Bookstores


Sue Grimshaw, romance buyer for Borders/WaldenBooks, recently launched the True Romance video series as part of Borders’ mega updates to its website.  So far she’s interviewed Lisa Jackson and Lisa Kleypas on their newest releases.

Today, news broke that Barnes & Noble is also getting into “vlogging,” wherein every week booksellers around the country will talk about  recommended reads across a number of genres.  The booksellers are in their stores with a FlipCam–no fancy studio or equipment (and sometimes that’s not so good)–and you get the sense that they really love the books they’re recommending.  In this one, Kirsty from Seattle talks about Deanna Rayborn’s SILENT IN THE GRAVE.

I love the idea of the videos, but to make them work, I think retailers should:

  • make sure they’re easily accessible with a link from the homepage to something that says “Video” or “Videos, Reviews & More” or “Behind the Books” or something – I don’t necessarily make a quick connection that the “B&N Studio” or “Borders Media” tabs are going to give me content like exclusive interviews, recommendations and reviews.
  • link videos to the book description page
  • make it possible to embed the videos on blogs.  I know they probably want to drive traffic directly to the site, but these days, it really seems sharing is the best way to go.  And isn’t the point to spread the message and build the brand?
  • have a good mix of known authors, but even more importantly, let people know about up-and-comers.  Most readers already know the big bestsellers and when their books are releasing. 

Has watching a video ever made you buy a book?  Or do you mostly look for videos from authors you already know?

With so many free ebooks available, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to pay full price for anything.  Most websites don’t have great deals on single-book sales.  But if you’re a bargain shopper like me, you can get books at a significant discount if you know the ins-and-outs of the system.  So here’s a quick guide to getting books as cheap as possible on the Dorchester website:

 

The trick is buying in bulk and then taking advantage of all the sales and special offers.  Right now, the site is running a spring cleaning sale for 30% off all titles with a purchase of at least $10.

 

But there are two specials that are always available—no promo code necessary:

  • For every 5 books you buy, you get 1 free
  • Buy 10 books or more and get free shipping

 

So let’s say you’re going to buy 10 books—that means you get two free and you don’t have to pay shipping charges.  So you’ve got 12 books total.  Let’s say half of them are $6.99 and half are $7.99.  Retail value of the books would be $89.88.  That’s what you’d be paying if you ordered from Amazon or any bookstore.

 

But two of those $6.99 books are free, so knock the total down to $75.90.

 

Now take off your 30% with the SPRG09 promo code. That brings you down to $53.13

 

That gives you an average price of $4.43 per book, a savings of $36.75.  Again, even Amazon can’t beat that.

 

Another thing to remember: Preorder books count toward your total, and you don’t have to pay any extra shipping.  Plus, preorders often ship well before the on-sale date.You’ll likely have the book before it’s available in stores—without even having to leave your house.

 

One of our field sales reps was in the office last week, and I thought it a perfect opportunity to get the scoop on how a real, live sales call actually works.  Every week, we get reports from our sales staff saying stuff like “this account loved this cover so it’s an Impact Buy,” “previous sales were weak, so they’re revising their order,” and “they’re making this a Sidekick Title.”  But what the heck does all that mean?

 

It sounds as though prepping for a sales call is a lot like getting ready to send a manuscript on submission.  Each account wants the information presented in a very specific way.  One person wants everything rubber-banded and color coded, another takes paperclips, and yet another doesn’t want anything bound at all.  Gee, people are so picky.  ;-)

 

The first thing the reps have to do is research.  On the back of all the cover flats that are taken into the sales presentation are marketing notes from the publisher with comparison titles.  The sales rep has to look figures on the comparison titles that are specific to the individual account, and quite often secures it right to the cover in one of the aforementioned manners.  It seems as though most accounts are looking to base their buys on previous sales at the 8-week mark.

 

For 90% of the accounts, this presentation is the first time the buyers are hearing about the books. Though setting can make a difference (especially with historical romance), for the most part, the buyers aren’t too concerned about the book’s plot.  They like to see quotes, marketing plans, and most importantly of all, a strong cover.  This is especially true for a debut, but even an author with a strong sales record can fall short with a weak cover.

 

At Dorchester, we generally present 6 original romances, 4 Westerns, 2 horrors, 1 thriller, 1 sci-fi/adventure, and 1 Hard Case Crime book.  Buyers for chain stores (Barnes & Noble, WaldenBooks/Borders, BooksAMillion) and accounts that service libraries and independents (Baker & Taylor, Ingram) usually order everything on the list at varying levels.  But only some of the titles are chosen for display on front tables, ladders, or spin racks.  Usually that’s determined by how many copies the buyer wants to order and how much co-op money the publisher has available to pay for the placement.     

 

Wholesale accounts (servicing Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, drug stores, grocery stores, etc.) tend to have much more limited buys.  And this is where it gets fun.  Because they all have a different system.  For example, one account takes approximately 70 titles every month.  That’s of all the fiction that’s being published that month.  A general breakdown is:

  • 20 bestsellers (this would be your Nora Roberts, John Grisham, Dan Brown type)
  • 15 new romances, 10 or so backlist on bestsellers
  • 10-15 fiction
  • 5 mystery
  • 5 sci-fi/fantasy

 

The bestsellers generally get the largest buys, and the categories the smaller ones.  So anything we can do to bump a bigger-name romance author up to the bestseller category works for everyone’s benefit – it means there’s more left in romance for other authors, and we’ve secured a top distribution. 

 

Each wholesaler has its own hierarchy of buy levels.  Generally, the reps push a couple of the top romances, and shuffle things around to see if we can get a horror and western in the fiction section and a thriller as a mystery buy. This is where the salesmanship, knowing the area marketplace, and wisely choosing which books to use as a comparison title really comes into play.   Every now and then, the buyers go out on a limb and really push a debut because they like the cover or the marketing plans.  And that’s fantastic because it really makes the books visible, but then the book also has to sell through well (which can be difficult for a new author) or the big buy won’t be there next time.

 

This is why scheduling is so important—we don’t want to end up competing against our own books any more than we already are.

 

One surprise to me was that in months where there’s a huge release—a Harry Potter or a Stephanie Meyer—accounts are less willing to take big orders on other books because they’ve got so much cash tied up in the mega-bestseller.  I hadn’t really considered that before.  On the other hand, I’ve also heard that because of discounting, most stores take a loss on those mega-bestsellers, and count on the readers flocking into the stores to pick up a few more books or merchandising materials to make up for it.  Sue Grimshaw has previously mentioned that romance sales go up across the board in the month of a Nora Roberts or J.D. Robb release (isn’t that just about every month?) because customers come into the store for the latest, then stay for some impulse buys.

 

I think a book could be written on the sales process alone, and clearly every house works differently and every account has its own purchase process.  But I’m hoping this serves as a basic primer.

 

Ok, so they’re still firing people, and that’s definitely not good.  But Shelf Awareness reports that Borders also announced:

…the company is “moving to more frequent replenishment order cycles–about three times faster than in the past–and with a far greater level of automated ordering. This will mean fewer out-of-stocks, faster response to sales trends and more predictable order flow. Not only will this change help us drive sales, but it will also improve inventory productivity and reduce returns, driving efficiencies for both our company and yours.”

From what I’ve seen and heard from some authors, some stores weren’t carrying the stock they previously had and many new books were on backorder for two to three weeks, meaning customers would have to go to the store, request a title they couldn’t find on the shelves, then wait more than a week, then go back to the store to finally pick it up.  Assuming they didn’t just drive home and order from Amazon. 

In other Borders news, paranormal sales in 2008 were up more than 30% from the previous year, and Regency/Victorian-set titles still account for the strongest sales among historicals.

And just to get you out and shopping, Borders is offering 40% off any book–no minimum purchase–for Reward members this weekend.

I’m still working on bring over the most informative posts from the old site, but a few new, razzle-dazzle features to note:

  • If you use a feed reader such as Google, Yahoo, Bloglines, etc., grab the new RSS feed at the top of the sidebar.
  • If you prefer to receive updates via email, check out the second link of the sidebar.  Click the link, fill out the form, and after a quick verification, presto – you have email.  Just come by to visit every once in a while; otherwise, I’d miss you.
  • As with all WordPress blogs, you can subscribe to receive followup comments via email.  This way you’ll actually know if I’ve answered your question.
  • I’ve added an About page with my some info about the site, my 2009 conference schedule and a contact form.  Booksellers and librarians, please drop by and let me know if you want extra promo stuff.
  • Covers and descriptions for August books are now available as are a listing of September titles has been added to the Coming Soon page.

This is a work in progress, so if you have other suggestions, bring ‘em on.

When a book is first released, it’s only natural to want to know immediately how sales are going.  Unfortunately, with publishing’s screwy system of returns, usually the best way to find out what’s selling well is by waiting to see what doesn’t get sent back.  And that can take 4-6 months.  Obviously, if an author hits a bestseller list, there’s an immediate indication, but without that, it can be awfully hard to know for sure.  And it’s understandable for authors to go looking for numbers wherever they can get them.  But the following places are not going to give an accurate picture:

  • Bookscan - This is probably the most accurate, but only for what it counts.  Keep in mind that Bookscan numbers do not include sales from Wal-Mart and a number of other alternative bookselling outlets, such as grocery stores, drug stores and the like.  It might be helpful to have as a comparison, but in some cases Wal-Mart can account for almost half the print run. 
  • Amazon rankings –  Though it’s certainly nice to be #1, these really have no meaning whatsoever on overall sales.  Amazon’s sales might account for about 4% of the total of any given title.  And a spike in rankings could occur based on just a handful of sales.  While I do think Amazon’s numbers can give some indication of interest, they’re not very reliable in general.
  • Pub Alley - I’d never heard of this website and I’m still not completely sure what it’s all about.  But an agent recently mentioned that her author saw her sales indicated here and then was astounded to find out the numbers listed were grossly inflated – like four to five times so.  I have no idea where they get their information.
  • Publisher’s press release/PW announcement – Again, these are probably going to be inflated.  The publisher wants the author to look good and have the media pay attention.  Unless the book is already hot and #1 on the NYT, I really wouldn’t believe announced print runs.

So how in the world can an author find out what’s going on?  The best way is to ask your editor.  Ask how many books shipped.  Ask how that relates to expectation.  Ask if there are reorders coming in (even that can take *some* time, but it’s usually faster than returns).   Ask if it’s on any of the individual store’s bestseller lists within the genre.  Sometimes we get these lists; sometimes we don’t.  But it never hurts to ask. 

If there are any other number sources I’m not thinking of, let me know in the comments.

legacyTomorrow marks the grand opening of the humongous (24,000 square feet!)  Legacy Books in Plano, Texas.  They’re scheduling all kinds of events, and encourage local or visiting authors to contact them about setting up a signing, a reading–or even a demo cooking class. 

Even if you’re nowhere near Texas, you’ll still want to put these folks on your list.  Kathy Baker, an RWA Bookseller of the Year, is heading up their romance buys, and she’s always on the lookout for the latest news.  Promo items can be sent to:

Kathy Baker
Legacy Books
7300 Dallas Parkway, Suite A120
Plano, TX 75024