TT: "Thus I turn my back"
1 day ago
1. Sell used books. While there have always been secondhand bookshops, the used book industry has exploded since the internet came onto the scene. Independent bookstores need to recognize this and get on board. Right now book buyers can buy books on the River and from the big b’s, but many times they can’t buy them from their local bookshop. And we all know where book buying dollars go that aren’t spent in local bookshops (in case you don’t, they do to the huge, sterile warehouses and deathly corporate parks that house our nations largest “booksellers”).
2. Sell new books. Used books are great, and you’ll generally make a better profit on them than new books, but you have to sell them on their schedule. With used books, if you sell out of Slaughterhouse-Five, you can’t sell another one until a copy comes your way. With new books, you can have Slaughterhouse-Five come your way as many times a month as you need. New releases, displayed well in the store, are important, as is developing your backlist titles. Additionally, new books allow an independent store to create its identity because buying decisions are made in house rather than in a far away office. Every big b store is the same. Be different.
3. For new books, set up accounts with distributors as well as publishers. Distributors will get your orders to you quickly – mine usually arrive the day after I place the order. The minimum ordering requirements are reasonable, so you are able to fulfill customer orders quickly. Publishers offer you better discounts and are helpful with promotional materials and advance copies. Use them both wisely.
4. Don’t close at 5 pm. When my wife and I travel, we always try to stop at any independent bookstores in the area. Nothing is worse than discovering that a store closes before dark. When a store closes early, it cuts out everybody who works during the day. That may used to fly, but these days it doesn’t, because your competition will be open late. Plus, bookstores should be open at night – it’s a law of nature. If you don’t want to work late, that’s fine, because there are plenty of other careers that let you leave early in the evening.
5. Don’t open a store in the woods. Or anywhere else where people don’t walk through to shop. You have to remember that books are relatively inexpensive, and it will be rare for a single customer to make your financial day. So the more people you have in your store in a day the better you will do.
6. Get people in your store. It is not enough to buy the books and create the space. You need to actively recruit people to fill it. Book groups, author events, dramatic readings, poetry nights, whatever. Do it. And, quite frankly, this is another bookstore law of nature. Your town or city may have some great clothing shops or home decorating stores, but those places don’t create community. Bookstores do.
7. Get to know other bookstores and booksellers. Along these lines, join the American Booksellers Association, which I put off doing for too long. There are also regional organizations that you can join. There are times you will feel like you are on an island. These people help.
8. Do your homework. Learn your bookselling and publishing history. This will help in so many ways that I cannot list them all. There are a lot of great books written about bookselling. Check out Rebel Bookseller by Andrew Laties first. Then there’s Book Business: Publishing Past, Present and Future by Jason Epstein, Andre Schiffrin’s the Business of Books, and the endlessly entertaining The Mathematics of Bookselling by Leonard Shatzkin. These are just a few. There are many more.
9. If you can, own the building you operate out of. I’m learning this lesson now. This isn’t an easy money business, and owning your space will help out in that respect.
10. Call if you need me. I mean it. If there is ever anything I can do to help you open up an independent bookstore, please call Wolfgang Books and ask for me. I would be happy to help.