When I was the buyer at Harry W. Schwartz, I used to play a game when I would buy the paperback reprints. The sales reps would provide hardcover sales figures, and I’d match them up to our sales. I considered it a success if we sold one-thousandth of the total figure. (Yes, 1000th).
In certain areas we blew the numbers away. A local author, a big event, a heavily marketed and hand-sold title. It was far more interesting to look at books we hadn’t done that much with, perhaps just a month in the front of the store with a print or email newsletter alert. I guessed that these were the kind of books where most of the sale was still in independent bookstores.
On the other hand, for branded fiction and nonfiction on bestseller lists, our sales percentage was tiny. At Boswell, the number is microscopic. I wanted to use a calculus reference and say that the limit was approaching zero, but my math is very rusty and I’m not sure that makes sense.
One category where we always blew the percentage out of the water was for books on books. Ah, the joys of The Uncommon Reader! This subcategory does very well in independent bookstores for several reasons:
1) Book-obsessed booksellers tend to like these books and feature them. Even if they don’t particularly like them, they know that they reinforce the business.
2) Book-obsessed customers seem more likely to shop at these kinds of stores, or at least comprise a higher percentage of said stores’ business.
3) This is partly true because other retailers are less likely to stock these titles.
A subcategory books on books that may have further reach is books on books for kids. Many parents who are not book obsessed still try to foster reading in their children because they have been told that strong reading skills will help them in their education. Plus you get a lot of teacher and librarian enthusiasm, which doesn’t seem to be as important in the adult category for these books.
And then there is another sub-category of this category, which doesn’t do quite as well, but is beloved by folks like us—books about bookselling!
So what would I think of a niche of a niche of a niche, a kids’ book about bookselling? I’m super excited, of course. It’s Louise Yates called Dog Loves Books, and it just came out. I can’t imagine a book-obsessive’s library not including this title.
Dog is one of those animals that has always loved books, and dreams (like many of our customers) of owning a bookstore. You know he’s a true aficionado as he sniffs them. And yes, we see this in the store more than you’d expect.
But it turns out, it’s a lot more difficult than it seems. He doesn’t even deal with balancing his books or receiving his cooperative advertising funds, or trying to negotiate property and casualty insurance. No, he can’t even get customers.
In a way, this has much the same message as many holiday-themed books. Dog discovers the true spirit of something, in this case hand-selling. Like a great bookseller, Dog realizes the passion that great books bring, and Dog know how to match that passion to his customers.
Plus, he’s very cute, reminding me a bit of Gene Zion’s Harry the Dirty Dog.
In the sequel, I heard that Dog has problems with a bunch of broken bookcases, and is targeted by a shoplifting ring. Plus one of his best customers, Spaniel, becomes obsessed with the new I-Pup. But in the end, Spaniel only really winds up using it on trips to the kennel.