Friday, December 23, 2011

Why are Many Indie Bookstores Doing Well This Season?

My friend sent me an article from Seattle, noting that indie booksellers in the area were doing well this season. And why are the booksellers doing well this season?

"Booksellers credit it to signs of a rebounding economy, a desire by customers to support independent stores and the appeal of a traditional book — especially as a gift."

Four booksellers were quoted*, as well as two trade organizations. I was sort of surprised that their reasoning was different from mine in one major respect--nobody noted the closing of all the Borders stores as being a factor. At one point, there were 16 Borders in Washington, according to the news piece, and I suspect that a dozen were in metro Seattle.  Even with the stores struggling in 2010, and with the expectations that most of that business would go to the web or chain stores, some of it had to trickle back to indies, right?

It would be interesting to compare major market stores that had a Borders effect with small market stores that had no competition that went bust. I suspect the gains would not be rebust, even in markets where there is a desire to support independent stores and an acknowledgement that books are a good gift. I don't have time to do this, so I leave it to a full-time reporter. And I've even got a title for you: "A Tale of Two Bookstore Markets" or something like that.

I think this is human nature, based on my digesting of non-academic behavioral psychology books over the years. When things go badly, we fault outside forces. When things go well, we credit ourselves.


In the "books we ran out of" category, we were definitely suprised about an end-of-year sales pop for Plenty: Vibrant Recipe's from London's Ottolenghi. For one thing, the book came out in March and had steady but not outstanding sales for us. For another, we had books on loan to the Katie Gingrass Gallery for the Fill the Shelves event** Though we mark said books in a return file, it doesn't take the books out of "on hand" and if someone's looking quickly, this can cause problems. And finally, we had a few requests that didn't get communicated well enough for us to bring our stock level much above the special orders. My bad!

Yotam Ottolenghi has a worldwide reputation regarding vegetarian cooking. The cookbook was praised as "a vibrant and versatile collection of mouth-watering dishes that elevate vegetables from paltry side-dish status to superstar prominence." And apparently his "New Vegetarian" column in The Guardian is quite popular. I wish we'd had more. I can only say "Oops." I suspect we'll continue to sell the book well after Christmas.

*And I can say that I bought books in three of the four stores quoted on my recent trip to Seattle.

**The Fill the Shelves event is still going on at the Katie Gingrass Gallery in the Third Ward. Buy a book to give to the Milwaukee Public Library. You'll get a donation acknowledgement and a special bookplate to place inside the book. And yes, they are also out of The Art of Fielding.

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