Selections from readers’ responses

Dave Weich, director of development and marketing for Portland’s Powells Books, responds to last week’s post about independent bookstores (“Selling books. Or, actually, coffee“).

I just got back from Fort Collins, Colorado, where I lived prior to Portland. The only significant indie there went out of business eight or nine years ago, not long after B&N opened a few miles down the road. Anyway, I spent lots of time these past days in wi-fi hot spots, and thereby discovered a coffee shop that recently opened a used books store inside. I loved the set-up (i’ll send a couple pics when my wife gets back with the camera); it wasn’t the most productive retail environment, but their selection was great and the place couldn’t have been more comfortable. We’re rebuilding one of our stores (the Powell’s in Beaverton), and this one provided some excellent ideas.

Dogmatika mentions a Guardian piece — “One in three has bought a book just to look intelligent” — before asking “what would Orwell make of the recent book-and-a-coffee approach to today’s selling pitch? Are books being sidelined in the hard sell?”

Matthew T. remembers being “dropped off at my grandmother’s house for a two day stay” as a kid.

[W]e would take the bus into town and she’d set me loose in the bookstore. We’d spend at least an hour there, but it felt like many hours to me – blissful hours, I’d roam around the store, and eventually pick out a few books that I wanted to take home, and she’d get them for me. When the next week rolled around, they would all be read. If brick and mortars are doomed, it’s because this isn’t happening as much.

Teresa D. “like[s] to feel books… to pick them up. But I don’t enjoy book-shopping experiences at the two large chains. I feel bossed around, manipulated.” She wonders whether “the demise of the bookstore, in the very long run,” would benefit writers.

as it stands, the increasing scarcity of true independents has resulted in formula bookselling, customers buying what they (the chains, through placement and display) tell us to buy, which is what the booksellers are paid to sell via laydown fees and huge discounts.

And writer Tayari Jones reports that least one bookstore, Karibu Books, thrives solely through word-of-mouth — because of its emphasis on customer service.


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