Archives for category: Bookstores

The Guardian reports that independent bookstore numbers in Britain climbed to a ten-year high last year. The low point was reached in 2016 when there were only 867 of them; there are now 1,072. In 1995 though, the number was 1,894.

In USA Statista delivers this graphic showing 406 more independent bookstores in 2022 than the year before:

2019 is our recent US high, but the trend is clear. Membership of the American Booksellers Association will never match these overall numbers (not every store joins) but the trend line is likely to be similar. Wikipedia tells us that in 1995 the ABA had 5,500 members with 7,000 locations, while in 2021 they had just 1,700 members with stores in 2,100 locations, only 206 more than the total number in Britain that year.

Here is an announcement from Shelf Awareness‘ 15 December issue:

James Patterson has selected the independent booksellers who are beneficiaries of his Holiday Bookstore Bonus Program, which in October he said would go to 500 booksellers in $500 increments. As he has done in previous years, Patterson pledged a substantial amount–$250,000 this fall — to fund the program. The complete list of recipients can be seen on the American Booksellers Association’s website.

A successful author ploughing some of his earnings back into the business which helps sell his books is truly something to be applauded. We hope that Mr Patterson’s generosity is rewarded by even better sales!

Mr Patterson’s generosity seems to know no bounds. He is now announced at Publishers Lunch as signing on to “complete an unfinished manuscript by Michael Crichton, who died in 2008, the WSJ reports. The as-yet-untitled novel was sold to Little, Brown by Shane Salerno for production company CrichtonSun and Robert Barnett for Patterson, and is about ‘a mega-eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano that can destroy not just the island but the entire world’ due to a secret cache of chemical weapons. It’s scheduled to be published in 2024.”

The publishing industry in New York accounts for 94,300 total jobs, $10.8 billion in total wages $33.5 billion in total output. In their Economic Impact Study, New York City Publishing Industry, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment divides the business into four groups — publishing (including books, newspapers, magazines and internet); talent; print production; distribution and consumption.

Publishers Weekly brings us a story about the Study. “In a report designed to measure the economic impact of NYC’s various publishing segments, the first-of-its-kind study found that the number of book publishing jobs dipped 1.7% between 2010 and 2020, while bookselling jobs tumbled 37.1%. The average book publishing salary was $119,000, compared to a $39,000 wage for booksellers.”

I guess one has to accept these figures, does one, but an average salary of $119,000 sounds high for book publishing. Given everyone’s eagerness to misuse numbers, especially percentages, I wonder if this might be more like the mean rather than the average. On the other hand, perhaps it’s “total remuneration” — salary + benefits. However, the report stubbornly refers to “wages” so maybe our colleagues are doing better than we think! Clearly however fellow N-Y-Citizens will be better off looking for a job in publishing than in bookselling even though it may be a bit harder to get one.

Book publishing, which is to a surprisingly large extent still being done from home, came through the pandemic with a lot less damage than the retail end of the business. If the story isn’t actually over for bricks-and-mortar bookstores (and I think it isn’t) these numbers show that there’s going to be a more vigorous recovery in the bookstore business.

Sorry; I was looking the other way last Friday, seeing black only, so I missed out on recommending local action. Turns out it was Plaid Friday. Plaid Friday is an initiative of the American Local Business Alliance, which asks that on the day after Thanksgiving you put on checked clothing and go and buy stuff in a local store. Really!? As they tell us “Plaid Friday was created by Kerri Johnson in Oakland, CA, [in 2009] to bring back the time when shopping for friends and family was a pleasurable leisurely activity. Now it is celebrated throughout the nation as part of the Shop Indie Local Campaign.” As Shelf Awareness tells us several bookshops participated this year.

I find plaid to be an odd word. It’s much more popular in America than it is in Scotland, though every American will assure you it’s a Scottish word. And it is too. But in Scotland it’s pronounced differently, to rhyme with “maid” not “sad”, and has a different meaning. A plaid in Scotland is that long bit of cloth worn over the shoulder by a kilted person, mostly nowadays in a pipe band, not the pattern itself which we persist in referring to as tartan. Indeed a plain unpatterned plaid would still count as a plaid.

To be fair (or as the expression in England seems to be these days “to tell the truth”) The Oxford English Dictionary does list the patterned cloth definition as its original usage, dating their earliest example from 1510, though no kind of pattern was at first required. The meaning of “cloth worn over the shoulder” is an arrant neologism, first being noticed two years later, in 1512.

Via Kathy Sandler’s Technology • Innovation • Publishing comes a link to The Guardian‘s report on TikTok’s plans to sell books direct to customers. Coming as this does in the same week as Amazon’s announcement of layoffs in its book division, this story must encourage speculations into Amazon’s possible abandonment of the book business. Publishers Weekly weighs the evidence.

Amazon clearly still maintains a hugely dominant position in the book retail world. They are currently ordering vigorously for this Christmas season, and will no doubt be selling a pile of books for months (years?) to come. But one thing of which we can be confident is that their business is not directed by sentiment. If they see an opportunity to enhance their prospects by abandoning books, books will be abandoned. And bear in mind they have three strands to their bookselling business: the retail operation, the Kindle and ebooks, and Audible.com for audiobooks. They are also a publisher.

Rather straw-in-windish perhaps is Princeton University’s announcing their new ability to sell audio-and ebooks direct-to-consumer via Glassboxx. We may not be watching a huge amount of change in publishers’ readiness to sell direct, but trickles under the dam, around the dam, and through the dam can ultimately lead to the collapse of the dam and a transformational flood. Movement is surely in the direction of more publishers selling more stuff direct to customers, which might suggest an anticipatory repositioning to cope with a post-Amazon world. If you pooh-pooh that, consider also Bookshop.com, which is quite successfully providing an e-commerce solution for independent bookstores.

Not immediately relevant but nevertheless an issue to consider in developing your sympathies, Amazon has (like lots of other businesses) received copious subsidization from state and local governments for creating jobs around the country. Good Jobs First details the situation. (Thanks to Nate Hoffelder for the link.) Most of these jobs will no doubt continue to exist of course if Amazon does ever decide that it’s easier and more profitable to sell things other than books.

At The New Publishing Standard Mark Williams warns that we should be wary of Amazon’s doing to books what they just did to music — putting it all onto Amazon Prime. With their ownership of Audible.com Amazon has the ability to direct one stream at least of the book business into an unlimited subscription model. Now of course as long as you as a publisher or author are adequately rewarded for such usage, an unlimited subscription model can be a good thing.

Our hyped-up national political discourse continues to confound, despite some signs of moderation in the mid-terms. (Or was it just confusion?)

Iliad Bookshop in Los Angeles, suffered an arson attack last week. As Shelf Awareness tells us damage was restricted to the main doorway: “At about 11:30 p.m. last Thursday, someone stacked Iliad’s free books against the doors and lit them on fire. Luckily, one of the bookstore’s neighbors saw the fire and flagged down a passing fire truck. Owner Daniel Weinstein noted that if the firefighters had arrived any later, ‘the entire store would probably have gone up’. . . The person who set the fire also taped flyers to the bookstore’s walls. Weinstein explained that despite being rambling and incoherent, they led him to believe that antisemitism was a possible motive for the attack.”

The bookstore has launched a GoFundMe campaign. “Money raised by the GoFundMe will go toward repair costs and paying a mural artist. The campaign has already raised more than $27,000.”

Bookstores in Japan are closing at a high rate: about a third have gone in the last ten years. The Mainichi has a story, linked to by Nate Hoffelder.

Now this could be a peculiar manifestation of Japanese culture, or it might be an awful warning to us all. I’m not keeping score, but it does seem that the pandemic has been quite kind to the book trade and that a few more bookshops have opened than have closed over the past three years. Book sales are buoyant, and although Amazon’s grabbed a lot of that, local bookshops have played their part.

However, there is a logic trap here. Last century having access to a healthy retail environment (as well as more or less exclusive access to the printing press) meant that publishers were sitting pretty at the top of a supply chain pyramid. Of course publishers, by nature Quixotic, were well able to make losses even on such a tilted playing field, but bookstores were an essential part of their world. This is so much less true today: though all publishers do still behave as if they believed that bookstores are necessary to their survival — it’s expensive for example to run a team of sales representatives. The big problem is that you can discern a mode of survival now which simply doesn’t include a bricks-and-mortar retail component.

OK, people do like to look at a book before buying it. But if they can’t handle it, I don’t think that means that they’ll refuse to buy it. It means they’ll cross their fingers and hope for the best. Or more likely, they’ll look at it online, either at the publisher’s site or at an online retail site. Obviously this isn’t as good as holding the book in your hand, but it’s better than buying blind. And we’re all used to returning stuff now.

Sentiment is tough to slough off — but consider the fact that we give bookstores a sizable discount off the price of our books. Do I risk bringing about catastrophe by expressing the thought “why are we giving a forty-five percent discount to sell something we can perfectly well sell ourselves”? A book sold direct-to-customer requires no discounting, though publishers, who find it hard to imagine ever selling books at full price, do tend to offer customers a small discount anyway. Now of course online sellers also require discounts, usually, because of their buying power, even larger than a local bookshop, but because so large a percentage of book sales go through that channel, committing to D2C looks terrifying. Nobody wants to be a first mover, reviled for ever as the killer of the bookshop. Inertia’s not a great basis for business success.

I don’t see the ebook taking over from the print book though. This is not so much because of the virtues of the tried and true format of the codex, which we’ve all been brought up to revere — it’s because the ebook is such a lousy format. OK, OK, I read lots of ebooks myself, but maybe it just puts me in the old curmudgeon category that I don’t get as much out of them. You can blame publishers if you like, but we need to devise techniques for navigation around a digital text. Some books do a better job than others, but in none am I completely confident in referring to an endnote, looking at an illustration, reading detail in a table, without nervousness about ever getting back to where I started from. In most cases I just don’t refer to anything; I just read through the not-overwhelmingly-beautiful text turning neither to the left nor to the right. Now just because ebooks are less than perfect does not mean that someone won’t some day soon come up with something different that’ll knock our collective socks off. Indeed, I’d bet that that’s almost a certainty.

The one real certainty is that change is inevitable. If there’s any writing on the wall, however, it sure isn’t saying “invest in bookselling”.

See also Bookstore outlook — a glummer take, Bookstore outlook, and Bookstore futures.

Good news. Amazon has announced it’ll be changing its generous return policy on ebooks, which was discussed in my recent post. Here’s the Authors Guild trumpeting the change for which they hold themselves responsible. Now you won’t be able to return an ebook to Amazon if you’ve read more than 10% of it. You know, don’t you, that when it comes to ebooks, big brother has been watching you all along. “Buy” an ebook, look at it, read a couple of pages, and set it aside for future reading, and some Amazon analyst will start a-worrying what’s wrong with the damn thing!

This new return policy won’t kick in till the end of the year. Even then you’ll be able to return a book of which you’ve read more than 10% — but only after a discussion with a customer service representative who will determine whether your reason for wanting to return the thing is valid. Who knows what such a reason may turn out to be.

Parenthetically, given big brother’s knowledge of our reading practices, does it not amount to a criminal-like complicity in theft that Amazon was ever permitting readers to return their ebooks after reading them? They knew after all that the book had been read.

You can see how trade publishers would be worried at the news that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are thinking about reducing the number of copies they order. Shelf Awareness‘s 23 August article reports this story — but come on; even if it’s true, it’s not Armageddon.

In a rational world publishers would welcome bookshops refusing to overstock new pubs. If you can stuff ten thousand copies into that section of the supply chain, then you court the risk of getting a lot of them back in three or so months. When they do come back they’ll distort your inventory/demand picture, and quite possibly turn a promising book into an overstocked loser. There’s little more frustrating than being forced into a reprint only to get a massive return before the presses have stopped running. Publishers can see what’s out there in inventories: they just can’t control the fate of such stock. So even if B&N and Amazon are going to be ordering fewer copies, a rational publishing industry should really regard this as a thoroughly good thing. The idea that people buy books because they see them in large piles in the front of bookstores can’t really be true, can it? Virtual piles are obviously better in any case: and now that most sales happen online, virtuality is king.

Andy Hunter, founder of Bookshop.org, asks “What if we use the same tools that some might use to disrupt an industry to actually reinforce it?” Same might be said to apply to rhetoric too, but while it may not represent the difference between failure and wealth, Bookshop.org’s involvement with independent bookstores has obviously been “a good thing”. A little self-congratulatory trumpet blowing is altogether earned.

Do consider using Bookshop.org for your book purchases — if you can’t get to a bookstore — and make sure to link through a local bookshop so they get the benefit. They are currently claiming $21¾ millions earned for local bookstores. It’s true you’ll not be getting the discounts that Amazon offers, but surely supporting local businesses is worth something, isn’t it?