This weekeend I stopped by Alabama Booksmith and walked out with a haul (all unsigned books are 75% right now. They said the sale lasts as long as they have unsigned books).
But I had to ask. . . why is Alabama Booksmith doing this?
The answer: the bookstore is getting ready to re-launch with a new business model. I spoke with the guys behind the counter and they said that the signed first editions customer segment has exploded. So they are going to focus on serving these customers. That means that later this year Alabama Booksmith will no longer keep un-signed books on the shelves. Now, they will always be able to order any book for you and they will always keep stock, behind the counter, for book clubs and other groups. But as far as being a “stop in and browse” and “get lost in the stacks” kind of a shop – only if you want a signed copy.
As it was explained to me, they will begin tearing down the free-standing shelves, in early August, and replacing them with table-top displays. This leaves the wall shelves for display and will open up the shop and give add to the “presentation” of the books as objects to own and gift. It also gives them the ability to make space for more chairs and standing room during author events.
I think this is a smart shift for them to do. With the massive success of their subscription-based Signed Editions Book Club, Jake and crew obviously have the data and experience to back up this decision. I have no doubt that they have carefully surveyed the local and online bookseller landscapes and they are capitalizing on a unique skill and reputation they have developed over the years. . . getting authors in the store to meet folks and sign books.
In this day and age it’s great to see a local bookstore maximizing their efforts in a niche they created for themselves and making the capital improvements needed to help keep the Birmingham indie book scene a vibrant one.
I don’t think you can have a conversation about bookstores, in Birmingham, Alabama, without Jim Reed Books being mentioned within the first two minutes of the discussion. Reed has done many things “right” and the shop is a favorite destination for many bibliophiles around the Southeast. As a unique a place as his store is, it’s his newsletter (sign-up at the bottom of his site’s page) that bookstores could learn something from.
Reed is a creative writer and inspiring free-thinker and each edition of the email newsletter is peppered with his prose, but my favorite part is always the “What We Sold Last Week“. It’s like scanning someone’s bookshelf right from my InBox.
Of course, you never know who bought these books or even where the lucky book owner lives. But I have tripped over so many interesting titles and authors while skimming the newsletter that I never even would have even known to look for. His last email had 225+ items listed. Some are records. Some are gizmos. Most are books. Amazing. I am certain that 99% of them I have never heard of.
I’m not saying that your shop would have to be as consistant as Reed (though it helps) and you certainly wouldn’t have to publish lists as exhaustive as his, but it is fun for your customers (and potential customers) to see what others in their community are buying, outside of the “Best Sellers” and “Book Sellers Recommends” lists. Who knows what unknown titles (and sales) would surface.
I get these via the Twitter feed of the Birmingham-area’s newest coffee/bookshop Church Street Coffee & Books:
How cool is that? And how hard is that do to? I’ve yet to reply and send in an order, but I know I will one day. The urge is always there. When I see these tweets I always want to reply. It almost feels like they’re saying “I’m headed to the store, want me to grab you something?”
This level of interaction is going to be crucial for bookshops going forward. They don’t have to chat with me everyday. They don’t have to interrupt me every day. But they are making a very personal one-on-one service easily available to me. And I like that.
Chalk this one up as a “Best Practice for Bookshops”.
Hello independent bookstore owner. I am Trav. I believe in what you do and what you add to my community. I am your customer… and I have tools. You need to wake up and start participating, so I know you’re still there. Here is one thing all independent bookstore owners need to be aware of and learn how to do:
make your inventory public and accessible from mobile devices.
I use a few bard code scanning app. Currently, Red Laser is my favorite. I was in a big-box home improvement store the other day pricing closet organization systems. Up by the registers, I picked up a $17 book on closet makeovers. It seemed to be just what I needed. I was curious what else was out there, so I scanned it. Here are the results:
See that? There at the bottom? It should list everywhere that I could pick up this book locally. I only see some big-box chain stores and… my wonderful local library system. They understand what’s happening. You need to also.
These things aren’t too hard to learn and don’t cost tons of cash to implement. Bookstores of all sizes need to follow and study folks like LibraryThing (local books app and libanywhere app) and the scanning apps. Just doing that much is the surest way to remain relevant.