Thursday, June 18, 2015

Picking Roses in the Minefield

I had two customers shop the warehouse within the last couple of weeks that remind me of each other. Their personalities and life circumstances are very different, they live on opposite ends of the same continent, one owns his bookstore while the other is the remainder buyer for a large business, but they are like each other in that they both work without a computer, an increasingly rare characteristic among remainder buyers. There is so much data to work with when you are buying books, and it expands exponentially when you buy remainders and hurts because you now have different data to track for the same ISBNs, and new titles to track as there are so many more titles to consider when you buy frontlist, backlist, and bargain books.

Buyers who work without computers, and at the moment I can think of only two more, tend to be getting on in years, which is to say, slightly younger than myself. They tend to have amazing memories, at least for books and all they have ever known about books, and a deep abiding courage of their convictions. They tend to work fast. They know what they need, and how many copies, before they see the book, and zip through large warehouses in one or two days where most buyers will take 4 days to look at half as much. They are also much more willing to try books they don't know or don't even think will sell. They have a willingness to try things out on their customers before judging a book's saleability.

One big difference between my two buyers is that the one who owns his bookstore is the only buyer for that bookstore. He does not have other buyers he needs to worry about. There is no turf. I do know some owner-buyers who do have the turf problem, but it is never quite the minefield the professional remainder buyers must negotiate their way through. The frontlist buyer might comment on the lower prices effecting their sales in a general way or specific titles nuking the sales for the front- or backlist sales of those titles. Sometimes those frontlist buyers will complain about the remainder buyer's buys to the management, or to publisher's sales reps. This constant undercurrent of negativity can sap a buyer's productivity, though for most it is something that comes with the territory and can be a source of entertainment. A thick skin is a good prerequisite for the job.

This turf issue only exists where the idea of bargain books has not been communicated and shared with everybody in the organization. When all sales are analyzed by all buyers and booksellers, and it becomes apparent that remainder and bargain do not cannibalize frontlist or backlist sales, but are additional sales, that the lower costs work with the lower price to increase profits, that new and different customers are shopping bargain, that impulse bargain sales add significantly to the bottom line, and authors are introduced to customers through bargain, everyone will be on board. The most successful bookstores in the world have robust bargain components. Clear the mines and let your profits and customer base grow.

Why aren’t remainders remainder marked? Hurts (returns) are marked. Check out my bargain book buyer’s glossary: 

Not in My Bookstore: Remainders and Author Events:

What’s so great about bargain books? I asked booksellers:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Book Expo, Feeling the Love

Maybe it was my unquenchable ray-of-sunshine personality (those who know me are now laughing), but Book Expo, held last week at the Javitz Center in NYC, felt distinctly up. I showed at a pre-show nearby for a couple of days before the official show began, which was great, and then the show itself was endlessly busy. Last year, in the same place and time, Friday was a slow day, almost slow enough to allow catching up with non-show sales and show follow-ups, but this year I didn't get a break.

Part of the story is that independent bookstores are back in a big way, and those who always bought bargain books are buying more, while new bookstores are trying it out and older bookstores that never bought bargain before are starting to work it into their business plans. I also felt that there were more international customers at the show, at least shopping with and talking with me. There were quite a few years where I did not see as many as before travel to the USA became such a challenge for many of them, so maybe there is something going on there that makes it easier, or maybe they are just dealing with it, but they were shopping for bargain books this year.

One observation that I had in previous years was also magnified this year, which is that customers who shopped the pre-show were very different from those who did not. The international customers, with a few notable exceptions, do not shop pre-shows and often only shop at Book Expo and other international fairs such as London and Frankfurt. Local booksellers tend to shop the pre-shows more than the official shows. Then there are the exceptions, those buyers who shop the pre-show and Book Expo, spending time and money with the same suppliers at both. 

Beating my drum once again, if you are not buying bargain books to sell to your bookstore's customers, here is one more bit to think about. The most successful booksellers in the world (seriously) shop the same bargain wholesalers twice within a few days, spending big money on airfare and hotel bills to do so. Maybe you need to rethink your buying strategies. 

More thoughts about trade shows: