Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Manhattan”

Would You Pay To Meet An Author?

The average amount of books sold at a book signing is eight! When you take into account the luminaries such as Stephen King, John Grisham, J.K. Rowlings et al, then there are some very sad and frustrated bookstore staff and authors. When Christopher Moore launched his novel Fool in the heart of San Francisco, people lined up around the store and outside waiting for him to sign a copy of this or any other of his hilarious novels. There were a few hundred easily. It was a good night for Books Inc.

But many stores are getting tired of the publicity, room preparation, staff time etc. all for a handful of people. According to the New York Times, some independent bookstores have decided to charge admission (often a gift card that can be redeemed for the author’s or another book). Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel highlighted this in a recent article after the Boulder Book Store in Colorado announced in April that it planned to charge $5 a person to attend store events. In the same month, local Menlo Park bookstore, Kepler’s Books, began to charge a $10 gift card as admission for two people. if the customer bought the book at the store prior to entering the event, the fee was waived.

Alon Shalev speaking in a Barnes & Noble

One of the few advantages that the brick-and-mortar bookstores have over their online competitors is the ability to bring authors and readers face-to-face. 

Here are some reactions from the field (taken from the aforementioned NYT article):

“There’s no one right now who’s not considering it,” said Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson Books in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. “The entire independent bookstore model is based on selling books, but that model is changing because so many book sales are going online.”

Is there still magic in meeting an author?

“We don’t like to have events where people can’t come for free,” Anne Holman, the general manager of The King’s English Bookshop, an independent store in Salt Lake City, said. “But we also can’t host big free events that cost us a lot money and everyone is buying books everywhere else.”

Bookstore owners say they are doing so because too many people regularly come to events having already bought a book online or planning to do so later. Consumers now see the bookstore merely as another library — a place to browse, do informal research and pick up staff recommendations.

“They type titles into their iPhones and go home,” said Nancy Salmon, the floor manager at Kepler’s. “We know what they’re doing, and it has tested my patience.”

Heather Gain, the marketing manager of the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., said “We’re a business. We’re not just an Amazon showroom.”

Ouch!

Ann Patchett was interviewed while on her three-week book tour for her new book, “State of Wonder.” She was appearing at  such an event at Kepler’s. She understood the bookstores’ problem, but worried that this wold exclude those who can’t pay for a hardcover book such as  students or the elderly. “I wouldn’t want the people who have no idea who I am and have nothing else to do on a Wednesday night shut out,” she said. “Those are your readers.”

Alon Shalev speaking in Oakland

Publishers aren’t happy either since they often pay for the author to travel to the bookstore. If the bookstore is charging entrance, shouldn’t it at that point pay the author or publisher for the appearance?

Customers seem willing to pay when they know the author (and are probably going to buy his/her book) and some are willing to pay to support the independent bookstores.

“You get a real sense of community …” one said. “You get an intellectual community that gathers around books, and that can only happen at a bookstore.”

Others however have questioned this: “Who would the money go to? Not to the author?” he asked. “That’s terrible.”

What do you think? Are the independent bookstores just cutting off one of the only advantages they hold over the online stores? But if most of us do move over to Ebooks, will that spell the end of our local independent bookstores? And then, what else are we missing out on?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Independent Bookstores – Looking for Ways to Survive

Last month, more than 500 independent bookstore owners got together for a conference to discuss creative ways of generating more income. Julie Bosman covered the event in the New York Times.

What was clear was a consensus that just selling books wasn’t going to be enough. Even the giants, Borders and Barnes & Noble are struggling. There were optimistic voices:“We know now that in the world of physical book selling, bigness is no longer viewed as an asset,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, which has independent stores in South Florida, Westhampton Beach and the Cayman Islands. “It’s about selection and service and ambiance. Now we’re finding a situation where the marketplace is getting back to reality.”

But there were also calls for changing the rules. “We have to figure out how we stay in the game,” said Beth Puffer, the director of the Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan. “You have to rethink your whole business model, because the old ways really aren’t going to cut it anymore.”

There was a lot of focus on taking the bookstore to the customer and harnessing websites, social media, and even selling e-books.

Matt Norcross, the owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., led a workshop on creating a store Web site and market both tree and e-books. The chosen host seems to be Google, perhaps seeking a bigger ally to fight Amazon.com. So far, they seem to be struggling to get their names out there on the web.

Naftali Rottenstreich, who is an  owner of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, N.Y., said it it would be a huge challenge to accustom customers to the idea of buying books online through the independent bookstores.

“The mindset right now is, that’s Amazon or that’s Barnes and Noble.com,” he said. “There’s a transformation that has to take place, and I think it will happen in time.”

The idea is difficult. Their customers are willing to pay more for the privilege of perusing in an intimate environment, with staff that are familiar or them. The online idea loses all of this.

Other ideas include adding wine bars, cafes, and selling other products such as toys, baked goods or gourmet products.

Last October, I heard a lot of fear at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association conference. While I am sure there was fear aplenty at this conference, there seems to be a strong desire to adapt and survive.

Do we really want our Main Streets devoid of a bookstore? What does this say about our values and what message is it passing on to our children? Or is Main Street even going to be relevant to the next generation’s buying experiences?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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