Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Birds and the (Book) Bees: How Books Come To Be (In My Store)

I’ve been asked more than once on this blog where I order books, where I find the titles that eventually end up on my shelves. As a chain store most of my book inventory is the result of a group a buyers far, far away from my store (who may or may not have any idea of my store’s actual size). This takes care of my basic inventory and the majority of my street dates, but doesn’t account for any specialization for my customer base. From my buyers I’m getting a certain percentage of the same books all my other stores are getting. For the rest of the books (the ones that make up the front table or employee choice wall-bays) I order book found in a number of sources:

  • Fast Company: good not only for up and coming business books (my store is in an urban business area), but also interesting fiction and fun tie-ins (Pimp My Cubicle, anyone?).

  • Publishers Weekly: I can’t order from a magazine until it is a month or two old, but the reviews (and advertisements) give me a great idea of what books will appeal to my customers.

  • Bust Magazine: at the end of every issue Bust highlights a number of different titles and authors, titles that are often picked up by other news outlets (all of which jive with the folksy aspect of my town).

  • NY Times Book Review: if it shows up there (whether as a reviewed book or an advertised one) we get it into the store.

  • The Daily Show or the Colbert Report: if the authors are even half-way coherent about their book, I’ll have someone in for it the next day guaranteed.

  • Partners West Distributors: send out a weekly review pamphlet on different topics and the people manning the phones there know their stuff.

  • Various magazines (anyone with book clubs, book reviews or copious amounts of book advertisements): Vogue, Vanity Fair, People, Ebony/Essence, Entertainment Weekly, Romantic Times Book Club, etc. Pick and choose, mix and match.

  • Anything I’ve heard about online in an excessively positive manner (Monster Island for example)

  • Oprah: she is Oprah, ‘nuff said. Anyone who can get a segment of the nation asking me for When God Winks just by having it on her bedside table has a lot of power and I, for one, plan to make as much money of that as I can.

  • Customer suggestions: if I’ve heard it from customer and they’re convinced so-in-so is the next big thing, I’ll him/her a try.

I’ll reorder anything that I’ve noticed is selling faster than the company is restocking me, or the paperback version of something that should have sold well in hardcover but didn’t due to the price.

Recently I signed up for Shelf Awareness after an author asked me about and I’ve found that it makes me more aware of certain titles. While it doesn’t necessarily make me go out and order the titles highlighted there right away, it makes me more sensitive to any repetition of these titles by another publication, a customer, or a mention online (whether any of this ordering subscribes to the magically selling theory of three, I don’t know).

I have coworkers who spend their unpaid time looking online for upcoming titles in the genres they love, and others that check out the catalogs sent to us by the different publishing companies. Our only requirement is that it has to be something that our customers might be interested or something we think we can hand-sell (thus talking them into something that might not know they wanted). Nothing glamorous to it, just a lot of reading.



Kendall said...

Interesting post, thanks! From what I've read recently, I thought pretty much all book placements at chains were paid for to the chain, and the chain told the store what to put where -- including things you say you buy specially for ("the front table or employee choice wall-bays"). Is it just that only some of those are paid for, or is your chain not like that (i.e., what I've read over-generalized), or are you a rebel store? ;-) Whatever the reason, yay!

Colleen Gleason said...

Very interesting and enlightening, especially how you as a chain store employee balance what the corporate buyers send you and what your clientele needs. I wasn't sure how much leeway you had in that area.

Wondering, too, if you ever use the RWA quarterly publication Romance Sells to supplement what you might find in Romantic Times, etc.

Bookseller Chick said...

Kendall, a lot of the placement in my store is parceled out for planned book placement, but rarely are all the books called for present when we do the weekly/biweekly change-outs so we have to make substitutions until the point they arrive (besides you can only make a small number of books stretch so far, lots and lots of book juggling is involved). We also have a table set up that is not called for in any of our planograms due to the irregular size and shape of our store. We use the table as a hybrid for books called for in the planogram and books that will appeal to our customer base. A large chunk of my store's trade sales (and a good amount of my HC sales) comes from books that we specifically order in. These are sales that would be lost if we just tried to make due with what the company sent us.

Colleen, part of the disparity between what we're actually sent by the company and what we actually sell (i.e. what we order in) comes from the fact that we're an odd store (we're just not like a lot of the other kids) and I think we've been mis-categorized. We have the leeway to order (meaning they haven't cracked down on our spending) because we sell pretty much everything we order in with our hits far exceeding our misses. If it were the other way around we would be barred from ever touching the computer.

I don't receive the publication Romance Sells, but I'm sure that my buyer does. Romance is one of the areas that I don't have to do a lot of ordering in. My biggest problem there is receiving more books than I have room for in the section or on display. While I'm sure that Romance Sells would give me a greater understanding of the romance market (and a better heads-up on anticipated titles than the Romantic Times), I don't if it would affect anything more than product placement. Who knows, though, I didn't think that Shelf Awareness would affect me in any way, but it has.

Robin Brande said...

This is so good to know. I always thought chain booksellers had little or no power to make their own choices. Thanks for another valuable lesson.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Very enlightening. Good to know you guys have some clout ;)...but that it's still all about about the publicity and promotion your book can generate (or you can generate for your book).

Kendall said...

Thanks for elaborating, BSC -- sounds like your store's a groovy hybrid. :-)

Donna J. Shepherd said...

Very enlightening. Thanks for the information. - Donna