The American Booksellers Association's annual conference, Winter Institute, celebrated its 11th year Jan. 23-26 in Denver, Colorado. BookNet's own Lauren Stewart trekked to Denver to join booksellers in professional development, networking, collaboration, and a good time. What follows is one of her reports from the conference.
Winter Institute is celebrated by booksellers as an essential meeting to acquire professional development and connect with their bookselling peers, but publisher support (and attendance!) is essential to its success and provides opportunities for trading partners to participate in meaningful exchanges about forthcoming titles, terms of trade, and a collaborative approach to the future sustainability and success of the industry.
At a Sunday morning session called "Education for Publishers: Bookstore P&L," general interest booksellers from various markets shared a sampled profit and loss statement from a typical "mid-profit" store. Our illustrious panelists (names follow) ran through their stores' unique financial successes and stresses while entertaining questions from a very engaged audience of (mostly) publishers. Here's a round-up of 11 things booksellers want publishers to know in 2016:
There are three major "costs" encountered by booksellers that are outside of their control—i.e., cost of goods sold, wages/payroll, and occupancy—that, for a typical "mid-profit" store (the middle 40% of bookstores), account for 86.8% of their net before taxes.
There is a direct correlation between having high numbers of professional, knowledgeable staff (ideally full-time and dedicated to the store) on the floor and increased sales. When booksellers reduce staffing, they risk reducing sales.
Publishers and booksellers cannot ignore the environment in which bookstores operate and must collaborate on political advocacy for things like a maximum lease rate per square footage, subsidized healthcare, and subsidized transit. This would take the burden off bookstores to cover these increasing costs.
Because book prices are printed on the product, it's impossible for booksellers to pass along increased costs (in the three above areas and others, such as inventory shrinkage) to their customers, as is done in other retail sectors. Removing printed prices could provide certain opportunities.
Rather than bringing in sidelines to complement their book product offering and enhancing the experience for their customers, bookstores must maintain sideline at levels up to 25-30% of inventory to increase profits.
Publisher implementation of rapid replenishment has made a significant impact and resulted in increased sales.
Selling publisher titles on consignment terms (or, "scan and pay," where booksellers only remit payment to publishers when a book has been sold through the POS) has proven very successful in markets such as Argentina, and panelists reported current experiments in their own stores with select publishers that have seen sales increased 100% or more for those publishers.
Running events are very expensive, requiring dedicated staffing and resources. Amy Thomas from Pegasus Books in Berkeley, CA reported her average event cost is $2,000.
Booksellers are willing to take risks on events with new authors, just as publishers take risks with new authors, based on their belief that while such an event may only bring in 5-10 people, the store will be more likely in the future to secure bigger (500+) events with the same author or others.
The retail landscape has changed and indies are no longer driven by backlist sales. (One panelist estimated that backlist currently accounts for approximately 40% of their sales, where it was 60% in the past.) Publishers should count on bookstores to stock any title "as long as it's selling" and to support innovative backlist promotions.
A successful, curated bookstore is guided by the principle that every book in the store must have a story behind why it's being sold there. Publishers are partners in communicating those stories first to the buyers, which trickle down to the customers.
- Steve Bercu, BookPeople (Austin, TX)
- P.K. Sindwani, Towne Book Center & Café (Collegeville, PA)
- Amy Thomas, Pegasus Books (Berkeley, CA)
- Oren Teicher, ABA (White Plains, NY) (Greeter)
Sample P&L shared with session attendees (phone picture provided in absence of an available digital copy):