Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Whether Weather and Other Holiday Ponderings.

With the holiday season at its climax (the 26-31 is nothing to sneeze at, a series of decent Saturday-style days in a row), it's time to start musing.

1. This is our first December in several years with a good amount of storms. The last really bad December I can recall is 2008, but you know how memory is. Perhaps I blocked another year out. The thing that was funny about 2013 is that all the storms came on higher-traffic weekend days. Them's the breaks.

2. In the old days, a storm just moved the business to another day, but in the new economy, a good portion just moves online. Even we had an increase in online orders. That said, for the last storm, we did see the business on the Sunday, December 22 storm move to the 21st and 23rd. Those wound up being our two best non-event sales days since we've been open.

3. We knew that home-delivery has increased exponentially in the last few years, as well as quick delivery, but we never expected to get yesterday's UPS shipment in a U Haul truck*. Word on the street is that UPS also completely rented the area's fleet of Penske trucks.

4. What was true on the national level seemed to hit home as well--there was not one must-have item on everyone's gift list. Every time there's a holiday like this, pundits talk about increasing fracturing of nation, the big sort, narrowcasting media, that sort of thing. And then a phenomenon hits, and everyone changes the message.

5. On the local level, the closest we got to a must-have gift was Sanford D'Amato's Good Stock. We kept our stock good through our event (and with close to 200 in sales, we're quite happy, considering how many other events around town were going on for the book), but I probably should have brought in another 50 when I could have. We actually did get a shipment of 10 from a wholesaler on December 24, but I was too frazzled (and tired) to take advantage of social media and get the word out. But yes, if you need Good Stock, or Life After Life or The Flamethrowers, we do have a small quantity available for purchase. I know several folks exchange gifts this weekend, and I'm told that in France, New Year's Eve is the gift-giving time for adults.

6. Part of the issue for us is that many of the mass trends weren't resonating with us. With a democrat in office, conservative politics ruled the day on the bestseller lists, and that tends to skew more chain-store, suburban, and internet, all of which we are not. The exception was Charles Krauthammer's Things that Matter, which had a strong sale with us. It was my thought that these books push other titles that might have sold better for us off the tops of the bestseller list, limiting their exposure.

7. Similarly, I thought that the same thing happened in fiction, with the books that did work for us being a tougher sell in the chain channel and vice versa. While Mitch Albom's The First Phone Call from Heaven was strong nationally, and even had a good presence in the indie bestsellers lists, we just did not have the demand at Boswell, and the same can be said for many of the series thrillers that dominated the lists. Even the commercial authors that work at Boswell, like John Grisham, don't work at that same intense level. And you can try all you want, but The Luminaries is just not going to be the book of the moment at a mass merchant. It would need Oprah, a presidential endorsement, and a television special too. Little, Brown, I've given you a game plan--get cracking!

8. I don't know how it was to other booksellers, but we found that a lot of books didn't take off until the yearend lists came out. It's hard to chase books that don't need chasing. My sympathies to the publishers, though that probably meant even more e-book sales.

I'll have more analysis of the sales at year's end, so keep a watch out.

*As always, I got sidetracked on the U Haul site and noticed that someone I went to high school with is a bigwig there. For some reason, that was very exciting. We were co-captains of the high school math team. We had team jackets and everything, that we bought from selling bagels made by another member's dad. Long story.

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