When I was an independent sales rep, before I came back to Book Country in January, I indicated "Sellers" in my lists. In the beginning, my only criteria was that I sold 10 or more copies of a title within a week. After the first couple of years in business, entire lists began to look like best-seller lists, so I raised the bar a bit. Anything that sold 10 copies to one customer on one order became a "Seller." I would also do cumulative totals every few weeks and add anything that sold 25 or more altogether within that period. Later I raised that to 20 and 50.
Why was this such an exercise in moving targets? I always thought it was because I had such a great variety of customers, almost all of whom were small to mid-size independent retailers, including bookstores, discount variety stores, used bookstores, and internet marketplace sellers. If I saw the results of sales to thousands of customers from a huge, single, and more stable title list, I reasoned, I would see less variety, less change, and more titles that were once actual bestsellers on the national lists.
Well, here I am with a huge list, and the best sellers are more varied than ever. It is as if every single bookseller in the world has a different idea of what sells on their bargain tables, or bargain page, or book fair... or shoe store...
Some of the largest buyers of remainders and bargain books buy very broadly, sometimes buying thousands of titles per order, but most of these big customers buy narrowly and deep. This is why I and many other folks selling bargain books to independent bookstores constantly tell their customers that one of the best ways to differentiate themselves from their competition is to buy bargain, broadly and frequently. If you buy what makes sense to you to merchandise in your bookstore, the bookseller a few blocks away will be buying something almost completely different, and the chain store at the mall will not buy a single title you pick. That scenario may not hold 100% of the time, but it's pretty close.
It can be amusing how one buyer will laugh at another's picks. They don't do this at trade shows, and they don't do it knowingly, but there have been so many times I have gone from one account to another, showing jackets or samples, and the second buyer will pass up most of what the first buyer bought, sometimes commenting on how I thought to show them such dreary stuff. Meanwhile, the guy across town is selling those very chestnuts to his customers all day, often the same customers. I'm not saying they're wrong. They can often show me dusty stacks of those titles the other guy is buying. Nothing puts the indie in independent like bargain.
I think the best illustrations for this dynamic are the internet marketplace sellers. They have various algorithms and software to show them what will work best, basically processing the lists without looking at them. One would assume they would all buy almost exactly the same titles in very much the same quantities, but they don't. They also have their own customers, skewing their numbers whether their presence is detected or not.
Of course there is popcorn at the movie theater. Some books you could not stop from selling to everybody if you submerged them in water for 3 months. Okay, that might slow them down a bit, but you know what they are. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman or Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs come to mind. Or any children's book with stickers... Or any good mixed drink recipe book... (I guarantee that over half of the buyers reading this post are thinking "What's he talking about? Why would anybody buy any of that?")
Another bestseller list I once produced was my "Daily Bestseller List." This was just whatever sold best that day. If I had a slow day, it might be something that sold 10 copies. The interesting thing about that list was how almost nothing repeated. There were a few titles that came back a few times, but over the course of the years I kept it up, a small handful showed up more than once. It was a popular page here, generating lots of views, but clearly, my customers, if they were looking at it at all, saw it as a curiosity.
Speaking of my customers, you patient, long suffering lot, I am not berating you, only pointing out, in a round-about way, how well you know your stuff, because if you did not, you would not be so incredibly successful for all these decades we have known each other. This post, as all of mine are, one way or another, is aimed at the readers who are thinking of getting into bookselling, and the booksellers who are thinking of getting into bargain. Get in and stay in. Buy wide and shallow, at least to start. Trust your gut, but take chances too. Listen to your customers and your staff. Create your bargain bestsellers. And have fun.
For more of thoughts about bargain best-sellers (bestsellers, best sellers... more iterations mean more page views!), see these posts:
On the concept of building your list:
About focusing too narrowly on your bestsellers: