the area.  Maybe he's just in the process of building his inventory.

I wish all these bookstores would make it.

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