Friday, July 9, 2021

New bookstores are back, baby.

Popularity for Pegasus Books comes and goes... I've come to expect it. There are a lot of elements in a fully functioning store: employees, product, surrounding stores, my attitude. Sometimes the mix is a work in progress and sometimes it just comes together.

But I'll say this: at least a half dozen times a day, and probably much more, we have someone say a variation of "This is a great store!"

I'm betting that Barnes and Noble never gets that. I mean, I suppose people are surprised our store is so good and take B & N for granted, but still...

The excitement over the very existence of a bookstore is something that is gratifying to hear. 

When I first tried to carry new books 30 years ago--as a sideline--the only option was to order through the local distributors. The one in Bend wouldn't give me the time of day. The one in Eugene took me on as an account but was so unreliable, I gave up.

A decade later I tried to get an account with Ingrams. They basically said, "Go away, boy, you bother me." They didn't like the starting numbers of my account and they really didn't like that I was a "comic" store. 

I don't remember how I hooked up with B & T, but they treated me pretty well for a number of years though new books were still a sideline instead of a main focus. I only went back to Ingrams because B & T looked not long for this world, and indeed, they did stop distributing. 

By then, graphic novels were a major force in publishing, so Ingrams took me on. However, they've never changed my discount level no matter how many books I order.

A couple of years ago, I got an account with Penguin/Random House and Scholastic--and their discounts are a full 10 points better, but they are a little slow on the shipping. Pretty soon, PRH is swallowing Simon and Shuster--meaning what used to be the Big Five will become the Big Four--and that will probably account for more than half the books I want.

Anyway, after taking my 8 year break for writing, I came back to the store and decided to focus on New Books for a few years. 

Sure enough, books have really taken off for us. I finally have enough options to order books and keep the store stocked and it's paying off. Instead of trying to attract minuscule percentages of the population who read comics, collect the kind of toys we carry, or who know about European Board Games but aren't already buying somewhere else, I suddenly have access to a much bigger percentage of the population.

What about B & N and Amazon? What about ebooks?

B & N was always a threat because they had more books. But guess who has even more books? Amazon. So if B & N's main attraction was volume, they're being snowed under.

I do believe the "Shop Local" and "Support your Indie Bookstore" campaigns have finally had an effect. The worm has turned. It is now cooler to buy from an Indie than from a big box store.

Downtown Bend has a lot to do with that. Tourists don't come to Bend to buy from Costco--they come to Bend to check out the unique stores downtown, and bookstores are a comfortable niche there. Both Dudleys and Pegasus Books have shifted to new books to accommodate the demand.  

As I often say, most locals don't recognize us as a bookstore, but enough newcomers and tourists have found us--and see our selection--to make the bookstore element work. Because of that mix of customers, I cater to the backlist more than the frontlist more than most bookstores--though that is changing as I get a foothold in the market. Bestsellers at the very least pay for themselves, and the occasional right fit for Pegasus Books can sell a ton of books. 

Amazon is just a fact of life. It doesn't affect my store as much because I'm set up for "impulse" buying by drop-ins. 


Well, the common wisdom when I first started carrying new books was that ebooks would put the indies bookstores out of business. Instead, B & N chasing ebooks probably put another nail in their coffin.

I never bought into that. I have no inclination myself to read ebooks--and I figured I wasn't alone. And indeed, the ebook threat seems to have receded. Ironically, I believe it's used books that are threatened more by ebooks. If all you're looking for is price, than ebooks are even cheaper. 

Dropping used books at my store hasn't hurt us a bit--in fact, turning that space over to graphic novels and new non-fiction books is one of the reasons we finally hit a level of sales that I can keep the machinery turning. 

New bookstores are back, baby. I mean, much of that is because so many people want to own a bookstore--which doesn't necessarily mean that they'll succeed, but there seems to be a constant number of people willing to take the chance.

I don't see that changing. I don't see B & N regaining their prominence--even by trying to mimic (oh, the irony!) of indie bookstores. I don't see ebooks growing any faster than they have. I think even Amazon has more or less hit a ceiling in the sense that they aren't new and they seem to be focused on other things.

People still read, and I firmly believe that they want to find unique titles. That's where Pegasus Books can find a sweet spot.


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