I think we’re at a tipping point in developing alternatives for affordable retail space …

Mark and I recently visited Nashville, our former home town, and loved traveling East Nashville, a community blossoming with home renovations and new cafes and retail stores.

While Nashville is known as a creative community … home of the Southern Festival of Books, Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books, plus all of those creative songwriters and composers who come from all over the world to contribute to the world of entertainment.

IMG_0131What we stumbled across was The Idea Hatchery, a cluster of small spaces near a major intersection. The flyer we picked up began with the headline:

“Start a Small Business in East Nashville”

Then continued, “The Idea Hatchery is”

* A community of small independent businesses hosted in 8 individual buildings.

  • An arrangement of buildings that have footprints of 168 sf, 256 sf, and 320 sf.
  • An opportunity to experiment and to share ideas with other small business owners.

The Idea Hatchery offers:

  • 1 year leases with no limits on renewal.
  • Reasonable rents with pro-rated utilities…”

Check out the gallery of photos and just imagine all of the cool things people discover when they visit.

New models are surfacing. They focus on collaboration, synergy, and creative energy. It’s an exciting era for indie businesses.

Today I’ve been watching all of the regional bookseller associations report their weekly bestseller lists. Go Set a Watchman remains at #1 for Fiction, even the skeptics from my book group agreed to add a lunch discussion so we could get in a conversation while the book has been grabbing attention everywhere.

There’s a saying in the book business that all publicity is good publicity.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

The latest controversy is over Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. May it keep on selling and prompting valuable dialogue.

Even though Harper Lee’s book has been widely criticized and some people have complained they’ve been duped that the book is new, the country is curious. To Kill a Mockingbird is an American classic and sadly, the story of equality and racism is still unfolding.

In bookstores across the U.S., the conversation is happening … about racism, great novels, sequels and prequels, what makes a classic, humanity, hope, and why we need literature.

Controversy is fine. It signals that we’re thinking critically about a lot of things. Authors and books offer us these opportunities to keep searching, learning, evolving. Books bring us out of our lonely corners and connect us with what is meaningful.

But first, we have to buy the book and be part of the conversation.

May books continue to make us uncomfortable about our unfinished work, and prompt us to change and grow for the better.

go_set_a_watchman_051815

Books and bookstores can help set the foundation of positive change.

As the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in response to conversations that were revisited after the tragic shootings at the AME Church in Charleston, the book world eager awaits  the release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

Bookstores and libraries across the United States are sponsoring read-a-thons of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-Prize winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, a beloved story of honor and injustice in the deep South … and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred.

Let our reflection and conversation about hate, racism, and progress continue.

When people who have worked for decades in other industries think about opening a bookstore, it can be difficult to explain just how important a bookstore can be by stocking and recommending books, choosing books for displays and writing shelf-talkers to help readers understand the value of a book, and sponsoring events to stimulate dialogue and encourage people to think and interact in ways that go beyond their daily lives. Bookstores, like Left Bank Books after the riots in Ferguson, can offer a safe place to question, learn, and heal.

It’s been said that our positions have become polarized in part because we don’t connect with people very different from us. Suburban sprawl brings together people of the same economic standing. Children grow up going to schools that are homogenous and socialize with children who look and begin to value the same things.

Books get us outside our own limited worlds, regardless of where we live, work, worship and play. Bookstores help us connect in real-time, face-to-face. What a foundation where we grow as individuals and affect positive change in society.

How is it that independent bookstores have not disappeared even though plenty of people predicted they would fall by the wayside like the record stores?

Harvard Book Store asks, "Tell Us Why You Love Our Bookstore".

The staff at the Harvard Book Store asked, “Tell Us Why You Love Our Bookstore”.

A Harvard Business School professor joined us during our one-day workshop at this year’s Winter Institute, the annual conference sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, with the goal of finding out why independent booksellers are so resilient.

It seems each decade members of the media find one more seemingly compelling reason that sparks the demise of the bookstore. Yet booksellers are creative and collaborative. They care and share and hang together in tough times. When booksellers put all of the energy and creativity together, something amazing usually results.

This is why independent bookstores are thriving, even in a digital world.

The first ever National Independent Bookstore Day was held on Saturday with great fanfare from coast to coast. In this morning’s issue of Shelf-Awareness (a free daily newsletter about the book business), we learned about the parties, events, decorated cakes and wine and locally crafted beer, the readings and signings, and the fun that took place in indie bookstores.

The first-ever National Independent Bookstore Day was sponsored by the American Booksellers Association May 2, 2015.

The first-ever National Independent Bookstore Day was sponsored by the American Booksellers Association May 2, 2015 and the celebrations took place in communities across the country.

 

Celebrating community at independent bookstores… what a great reason for a party.

Booksellers are thinkers and dreamers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. When the majority sees difficulty, indie bookstores are busy finding a way to turn the challenge into an opportunity … and building community, having fun along the way.

There have been so many positive articles about indie bookstores this week … The Huffing Post on “Indie Bookstores Are Making A Comeback”, The Cultureist with the “10 Best Neighborhood Bookstores in New York City”, starting with Sunday’s New York Times feature Literary Lions United that only adds to Amazon’s PR nightmare.

Artisan crafted literary scarves carried by Prairie Path Books.

Artisan crafted literary scarves carried by Prairie Path Books.

I predict this will be a wildly successful year for Small Business Saturday, the important shopping day after Black Friday on Thanksgiving weekend. Thanks go American Express and their marketing brilliance, more and more people have paused to think about where they shop … and what that says about their values.

This interest in everything local is visible in a growing number of ways in western culture. We’re eating locally grown foods, shopping with companies that will strengthen our local economy, and discover items made by real human hands.

That’s why it’s the era of indie and Etsy. Today, I received the monthly email from a new indie bookstore outside Chicago, Prairie Path Books. Featured are lovely scarves and gloves with a literary theme from Storiarts. I’ve got my wallet out and I want to be first in line for The Secret Garden scarf, beautifully presenting words and graphics from this precious classic story.

Indie bookstores and indie artisans. What a perfect pairing. You can’t beat having an indie bookstore with unique items in a neighborhood bookstore, run by your neighbors, in your community. Small can be powerful, especially when we’re playing the same tune and dancing the same dance.

Each morning, I start my day, like many in the book business, reading Shelf-Awareness. It’s one of the sources we rely on for the latest developments in and about the book business, which authors will be in the media spotlight, and some glimpses of really good new books. The newsletter begins with a quote of the day, sometimes profound, often inspiring, always stirring in some way.

Phinney Books, opened by former Amazon employee Tom Nissley.

Phinney Books, opened by former Amazon employee Tom Nissley.

In today’s “Shelf”, I was especially touched by these words of Tom Nissley, former Amazon.com employee and now owner of the independent bookstore Phinney Books:

“I was a big indie bookstore customer even when I worked at Amazon. There is something irreplaceable about walking into a bookstore and browsing through well-chosen shelves and talking to a bookseller…. Amazon’s algorithms are pretty impressive and useful, but they still can’t do everything a smart and imaginative bookseller can do, especially one that knows you and the books you like to read.”

Tom Nissley, owner of Phinney Books, quoted in a Seattle Times article. Nissley spent a decade working for Amazon, took some time off to be a Jeopardy! champ and recently purchased the former Santoro’s Books in the Phinney Ridge/Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle.
In this digital world, people are searching for a real home base. For many, walking into a bookstore is that very necessary sanctuary. We’re all learning that Google searches and Amazon.com reviews deliver “monetized” results. Pay to play.
How refreshing to see that in a capitalist society, one business sector still is devoted to offering authentic reviews and chooses only the products that are comfortable to recommend.

Yesterday I got a letter from the AmazonSmile Foundation. The international charity that my husband and I had once upon a time is eligible for a contribution. Never mind that the charity was dissolved eighteen months ago, I still wanted to learn what Amazon is doing to support non-profits.

The letter reads “AmazonSmile is a program where Amazon donates 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organizations selected by our customers.” Note that 0.5% is one half of one percent and the donation only applies on eligible products.

How does this stack up against common practices of independent bookstores when they’re working with schools and other worthy efforts? Indie booksellers will often offer ten to twenty percent.

Here’s the math on a huge purchase of $10,000:
AmazonSmile: $50
Indie Bookstore: $1,000 to $2,000

Indie bookstores are part of the community when Amazon only pays lip service.

Indie bookstores are part of the community when Amazon only pays lip service.

Plus, independent booksellers will also typically offer donations of silent auction items, review copies of upcoming books, materials for teachers, rent a costume character to visit the schools throughout the year, and sponsor visits from real authors and illustrators. Talk about adding value!

Recently I received a newsletter from a local non-profit we support asking us to designate their organization with the AmazonSmile program. While these volunteers work countless hours and do their very best, the decision to promote this program was not informed. Why would they want to support Amazon when the local bookstore offers them so much?

Some say you should be able to have both. Maybe for a while, but not for long. This is another one of Amazon’s maneuvers to eek more and more out of local businesses to grow Goliath. Once it has dominated more and more industries, we’ll all shop Amazon because Main Street shops will be empty and there won’t be any more silent auction items at those charity events.

CNBC will premiere “Amazon Rising” this Sunday at 9 pm EST. Where you shop says a lot about who you are and what you value. Amazon is brilliant at marketing and withholding information from reaching the pages of their annual reports. They’re also wildly successful in undercutting prices since the Wall Street investors are subsidizing their strategies to price below cost. Just how far will this go? Or, maybe the question is how long will governments and people support the race to monopolize shopping … for everything, everywhere.

Our work to spread the logic and wisdom behind shopping local continues against mega funding, predatory pricing, corporate bullying, and the race to own it all. Owners and booksellers of independent bookstores are tenacious, clever, authentic, and involved. I’ve never seen a more impassioned, articulate, and tenacious group of professionals. We’re just not used to the bullying part. Even though we can recommend some great picture books that address this issue, they are not likely the character-building books Amazon execs want to read.

 

 

We just arrived home from an on-site visit in a community that once had a Barnes & Noble bookstore. When the lease was up for renewal, B&N decided to exit the market, leaving millions of dollars of annual sales to customers up for grabs. In this case, our client, Thorne Donnelley of Liberty Bookstore, is in the midst of expanding his bookstore and revving up marketing to capture this gap in the local book market. Yet, what about all of those other communities now without a bookstore?

Libery Bookstore

Thorne Donnelley seizes the opportunity to capture the West Palm Beach, Florida market now that B&N is gone.

While there are people opening bookstores, there aren’t enough who have looked at the gaps and said “I will open bookstore in my community.” Many markets are now underserved, which often means the online Goliath get the business by default.

If you are thinking that then person to open a book store is you, here are some important considerations you may not be hearing from the media or even your own network of family, friends, and colleagues:

1. Print reading remains strong – According to research published in Publishers Weekly, ebook sales may level off at just thirty percent of the market, way less than the original predictions by IT professionals (who were self-serving in their forecasts). Seventy percent of book sales happens in print.

2. Younger people choose print too – When you think of kids growing up with printed picture books and those who fell in love with reading by devouring the Harry Potter adventures, there’s no surprise that many teens want to read in print. They’re using electronics for social interaction, but there is a perceived benefit to holding a book.

3. We need the balance between high-tech and high-touch – Many people go to a bookstore because it’s it feels like a sanctuary. People who work from home vocalize their need to be around other people. Most of us need a balance of time alone and time with others, for conversation and connection. Bookstores are third places and now that many communities are without bookstores, people recognize what’s missing.

Bookstores will not disappear if people keep asking the beautiful question, “Who will open a book store in our town?” If you’ve had dreams of opening a bookstore, but thought it was no longer a wise choice for your resources or time, keep learning and investigating the opportunities. A bookstore will meet the needs of readers to discover great books and give reasons to gather and talk about ideas. Bookstores fill that human need.

Take a look around your community and you’ll see that the retail landscape has changed over time. Shops and restaurants go in and out of business as tastes and buying habits change or the cost of doing business escalates. Neighborhood demographics shift, business owners retire, and new concepts emerge. When change is such a constant, it’s surprising to see the same businesses remain at the top of the list of what people most want in their communities: coffee shops, bakeries, and bookstores.

The internet may have come to dominate much of our lives, but there’s still a demand for places to gather and connect with other people. High tech simply cannot satisfy some of our needs for high touch.

Workshop retreat for new bookstore owners and managers

Entrepreneurs from four countries gathered to discuss the opportunities to put a new vision to today’s bookstore.

During last week’s workshop, Owning a Bookstore: The Business Essentials, eighteen entrepreneurs from four countries gathered to discuss trends, develop competitive advantages, learn the book industry’s metrics and best practices, and chart a course for owning a bricks-and-mortar bookstore in the age of technology. While some still used their gadgets to take notes or check messages, the conversation throughout the week kept coming back to the hunger for a sense of place, a healthy environment to learn and grow and gather, the satisfaction from holding a book and turning its pages, and an appreciation for the many ways in which locally owned businesses contribute to their communities.

The growth of e-book sales has slowed and will eventually plateau. Rather than replace books in print, e-readers have simply offered yet one more option for ways to read. E-books have certainly added some turmoil to the book industry and the bookstore business, but by no means will they lead to its demise. While electronic reading represents a little over 20 percent of sales, printed books command the overwhelming share of industry sales.

Format alone does not define a bookstore that sees its mission as far greater than selling books as commodities. A bookstore can be so much more than a place to buy books: a place where we can escape from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, find comfort and peace, stimulate our minds, stretch our understanding of ourselves and the world, connect with others, create community, and contribute to a sustainable local economy. More than ever, there’s a need for high touch in this world of high tech.

In the latest book industry news, Barnes & Noble has announced that it will be close more than 200 stores over the next decade. While some in the mass media are sure to see this as further evidence of their predictions that the printed book is dying, I see it as a smart corporate business decision that will open doors of opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Quaint places to gather, rest, and connect make a great community.

Quaint places to gather, rest, and connect make a great community.

For many of us who have spent time in corporate settings, the decision makes perfectly good sense. When big-box stores were all the rage, B&N seemed to be opening stores in communities large and small. Even into the ‘90s, those big boxes were filled with lots of books – not necessarily a greater selection of books within a subject category, but multiple copies of the same title just to fill all that shelf space. Because publishers offered quantity discounts and additional co-op funds, retailers like B&N got a better deal the more they bought. That not only resulted in a huge outlay of cash, but they often returned 30 to 40 percent of that stock (indies average 11 percent returns) when it didn’t sell through in a timely way. Imagine the labor costs of ordering, receiving, shelving, and returning books. Then add the freight costs.

Enter the 2008 economic crisis, followed by the growing acceptance of e-reading, and their retail strategy proved unsustainable. The company held long-term leases with suffocating overhead, and had devoted more and more space to marketing e-books, where the profit margin was considerably less than it is with print books. If ever there was a time to change course, this is it.
Without Borders and now with B&N exiting many markets, opportunities await the entrepreneur. The Pew research has shown that avid readers who read electronically are still buying an equal number of printed books. People still love to hang out in bookstores, because that’s where they discover great new books to read. In growing numbers, people are joining the “indie” movement and prefer to shop locally. Publishers and authors still need face time with readers. Consumers still long for meaningful “third places” to feel connected with others. Buying a book online makes it a commodity; but books are so much more than an addition to a shopping cart.
If you’ve dreamed of opening a bookstore, but have been scared away by the mass media yet again proclaiming that books and bookstores are dying, think again. Corporations who once dominated a niche market are now shifting their resources, leaving opportunities for indie entrepreneurs.