Indie publisher Milkweed Editions is opening its own independent bookstore in Minneapolis this Labor Day weekend. Sidestepping the middleman between publisher and consumer, Milkweed said, the publisher will now have a more intimate connection to their readers as it features its own work as well as books from other indie publishers. About twenty-five percent of the stock will be Milkweed’s own.
Milkweed Editions shares a portion of the space in the store, called Open Book, with two other literary businesses. The space used to house a bookstore, Ruminator Books, though it only lasted three years. “It was too early for a bookstore,” said Daniel Slager, Milkweed’s publisher. But with growth in the surrounding area and much more foot traffic, now is the right time, he said.
I recently asked Slager a few questions about his hopes for the new bookstore, and why an indie publisher is going into the retail side of the business.
What excites you most about opening the bookstore?
Every part of the process is interesting, to be perfectly honest. It has been great fun working with an architect and retail designer to come up with an approach to building a beautiful and inviting space. This is not generally part of what I do.
And then beginning to think about which books we will be ordering and selling has also been fascinating. I’m generally very focused on the books we are publishing, but this process has been eye-opening in terms of the richness of the independent publishing scene.
And then planning new ways for us to engage more directly with our local community—one of the primary objectives—has also been a fascinating creative process. We’re working on bicycle delivery, a subscription plan, and many others.
Big picture, there are usually some layers between us and the reader who steps into a bookstore. Our distributor, sales reps, buyers in bookstores, and then booksellers. We have many strong and productive relationships with these individuals, and many of them are among my favorite people. But I’m also excited to engage more directly with readers. And Milkweed Books provides that opportunity.
The inventory is only going to include about a quarter of your own books and the rest from other publishers. How did you come to this balance between your work and others?
Another of our objectives with Milkweed Books is to introduce more readers to the kind of books we publish: books that take chances, books by debut authors, books that are challenging—the kind of books that are often published by independent literary presses such as Milkweed Editions these days.
We want to work with our collegial competitors in this field to promote and sell more of their books. And yet we also feel we would be missing an opportunity to serve our authors and our own organization were we not to promote and sell books we have published in a way that is, shall we say, less than a completely level playing field.
What makes this the right time to open your bookstore? What’s the risk with opening one now?
There is always risk involved with any new business venture, and this one is certainly no exception. In our case the risk is mitigated by several factors.
The store will be located in Open Book, the nation’s largest literary and book-arts center. We had 175,000 people pass through our building last year, and we’re assuming on some level that nearly all these people are interested in books.
Open Book is located in what is currently the fastest growing part of Minneapolis, and there is currently no bookstore in our neighborhood.
Open Book has great event space and a terrific coffee and food service provider already.
We have warehouse space in the building already, and we sell a good number of books directly to consumers already (via our website and at tables at local farmers markets, etc.).
And, finally, Milkweed Books will be located in a relatively small space, and so some of the costs involved—I’m thinking primarily of rent—are not as terrifying as they might be otherwise. Taken together, these and other factors led us to look seriously at the possibility when the space in question opened up in our building, and, well, here we go …
Hannah Hohman is associate editor at Foreword Reviews. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.