Monday, June 16, 2014

Mistaking popularity for profitability.

I should just make this a regular feature of this blog.

On Shelf Awareness they regularly announce openings and closings of bookstores.

The closings are especially interesting to me in what they say about why they close, and how it is pretty easy to read between the lines as to why the bookstore really failed in the way they try to explain why it failed.

So a quintessential one came up today.  But I have read similar articles dozens of times over the last few years, and in every case they seem to completely miss why they failed.

Over and over again, the store will say something like:  We did everything right.

They then give details of what they think is "right."

Signings and a comfortable place and serving food and drink and really nice features and blah, blah, blah.

"The store survived as long as it did thanks to the more than 100 events he hosted annually at the shop. The free get-togethers "solidified vague notions of community and neighborhood," he said, while driving a lot of the book-selling business."

" long as it did..."  Two years?

100 events?  In a year?

"...vague notions of community..."  Ha.  You can say that again...

They almost never mention books.

First off, the picture of the store is three quarters filled with tables and chairs.  With a couple of bookshelves to one side.

Secondly, the store is only two years old.

Third, they talk about how popular they are:

"A lot of people will be very sad if this store closes. I'd say we definitely gave it a go the best that anyone could.... The store is very popular. We have a lot of regular customers."

Well, no.  You obviously don't have "a lot" of regular customers.  You have a lot of people coming into your store for "free get-togethers."

It's amazing how often I run across this statement.  How often they think they did the right things and yet not mention books, as if books always were a secondary motivation.

It seems to me that every high profile failure is similar to this.  And no one seems to see the connection -- that it might not be that they failed "despite" doing all the "right" things -- but because they did do all the "right" things.

Only right wasn't right.  Promotion is not the same thing as sales.

The focus is all wrong.  The focus should be on selling books, not being popular.  Not having the nicest spot.  Not being someplace people can hang out at.  Not being an "event" center.  Not being a restaurant.

These people open bookstores not to sell books, but to be popular.  To be cool.  To be social.  They are always doing it for the "neighborhood."

Oh, and they sell books too, sometimes.  I think.  They don't really talk about that.

How about spending the thousands of hours hosting events in finding good books?  How about taking all that space with empty tables and chairs and filling them with bookshelves?

How about being a bookstore?

Oh, and right now there is someone out there planning to open a bookstore, and they are spending 10 hours on menu's and ads and decor etc. for every hour they are spending on buying books.  Or displaying books.  Or finding the most efficient space for bookshelves.  Or ... well, they've been told that they have to have that "third space" and so they've bought into it completely.

I believe there are places that do well with events and restaurants, etc.  But every time I've seen one (say like Politics and Prose on C-Span) they are PACKED with books.  Because they understand that books come first.  

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