How heartwarming to learn that, in the midst of the economic equivalent of continental drift, people still want books.
While singles and families alike set spending priorities, we know that buying and reading books has not gone away. This is a great comfort to the editors and publishers who watch the burgeoning technology and the sour financial reports in Barack Obama’s “Mourning in America.”
A recent Reuters article highlighted this buying trend, noting that a recent poll revealed consumers would forgo holiday spending, eating out and shopping; book buying, though, is still on the agenda!
I did a bit of polling this week, speaking with three friends who have “bookshops” (I just love the English version of “bookstores”!); each has a unique set of challenges in this economy.
The first is a manager of a big-box store in Virginia. He reports that sales are brisk and that the store is doing “okay,” all things considered. Fiction is slightly ahead of where it was this time last year. He’s been in charge of this store for four years and has no plans to find another career.
“I will aggressively whack the knuckles of any economic pressures or advances in technology in order to help maintain an adequate stock of printed books for the public,” said my friend, who is, I suspect, from another time, as even his speech indicates!
The next friend owns a large independent store in the Midwest. She doesn’t have corporate backing behind her – and will tell you she prefers it that way – so it’s all on her, sink-or-swim.
Amy is constantly trying innovative approaches to boost sales and customer walkthroughs. One of the important things she does is emphasize that book reading is ideal for any season. For example, her store, rich in atmosphere, is a wintry hideaway, with overstuffed chairs, an actual working fireplace and free tea and coffee. In summer, there are cups of “real” lemonade and coupons for swimwear from local shops.
This is innovation, my friends, and can be the difference between staying open and finding another job.
Finally, I spoke with a friend who operates a Christian store “out West.” This story is less rosy than the first two. Competition from too many other bookstores in the area is hurting this venue.
We commiserated on the phone, as both of us knew there was little concrete encouragement I could give. For stores that suffer from outright brick-and-mortar competition (not to mention the anaconda-like Amazon), it often is just a matter of time.
And in this economic climate, there have been several lurches and bumps for even once-surging newcomers. I’m thinking of a recent through-the-grapevine report I received about church bookstores. Several years ago, as large churches/money changers began to realize they can turn a profit by selling product, church stores became all the rage. There are even conferences and conventions for such things. To be sure, several of these stores are what was envisioned: a sacred cash cow for the church.
Many others have already closed up shop, however, as poor management, training and poor stocking choices have ushered in doom. More on this sales channel in an upcoming Writer’s Bloc.
Apple’s new iPad will also make Christian titles (as well as secular ones, of course) available, thus cutting a bit into brick-and-mortar sales efforts. Zondervan and FaithWords, a division of Hachette Book Group USA, will also offer some titles via the sexy new e-reader. Reportedly, Thomas Nelson is also in the mix for a distribution agreement with Apple.
According to a report from Christian Retailing, publishing guru Mark Kuyper sizes up the impact of Apple’s bold new device: “Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, told Christian Retailing that the new device has the potential to be a ‘game changer’ for publishing. At the same time, part of its appeal lies in its ability to allow customers to mobilize other media along with their books.”
“I think it’s a really significant device in that it brings all of media into one portable unit that people prefer to see their media on instead of a phone,” he said. “Where it’s different from an e-reader is that e-readers are dedicated devices.”
The Christian Retailing report continues, “Kuyper also said that unlike the tension regarding the dictated low prices of titles featured on the Amazon Kindle store or other e-book stores, early reports of Apple allowing publishers to set prices for their books in iPad could have ‘significant ramifications’ for the book industry.”
As seismic changes continue in the publishing world, we see again that people nonetheless still love to read books. That’s the good news, and the news we need to emphasize again and again as uncertain change surges through our culture.