Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Big Box Detox

Strange what motivates me to write my first post in how many years:
Costco's decision to stop selling books. 

This might be bad for publishers. Print runs will be smaller, especially for blockbusters. My favorite book of 2023 was The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. I wonder what the Costco quantities were for that? In any case, the thing I thought of first was how this shift will impact the only businesses I care about, independent and used bookstores.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it won't, much. The unfortunate loss of a venue where people can buy real books will, also unfortunately, not drive crowds of customers to your doors, at least at first. You will get some increases, more as time goes by. It does present a marketing opportunity where you can tell your community that you're still there, selling way more titles than Costco ever did, and you're there year-round. (Costco is going to sell books during the holidays.) The idea is to make sure that the customers who did shop Costco for books, not just because they happened to be there to pick up a 144 pack of sardines, know you are there.

It would be so nice if publishers suddenly wake up and say hey we should treat these indies better, but don't hold your breath (as if). They are more likely to go full(er) throttle at Target, Walmart, B&N, and other brick and mortar behemoths. They really have to.

Finally, if you're buying from remainder wholesalers, most of what you're buying from them are returns, and a percentage of those returns flow through the publishers to the remainder wholesalers. There will be some changes in the content of their lists as the big flood of Costco returns hits and then quickly subsides. You may not even notice. Costco returns are in better shape than others, but otherwise not so wonderful in quality of titles.

So why am I writing about this if it's not going affect you much? Because it reminded me that I have not nattered at you enough about what I always natter at you about, and that's how buying bargain increases your selection and customer traffic.

Looking at Costco's book displays, you see huge stacks of titles, sometimes double or triple stacked. With so many books per title, selection can't be what yours is. You might have 10,000 titles in your bookstore, or 25,000, or 100,000. This is an advantage you have over any and all of the big box retailers. You can point at exceptions (B&N, maybe), but overall you have the ability to offer a much wider and better curated selection than any of those corporate giants. 

Throwing bargain into the mix increases the depth and breadth of your selection dramatically. Your cost goes down and your profits go up. If you are not buying bargain, you are competing with the big box guys on their playing field. They can't buy bargain the way you can. When they try, it's always minimal and perfunctory. Again, there are clearly exceptions, but they prove the rule.

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