Monday, February 12, 2007

Link-Mad Monday: Mad World

Ready for some links, O my bookish friends?

* Here's that piece in Bookselling This Week about the Book Nerd experience at Winter Institute. Read for all the bits you didn't get here.

* At the WI session on PR, there was a round of indignant applause when one bookseller mentioned "the same old story" that major media had decided was "sexy", especially in the days since You've Got Mail. You know that story: woe to independent bookstores, they are dying if not already dead, the only reason to go to them is sentimentality, what a tragedy. (Never mind the opening of 97 new independent bookstores last year, the success stories from New York City to North Carolina, the innovative new stores and those that have continued to evolve for decades, the smart business people who are educating themselves and adapting to a changing retail environment... but don't get me started.)

Well, here's another version of the same old story from the L.A. Times (go to if you need a password to view the article). This time it's prompted by the decision of the owner of Booksmith in San Fransisco to sell his store, and it's followed by gloomy prognostications and dismissals from book buyers and sellers (including Lewis Buzbee, author of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which disappoints me; maybe he needs to visit some newer stores, huh?) The irony is that in the last paragraph the store finds a buyer and gets a new direction -- hardly an unhappy ending! The new owner, Praveen Madan, states this as his goal:

""Create the store for the 21st century. If you do it well, you'll give customers a reason to come back. But you can't do it by making them feel guilty."

Well said, sir. I'll be watching the continuing saga of Booksmith with interest -- and optimism.

* Have I talked at length about the exciting newness of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association' fall show? No? No longer a "trade show" in the traditional sense (with an emphasis on the publishers making sales on the show floor), this one will be more of a "bookseller sales conference", focusing on bookseller education and allowing publishers to help us pitch the best of the books we've already bought, for more sales all around. I've been talking with President Joe Drabyak (who was there in full force at WI, though we somehow missed each other at all the parties) and the rest of the board about our plans for the fall (in Baltimore, hooray!) and getting excited. And I believe henceforth the fall show should be known at NAIBA CON!

* Here at home, two funny stories from Brooklyn bookselling in my very own neighborhood. First, the fabulous blog Only The Blog Knows Brooklyn broke the story that the Park Slope Barnes & Noble had posted a sign on the door banning strollers from inside the store. The rationalization: strollers were taking up too much room and blocking other customers from the books. (I don't doubt it; have you seen some of those Hummer-size designer strollers? Still, customers are customers...) The story was picked up by other blogs (Brooklyn Record and Curbed and New York magazine among others). Of course, in this young-mom-saturated neighborhood, the backlash was immediate. And then there was backlash against the backlash, as non-kid-having Brooklynites and bookstore patrons vented their own woes. The store has in some ways become a lightening rod for the ongoing battle between the parents and the non-parents of this kid-obsessed neighborhood. (The bookstore has since removed the sign, according to the New York Sun.)

The debate, while a somewhat hilarious example of something that would happen only in Park Slope, speaks directly to the serious question of the role a neighborhood bookstore plays or should play. Is it a place to "come in, buy a book, and leave" as one OTBKB commenter believes? Or a place to meet friends, hang out, kill time, browse? What responsibility does the bookstore have to both kinds of bookstore-goers? When does one person's right to browse infringe on another person's right to buy? Should we be focused on serving hurried paying customers, or on creating a welcoming vibe? I sympathize with B&N in this case; it's a hard question that involves compromise however you look at it.

In even stranger Park Slope news, cool young bookstore Adam's Books (a passionate favorite of the ALP, and a place I'll be forever indebted to for my mass market copy of WINTER'S TALE) has become Unnameable Books. You can find the brief version of the reason why at the old Adam's Books website; it seems there's a textbook distribution company in Brooklyn called Adams Book Company, which has threatened to sue (or otherwise inconvenience) the tiny bookstore. While I don't know the legal realities of the situation, it does seem like an unnecessarily thuggish move on the part of a company that it doesn't seem could have any real overlap with a small general bookstore (read this letter Brooklyn writer Amy King sent to the "other" Adams pretty for a strong argument to that effect).

Luckily, the new name is pretty cool And you can't keep a good bookstore down. I suspect that Adams' (not Adam's) insistence on their right to the name will end up making them look bad and will bring more publicity and customers to Adam's/Unnameable. If you're a New Yorker, visit bookstore on Bergen between 5th and 6th (just down the street from the Bergen Street 2/3 subway), and tell him you're happy to shop there whatever the name.

That's it for today -- happy reading!


lady t said...

We had stroller probelms at my former bookstore job(no where near Park Slope)as well. The store was small to begin with and many of these strollers today are built like tanks. Folks would shove these contraptions down the aisle and then block off sections as they yak on the cell phone or chat with friends while ignoring their kids.

Worse,there are many people who treat all bookstores like cost-free daycare centers;they dump their kids off and let them run around,making messes all over the place. Some try to keep an eye on their offspring while many hang and read/play with their kids for hours and spend not a dime on anything the store has to offer.

I'm all for bookstores being family friendly but that's not carte blanche for folks to take advantage of customer service and it doesn't exempt them from respecting others and good manners.

We wound up having to ask parents to keep their strollers up front during our weekend storytime events to keep the children's section accessible. The owner even wanted folks to put them outside but that idea was abandoned,since some of these strollers are expensive items.

Separate stroller parking is good for all customers. A little courtesy goes a long way.

CRwM said...

The stroller thing seems like small beer next to the amount of damage parents allow their whelp to wreak upon the merch. I remember a "you broke it, you bought it" policy was in general effect when I was young. Do stores no longer hold to that fine old rule?

Andy Laties said...

I think that this is all about fixturing.

Bookstores are generally fixtured with bookcases and tables. Why is that?

My current bookstore (at Eric Carle Museum) and my previous store (at Chicago Children's Museum) were fixtured with weird modular structures and/also with plexiglass or wood cubes.

There are a huge variety of retail display units on the market, or you can invent your own. But most bookstores continue to be built out like libraries! I definitely remember this stroller pile-up problem from my first bookstore (The Children's Bookstore), which we had fixtured traditionally, with bookcases, and which looked like a library. But in my most recent two stores, fixtured more like -- I haven't had stoller back-up issues. The unusual cube/structure display units tend to be shorter, rounder -- there are no long aisles. More escape routes around the displays.

If your store is ALREADY built out like a library -- of course -- then it's an intractible problem. The trouble is that the investment has already been made.

You have to think about refixturing those pathways in the store where you have the problem. Otherwise you will be constantly losing your temper at your customers and you'll lose business (and you might go broke ultimately).

Having creative and flexible fixturing is a way indies can really differentiate ourselves from chains.

On the other subject -- of children destroying merchandise -- once again, in my first bookstore I allowed this to drive me crazy. In my subsequent stores I did not. I simply altered my displays, and my product mixes. Simply by changing where things were displayed, and WHAT was displayed, I was able to dramatically reduce damage done by kids.

Also, in my two more recent stores, I learned to NEVER intervene while a child destroys a book or a sideline. I allow the child to destroy the product. There are two alternative outcomes. 1) The parent sheepishly shows me the damaged product and I tell them it's OK, I love kids, and that I will mark it at half price eventually. 2) The parent doesn't show the damaged product to me but slinks out, and when I find the product I mark it at half price (eventually, when it's half-price damaged-stuff sale season).

In both of these scenarios I have MADE A CUSTOMER. The lifetime value of this customer is MUCH more than the loss of the markup on that 50% discounted damaged item. (Generally things sell rapidly at 50% off and because I have good stuff in the 50% off section it's popular with the customers.)

Andy Laties said...

I apologize for the kind of ranting pedantic tone of that last post. I simply am very happy whenever Barnes & Noble screws up, and I don't think it's necessary for any indie store to replicate their customer-relations problems. But I hear quite frequently from customers that they like the way they're treated in chainstores more than the way they're treated in indie stores -- and this drives me bonkers.

Boston BookEd said...

Thanks for the great chronicle of the conference at the Bookselling this Week site. Interesting stuff for some of us to read with envy. And you're right - what a relief to read a report not focused on the tragic death of independent bookstores... though in Boston, there is a certain wheezing sound one hears, sadly. We have our stores close by - namely Brookline Booksmith and Harvard Bookstore - but with a new massive Borders downtown, competing with one of the highest grossing B&N's in the country down the road, the city won't see an indy anytime soon.