Local / independent bookstore strategy

Long-time readers of this newsletter know that Sunbury Press has had a program for many years to sell directly to the local and independent bookstores. This arrangement bypasses the middle-man distributorships and leads to more revenue for the publisher and higher royalties for our authors.
We have recently refreshed our list of independent bookstores around the country and find that it has increased to over 1200 potential customers! Imagine if we could sell just one book to each — or ten or 100 for that matter. Sales would be on the upswing!
We will be ramping up our interactions with this list through email campaigns. This will be geared towards our typical 40% discount / net 30 / returnable arrangement with them. We want to focus on this as we turn away (for a while) from Barnes and Noble.
Any author who wants a copy of the list of bookstores in your area, just reach out. We’re happy to send it if you intend to do outreach yourself. Independent bookstores are usually better outlets to have book signings / readings.
Some of you have been very proactive in contacting media. As you know, we have unlimited access to the Cision publicity platform and have been adjusting how we use it. Rather than pitching book review opportunities to media types (which has resulted in mailing lots of free copies with limited results), we would prefer to request author interviews. Building this earned media can have a tremendous impact on your book sales. We’re finding a simpler, more direct message has been more effective that our sell-sheet style pitches. The best time to pitch is when something is happening in the news that relates to your book.
If you are interested in a targeted media list to work on yourself, I would be more than happy to share. Just let me know what parameters you are looking for — region / metro areas / areas of interest. You might start with media in your immediate vicinity to try to build relationships — or seek specific media interested in your content. There are over three million personalities in the database!

On bookstores and book orders

Alas, another brick and mortar book chain has succumbed to the Amazon behemoth. Here’s the article from Publishers Weekly:
Appleton, Wisc.-based Book World Inc. has announced that it is closing all bookstores in its Book World chain that operates 45 outlets across the Midwest. In a letter to its business partners and vendors as well as in a release sent to media, Book World said that liquidation sales will begin on November 2 at all 45 locations. The sales will continue until all inventory — books, magazines, greeting cards, gifts, and other sidelines – is gone. The company expects that all stores will be closed by January 15.
In the letter to Book World’s business partners, senior v-p Mark Dupont said that while the chain had been able to weather the advent of e-books, in the past 12 months sales started plummeting and still continue to drop. Dupont attributed the downturn to the national consumer shift towards e-commerce and away from large department stores. This, Dupont wrote, “has triggered the loss of vital mall anchor stores and a downward spiral in customer counts, reducing sales to a level that will no longer sustain our business.”
“We didn’t anticipate being in this situation,” Dupont told PW, disclosing that the decision to liquidate the company was made about 10 days ago. “I thought I’d be at Book World until the day I retired.”
Book World stores are located throughout the Midwest, outside of the region’s most populated metropolitan areas, most of them either in small town business districts or in shopping malls. There are 20 stores in Wisconsin, eight in Illinois, seven in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, five in Minnesota, three in Iowa, and one each in Missouri and in North Dakota. Dupont said a dozen employees in Book World’s corporate office will be laid off, as well as more than 300 booksellers across the 45 stores.
The first Book World store was founded in 1976 by William Streur in Rhinelander, Wisc.; Streur has always shied away from industry attention as he and his family built up the company over the years; the company declined to cooperate with a 2010 PW profile.
Du Pont, noting that Book World just opened a location in Jefferson City, Mo. said that some of the stores — especially those in downtown areas — are doing well, and expressed his hope that people interested in bookselling in communities about to lose their Book World outlet would open up their own bookstore, perhaps even in the same building. “Many of the stores are truly still healthy,” he wrote.
“We’re saddened to hear the news of a longstanding family business in our region closing and wish all of the employees best wishes with this transition,” wrote Carrie Obry, the executive director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. While MIBA will be losing some members, Obry noted that “the real impact will be in the communities that have to do without a bookstore until someone opens a new one.”
Given the relatively small store count, we don’t expect this closing to have a major impact on publishers. However, it is indicative of the point we are at in this business. While the vast majority of books are still sold in print, the majority of books are sold online, through ecommerce.
At Sunbury Press, we continue to be very supportive of our local and regional booksellers, and urge our authors to select them for events over Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million whenever possible.
We will continue to monitor our risk of returns from the book trade, as we continue to navigate these choppy waters. Next year will be our 15th in business, and we hope to continue for many many more years.
We have had a number of questions recently about ordering books for events. Bookstores can order from us directly at a 40% discount, or can order from Ingram. We would prefer a direct order — or that you handle the books for your events. This month, we are once again in receipt of a large number of copies returned from book events where the stores over-ordered. These boomerang books are deducted from your royalties and build up in our inventory, when you could have just picked them up and used them at your next event.  If you are doing a series of author events, please work with the bookstores to prevent returns. They are expensive for all parties involved.
And, for those of you ordering books, don’t forget to use the A50 coupon code when checking out. We’ve had to fix a number of orders this past month. Please email orders@sunburypress.com if you have any questions.

BookExpo 2017: For Authors–Working with Indie Bookstores

Below is an article from the recent Book Expo in New York …
“We try to cater each event to that author and treat the event as if it’s really, really, super important because it is important,” said Susan Hans O’Connor of Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, Pa., during the education session “For Authors: Working with Indie Bookstores,” which also featured Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex., and Pete Mulvihill of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Calif.
O’Connor, who worked for a New York publisher before becoming a bookstore owner, noted that “it is all about building relationships. Whether you’re an established author, an independently published author, or being published by a big house, it’s all about one-on-one relationships with booksellers, bookstore owners, other authors, etc. We always tell authors that when they come to our store, no matter how many people show up, it’s worth your time because you’ve built a relationship with the store.”
Although Green Apple offers visiting authors substantial outreach through social media and its e-mail newsletter, Mulvihill said that “we do really rely on authors to help with that effort” before, during and after the event. “We try to reach out beyond the walls of our store to get people in, which is a big reason that we do events at all. We think even if you have an event where only 10 or 12 people come and only sell three or four books, in some ways that’s a win. I got 10 people in the door and they have a positive association with this place.”
While discussing how authors might contact a bookstore directly about hosting an event, Mulvihill said, “It depends a little bit. If the author does live in our community, and especially in our neighborhood, we love to meet them directly. But if the person who deals with events is unavailable, don’t take that as an insult. We all juggle 80 things each day, like everybody else in this world. You could just ask for the person’s name and how best to get in touch with him or her.”
Koehler cautioned that if authors are “going to approach us directly without some intermediary, like a PR firm or publicist, I would like them to understand what we’re all about. So my suggestion is to do some research first. I’m shocked how many people don’t do that research before they approach us…. We can’t possibly take everything and we would like that fit to be a good fit for our customers.”
O’Connor noted that “we do feel that our role is to support our community, which means supporting local authors as well as bringing in different voices. We may not sell a lot of their books on a regular basis, but if it’s an opportunity for someone to come in and we feel that they can do excellent outreach and that we can work in a successful partnership, we are pretty much open to any kind of book, within reason.”
And sometimes, indie booksellers even approach independent authors: “We’ve found some of our best small press books by what we’re reading,” said Koehler, who recalled noticing a local news item about Goodnight Houston, “which is a little picture book. And they didn’t approach us. I called them and said this might be a good fit. So remember that we are looking for something to sell in our store that we think is a good fit and that we are going to make money on.”

Trends in Independent Bookstores Following the Borders Closing

by Emma Thomas

bordersWhen Borders closed three years ago, newspapers like the International Business Times stated that the reason for lack of profit was that “bookstores had become park-like for many, a place to relax and look.” Active buying, it seems was lacking, especially with the e-book boom, which seemingly made reading far more affordable and space-saving (at least while the boom lasted). Stores like Borders, comprising large spaces in prime real estate areas, simply couldn’t afford to stay open unless they were supported by public funding. Just when all seemed lost for book stores, however, a new trend began: the rise of the independent bookstore, some in areas like Manhattan’s Upper West Side, described by Head of Global Strategy at Envestnet, Zachary Karabell, as a former “retail book desert”.  The phenomenon led the New York Times to declare, “Print is not dead yet—at least on the Upper West Side”. The American Booksellers Association, meanwhile, notes that the number of independent books stores has risen by 20 per cent.

Karabell notes that Borders and Barnes & Nobel failed on two accounts: they sold shares publicly (which forced them to pursue high profits) and they aimed for high growth (innovation, disruption), which forced them to compete against Amazon. In fact, they should have specialized in fulfilling the demands of selective audiences, as independent bookstores have been doing so well.

Trends and Breakthroughs

Some of the trends we are seeing which are enabling independent bookstores to stay ahead of their game include:

  • A focus on children’s and young adults books: Many parents are discouraged by news reports stating that in the US, children spend up to 90 per cent of their time indoors, attached to electronic devices such as tablets, Smartphones, etc. Independent book stores are attracting these markets through incentives such as teen book clubs and the sale of both new and used books, which appeal to parents keen on fostering a love of reading in their children.
  • Wine bars: ‘I Know You Like a Book’, a small book store in Peoria Heights, Illinois, is an example of an independent book store that is seeing a rise in customer numbers and in sales. Store owner, Mary Beth Nebel, told the press that she believes it has something to do with the unique sensation offered by books, but she also prides herself on her store’s ‘unique spirit’. ‘I Know You Like a Book’ has a wine bar, the meeting point for book clubs and an ideal venue in which to share a love for books with new people. Other stores are offering coffee and healthy treats, a major trend for indie shops across the U.S.
  • Focusing on Local books: Books specializing in local subject matter make great gifts, with independent stores reporting that they sell especially well during the holiday period. Independent book stores are an excellent venue in which to highlight local authors and subjects.
  • Profiting from Hachette booksThe current Amazon-Hachette dispute means that independent book stores are able to offer low-priced Hachette books, since Amazon is currently offering no discounts on these books.
  • Getting people together: Independent book stores have tapped into the power of books to bring people together, by offering workshops, classes and author reading events, not only at the store itself but in community venues.
  • Language book storesThe French Embassy’s  Albertine Books, which shares two floors of the Beaux-Art Payne Whitney mansion, has tapped into the demand for a dedicated French book store, containing everything from fiction and non-fiction work to graphic novels, kids’ books (in English and French) and more, at prices “as reasonable as they are in France”. The new store will also be a meeting point for those learning French, featuring festivals and conversations in French on literature and science.
  • Well curated content: The profound knowledge of indie book sellers in literature (both old, classic works and new releases) allows them to craft a fine selection of books that appeal to their customers. Indie book sellers are able to tune in to their client’s needs by conversing with them, finding out what type of content they are after and ordering books in accordance. The pressure for a high turnover faced by companies like Borders meant that their focus was on new releases, which led them to ignore the constant demand for popular classics from past centuries. Statistics indicate that sales at independent book stores have risen by eight per cent since 2011, their profits offsetting the costs of rent and the purchase and protection of books through stock insuranceWithout an excessive pressure to sell, independent stores are able to specialize, offer quality service and adequately protect stock of a manageable size.