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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Clueless booksellers

To have successful book sales, you have to have a saavy team which includes the author, the publisher, the agent and, of course, the bookseller. The bookseller is often the point person between the rest of the team and the buying market. So, when that bookseller is clueless about marketing or about the product he is selling, in this case, books, that ignorance can stymie sales.

In her blog, best-selling author Tess Gerritsen writes about her frustrations with uninformed bookstore employees at several bookstores who can't even take the time to learn that she is indeed a best-selling author who has dropped by to sign some books. And then she discovers that a major chain is not honoring its co-op contract whereby they are to place her books prominently in a table at the front of the store. Often, she would find her books shelved somewhere in the back. Unfortunately, there's no contractual recourse because of who the bookseller is.

These are the situations that will make an author want to scream, "Aaargh!"

Author Lynn Viehl follows up on this same subject at her blog, Paperback Writer. She cites employee apathy, understaffing, or plain laziness for booksellers not knowing about their products and not complying with contractual obligations to fully promote an author. After all, why invest time and effort in putting together a display table when there are only two people who have to stock other shelves? Still, you would like to think that someone who works in a bookstore has a love for books. But given that many jobs may be minimum wage or just above, you probably get what you pay for, which usually means someone just out of high school who would rather be doing other things to handling stackfuls of books.

Anyway, a commenter at PBW told of one bookstore that went bankrupt because of its cluelessness. To be fair, the store was following it's corporate office's unimaginative and very restrictive marketing policy (another reason why big business shouldn't be involved in the making and selling of books):

"Then there's the chain that went bankrupt because they didn't want to listen to their customers or to the (few) employees who actually read books. I used to get so frustrated with the management. They deserved to go out of business because they only had one plan--sell everything at a discount. That worked when they started because no one was discounting anything. But then the bigger chains started selling at the same or bigger discounts. The bigger chains got the books in stock closer to the actual publication date. In our store, only the huge sellers came in early. I remember one mystery that came in 2 weeks after the B&N across the street had it. Ours sat on the shelf because customers had already bought it there. B&N members got the same discount we gave them and nonmembers paid full price because they didn't think it was worth the wait to save about 60 cents.

The other big problem was that they had a rectangular shaped product. A bunch of them look pretty much the same from a distance, especially if they have similar cover colors. When an enterprising employee made an interesting-looking end display, I had to make him take it down and do it over because corporate wanted the books in rows. They'd made me redo a display my manager had suggested I do in a more interesting way. Both eye-catching displays were turned into 3x3 sections of the same book, displayed next to another 3x3 section of another book, making rectangles of rectangles. When you walked by the front window, nothing caught your attention, totally defeating the purpose of displaying books in windows and on endcaps.

There was an attitude that corporate rules trump selling product. The second book in G.R.R. Martin's big selling series, had just come out in hardcover. I wanted to shelve a couple copies of the first book with it to encourage those who hadn't read the original book to pick up both. I reasoned that if a busy customer had to go searching elsewhere for the first book, they'd probably walk out with neither. My manager said I couldn't do that kind of display because corporate doesn't allow mass market books to be displayed with hardcovers. If I'd been the store manager instead of a lowly assistant manager, I'd have done it anyway. I know I could have increased sales and increasing sales was the only thing that would have saved the company. It was in Chapter 11 when I started working there and completely went out of business shortly after I left. All-in-all, during my time working there I got great lessons in how to run a large bookseller into the ground."

One word: Geez!

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 9/11/2005 09:59:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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