Thursday, March 12, 2009

Title Wave

Someone writes to ask how the shop's holding up in the recession. Pretty well, so far. Sales are up at both locations, which I attribute to books being pretty inexpensive entertainment on a per-hour basis (compare with a feature film, a night out at the bar, or a GM Place concert) and to our ever-expanding selection of new books, all carried at 20% off the publisher's Canadian retail price. We've opened half a dozen accounts with new distributors in the last two weeks, and will soon be carrying all of Richard Brautigan's in-print novels, Orson Scott Card's Ender Wiggin saga (which flies off the shelf at both stores), and books by environmental activist Derrick Jensen, published by our friends at Chelsea Green Press. Jensen's books arrived because customers kept asking for them, particularly at the Kitsilano shop, and because the one or two used copies we did see usually left within an hour or two of us purchasing them.

Someone else writes to ask about the economics of carrying new books in the first place, which involves a lot of investment, a lot of back-end work (phone calls; border brokerage; complicated software) and a lot of research. Some people like waiting for used books to turn up serendipitously -- case in point, the customer who's been coming in for almost nine months, looking for a used copy of Mark Kurlansky's Salt, and finally found one yesterday, less than twenty minutes after we bought it and put it out on the shelf.

Other customers need to read something for a course, or for their book club, or in a hurry, and I've always felt guilty about that old-school used bookseller's refrain: "You're just gonna have to keep checking back." New books are an option for folks who don't want to wait, or need a title quickly, or don't want to give a used copy as a gift (more common than you'd think). And lots of customers -- staff included! -- would rather choose their new books from a hand-curated selection, instead of from a big box store, where publishers have paid for display space, or from an internet service that will take your money today but not deliver your book for a week or more, or will deliver it instantly to their proprietory complicated hand-held gizmo, but snatch it away again the second you stop paying for access to "your" digital content.