This is the time of year I start to hear from customers about how they're doing, how their sales increased, or stayed flat, or went down. Some are reporting that their sales went through the roof. Maybe a chain store that opened near them in the 90s closed, and now the independent owns their town again. Maybe they opened a new location and it went gangbusters. Or maybe the local demographics had a sudden change. I had one customer tell me their sales went up by over 100% this year. Of course I told him it was all due to the bargain books he was buying from me, but who would listen to an old remainder rep.
The ABA says they had another increase in members this year, and several bookstores were sold to new owners rather than closed, another very positive new trend. When I was at CIROBE a few weeks ago I noticed more young (read: under 40) people than usual, and these included buyers and owners. Recently when I am prospecting (sorry if I spammed you recently, it's a hazard of having a bookstore) I have a hard time keeping up with new businesses.
The news is never all good. I lost a few customers this year. I hear from others that they are laying off employees or cutting their buying budgets or both. Every one of these booksellers did everything right. Some were the best booksellers for miles around, but something tipped the scales and they had to take measures or throw in the towel.
There are a few oft-heard refrains. Amazon and the rest of the e-world are still taking up lots of space in the marketplace, even as people begin to go back to real books. Browsing continues to seem like the forgotten passtime of a bygone era, though I have heard a few booksellers say that they are seeing it ticking up again. Customers walk into a bookstore with their phone out and show it to the bookseller and ask for the book on the screen, but it seems like a bit fewer of them just turn around and walk out if the book is not in stock. Creating impulse sales has become much more of a science than it used to be (cue the plug for bargain books...).
To my readers who have decided to close up shop at the end of the year, I want to say thank you for your business over all these decades, thank you for being pillars of your communities, for providing beautiful spaces and experiences for the friends, family, strangers and travelers that walked in your door, for being the reference librarians you didn't know you had to be, and for being such gracious hosts to all of us in the trade.
To those of you who have recently opened a bookstore, or who are thinking about it, or bought one this year, thank you for taking a chance on our wonderful old industry. You will find everybody in this new family of yours strangely accommodating and eager to help in whatever way they can, and I am not just talking about publishers and other suppliers, but other booksellers as well, often even the competition in your own town.
There is a lot to learn, lots of new challenges, and there are lots of new opportunities. We might be a bunch of recalcitrant old curmudgeons, but we're here to help. Welcome to the book business.