When it comes to retail business, few companies find themselves involved in social and political issues like bookstores. The latest issue has been a response to North Carolina’s HB2 known as the NC “bathroom bill”. North Carolina has not protected workers who are LGBT and has language in HB2 that clarifies that the state does not intend to create a new class of protections based on sexual identity … and will not allow its cities and counties to create such a protected class.

We Are Not ThisAuthors have cancelled book tour stops in North Carolina and booksellers around the state have banned together to proclaim “we believe it is essential to be non-discriminatory, inclusive and tolerant, to promote freedom of speech and equality, and to guard against censorship and unfair treatment.”

Many of the beloved picture books we carry encourage respecting differences, actually embracing them. Our world becomes bigger and more compassionate when we don’t judge, bully, and isolate others.

The North Carolina booksellers are standing strong in their statement to their elected officials. They have a lot to lose in terms of their financial sustainability and ability to continue to provide safe spaces where people can gather and discuss issues, grow into their higher selves, and contribute to the evolution of humanity.

Bookstores are symbols of civility, education, lifelong learning, connection, and conversation. We celebrate the freedom to read, diversity and inclusivity.

Today, we in the book industry are shocked and saddened to see our colleagues in North Carolina battling for human rights in 2016 … in the United States of America. We can learn from the civil rights movement and all of those children’s books too. We stand with the North Carolina booksellers and believe we are better than this.

Yesterday’s news was filled with stories about shopping during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The Nightly Business Report examined the results in context of industry trends due to technology and customer expectations.

NBR used the term “blurring” to describe why Black Friday has become more cyber and Cyber Monday has become more physical. First, many consumers are beginning their holiday shopping earlier, this year by November 10, due to promotions and discounting. So Black Friday is just more of the same promotions, less compelling. Cyber Monday has become less important because people no longer need to wait to get to work for access to high-speed internet. They’re buying online any time.

Going into a bookstore, what a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

Going into a bookstore, what a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

With technology supporting the ease of online shopping, what is the future of indie retail? It’s all about the experience.

These elements that create a memorable experience become not just more important, but essential:

Store design that makes you feel good, a space that is uplifting

Displays that are irresistible and offer delightful discovery

Selection that is manageable, interesting, and exudes quality

Fully present and genuinely helpful assistance

And when it comes to gifts, the complementary gift wrapping can be the simple, obvious amenity that seals the deal … the extra something that is beautiful, makes things easy, and is offered in the spirit of joy and shared delight.

Then, add Cider Monday (thanks to bookseller Willard Williams of The Toadstool Bookshops) and the Indies First promotion on Small Business Saturday (thanks to the American Booksellers Association) and the experience just got more rich and personal.

When corporate retailers will continue to blur the shopping experience by deluging the marketplace with special offers, let’s focus on the importance of creating a special experience. The authenticity of the personal and in-peerson has tangible value in a world immersed in faster, cheaper “stuff”.

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.

Last week during our full week workshop, we discussed book industry trends and talked about the future of reading and interest in bookstores. In this high tech world, it seems we still thirst for something real: real conversation, real friends, real book recommendations, real books.

Silicon Valley's Face In A Book has doubled its size.

Silicon Valley’s Face In A Book has doubled its size.

One of the past Paz grads came to mind, Tina Ferguson, owner of Face In A Book in Eldorado Hills, California. Tina’s husband is a Facebook employee and as parents immersed in the technology industry, Tina acknowledged that her friends were limiting screen time and encouraging their children to have their face in a real book. Today, Tina has just expanded her store. Business is strong and she’s having a wonderful time owning a bookstore.

By the cover of the Lands’ End catalog that arrived last week, it’s not those of us in the book industry craving quality time to think and interact. The headline of the Lands’ End catalog reads, “Rule #1: unplug. There is no rule #2. QUALITY. TIME.” The image chosen for the catalog is a family gathered around a picnic table in the yard.

Today’s world is demanding. We are pulled in many directions and our gadgets demand our attention throughout the day. How nice to unplug and have an authentic experience.

Reading a book. Talking with others about books. Browsing bookstores. Those are truly authentic connections.

Listen to National Public Radio and you never quite know how your life might be affected. This week Diane Rehm interviewed Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism: the Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World and what lingered for me was the value meditation has in changing anything.

Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism, says change begins with our thoughts and leads to new mindfulness and way of being

Mattieu Ricard, author of Altruism, says change begins with us

During the conversation, Mr. Ricard noted the link between meditation and our neurological wiring. A commitment to thinking differently, and using meditation as our dedication to the effort, can bring amazing results.

In our work with bookstore turn-arounds, it’s become clear that the obstacles to turning financial losses to business sustainability are deeply rooted negative beliefs, mostly about money, profits, greed and business. Lump them all together in a negative light, and we limit our capacity to create a healthy business.

Here are some positive beliefs that can help guide daily activities in creating a sustainable business:

* My awareness will help guide a positive outcome.
* I seek to learn how to prioritize my work so that I give the bookstore the best and most important things it needs.
* My ongoing learning will help me broaden my awareness and strengthen my ability to lead the business.
* If I want a different outcome, I am willing to rethink my routines.
* Our profits indicate that we are making magical connections with our customers; that they choose to buy from us confirms when we are paying attention and making wise choices.
* I am part of the business community that values people. Our presence provides healthy places to work and honors reading and lifelong learning.
* Our profits are what allows us to continue to contribute to a healthy local economy.

We often refer to the “Art and Science of Bookselling” because both are necessary for sustainability. For some, the art comes easy and the science, not so much. Expanding our insights and learning skills begins with mindfulness and openness.

I do love studies and when it comes to trends and young people, it’s fascinating to see how they like to shop, how they view themselves, and how that relates to the retail business. So when I saw the link to “Meet the Teens” from today’s National Retail Federation news, I had to go find out how things have changed since I was in my teens in the 1970s, hanging out with friends at the mall when I wasn’t working at my part-time job at one of the teen clothing stores.

Teens prefer shopping in-store

Teens still enjoy shopping in stores

Seems a lot has changed and some things have stayed the same…

Online shopping is part of the mix, but teens prefer to shop in-store where they can see the merchandise.

Facebook is “kind of dead” … so marketing is a moving target and social media venues are trendy.

Parents and part-time jobs are sources of income. Teens have money to spend.

Teens are less into doing what their friends do, but more into finding their own style (and voice).

When Young Adult Fiction has had such a boost in the last decade with debut authors and new authors writing hit after hit, it’s a wonderful moment to make sure teens and young adults find a home at the bookstore, come in to touch the books and soak in the good “space”, and find books that help them develop character and enjoy their leisure time.

Teens want to go out and shop. Let’s invite them in… and provide them the opportunity to connect for real with the world of ideas.

Today’s op-ed piece by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, “Don’t Dismiss the Humanities” is a reminder that we need diversity in our lives … from decisions we make in government, business and non-profit organizations to our own lives and relationships. Especially in today’s world where conflicts are escalating, disease is spreading, and there’s rising concern about our ability to create peace, live safely, and use our resources wisely, we need literature and philosophy, art and poetry for perspective – and hope.

Books in a fieldVisit a bookstore and you’ll find artists and writers, readers and philosophers. In the back room, we’re busy with the science of electronically sending purchase orders, analyzing section reports, and assessing our profitability, but there are so many aspects of the business that are purely from the heart. Discovering an amazing new writer during a discussion with a publishers sales rep, picking up and flipping through the pages of a beautiful new book, writing a review for the store’s newsletter or a shelf-talker for a favorite title, and of course, suggesting books to customers are constant activities that happen every day.

If you’ve been thinking of leaving your career to open a bookstore and want this kind of balance in what you do for a living, keep exploring a career in bookselling. For those of us who enjoy the arts, but need to earn an income, have business skills yet want each day to be filled with interesting, meaningful conversations, owning a bookstore provides all of this. Success in life and work has many definitions. I agree with Nicholas Kristof, the humanities are to be valued.

It’s a big, broad universe with the richness of cultures, ideas, opinions, and discoveries. In a bookstore, that’s the energy you feel by coming in, looking around, browsing and finding books to take home, and attending a presentation. It’s a fascinating world!

The opportunities to open a bookstore that is sustainable requires going beyond “selling books” to creating a place for those who love reading and love learning.

Let’s think of the bookstore as a fun, comfortable, friendly atmosphere for those who embrace life and want to keep learning throughout life… those lovers of travel and other cultures, creative and beautiful use of language, good food, loving relationships, healthy minds and bodies, lessons from history. Where can you find all of those things? In a bookstore.

Lifelong learners will come into the bookstore more often when we offer opportunities to connect and learn from others.

Lifelong learners will come into the bookstore more often when we offer opportunities to connect and learn from others.

In the selection we create, but also in the programs that bring people together to learn and grow, the possibilities are endless. Non-profit organizations, educational institutions, medical facilities, health and wellness centers all employ people who know and can share so much. Individuals who are crazy about a hobby, those history buffs, someone who has fallen in love with learning about the night sky … all can be wonderful non-author presenters who bring people into the store based on the desire to learn something new.

This quote from Einstein, featured in “The Age of Outrospection” in today’s issue of DailyGood in the graphic to the right, reminds us that there’s so much to learn in this vast world.

“A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘Universe’ — a part limited in time and space. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creates and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Programs in bookstores can be … and should be … so much more than an author reading. Think of all of the things your customers are interested in and find reasons for them to gather in the bookstore to connect on a common interest or concern.

Helping make meaningful connections is one of the most important opportunities for any bookseller and is often the difference between the bookstores that struggle trying to sell books and those who thrive because they have created … and become a community treasure for being … ann important center of the community. A bricks-and-mortar bookstore is the perfectly friendly, accessible place for every person at any age to widen our circle, learn new things, and feel part of an amazing universe.

Common Core … what could be detrimental about reading class and contemporary literature? Efforts are well under way to undermine the effort to improve education, teach the ability to learn and apply critical thinking skills, and have exposure to worlds beyond your own.

Common Core picketers

Extremists are derailing the conversation about how Common Core and literature can be used to improve education

The Southern Poverty Law Center, known for their dedication to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society, addressed the challenges to Common Core in the summer issue of SPLC Report in a feature “Extremist Propaganda Distorts Education Debate.”

While booksellers and libraries are used to some parents challenging some books in schools and the effort in some states to dictate how particular topics like evolution are treated in textbooks, this latest challenge … on a national scale … is based on misinformation from major media sources.

Ignorance is still widespread, major media fail to uphold higher standards of journalism, and as a result, we see the growing inability to come together. Close the world by limiting exposure to different ideas and cultures and as a result, misinformation and fear imposed by others hold tremendous power.

Bookstores and libraries, by their very presence, stand for education, reason, and connection. The work is ongoing. The American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression is our equivalent of the SPLC, also busier than ever.

 

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.