Book Trends Blog

December 23, 2010

Independent Bookstore 2010 Christmas Season by Bob Spear

Tis the season to be jolly in the book retailing business. This year’s season has been busier than many. Our sales are definitely up; however, they have also been unusual. I will give this my best guesses as to why. I will address:

  • Bestsellers
  • Mid Lists
  • Impact of Ebooks


Although many industry watchers tend to focus on the NYT’s Bestseller List, they do not tell a representative story and here is why. First, the NYTs is tainted by the way books are reported and manipulated by the big publishers. Sometimes the same books get counted multiple times: when the publisher sells them, when the bookstores buy them, and when the book buying public walks out the door with them. Of course this all greatly skews book buying reality, as does how many of these books are sold. One can go to most large-scale grocery stores and big box discount chains to find these same books discounted 30 to 50%. They’re used as loss leaders. We independent booksellers purchase our books from distributors and publishers for discounts of 38% to 50%. That makes it difficult for us to compete. Most of our bestseller sales are to folks who are loyal to us (bless their hearts) or who find a bestseller book convenient to purchase when buying other, less touted books. For independent booksellers, NYT’s bestsellers are not where we make our important sales.

Mid Lists

What we’re seeing a lot of are sales of series books, adult and young adult, and what I would call the old war horses—books that have been popular for years and new books by the same authors. We’re also seeing a lot of long tail niche books being special ordered. Books this year have represented the awareness and caring for the tastes of friends and family. Our shoppers have expressed their opinion that books are a convenient way to one-stop-shop for the holidays. For that reason, although the number of shoppers is pretty much the same, they are buying a lot more than they usually do.

Impact of Ebooks

Although we’ve had a number of customers who have freely admitted to owning an e-reader of one form or another, they’re still buying regular books for themselves and others. We’re just not seeing much of an impact as compared to the major bookstore chains. I still think we are aways off being hurt by e-books at the independent bookstore level.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers.


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