Principles for Success with Bargain Books, by David Kitzmiller

David Kitzmiller is an independent sales rep for bargain book wholesalers and has been showing the rest of us how it's done for a few decades. His territory is New England and bookstores who buy from him won't buy from anybody else. Not that I would try to sell to his customers, so I wouldn't know. If any of them tell him I'm emailing them lists, they must just be making stuff up. 

I'm always looking for more ways to tell buyers who do not buy bargain why and how they should, and David, who wrote this piece a few years ago for a NEIBA presentation, agreed to let me post it here.  


1.  The buying and selling of bargain books is not rocket science.

Most of the important things about bargain books are tried and true, standard operating procedure, almost clich├ęs.  For instance, Stickers.
Stickers are universally recognizable symbols.  Every customer walking into a bookstore knows that a sticker on a book means that book was once more expensive, but is now marked down, so take another look at it.

All bargain books should be stickered in or near the Upper Left-hand Corner.  Why?  Because if books are fanned on a shelf, only the left-hand side is visible, so stickers on the right become invisible.  If they are put spine up on a table, customers can readily see the stickers as they flip through them.  If the stickers are somewhere on the right, customers have to keep pulling the books out to read them, and that adds to wear and tear.

2.  The 2 keys to success with bargain books: Tables with lips and an employee who enjoys working with them (bargain books, that is, not their lips).

A table with a 4-6 inch lip will hold 10 times as many books as a conventional table, and the stock won’t be constantly falling off on the floor.  They are also much easier to merchandise with spine up books interspersed with face ups. 

To the average customer, bargain books on shelves look like regular stock, and consequently lose their special appeal.  I have actually heard customers walk into stores and ask, ‘where are your sale tables?’  They look for them on tables, because that is where most stores put their bargain books.  Stop trying to reinvent the wheel.

If you absolutely must use shelving, it should be an island or wall unit clearly separated from your regular stock and well-signed.

The only time shelves work well for remainders is when they are in a room with tables, and the entire room is devoted to sale books.

As for staff, some people really enjoy bargain books.  They understand the value they represent, and the appeal they have to customers.  Not everyone does.  Others see them as yesterday’s failures, or somehow diminished by their new status.  (Those people should be scourged and driven from your store…just kidding.)  Find the staff member who shows enthusiasm for bargain books and put them in charge.  They will sell three times as many bargain books as someone who just doesn’t “get it.”

3.  Bargain books should have a permanent home in your store, preferably somewhere near the front.

Bargain books are not a seasonal item.  There is no slow season for bargain books.  They sell every month of the year, unlike things like travel books and gardening books.  If you want bargain books to add 10% to your bottom line, you must be willing to give them 10% of your floor space.  If you want to give them additional space when calendars are not in season, fine, but they still need a permanent space that is not adversely affected by seasonal items.

Bargain books are high impulse, add-on sales.  Nobody ever got high impulse, add-on sales from the back room on the second floor of their store.  That’s where you should put reference, travel, gardening or baby and childcare, the kinds of low impulse, staple categories that people ask for at the front desk.  They need a dictionary, and they’ll go anywhere in the store you send them to get it.  If you keep your dictionaries in the back room of your second floor, that’s where they’ll go.

But if they see some bargain books on their way in, they might very well pick up a few before they leave.  They needed a dictionary, but do you think they’ll pass up the chance to look like a hero to their kids with a $4.99 hardcover picture book or a $1.99 board book?  I don’t think so.

You put bargain books near the front of your store because every single person who walks in the door should know that you—like every big box store on the planet—have bargains for sale.  

And you—unlike the big box stores—can carry the kinds of bargains you know your customers will find appealing.  They have to put the same books in every store in their chain; that’s the only way the chain concept can work efficiently.  But you can order—and reorder—titles of local interest, titles by local authors, books of regional interest, books with the name of your state somewhere in the title, children’s books, gift books, whatever works. 

Finally, put yourself in the customer’s position: if you’re not willing to offer me the occasional deal, do you really care about me, and why should I care about you?


1.    Bargain books will not sell as well in your regular sections as they do on sale tables.  They get spined out and lose their special appeal because the sticker with the new sale price is no longer visible.  Conversely, some categories of bargain books do not work well on the sale table, i.e., baby and childcare, business, and science fiction/fantasy.

2.    Remove all shrink-wrap when books are received.  Most booksellers think customers look at the open copy and buy the shrink-wrapped copy.  Most booksellers are wrong.  They look at the book, they like the book, they buy the book.  I spend way too much time in accounts opening the shrink-wrapped copies when no open copy is around.

3.    If they can’t see it, you can’t sell it (this applies to shrink-wrapped books as well, by the way).  It’s nice to put bargain books in categories, but it’s more important that books be visible.  There should be no exposed wood on your sale tables; you are not selling furniture.  If one category is full, but another is fairly empty, use space in the latter to give books from the former more exposure.  Visibility trumps category any day of the week.

4.    When children’s books are spine up on a table, sort by height, tallest books to the left, shortest books to the right.  A short book between two tall books will literally disappear (see “if they can’t see it…” above).  This process of sorting by height inevitably brings copies of the same title together.  Alternate colors and light and dark spines so that all titles become visible.

5.    Use a few spine-up books to separate facing on your tables.  Suddenly, the spine-up books become far more visible than if they were all bunched together, and they will prevent face-up books from sliding over on the pile next to them so it looks like you have two stacks of the same book.

6.    Every person on your staff should familiarize themselves with what is on the sale tables.  If a customer is buying the latest book by Umberto Ecco, and the clerk happens to mention that you have Baudolino on the sale table, in hardcover, for $6.99, do you think that customer might appreciate hearing that information?  Do you want to make a customer for life?  Tell them the trade paper novel they are paying $13.95 for is currently available—for a limited time only—on the sale table for $4.99.  They will worship you like a god.

If you're a bookseller in New England and want to order from Book Country Clearing House, contact Dave:
Tel: 978-744-9189 
Fax: 978-744-0232 


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