I sent this letter to the editor of one of our two local newspapers yesterday, upon reading that an iconic downtown bookstore in our little tourist town is facing closure.
As another local bookstore owner, I feel [owner] Bill Edwards’ pain. I just hope he’s not giving his (former) customers too much credit in suggesting the major issue facing brick and mortar booksellers is the switch to e-book readers. Frankly, I would be pleased if that were the only factor.
My view is that people simply are not reading. Both leisure time and leisure time spending is now consumed entirely with other media.
Think about it. Several decades ago the water cooler topic of the day shifted from the latest book to the latest film Movie characters and plots are now the reference points for office conversation. Publishing is part of the broader entertainment industry, but discretionary spending begins each month with the satellite or cable company as well as the internet service provider; costs we didn’t have in times past. Even e-mail is in decline as people switch to the shorter formats of 420-character Facebook status updates and 140-character tweets. Spelling and syntax are being lost to a generation being raised on text-speech and increasingly teachers aren’t bothering to circle the abbreviations as errors; a trend definitely not something to be LOL about.
As we examine the prospects for our own business, I am increasingly gravitating toward as greater cause: I find myself more interested in promoting reading than I am in promoting my store. While books are not yet an endangered species, and while economists expect the tide to go out again on the Canadian dollar, bringing customers back to supporting local stores; I feel we should be addressing a larger problem.
Literacy, in my view consists not in just knowing how to read; it consists in being a reader.
The 2011 Christianity Today book awards were announced yesterday. I sell Christian books for a living. So why do I feel like this list has absolutely nothing to do with me or my stores? Read the list for yourself and ask yourself two questions:
- How many of the award-winners and runner-ups does my store carry?
- How might this list influence my decision to stock any of these titles?
Here’s today’s playlist at WAY-FM based in South Florida. They play a fairly representative sampling of contemporary Christian music in the United States. Because of internet geo-blocking we are no longer able to post the K-LOVE playlist here as we have at times in the past.
|1:34PM||Song Of Hope (Heaven Come Down||Robbie Seay Band||Wow Worship|
|1:29PM||Never Be The Same||Red||Innocence & Instinct (Bonus Tr|
|1:27PM||Nothing Compares||Third Day||Come Together|
|1:23PM||Hero||Abandon||Abandon II – EP|
|1:15PM||This Is The Stuff||Francesca Battistelli||This Is the Stuff – Single|
|1:10PM||City On Our Knees||Tobymac||Tonight|
|1:06PM||Dear X (You Don/||Disciple||Horseshoes & Handgrenades|
|1:03PM||The Lost Get Found||Britt Nicole||The Lost Get Found|
|1:00PM||Starry Night||Chris August||No Far Away|
|12:56PM||Dive||Steven Curtis Chapman||Speechless|
|12:52PM||Something Beautiful||Needtobreathe||The Outsiders (Deluxe Version)|
|12:49PM||You Are More||Tenth Avenue North||The Light Meets the Dark|
|12:36PM||You Can Have Me||Sidewalk Prophets||These Simple Truths|
|12:33PM||Mess Of Me||Switchfoot||Hello Hurricane (Deluxe Versio|
|12:27PM||Tears Of The Saints||Leeland||Sound of Melodies|
|12:15PM||Crazy Love||Hawk Nelson||Crazy Love – Single|
|12:11PM||There Will Be A Day||Jeremy Camp||International Superhits!|
|12:07PM||I/||Sanctus Real||Pieces of a Real Heart (Deluxe|
|12:03PM||I Will Follow||Chris Tomlin||And If Our God Is for Us… (D|
|12:00PM||More Beautiful You||Jonny Diaz||More Beautiful You|
|11:48AM||Rediscover You||Starfield||The Saving One|
|11:45AM||Word Of God Speak||Mercyme||iTunes Originals – MercyMe|
|11:37AM||Please Don/||Group 1 Crew||Please Don’t Let Me Go (Rock M|
|11:33AM||This Is Home||Switchfoot||The Best Yet|
|11:30AM||I/||Brandon Heath||What If We|
|11:25AM||Like A Child||Jars Of Clay||Jars of Clay|
|11:22AM||Sing Along||Sixteen Cities||Sixteen Cities|
|11:14AM||Get Back Up||Tobymac||Tonight|
|11:10AM||Drown||Chasen||Shine Through the Stars|
|11:06AM||Hero||Abandon||Abandon II – EP|
|11:03AM||Become Who You Are||Mainstay||Become Who You Are|
|11:00AM||Light Up The Sky||The Afters||Light Up the Sky|
|10:56AM||Everything Glorious||David Crowder Band||Wow Worship|
|10:53AM||Beautiful, Beautiful||Francesca Battistelli||My Paper Heart|
|10:50AM||Something In Your Eyes||Shonlock||Something In Your Eyes – Singl|
|10:45AM||Our God||Chris Tomlin||And If Our God Is for Us… (D|
|10:33AM||Awake And Alive||Skillet||Awake (Deluxe Version)|
|10:29AM||We Fall Down||Kutless||Strong Tower|
|10:26AM||Hard To Believe||Vota||VOTA|
|10:23AM||Starry Night||Chris August||No Far Away|
|10:10AM||Hold My Heart||Tenth Avenue North||Over and Underneath (Bonus Vid|
|10:06AM||Your Love||Brandon Heath||What If We|
|10:03AM||Hope Now||Addison Road||Addison Road|
Today’s post is of primary interest to stores in Canada
This week in our store we’re working on our twice-yearly stock purge, where we comb the shelves and remove items that (a) have old stock dates, (b) have become shopworn and (c) have a Canadian price that is too-high a conversion from the American price showing on the product.
The latter category is a sore point because we paid higher prices for those books, but clearly when it says, “14.99 /CAN 22.99” as did a number of Zondervan books, or “13.99 / CAN 20.99” as did a number of Waterbrook titles, it’s time to bring that Canadian price more into line with its U.S. counterpart.
Actually it’s a double reduction. One reduction because it is obviously old stock, and another reduction because of the dollar issues. So it requires deeper cutting, but tempered by the fact we have a sizable investment in the book if it is still a viable title. Of course, these are often the very titles where the non-bleached paper is starting to yellow with age, which sometimes makes for a kind of triple reduction.
Note however that I spoke in terms of tempered reductions. I’ve written here previously about the fact our Canadian industry is being hit hard with deflation, what happens when costs are rising, but the price of the goods or services you’re selling are falling. If your store is tied more closely to sales of music of giftware you can somewhat insulate yourself from this; but if books are your strongly leading commodity, then you’re going to feel it more.
Most of the major shakeups that took place in Canada over the past few years actually took place at a time when the Canadian dollar was trading high against the U.S. dollar; so prices dropped and a lack of cash flow became the undoing of some stores and distributors. (And also, sent customers to their computers to buy direct, which compounded the problem greatly.) Many stores still don’t grasp why money is seeming to be harder-to-find to pay rent, salaries, insurance, utilities, etc., even as the store continues to appear quite busy.
So price reductions should be tempered for that reason, but also because of a story that appeared last Wednesday in The Toronto Star in which Josh Rubin, Star Business reporter, looked at the various theories and forecasts as to where the dollar is going to be at the end of 2011. He writes:
The loonie will stay at or above par for most of the year, then dip slightly in the fourth quarter, according to the most recent Bloomberg survey of 27 currency forecasts. That’s roughly what the consensus was in mid-December, before the loonie surged from just over 99 cents (U.S.) to Tuesday’s close of 1.0072. The highest estimate projects the loonie will finish 2011 at $1.05. The lowest says it will drop all the way to 81.97 cents.
And this middle-ground prediction:
TD’s forecast is among the more bearish, and calls for the loonie to hit 94 cents by the end of the year, including a drop to 92 cents by the end of the first quarter.
Or one more more favorable to the dollar:
BMO hasn’t altered its loonie forecast, either, even though the dollar’s already flirting with the bank’s year-end prediction of $1.02, senior economist Sal Guatieri said. While strong commodity prices and a solid interest rate spread over the U.S. will help support the loonie, he says the risk is still there for debt problems in Europe to hit our currency.
And of course predictions and forecast are subject to change:
HSBC was one of the few banks to change its forecast for the loonie, but chief Canadian economist Stewart Hall said the shift for year-end from 90.9 to 95.2 cents came before the dollar’s recent rise. Hall agreed Canada’s relatively good fiscal performance will help support the loonie, but believes the current high price for oil and other commodities could tumble as Asian countries struggle with inflation.
Again, you can read the full article here.
Even as the dollar remains higher than its U.S. counterpart on closing figures, it often dips below parity during the trading day, as Rubin pointed out in a piece a few days later:
The loonie, which has been above par for almost a month, dropped .66 cents in the morning [20th] to 99.79 cents (all figures U.S.), but recovered to close at 100.29 cents.
This means that depending on when your bank draft or credit card transaction goes through — and before the 2.0 – 2.5 % bank charges kick in — you could see transactions reflecting a dollar that appears well below parity.
The high dollar is not lost on customers, however, and my feeling is that we basically have two options:
- take a reduction on older-priced stock and move it out, or
- do nothing, and let the stock continue to sit on the shelves
Obviously, both choices are painful, but one makes more sense than the other right now.
This year a couple of suppliers offered me very generous restock discounts which exceed anything I’ve been offered from them in the past.
I’ll admit my business operates by a different playbook than most. We maintain high inventory levels throughout the Christmas season and have always believed in entering the new year with a good selection. “The January customer deserves a good selection every bit as much as the December customer;” is how I’ve phrased it before.
I did take advantage of the specials to a limited degree. I appreciate the offer. I’m not biting the proverbial hand.
But I would trade the discount in anytime for an extra 3% or 4% consistently throughout the year; especially since we buy non-returnable, a situation my secular publishers are prepared to recognize, but my Christian suppliers not so much.
Though our friends in the UK would give anything for a full 40% margin, in North America’s tough and competitive environment, I’ve come to regard it as a borderline “short” discount.
This post also appeared Friday at my devotional blog, Christianity 201, and also Saturday my regular blog, where you can leave a comment if you so desire. (I’ve closed comments here.) I’m not sure if I’ve ever gone for the three-peat, and I like what this says, so here it is yet another time. The Bible case is from Christian Art Gifts.
I think it’s rather ironic that Psalm 119 has become associated with the weariness some people have with Bible reading. Its 176 verses are simply too much for some people, and yet, it is a Psalm that is all about having a love of God’s word.
In David’s time, the “scriptures” would refer primarily to the books of the law. Many people reading this feel about Leviticus the way they feel about Psalm 119; it epitomizes something that seems to just go on and on and on.
And yet, these books, Leviticus included, are what David says he loves. Every single verse of the Psalm talks about his love of God’s laws, statutes, commandments.
Is David the kind of guy who gets excited reading the complete federal income tax codes? Does he enjoy studying the Motor Vehicle Act? Would he actually read through the instruction manual that come with most consumer electronics?
I don’t think so. But I think he really sees the character of God expressed in the laws he gave. And he believes that they were written for his good. You have to approach some sections of scripture — i.e. Leviticus — with that attitude or you won’t derive anything from your reading.
I say all that to tell a story.
Last week we were in a Goodwill donation processing center in Toronto, a place where we are told merchandise is returned from various stores for final sale prior to being destroyed. These are the shoes no one wanted, the t-shirts that didn’t sell, and the books that were picked over.
Yes, books. And among those books were three New Testaments.
Now you need to know four things about me:
- We’re not loaded with money; the 50-cents a copy they were asking for these was a bit of a stretch, especially after my wife had already selected some other items.
- Our house is already full of books; we didn’t really need three more; there is truly no place to put them.
- I didn’t have anyone in mind who I was going to give them to.
- I sell Bibles for a living. I have a vested interested in new books, not used books.
But I bought them.
They were in reasonable condition, and I couldn’t handle the idea of them being pulped for recycling into other books.
I could spiritualize this and say that it was because I have ‘such a great love for God’s word.’ I could say, ‘The Bible is so precious to me, I couldn’t bear to see one thrown out.’ I won’t do that here. It was simply my WWDD — What Would David Do? — moment. A Psalm 119 moment.
And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. ~ Joshua 1:8 (The Message)
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your love of scripture, your love for God’s word?
I’ve already written that my wife and I have a code word for titles searches that seem to go nowhere: We call them unicorns. Non-existent. Phantom books.
With our staff — and a few of our regular customers — we break down this process more fully and explain why this situation exists:
- Something Old: Books simply don’t stay in print forever. I’ve seen books go O/P after as little as 18 months. The title may just be an old one that the customer is clingning to, but the publisher isn’t. Frankly, I wouldn’t want my kids to receive something from their Sunday School teacher that she got from her’s. There are new books, people. If your ministry matters, take five minutes to browse the shelves.
- Something New: The book may simply be NYP to the point where it isn’t in databases or perhaps even hasn’t been assigned an ISBN. Some books don’t get to press in the time frame the teaser on the last page of the author’s last work indicated. Especially with fiction. Or Rick Warren.
- Something Red White and Blue: As in British. Or Canadian. Or Australian. The point is, we use U.S. databases for most of our searches and unless we’re told ahead of time we’re not going to pick out items published elsewhere. I’d imagine that in the UK this is probably even more frustrating vis-a-vis American titles.
- Private Label Items: Increasingly, a lot of ministries have certain products that are designated for in-house sales only, and aren’t sold through trade. Or the bookshops have access to the main title but not the study guide or workbook. Or we have all those, but not the DVD.
- Self-published Gems: I’m a huge fan of the print-on-demand and self-publishing models provided there is trade access if desired. Heck, I’ll even take a shorter (but not short) discount on these. Some P.O.D. publishers have a solid relationship with STL and Ingram. In other cases, Ingram’s extended search database doesn’t even know the title exists. Part of the reason my own book was never (yet) published is that I couldn’t find a self-publisher who would guaranty in writing that the title would be in major databases.
- Wrong Media: This is the “it never was a book to begin with” situation we had last week, where it turned out the item was actually an article published in a magazine. Thank you, Google, for straightening that out. We had one a few months ago where the title provided was actually the name of a pastor’s online sermon.
- Subtitle Subtleties: Sometimes a book’s subtitle sticks but the title doesn’t. So the customer is actually asking for something that’s on the shelf, but nobody knows this for sure. If the author info is solid you can catch most of these, but not all.
- Same Book, Different Title: I still think there should be a repository for this type of information. Publishers often re-release books under a different title. “Hey, Fred, maybe the title is the reason it’s not selling…” Well, yes, I suppose sometimes it is.
- Author, Author!: People really don’t take the time to learn names. Most Christian television shows — a solid promotional vehicle for publishers — do in fact put the names on the screen. But people don’t care. Or they pronounce them so badly that retail frontliners can’t figure out who they’re talking about. (Speaking of names: It’s Oh-MART-ee-an; and Thoene is TAY-nee.) Or they forget which show they were watching or listening to and confuse James Dobson with T.D. Jakes.
- True Unicorns: Sometimes the book just doesn’t exist, except in the customer’s head. It’s not just a wrong author name or a wrong title; it’s a book the customer wishes was in print.
Do any of these stand out percentage-wise as being the highest significant factor in chasing unicorns at your store?
Some days you wake up knowing there is going to be discouragement and knowing there is going to be opposition. But when it comes from one of your suppliers, that just doesn’t make any sense.
It happened yesterday.
We were in Indigo in Toronto, a Canadian big box bookstore equivalent to Barnes & Noble. My wife picked up a book because the word “devotional” caught her eye. But it was not a religious book at all, rather it was The Bibliophile’s Devotional: 365 Days of Literary Classics, published by Adams Media in 2009. A one-off use of the term normally applied to Christian books, right? A term derived from its application to something that we do — studying God’s Word; meditation on God’s Word — out of devotion to God.
Dictionary.Com offers this:
–adjective1. characterized by devotion.2. used in devotions: devotional prayers.
3. Often, devotionals. a short religious service.
But then, a few shelves over was The Crafter’s Devotional: 365 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Unlocking Your Creative Spirit. Using the key words “devotions” or “devotional” along with the keyword “365” on a title search at Ingram is likely to turn up all sorts of things, including The Wine Lover’s Devotional: 365 Days of Knowledge, Advice, and Lore for the Ardent Aficionado, a title I can be fairly sure is not sold at Lifeway, or at least not without a warning sticker.
My gut reaction was, “Hey, they stole our word.” Yes, our word.
But just a few titles over was The Woodworker’s Technique Bible: The Essential Illustrated Reference. My wife was willing to forgive that one, since that use of “bible” has been around for generations.
But apparently, the word “devotional” now has a broader meaning. I’m not sure if etymologists would call this pejoration or whether some other word best describes what’s taken place here.
~ Paul Wilkinson
With over a million new books published in 2009 (the last stats we have), we are awash in content. We need curators more than ever.
~It’s actually making a case for e-book clubs in an article Six E-Book Trends to Watch; but hey, that day is not yet here; print still rules the roost; here in Canada the Book-of-the-Month club is history; so that makes you, the regular readers of this blog, the present curators of which Michael speaks.
And if you are meticulous about your inventory, remember not to let anyone refer to it as “stock;” it’s a “curated collection.”
I’ve been hesitating as to whether or not to run this item. Last month I had a visit from a customer who informed me, in no uncertain terms, that a dealer in her community is removing the Cook Canada loyalty coupon from the free product when a customer redeems five coupons.
This of course is a throwback to the Word Record and Tape Club days when “coupon removed from free product” was standard operating procedure. But when CMC re-introduced the loyalty program several years ago, prior to the acquisition by David C. Cook Canada, the requirement to do anything other than smile and give the customer their free music was removed.
So what is the store in question doing with the sixth coupon?
Isn’t the program good enough the way it is?
Oh, and add to my obvious frustration with this the fact that the customer is now buying her music at their store, and redeeming coupons at mine. The other store cheats the system and get all the profits; I play by the rules and get stuck with the freight charges on both the originally inventoried CD and its replacement.