Monday, March 17, 2008

Bookselling Comments Answered

The comments on one of my blog posts raised some interesting questions. I think that my answers bear repeating--

Comments from my blog post:
"Neil Gaiman chimes in about books, bookselling, and reading" —

Elizabeth K. Burton said...

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. For the last five years, since I was first thrust into a publisher's hat, I've heard independent booksellers complain that they can't compete with the superchains and the big boxes and Amazon...and then continue to do try and do precisely that.

In the world according to Wal-Mart, small stores have survived by offering customers what the big retailers can't and won't, yet over and over booksellers have refused to even look at excellent books published by new authors for one reason: no returns. This despite we as the publisher offering a 50% discount for direct fulfillment.

That 75% discount publishers have to give the big retailers may look good, but it also translates into thousands of copies returned. As far as I know, no one has yet calculated the environmental impact of returns, but how can it not be significant?

Independent booksellers are the conduit by which readers can discover new and talented writers. Independent publishers, especially those of us developing the digital publishing model, have the ability to ensure those talented people get published. It would seem that the potential benefit of a collaboration between us is well worth looking into.
jenn said...
This is about to sound mean but here goes...You don't know what the hell you are talking about.

Quote:
“yet over and over booksellers have refused to even look at excellent books published by new authors for one reason: no returns.”

Independent Booksellers have championed many books from many new authors. That's how many of the books that are considered perennial classics got made to be perennial classics

Quote:
“This despite we as the publisher offering a 50% discount for direct fulfillment.”

50% is still minuscule and doesn't pay the rent. Besides the smaller presses are not the ones that can fill our stores. In the end and empty store is a store that is going out of business. As for me, I sell online and this is still a real challenge because of the shipping costs.

Quote:
“That 75% discount publishers have to give the big retailers may look good, but it also translates into thousands of copies returned.”

And as for returns, it is the large chains who are doing all the returning, Independents rarely do returns. It is because we know our customers and know what will sell. The chains are the ones putting the discount book business on steroids and causing the prices of books to rise exponentially, thus causing many of the woes of the Independents. Read Andrew Laities' book the "Rebel Bookseller" he does and excellent job explaining this.

Quote:
“Independent booksellers are the conduit by which readers can discover new and talented writers. Independent publishers, especially those of us developing the digital publishing model, have the ability to ensure those talented people get published. It would seem that the potential benefit of a collaboration between us is well worth looking into.”

We have always championed new writers. I can't even count the number of new writers that I've personally championed and helped get their careers going. Forgive me for sounding pissed, but I really don't feel like being lectured to by someone who obviously thinks that Independent booksellers are idiots. We've been treated this way by the whole industry. Like we are the ones doing evil stupid things that have caused our own demise. It is the industry that has decided that Booksellers are to go the way of the dinosaur and with us goes the very heart of the business

1 comments:

Andy Laties said...

Hi Liz and Jenn,

Liz: I enjoy your posts on Pub-Forum.

Jenn: Thanks for the plug.

Here is a New York Magazine article about the launch of the second location of my NYC store, Vox Pop. The article is an interview with my partner, the publisher Sander Hicks (founder of Soft Skull Pres).

After you read this article you will understand that there are booksellers who are completely uninterested in playing by anybody's rules...

http://nymag.com/daily/food/2008/03/radical_coffee_shop_vox_pop_op_1.html#

Radical Coffee Shop Vox Pop Opens in Bowery Poetry Club

Sander Hicks is a former book publisher (he ran Soft Skull Press), a proselytizer for the 9/11 conspiracy-theory movement, and proprietor of a politicized coffee shop/bookstore called Vox Pop in Flatbush that he dreams of building into a national chain rivaling Starbucks. With his second location set to open (inside the Bowery Poetry Club in the East Village), he spoke to Jeff Koyen.

What is Vox Pop?
"It's an experimental business that's a hybrid of socialism, anarchism, and the best of — I would say — baby-boomer capitalism. Or punk-rock capitalism: Capitalism that's into abolishing capitalism as we know it."

What does that mean?
"I've had moderate success at running a business that's a little bit (or a lot) different from every other business or boss that I've ever worked for. I care a lot more."

Like employing some of the world's last Wobblies, members of the Industrial Workers of the World?
"This is something we created there. It's not like we brought in Wobblies; we had an election a couple years ago. But to be honest, the union isn't super-active at Vox Pop 1. They spend a lot of their energy and time and vitriol against Starbucks."

But you, too, want thousands of locations. How will you raise the money?
"Because as fucked-up as America is, people still want to believe in the American Dream. Vox Pop is capitalism in its best, purest sense. Not capitalism of Starbucks or McDonald's, but capitalism of, "Hey, there's a bountiful world out there; God loves you. Sure, there's a world of evil and corruption, but people can take their stand and figure out for themselves what they really believe and what they really want to do."

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