Category Archives: retailers


Steal these books!

Gabe Habash at PW blogged about the sort of subject that gives me flashbacks to being screamed at by shoppers: the most frequently stolen books.  As I’ve mentioned, I toiled away in college at a bookstore in the West Village.  That particular store had a few factors influencing the selection of stolen lit, including the general romance of the Beat Generation’s heyday in the neighborhood, proximity to NYU’s “campus,” and a table out front selling books of, shall we say, questionable provenance.

So as not to unduly disparage the table seller of books, I’m sure many of them come by their wares honestly.  I once tutored a very nice man in basic computer skills through a volunteer program, and he turned out to be a guy who sells books on the street and had emails from publishers he bought books from.  I don’t even know if the particular gentleman whose selection mirrored what our store suspiciously lacked still sells books anymore at all, much less at that spot.  What I do know is that one day my colleague went out on his lunch break, walked immediately back inside, walked over to an end cap and glanced down at the empty floor, went back outside, and returned a minute later with the 25 copies of Randy Tamborelli’s Madonna bio that used to sit in front of that end cap before mysteriously disappearing a couple hours earlier, still with the company’s 50% off stickers affixed to the front.  The guy at the table apparently had no objection to their returning to their rightful home.  (He also once accosted Whoopi Goldberg as I was ringing up her purchase to tell her she is his favorite actress.  This is unrelated, but awesome.)

Anyway, our most stolen list was similar in many ways to those linked above, though I can’t recall anyone stealing Martin Amis.  We did lose all the rest of those, in abundance.  We also, repeatedly, lost an entire shelf of Paulo Coelho books.  So we lost the beat generation, we lost the sort of books you could sell to NYU kids, and we lost the kinds of books that sell well on the street.  We then started shelving all those authors on the shelves you could only reach by rolling ladder, so that when customers asked for them, we wouldn’t have to say, “Yes, we have 5 copies right…here.  Sorry.  Can I order that for you?”

This led to its own special problem, which is the aforementioned screaming customers.  Some people found this whole thing interesting from a sociological perspective, but there were people who did not take kindly to the implication that people who read the sort of books they like are also thieves.  I can see why people would be offended, but we would try to calmly explain that we totally understood their frustration, but knew from repeated experience that if the books were placed on shelves, we wouldn’t have any to sell, and no, we didn’t like that either, but knew that we had customers like them who would be happy to buy from us and wanted to make sure we could meet their needs.  I’d say about ½ the angry people calmed down upon explanation that we were not merely book bigots, but it wasn’t unusual for others to call me choice names and storm out.

In my last year or so of employment, the store cracked down on security and theft definitely declined.  (Prior to that, either the Village Voice or the New York Press named the company as the best to steal from in their annual best of NYC roundup, erroneously claiming that the company didn’t prosecute offenders.)  The thieves we had left were regulars.  They were scary.  Several of them had elaborate return scams.  One of those, who almost made me cry the time I caught him, seemed like he might have a side job in organized crime.  Many others coupled their theft with seemingly rather intense drug addictions.  Another guy was super friendly to cover up the fact that he was in fact robbing us blind, but he was really good at it, so it took ages to catch him out on it, and when he tried to return to me an art book that no one had ever purchased from the store with a fake receipt, it was one of the most tense moments of my life.

I bet those of you who haven’t worked retail didn’t realize it was so fraught with peril, eh?  Thanks for letting me unburden my brushes with the criminal element.  I’ll be sending your therapy invoice to PW for bringing up this whole mess.

The price of admission

There was a little used book store around the corner from my apartment complex, when I was growing up in Miami, that was my second home.  Nerdy, latch-key kid that I was, I spent hours browsing the shelves, trying to get the owner to throw in an extra dog-eared paperback in exchange for the stack of Spanish language comic books I was trading, and generally getting high on the smell of old paper and ink.  I still have treasured editions scattered throughout my many bookcases whose provenance was that little shop.

Then, when I first got to New York, I was blown away by places like Shakespeare & Co., Brentano’s, Coliseum Books, Papyrus and that promised land for bibliophiles, The Strand.   A few years later many of my favorite haunts had gone out of business or been taken over by soulless corporate giants (you know who you are) but I never lost my love of browsing aimlessly in book stores.  These days, I still occasionally wander over to the Barnes & Noble on Union Square and spend my lunch hour in the fiction stacks on the fourth floor.

Of course, book stores have also traditionally been a place for authors to do their dog and pony show in support of their work.   Book tours are going the way of the Amazon forests but certain authors are still a huge draw (just try to get anywhere near the third floor at the aforementioned Barnes & Noble when David Sedaris is doing a reading).  Some of these events can make you fall in love with a book or its author, sometimes both.   They’re also the makings of a cheap date for grown-ups and an alternative to a $30 movie outing for young kids.  Except, it seems, no more.

Check out this  Gawker piece about the new trend of book stores charging admission to author events.  I actually understand and support independents in their efforts to get people in the door.  These are trying times for book sellers and if they are to keep their doors open in the face of the online juggernauts (you know who you are, cough, Amazon) they are going to have to figure out a way to make money.  But it does make me sad.   How many times did I walk out of a book store with a title I had no intention of buying when I went in after stumbling upon an author reading from his/her book?  I wonder if the days of the accidental book buyer are numbered as a result of these new pay-for-play tactics.

What do you all think about this new development?


BEA isn’t just BEA!

The book industry’s yearly trade show, BookExpo America, is just a few weeks away. I’ll be coming into New York for all the activity and festivity, and I know publishers and featured authors are gearing up for all of the events, like author breakfasts, bookseller speed dating, ARC signing and free booze (you should see the lines for tiny cups of champagne!). But the great news, with the specific events announced today, is that New York Book Week is back in a big way. With all of these amazing authors in town to promote their books to booksellers, it always seemed a waste not to give them a chance to interact with readers. There are events all week, Monday, May 23 through Friday, May 27, kicking off with the Teen Author Carnival on Monday at 4 PM, which I plan to attend. I’m hoping to make some of the other great events that week, too.

I’m genuinely excited that for at least part of BEA, I’ll be able to take off my agent hat and put on my reader hat. Will I see any of you there?


Would you like a book with that pancake mix?

I know, I really need to link to other sources than the New York Times, but damn, if they don’t make it so easy!

On Sunday, the Times ran a short article in the Business section on how publishers are increasing their efforts to get books into non-traditional retailers like Urban Outfitters and, yes, Cracker Barrel.

Talk about a slow news day—please, oh great and powerful NYT, tell us something we don’t know! Reaction has been appropriately snarky, from the mild sarcasm of the “Breaking NYT news” rejoinder on Publisher’s Marketplace to the more acerbic response on Gawker—though, surprisingly for Gawker, there’s a pretty cute photo that accompanies the article. Mmmm, pancakes…

But kidding aside, here’s the question: Have you ever bought a book at Cracker Barrel? Or, more broadly, have you ever bought a book at a non-traditional retailer? If so, was it an impulse buy, or did they carry something you had actually wanted in advance? Did price factor into the decision? Would love to hear your stories, because while the Times article isn’t exactly a revelation, non-traditional retailers are indeed an increasingly important part of the business, yet one that’s very hard to measure. So any anecdotes would be much appreciated!


Bummed about Borders

Seriously, I’m rather upset about this Borders news.  Yeah, they were mismanaged for years.  Their website was a disaster (and kind of still is), and letting Amazon be their online retailer for years?  I think just about anyone could have told you that that was a bad idea. But Borders, by being the “other” chain, has played a very important role in the publishing ecosystem.  While Barnes & Noble has had a larger share of sales for years, and therefore has exerted more control over what gets published, Borders was always an excellent counterbalance.  When publishers had a hard time getting B&N to order a book in the quantity they desired, they could hope that enthusiasm from Borders might make B&N reconsider.  They could go back to B&N and say, “Are you sure you’re not missing something?  Borders is taking a lot more than you!”  Granted, it didn’t always work.  Sometimes it took Borders actually selling a book for B&N to get behind it.  As an editor put it to me today about a particular book, “They got the ball rolling.”  Whether through their Original Voices Award or their Books You’ll Love program, when they supported a book, they made things happen.  And when the copies are flying out of one retailer, other retailers pay attention.  And not just B&N, but the big box stores and the indies, too.  You really can’t underestimate just how much that kind of broad, national, enthusiastic support can affect things.

I know that I’m taking this news particularly hard because Borders has supported a couple of my authors in really big ways.  While I know both would have been successful without Borders, I don’t think they would have been as successful as quickly.  Borders’s taste (I know it seems odd to think of a chain having taste, but hear me out) was always just a bit different, a little bit less obvious, maybe.  They could often see the commercial side of the not-so-commercial books, and in being the underdog, I think they paid particular attention to books that others might have been overlooking.

It’s terrible to be losing 200 of their stores, and even more terrible to think that it’s quite possible they won’t pull out of this mess ever.  I’m sad that great booksellers will be losing their jobs and that some nice retail locations here in SoCal will close—the Pasadena store was pretty great.  I’m sad to think the bookstore that I frequented most often in high school might no longer exist.  And I’m sad for the authors who won’t get championed by a company that truly believed in books.


Big problems with Borders

Happy New Year!

Last week’s news about Borders was anything but happy and it could mean very bad news for all of us in the publishing business.

Evidently, this past week executives from the bookstore chain have been meeting with publishers to ask them for leniency in paying their bills.  At the same time, the company has been in talks with Wall Street firms about restructuring and bankruptcy though they are quick to say that bankruptcy isn’t being contemplated now.

But the fact is that Borders has said that they will delay paying vendors (book publishers) who undoubtedly shipped them lots of product for the holiday season.  If these publishers aren’t paid, that will sift throughout the business all the way down to the authors, of course.

What a shame that a company that expanded way too quickly and helped to put so many wonderful independent bookstores out of business is now in this state of disarray.  They have been so incredibly badly run for so many years, it is difficult to fathom.

I certainly don’t have a solution to this problem.  I am simply pointing it out and hoping that this will serve as a lesson to other companies, most particularly Barnes & Noble, who could find itself in the same spot.  And I hope that publishers and Borders will come to some kind of mutual understanding so that as few of us as possible will be affected by this state of affairs.

Here’s hoping anyway.

Your thoughts about this situation are welcome, of course.


It’s the little things

by Rachel S.

I agree with Michael’s post yesterday. Barnes and Noble and Borders are intimidating. Not to say that I won’t spend an afternoon there with a giant stack of books from a myriad of genres and the biggest cup of coffee they have to offer (which is pretty big), but on the days when I actually want to browse for a book I intend to buy, I head to smaller locations. I get overwhelmed by the rows and rows of shelves within shelves and soon realize I’m not even reading the bindings anymore, but just skimming the colors and shapes of each bookonly picking up ones that stand out in that respect regardless of the title.

Smaller bookshops, whether they house used books, are devoted to a single genre, or are just mini versions of the massive box stores have an appeal that cannot be rivaled. My two favorite places to spend my book money in the city are the Housing Works Bookstore Café in Soho and WORD Books in Brooklyn. They both have their own unique feela sort of atmosphere that is lacking in the impersonal, albeit well-stocked shelves of the giant bookstore chains.

The selection is smaller, sure, but unless I’m looking for something absolutely specific, I find that doesn’t matter. I’ll still always find something I want and I feel that my choice is much better made. If I’m having trouble, the staff in a small bookstore will more likely know each book they do stock and will often have certain opinions and recommendations, which is an undeniable advantage of a smaller selection. In fact, both Housing Works and WORD pepper their shelves with little handwritten index cards from members of the staff praising their most recent literary loves. Because they can’t just sell every book that comes out, there has to be some level of thought and selection put into stocking the independent bookshops.

Smaller stores foster a sense of communitythere even used to be a corkboard in WORD that served as a sort of personals section. Anyone could fill out a slip of paper with their name, age and email address followed by books and authors they loved as well as those they hated and then pin it up on the board, in the hopes that some book-reading match made in heaven would soon emerge.

As the holiday season is upon us, gift-buying must be as well. Shopping in an environment that fosters conversation and comfort as opposed to impersonal abundance, I feel, gives the gift itself greater meaning. Sure, the person you so carefully chose that book for might not know where it was bought, but the sense of thought and care that went into it is surely palpable.

I don’t want to come off totally disparaging the bookstore giantsI love them, too. If you’re looking for something specific, either they’ll have it or will almost certainly have the resources to order it for you. Nowadays there’s near a guarantee that they have a café attached, so there’s no end to the hours you can spend there poring over books you might actually have no intention of buying (okay, so there is an end, as the only times I’ve ever been in a Borders past closing time were for crucial Harry Potter book purchases). Living in the city, it’s easy to forget that oftentimes independent bookstores can’t survive elsewhere and it’s nice to know that the big places are still accessible to the vast majority of the population.

I have a specific experience in mind when I consider entering these havens I call smaller bookstores. When I go book shopping, I want to enjoy it, take my time and truly feel as if I picked the perfect book to read next. I know the next time I go into WORD, the girl behind the desk will be familiar and friendly. I’ll read the lists of updated favorites they tack to the walls as well as the new recommendations on the shelves. There might not be miles and miles of selection, but I’ll hardly miss it once I find the next book I have to have.


Let’s do some shopping!

by Michael

I have a love/hate relationship with holiday shopping. On the one hand, holiday shopping is a pain: the crowds, the traffic (that one’s new to moving to LA!), the same five Christmas songs in every store, etc. On the other, I really like buying gifts for other people, and I still much prefer going to the store to do it. I don’t often have specific things in mind for specific people, but instead I really love to browse and see what’s on offer.

Amongst other things, every year I buy books for people. And yes, I do actually pay for them. Rarely do I get someone a big bestseller or literary must-read (though there was the year I got my father The DaVinci Code), but more often than not it’s titles I’ve found while browsing books at non-bookstores. Being an agent, I’m pretty familiar with what’s on the tables at Barnes & Noble or the front page of Amazon. But the books that tend to get me most excited at the holidays are those little gift books or ridiculous coffee table books. The other day at a small boutique here in LA, I found Concorde by Frederic Beniada and Michel Fraile, a book that’s a few years old but still remarkable in its detail, scope and beauty, and All My Friends Are Dead, a morbidly funny little picture book for adults by Avery Monsen and Jory John. Two gifts accounted for!

Clearly, it’s a very hip store to carry both of these books, but it reminded me that an awful lot of my book buying happens outside of the major book outlets. In a big bookstore, I admit that I sometimes get overwhelmed by the selection and tend to gravitate towards what I already know. I really appreciate those times when I can savor very curated environments, whether it’s a quirky selection (like the store I mentioned here) or the focus of a cookware or gardening store. I tend to spend more time with the books, and I while I can often leave Barnes & Noble without a book, I never leave a speciality store empty-handed.

I’m curious if there are other book people who also enjoy shopping and browsing in these environments. And what good discoveries have you made in them? Because I’m still looking for some gifts!


Go Blue!

by Jane
This weekend I went to my very first tailgate party and college football game. Both took place at the University of Michigan where my son is a freshman.
The party started at 9:30 on Saturday morning and continued until the game began at noon. There was absolutely no food served during the gaiety (much to my surprise) but we did have lots of fun and so I decided that I would share some pictures with our readers.
The game experience was truly amazing. The stadium holds about 120,000 people and it was almost filled on Saturday. Fortunately, after three overtimes, the Michigan Wolverines won 67 to 65, the highest score in Michigan’s history, I believe.

Still, being me I had to check out the bookstores. Since Ann Arbor is the home of Borders, I visited that and a couple more. (Can’t stay away from the biz!) Next time I go back, I will make sure to turn our clients’ books so that they face forward on the shelves.
For now, though, Go Blue!

Books on food

by Stacey

I’ve been really into food and cookbooks lately, as I’ve mentioned, both because I represent a lot of them and because I love to eat (plus I’m trying to cook more, in my dreams at least). There is a lovely little indie bookstore in San Francisco, Omnivore, that a couple of my clients have done events at, and that I visited when I was in SF last spring. It’s totally adorable and they have a wonderful, eclectic, well-curated selection of classic and contemporary books about all things food and wine. They get great authors to visit, even though the store doesn’t hold more than a couple of dozen people and even then it’s tight quarters. It’s worth checking out if you’re in SF, or even if you’re not, you can subscribe to their newsletter, which is always a lot of fun to read. Enjoy!