Inside Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble in Union Square

Last week I got to go to Barnes & Noble before the store opened and listen to two of their book buyers discuss how they decide which books to buy for which stores across the nation. Not going to lie, it was pretty sweet (even if I did have to be out of my apartment by 7 a.m.).

Here’s a list of some of the more interesting things I learned:

  • Just because a topic is a current affair, doesn’t mean the book will sell in stores (ex: recent crisis in Egypt–more people wanted to read about it in the news)
  • There are not enough diet cookbooks out there. Said one buyer, “I could buy 95,000 diet books and not have enough. It’s a subject born for the business.”
  • Cookbooks in general are always in the top 5 bestseller categories
  • The key to buying memoirs is making sure the author has a platform, whether it be a TV show, or some sort of access to publicity
  • The biggest drivers in the U.S. history category are the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers
  • When it comes to history, the topics that are home-based sell the best. For example, the original 13 colonies buy the most books about the Founding Fathers
  • The biggest driver in the military history category is WWII, though sales have been declining lately. The second biggest driver in the category is the Iraq/Afghanistan War (journalists covering the political/military situation and soldier memoirs)
  • Sociology books tend to be more academic, and not that popular, with the exceptions “Orange is the New Black” and “Jim Crow”
  • Buyers are more likely to purchase a book if the publisher is heavily invested in the book and is willing to do a lot of publicity
  • The personal relationship between the bookstore buyer and the publisher’s sales representative is important. The sales rep is the first one to convince the buyer to make a book nationally available, so it’s important that they know a lot about the book
  • Sales people were the first ones interested in “Seabiscuit
  • 30% of a bookstore’s business in the health section is done in January (new year, new goals)
  • Cookbooks are strong for Mother’s Day and the 4th quarter
  • Summer is for beach reading (genre fiction, narrative paperback, etc.)
  • Father’s Day and the 4th quarter are good for selling history books
  • Packaging matters a lot to a book buyer. A good jacket is colorful and vibrant (at least for health books). For some, the key is to be clear about what the book is and communicate a promise. For others, the bottom line is, will this book sell?
  • On average, people spend 3-5 seconds looking at a book on a table in the store
  • Most people go to bookstores looking for fiction. The front of the store yields high traffic and sales, but deeper in the store is reserved for dedicated readers
  • An author’s hometown is very important when determining which stores to stock with which books
  • Book prices are apparently climbing; health books on average cost $25. Still, the e-book competition for narrative books is significant (e-books tend to cost $10)
  • E-books are the “big x factor right now.” When it comes to fiction/genre fiction, e-book sales account for up to 50%, and in non-fiction, e-book sales are up to 10%. However, this will probably change as ereaders get better
  • Rarely do book buyers purchase non-returnable books (unless they are very confident about its success). Bookstores lose money when they return books, and with non-returnable books, they can only put them on clearance when they aren’t selling
  • Optimally, bookstores have 15-20% returns. If a book sells out in a month, it means the buyer missed potential customers. By not buying books, a bookstore could potentially put a small publisher out of business
  • In some towns, bookstores are the only source of entertainment. Therefore, quick changes in the industry, which this year led to Borders going bankrupt, are very difficult.
  • Interestingly, Barnes & Noble wants Borders to succeed. Said one buyer, “Bookstores are not going anywhere. Publishers are not going anywhere. If one of use becomes a dinosaur, we all go down.”

So, to sum up, “A book that doesn’t sell feels like a failure to everybody.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s