Bars, Social Media, and Fake News: New Models for Bookstores and Indies
From cocktails to beer, books and booze are a great complement to each other. As retail establishments in general look for ways to keep customers longer and get them to spend more money (initiatives for which booze is particularly effective), bookstores specifically have been getting into the booze-slinging business. But whether it’s booze specifically, or any other example of nonbook entities (craft supplies, clothes, event spaces, or anything else) taking up more space in the stacks, Digital Book World sought to ask, Will bars save bookstores?, and gathered a panel of experts to discuss the answer.
Oren Teicher, president of the American Booksellers Association, notes that there have been hundreds of “innovations in more than just bookselling” in an effort to “save” bookstores, and they’re working. According to Teicher, the past five years have seen the number bookstore openings exceed the number of bookstores closing, a significant number of existing bookstores finding new owners where once upon a time those bookstores would have closed, and a steady upward growth in unit sales of books specifically. “We’re still here, and my prediction is we’re not going away,” he said.
Both on and below the surface, this is great news. But what we see as current growth is actually a steadying that’s following a time of relative turmoil. Bookstores are still recovering from what Independent Publishers Group CEO Joe Matthews describes as “the three major disruptions” to the market: e-books, online buying, and fragmentation of audience. “Disruption drives experimentation and change,” said Matthews, who noted that bookstores succeed in promoting community building, customer service, and socialization in addition to the books themselves. Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, owner of Greenlight Bookstore—which has no bar or cafe, but rather a very robust events program—echoed that sentiment: “People don’t go to a bar exclusively for the alcohol; they go because it’s not work or home, but that third place. We think of the bookstore as another place like that.”
Prognosticating on where the trend of socialization in bookstores can lead, Tim McCall, LSC Publishing Group director of Global Trade Sales, believes that the communities that gather in bookstores can be a disruption to the communities that only exist, interact, and—particularly as of late—argue online, suggesting that bookstores can be an alternative to social media and the fake news spread on those networks. “There’s less integrity on social media than there used to be. Maybe as an industry, we can create a message that says, ‘there is a customer service of truth and integrity that you can find when you need it.’”
Indie Publishing’s Place
An emphasis on community building and information exchange places independent publishers in a uniquely qualified place to gain shelf space. With its emphasis on community building through community gathering, Greenlight Bookstore has a strong focus on books from independent publishers, with the belief that the publishers and authors who create these books are not just of interest to its Brooklynite clientele, but that the publishers themselves are mainstays in the local community and are responsible for some of the most active events the store hosts. According to Stockton Bagnulo, a group of local poets who are newly published with small presses, “drove some of the biggest crowds we’ve had in the store.”
The physical space of a bookstore is also ripe for favoring the aesthetically pleasing. “A book is only a book while you’re reading it, otherwise it’s a sculpture,” said Matthews, reinforcing the need for beautiful, oftentimes expensive books that indie publishers excel in creating. He continued: “It’s much easier for an indie bookseller to take on more expensive books than it is for the big retailers,” which is good news for small publishers who often have to price their books higher to cover costs (Matthews also believes that book prices in general should increase).
As for actually getting books onto bookstore shelves, Teicher notes that an average of “75 percent of sales to bookstores are direct between the store and the publisher,” including indie publishers (though he notes that the percentage changes based on the size of the store). Teicher also recommends that publishers be open to changing payment and return terms. “It can take six to twelve months for a book to be discovered on the shelf,” so he recommends patience from publishers who might typically seek returns after just three to six months.
Whether a bookseller or a publisher, Teicher, emphasized, “The indie movement is alive and well.”
Seth Dellon is the Associate Publisher of Foreword Reviews. You can meet him or hear him speak at most of the events Foreword attends, and contact him at email@example.com.