I'm really enjoying today, a day off at home. Linda is off doing errands, so it's Buddy Jasper and me. It feels good, peaceful.
I was thinking about the "back list," because of another article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch about how mainstream publishers are neglecting those titles. Of course, I often make the same contention about most bookstores.
But "back list" isn't descriptive or singular enough to define the phenomenon. After all, any book that has been published is a back list book, eventually.
So this morning, I came up with the phrase, "old favorites." I mean, I could say perennial or evergreen titles, but that's vague. Classics is a subcategory, so are quirky, or even "cult" books.
Old favorites it is.
I often get requests for a back list book. Now usually I can tell if the book I'm being asked for is something that maybe only the person asking wants--or whether it has a wider appeal. (If nothing else, I can look at the publishing date, how many copies are in stock, and the selling number on Amazon.)
On the assumption that someone's favorite is somebody's else favorite, I usually order such titles for the store. Only rarely do they not sell, and I'm never sure if it is the person who requested it. I absolutely love it when it becomes one of the old favorites.
In a sense, my job as a bookseller has been to ascertain which books have a continued following. Each book I add that is an evergreen seller adds to the base sales.
Bestsellers are something different. "Front List" is the terminology for those, and most of the action is the first week or two. Now, for almost a decade I ignored these books. First of all, they were hardcovers, which is a harder sell (--or so I thought.) Secondly, they were always a guess. They may be bestsellers elsewhere but not in my store.
But in 2018, as I came back to work, I decided to take the plunge. I quickly ascertained which bestsellers I can sell and which I can't. But even the ones I sell, I usually only sell one or two, sometimes more. So I'm now refining the process to those that sell within a week or a month, which keep selling, and when I should stop ordering them and wait for the paperback.
I'd say only a small percentage of these bestsellers become "old favorites," though they remain familiar with customers for a few years and still have a chance of selling to someone who missed the original wave.
Oh, and by the way, I don't return books. I get a higher discount, and besides I can usually unload a book at a large discount to a customer if I really want to get rid of it. They were bestsellers at some point, so they become back list, if not old favorites.
I will admit--books sell better when I carry bestsellers. It adds an aura to my store.
But I believe a good back list is what distinguishes my store. The more books readers recognize, the more they think my store is the kind of store they like. I'm sure that mainstream stores dazzle their customers with new bestsellers, but they seem to always be using their budget to move onto the next thing, and then the next. After all, that's the model that movies, games, TV shows, and music takes.
But, then again, Netflix also gets a ton of business from backlist.
In fact, if you want to know what to carry in your bookstore, you could do worse then paying attention to what the streaming services are doing.
Mainstream publishers and bookstores? Sometimes I think they are clueless.
A few years ago, after I sold a ghostwritten book to a major publisher, I was given a reference to a big-time agent.
"What sort of books do you write?"
"Mostly horror, but..."
"Horror doesn't sell," he said, closing the door.
Only later did I think, "Hey, tell Netflix horror doesn't sell! I don't think they've gotten the message!"