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  

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