Sunday, February 10, 2013

If You're a Bookseller, Then Sell Books

For obvious reasons, I tend to notice stories in the news that relate to bookstores. I came across one recently that, though a couple of years old, caught my attention. The article in The Grand Rapids Press profiles moves by a Michigan bookstore to remain solvent in a challenging time for bookstores across America. Here is the opening paragraph:

In the battle for survival in the cut-throat retail world, Schuler Books & Music is coming out swinging oven mitts. There are also scarves, kitchen utensils, board games, puzzles and dozens of other items meant to bring in shoppers looking for more than the printed word.

Seriously? Oven mitts? I certainly understand the need for sidelines to add to a bookstore's income, and some are natural fits (bookmarks, journals, etc). But when you move beyond the point of a few additional money-makers to becoming a department store that also sells books, it's time to question whether you are really a bookseller or simply someone who loves being a retailer.

For example, there was a husband and wife team in my area that began selling books online because they realized that with books you didn't have to keep a lot of different-sized shipping boxes on hand. I kid you not: they sold books because it saved them money on boxes. They are out of business now, and their demise was reported as yet another bookstore failing.

Later in the story on Schuler Books and Music, we have this gem:

But Schuler isn’t giving up on books. Books still make up 60 to 65 percent of total sales.

Wow. Books make up 60 percent of total sales...for a bookstore. That means that if the oven mitts and puzzles grab another 11 percent of the business, Schuler can no longer have "Books" be the first word in the name of the store without engaging in false advertising (see the "bar and grill" vs. "grill and bar" rulings by your state alcohol commission).

This is America, and every business owner has the right to run their business in the way they think will make it successful. But if you're a bookseller, then sell books, and not just because you see them as a commodity, but because you love the written word. If not, then do something else. That way your eventual failure won't be incorrectly reported as another bookstore closing.

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