Feb 5, 2010

Bookselling in Crisis


It is I, the non-alarmist, bringing you more alarming news from the front lines of the independent book-selling world. (To read the first "Bookselling in Crisis" post, go here.) Today I am here to report on the recent crisis concerning publishing representatives (hereafter referred to as "reps"). Reps are the biggest connection between booksellers and publishers. They come to our stores, get to know our store size, buying styles, customer demographics, and possible events. They send us advanced copies, and sometimes published copies of favorite books. They help us make author connections and help us with events. They listen to our advice, and our reviews. They celebrate with us when a favorite book wins an award. They help us straighten out ordering issues, remind us of old treasures, introduce us to new favorites, and generally provide a warm and friendly face to put with large (and small) publishers.

In short, my life as a bookseller is enriched by my interaction with my publisher reps.

And sadly, my publisher reps are being hit hard as the book industry struggles to right so many excess wrongs it's incurred over the years.

This is a letter to the publishing industry at large, written by the North Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association:

We are alarmed with what appears to be a trend in the sales division of publishers; the removal of field sales reps to independent bookstores. This draconian move against our bookselling segment will be responsible for the disappearance of book culture.

Field sales reps are a crucial part of our business. Each regional independent booksellers association and Publishers Weekly honors an outstanding field rep each year. We can’t think of another publisher position that gets this recognition. We devote countless hours at conferences refining the sales rep/bookseller relationship. They are that crucial to us.

Restricting field reps to large stores will give publishers a skewed view of what is a very diverse world --independent bookselling. Sales reps take the time to know our stores, what our customers like, and what is on our shelves. They are the industry worker-bees, travelling the region, taking ideas and trends and pollinating other stores. We learn about other stores from them, what others are reading and loving; what is selling; marketing tips; event ideas; what the publisher is doing; and what authors have books coming out in the next season. They make fans for authors out of our frontline booksellers. They cut through the catalogs to make sure we carry what we’ll be able to sell, and their endorsements are why we buy what we might have ignored.

These reasons are why cuts in field sales reps devastate us. Have you really thought about what this stricture will mean to you? Fewer books sales. Without a doubt, we are not ordering as much through telemarketing. We are definitely not focusing on your backlist through tele-sales, and we definitely miss titles from the frontlist. We also don’t buy as much direct, which makes independent bookselling a less profitable business. The vicious cycle is that we buy less because we don’t have sales reps, and then you devalue our business because we aren’t buying as much as we used to.

We understand the corporate need to save money. There are more efficacious and less exclusionary ways to cut your budgets. You know what they are because independent bookstores have been telling you what they are for years. Cut multiple ARC mailings. Do away with promotional gimmicks that go from mailbox to garbage can. Consider publishing fewer titles, fewer hard covers, fewer copies. Take a hard look at celebrity advances.

We exist to sell your books, those unique and hard to place titles, not just the established authors. Field sales reps are the tools we need to do that for you. As much as you would like to think a tele-salesperson is doing the same job, you are sadly mistaken. A field sales rep is far more than a person filling in an order form.

Don’t cut our lifeline to your books.


The NAIBA Board of Directors

Joe Drabyak, Chester County Book Company, West Chester, PA

Lucy Kogler, Talking Leaves Inc., Buffalo, NY

Betty Bennett, Sparta Books, Sparta, NJ

Harvey Finkel, Clinton Bookshop, Clinton, NJ

Pat Kutz, Lift Bridge Book Shop, Brockport, NY

Mark LaFramboise, Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

Margot Sage-EL, Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ

Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY

Susan L. Weis, breathe books, Baltimore, MD

They say it more eloquently than I ever could. Please, help us by supporting your local independent bookstores. Increased sales means a publisher might think twice about cutting a rep for our area. Thank you for taking the time to read about our plight.

- Rebecca

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