Sunday, April 19, 2015

Not in My Bookstore: Remainders and Author Events

Author events are huge opportunities to promote your bookstore. They raise customer awareness and create a sense of community between you, your bookstore, your customers, and authors. You are likely to sell more books, signed or not.

It seems that a rule of thumb among bargain buyers at bookstores, probably at the behest of the event coordinators and trade buyers, is to avoid displaying bargain books by authors who are doing book signings with them at any time in the foreseeable future, near or distant.

I get it. You never know if your author is going to be one of the few with an irrational fear of bargain. They probably are not, but the risk doesn't seem worth it. I would probably feel the same way. If you bring in a stack of their books, even a few months ahead of the event, and they sell out quickly and are forgotten, they show up in the hands of the customers waiting in line to buy the new title, in hopes that they can get this one signed too. Or the bargain book is the only one they want signed. Yikes.

Many, if not most, authors understand the effect bargain books have on their sales, which is to say, they grow them. Readers who had not tried them before buy one of their books off the bargain table on impulse and become fans for life. They buy the author's next book as soon as it comes out. But one of your responsibilities as event coordinator is to make sure your authors are as comfortable as possible coming into your bookstore and even asking them about this might seem a bit too awkward.

Booksellers would rather have the sale than know their customer is buying a "used" copy on the internet for "pennies," even though the bargain book still costs less because there are no shipping charges, and it usually costs less than the e-version as well. Bargain books are another way to ensure that the connection between your bookstore, the author, and your customer remains intact.

If this bargain book avoidance is something you practice, I would recommend that you moderate it a bit and buy the bargain books, just don't display them during the three or four weeks before the author's event. Wait a bit after the event, maybe until the next weekend, then do a display on your bargain tables. Customer interest in this author will be at its peak and you will generate some new readers for their works.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Feeling Good in the Bookselling Neighborhood

When I sell books to a bookstore, I send the buyer a list and the buyer sends it back to me after entering order quantities. Or I visit their bookstore and show them samples and jackets and write up the order there. Sometimes I meet the buyer at a trade show. Occasionally customers call in their orders. I call customers when I have pallet or truckload offers to sell. Since those can only be offered to one customer at a time, it's better to get the no's as quickly as possible so I can move on to the yes. Once I showed a buyer samples in my trunk in a parking lot at Newark International Airport. He was passing through and it was the only way we could make it work. It felt very... New Jersey.

On rare occasions I am asked to put together an order. The buyer will give me a dollar figure or a number of books or titles and ask that I hit those numbers. Categories might be specified, though not so much. These buyers usually know me and I know their bookstores and what works. One would think this would be the easiest kind of sale, but it is not for me, though they are one of my personal favorites. 

I sweat the details. I look at the sales history, try to determine what are the duds, what are the unexpected gems, the sleepers, the bestsellers. I look at the location, what the customer base might be, if there are schools nearby, what kind of recreation is in the area, what problems the region or town might be facing. All my pontificating about how buyers and their customers make bestsellers happen between them fades away when I'm doing this work. 

I produce an order, then go through it, wondering what the heck I was thinking. I delete 50% and start over. It wasn't this hard when I was a buyer working for a bookstore, or when I had my own bookstore. Then I knew my customers, sometimes so much so that we were friends. I knew the people I was buying for. This is something you can't know if you are hundreds of miles away from your customers' customers.

To be clear, I am not making a point here about buyers who buy for chains. They have a different operating plan, one in which they need to pinpoint the bestsellers that did not quite run the whole course before shuffling off to the backlist. They might find ten or twenty titles on a list and they buy high enough quantities that these few titles can be stacked in hundreds of locations. 

The bargain book buyer at an independent bookstore tends to buy much broader, usually between 100 and 400 titles per order, in very small quantities, all the way down to singles. They might buy 10s and 12s of a few proven bargain table bestsellers, and 5s and 6s of bread and butter basics like early readers, local authors, and classics (another subjective term), but most of the rest of their orders are 2s, 3s, and 4s, from many categories and price points. This is how they keep their customers coming back for more, creating an interesting, fun, enticing mix, changing all the time. And this is the kind of buyer I try to be when a customer asks me to put together an order for their store.

As much as it triggers my OCD, I love this particular job. It is one type of sale where I have to completely know my list, where I get to really submerse myself in the books. I feel like I am helping the bookstore and its customers in ways I don't often get to do.

So my plug for bargain books for this post: 
Bargain Books: Buy Them Because They Make You Feel Good