Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bookstores and Not-Bookstores

Let's say your book is available for purchase through a number of prominent online retailers like Powells, Amazon, B&N -- even places like Walmart and Target online. Given the prominence of online shopping nowadays, is it worth sweating and fretting if Borders and B&N don't also carry your book in their brick and mortar stores?
Short answer: Yes. Sorry.

Longer answer: Not necessarily. (I know, I'm a contradictory person.)

Look, available through Amazon and B&N.com doesn't mean much. It's the digital equivalent of being available in a warehouse-sized bookstore on a dusty shelf somewhere in the back. There's no guarantee someone will find the book.

But there's more than one book doing quite well out there --quite well by anyone's measure-- which was not picked up immediately by B&N. Which is really why you should all be shopping at independents-- they're the ones making or breaking it for a lot of the lesser-known books out there.
A book is skipped by B&N, but the independents pick it up and sell the heck out of it, and they get the ball rolling. The next time the publisher's sales reps visit B&N, they'll point out how well this book (the book B&N had no faith in) is doing at the indies, and then B&N will think, "Oh, hmm. Maybe there's some money to be made there." And then B&N picks it up.

The "sorry" part comes from the fact that a hell of a lot of America still does its book shopping at B&N, and that's the part of America we like. The book consumers we would use to wipe our feet on are shopping at Target and Costco.

And let's also remember that what "doing quite well" means for a book is not how it ranks on some cosmic, absolute scale. It's a comparison to how well the publisher expected it to do. So if your publisher is a behemoth corporation that paid $300,000 for your book, and the book sells 25,000 copies in its first year, then the book has FAILED. But if your publisher was in a more sane mood when it offered on your book and when it determined the 20,000 copy print run, then selling 25,000 copies means the book did GREAT.

16 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I agree with the meat of this post, but I for one am glad that shoppers at Target and Costco sometimes grab books there too.

Particularly in a major recession. How many folks do you think are squeezing in their visits to Target and Costco in between working long hours at (maybe multiple) crappy-paying jobs, regretting that all their time with their children is spent doing errands (dragged along on said Costco excursion) or fighting about homework, and sure aren't going to be making it to a bookstore anytime soon?

Anonymous said...

The way this question is worded makes me think the person who sent it has their book through a vanity printer like PublishAmerica. If that's the case, there's more than lack of distribution holding you back. There's also lack of marketing toward bookstores on the part of the printing house, and in the case of PA, you can't discount the high price and poor physical quality of the product.

Michael Reynolds said...

So if your publisher is a behemoth corporation that paid $300,000 for your book, and the book sells 25,000 copies in its first year, then the book has FAILED.

Of course the author's probably not crying.

Anonymous said...

Available "online" means virutually nothing.

Why?

Because, aside from seeking out their favorite authors, most consumers wander into a book store and BROWSE. Pick up books, read the back covers. Flip through a page or two. They don't know what they want until they SEE it.

If your book isn't on a shelf it won't GET seen. Which means it won't get bought.

B&N didn't pick up my YA hardcover a few years back. The book tanked. Big time. How can a reader know your book exists if they've never heard of you or your book?

Unfortunately, in my case, I found out on the day of my book's release that it didn't get a sell-in. No one from the pub or even my own agent bothered to mention it to me. Try explaining why your book isn't on the shelves to 25 friends and relatives that "can't find your book." (yes, it still stings.)

At least the OP understands the importance of it enough to ask. I sure didn't. Being blindsided is never a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain this:

"...The book consumers we would use to wipe our feet on are shopping at Target and Costco..."

I don't get it. Because the books are cheaper there?

Anonymous said...

I live in a small town in a relatively rural area. We have a Target and a Costco in town, and I'm half an hour away from the closest bookstores, which are B&N and Borders. I'm over an hour's drive from the nearest indie bookstore. As much as I'd love to shop indie, I can't. And there are plenty of people like me in similar situations.

Anonymous said...

I just got the word that my last hardcover picture book, released March 31 this year just went into its second reprinting.

And I was prepared to see it tank because it wasn't picked up by B&N and Borders.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I live in a small town in a relatively rural area. We have a Target and a Costco in town, and I'm half an hour away from the closest bookstores, which are B&N and Borders. I'm over an hour's drive from the nearest indie bookstore. As much as I'd love to shop indie, I can't. And there are plenty of people like me in similar situations.

May I suggest shopping an indie online, then? If the only people making money on selling books are Target and Costco, the publishing industry will be DEAD.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Can someone explain this:
"...The book consumers we would use to wipe our feet on are shopping at Target and Costco..."
I don't get it. Because the books are cheaper there?


No, because the selection is so limited. Think about that. It makes a big difference to the industry.

Michael Reynolds said...

I used to love Target books. Now I hate them.

Coincidentally, they carried my last book, and not my most recent.

literaticat said...

Obviously I totally agree with your rallying people to shop indie!

However, I'd take exception to the idea that anyone "wipes their feet on" the book *CONSUMERS* that shop at Target and Costco. There are times when a trip to T or C is feasible and a trip 90 miles or more to a bookstore is not... should they just not buy a book if they see it there, as some sort of protest against... what? Those corporations? Or Books?

If everyone were really to stop buying books at Costco, that doesn't mean that Costco will start pricing books fairly or getting a better selection, rather it means that eventually Costco just will stop carrying books. And THAT means that books will be harder to get for many Americans. They probably won't start seeking them out at out-of-state bookstores. Actually, they'll just read less, or shop on A**zon.

And "Wiping feet on" readers doesn't help indies. Do we get upset with people who use the library?

I'm happy that those shoppers are reading, first of all, and hope that the TWILIGHT or Scooby Doo book they buy at Target will inspire their kids to love books, and to seek MORE books and a better selection elsewhere, next time.

BuffySquirrel said...

Online purchasing is great when I know what book I want. For instance, I needed a copy of Paul Auster's "The Man in the Dark" to read for my book club, so I bought a discounted copy from the Book Depository. Free shipping. Great!

But when I just want to poke around and see what books there are, nothing beats a bookshop. And there just aren't any indies around here. Tis life.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I also live in a small, rural area, and I've been shocked at how incredibly DECENT the selection at the local Walmart. (Only place that sells non-religious books in a 40 mile radius.)

I mean, sure, there's the usual movie-rip-off crud, and mostly bestsellers, but they actually stock about 10-12 quieter titles too, and the titles seem to change....... They even have a decent Newberry selection! Their picture books are non-existant, though....

I buy my books online (heck, I read bookreviews obsessively), but I'm glad there's actually a decent range available for the people who don't go to any store BUT Walmart.

Chris Eldin said...

I agree with Elizabeth.
But I also think that children's books in particular can be sold more creatively...Would LOVE to see Toys R Us have a children's book section. Perhaps they wouldn't have the diversity of a B & N, but it would still be nice.

Jan said...

ToysRus DOES have a children's book section (at least in the stores I've visited.) It's just so incredibly tiny and stocked with the very most mass of the mass market titles...but it does have a teensy book section.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I love Target and Costco! And I'm in the publishing industry. Anyplace that cares enough to give books that much square footage is okay with me.

And getting your book into B&N and Borders is a double-edged sword. It may get taken in, shelved spine out, and then returned heavily in 6 months. Then, to the publisher, your book looks a lot less successful with a high return rate than it would have with lower return rate--and there may not be a huge difference in net sales.