Saturday, August 22, 2009

Here's a List that You Wouldn't Recognize in Our Store

For many years, Schwartz discounted the New York Times bestseller list. Eventually we stopped, and there were two main reasons why:

1. We wound up heavily discounting our big event books. We'd invest a lot of many to make these work (P.D. James and Anne Rice are two that come to mind) and then lose the profitability. I understand that for some stores, attracting hordes of people for a celeb is a traffic builder; they buy other things, and they get in the habit of coming again. But for most bookstores, those extra customers don't show up again until your next big celeb author event. In between, they shop at Amazon and B&N and Target and Walmart...or maybe, maybe, another indie bookstore.

2. We wound up churning a lot of titles. That is, bringing in quantity of books that we wound up not being able to sell. This week's NYT fiction list is a good example. #1 is Bad Moon Rising, by Sherrilyn Kenyon. We don't skip her, but we do have problems selling her in promotional quantities. For authors in some of the genres that we haven't been able to master, who get a one week pop at #8 or so, we'd simply order in the books and then return them.

Back when we had 4-5 stores, we would cover pretty broad ground. What might not sell at Downer Avenue could do brisk numbers at Brookfield or Mequon.

Which brings me to this week's top 5 nonfiction titles from The New York Times, week ending 8/23. They say the party that's out of office sells the most books, and this sure is a good example of that theory in action.

1 Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin.
2 Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.
3 In the President's Secret Service, by Ronald Kessler.
4* Catastrophe, by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann. (that's the silly "tie" asterisk)
5 Liberty and Tyranny, by Mark R. Levin.

There's also Bill O'Reilly at #7, but I like to annotate my lists in multiples of five and the rest of the top 10 was not applicable.

We carry 'em all, but we've only gotten Liberty and Tyranny on our bestseller list, and that was only for one week. The others are selling steadily, but aren't blowing out the way they are elsewhere. Hey, we're a city bookstore located near a bunch of universities. You read The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing us Apart, right? Actually I haven't, but we sold one yesterday so it came to mind.

I'm waiting for my first customer to tell me they're boycotting the store because I'm featuring book X, which is the most incendiary work ever. It will be another milestone, and since it happened at Schwartz at least once a year, I expect it to happen with us too. The exciting thing is that I can predict neither the book nor the political perspective of the boycotter. What pisses me off? I can't push blame onto the owner.
We have sold a good amount of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism though, including ten to one customer. Well, he hasn't bought them yet. I hope he considers this blog post impartial enough to follow through.
Ooh, one last sort of funny story. We had one store get an incensed complaint because in our bestseller case, books of one political persuasion were clustered towards the top, and books of the opposite persuasion were several shelves below.
Bookseller response: "They're just alphabetical by title."
I'm not sure what the correct response, but this turned out not to be it.

No comments: