Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Envy

People find it odd to see two bookstores on the same street only five stores away from each other. It doesn't seem to affect us, and I doubt it affects Dudley's. I suspect we're both doing well. 

I probably make less sales to locals than he does; most of my business is drop-ins. As a result, I often see people coming in my store that have already purchased from Dudley's. Again, that is fine: I'm sure the same thing happens to them.

I'm always curious about what the customers are buying. I try to sneak a look. Sometimes I even ask to see. Usually, in a selection of, say, five books, I'll also carry at least one or two.

I drop into Dudley's occasionally, take a look around.

I'm itching to ask Tom, the owner, in Jack Nicholson's Joker voice, "Where do you get all these marvelous books?"

So, for context, most bookstores get the same bestsellers. Not to put them down, but they seem the same. Of course, there are always variations.

We're a bit different in that I concentrate on backlist books. I've tried to have a unique store and I think I've succeeded in that. 

Dudley's has a selection of books that has the new bestsellers but also a bunch of books that, for want of a better word, are "tasteful." I immediately have an attraction to them.

Thing is, until I see them at Dudley's, I didn't know where those books came from. I have a number of lists I check each week, but I somehow miss a lot of the books that Dudley's have. It's different from the book envy I have of Barnes and Noble. They simply overwhelm me with their selection: to the point where going into B & N feels uncomfortable to me. 

Anyway, Tom obviously has lists that he's going through that I'm not seeing.

Big confession here. Because I concentrate on constantly reordering backlist, buying new releases has been more of a hit or miss proposition. Over the last two years I've made a conscious effort to have a good selection of new bestsellers. I pay attention to the "New Next Week" lists from Ingrams and, of course, the NYT's bestseller lists.

Frankly, my space is so limited that a new book outside of those lists has to somehow call attention to itself. When I look at the catalogs, the number of books I want far outstrip my budget. Nevertheless, it's probably time to pay more attention to them.

My biggest trick is to order books that people ask for, even if I haven't heard of them, on the supposition that if one customer goes so far at to request a book, there will be others who want them. I have to be careful to check to see if are viable and not some harebrained request for a book no one will ever want. It takes some overall knowledge and intuition to suss that out.

But in the meantime, I'm always looking for that book that really pops out with attraction.

So Tom Bean, if you're reading this, tell me your secrets!

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