Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 2009!

Here we are, once again, near the end of another year. It has been a strange, fun and interesting ride. The economy has been up, and down. Many books have hit the bestseller list and never left it, while others brushed with fame for a week or so, then disappeared quietly into the night (yeah, I'm talking about "The Gargoyle").

We have had some great authors visit this year, including: Robyn Scott (Twenty Chickens for a Saddle), Craig Johnson (Another Man's Moccasins), Pilar Pobil (My Kitchen Table: Sketches From My Life), Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn: Hero of Ages and Alcatraz vs. the Scrivener's Bones), Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics), Charles Mann (1491), and more.

And most of all, we've appreciated having you, our blog readers and customers, share this year with us.

This is the last blog entry of 2008, but we will be back in 2009 with more to share with you, but here are some hints of some things to come- Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl and Sweethearts) will be here in February, Seth Davis, CBS Sports analyst and author of the forthcoming book "When March Went Mad" will be coming in March to talk about the 30th anniversary of the 1979 NCAA Basketball Championship game that pitted Larry Bird against Magic Johnson. Brandon Mull should be back with us in April or May, and we are working to get even more great authors here to make visits.

Keep an eye on the blog as we will have some guest postings by authors throughout the year and some contests that you will want to be part of to win some books. And of course, if you have ideas for what you'd like to see on the blog or in the store, please feel free to leave a comment or drop us an email.

And remember, have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Buzzmachine.com Quotes The Bookmark at the U

Wow. The Bookmark at the U was quoted on Buzzmachine.com today for a post that I wrote about the book, "What Would Google Do?" a very interesting book by Jeff Jarvis, filled with ideas of how business should respond to a world where Google holds a prominent place and "nothing is faster than now." Check out the post on Buzzmachine.com.

Countdown. Three Days 'Til Christmas

It's the final push for shoppers this week, looking for the perfect gift to put under the tree for that special someone. Retail has been a roller coaster ride this year, and bookstores have not stayed out of that amusement park. But, it seems this morning that more people are looking for books in the store than have in the last week.

My own Christmas shopping is not done (I haven't really even started- I know, I know, give me grief later when I have time for it). But, one of the things that made me feel really good was that each of my kids specifically requested books this Christmas, and not just a book, but books. Multiple. More than one. I think I can accommodate that!

"Tales of Beedle the Bard" which started out slowly has continually picked up steam. I may just sell nearly all what I brought in for the store. I may even buy one.

The reissues of the Ian Flemining's James Bond books in the pulp fiction covers are suddenly catching some attention, along with the James Bond Encyclopedia.

Local author, and friend of the bookstore, Brandon Sanderson has written the Mistborn series which had helped our Sci-Fi/Fantasy section to have the best month we've ever had. And, we can't forget Brandon Mull, another local author who has parents coming to the store to find copies of his Fablehaven series. One of my daughters has been begging me for book four in the series (sorry, dear, it doesn't come out until March, and I don't think I'll be getting an advanced reading copy).

I'm almost out of the complete, 4 volume Twilight boxed set. Stephanie Meyers vampires are still hot (in the book and on the movie screen) and are still selling well. Even the reissued, hardcover, slipcased, collectors edition of "Twilight" is selling- most likely to all those Twilight fans who have already read the book.

One of our personal favorites around the store has been Monkton's "The Penguin of Death." This little gift-sized hardcover book is not only hilarious, "he can kill you in any 1 of 412 different ways," but is "One of the most bizarre and engaging stories ever written. This has been one of our favorites books to handsell to customers, mainly because it sells itself.

Well, here's to hoping you get all of your shopping done, especially you guys out there (yeah, it's always the guys, I know, I'm right there with you) and that you get to all your destinations safely.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Countdown. Nine Days 'Til Christmas

Here are a few of my observations with nine days to go until Christmas:

While the economy may be bad and book sales aren't where we'd like them to be, things could be worse. Customers are still buying, but are being judicious, weighing their purchasing decisions carefully. I am seeing far more paperbacks purchased as gifts this year than hardcover books.

Sadly, the books that are doing well in hardcover are the most difficult to get.

Hachette Book Group, where art thou? Only the hottest series since Harry Potter said farewell to his own children at platform 9 3/4, and both "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn" are missing in action. With "Twilight" being released as a movie, you'd think that the publisher would expect a little more attention to all the books in the series. If you can find a copy of these books out there right now, buy them and auction them off. They are worth their weight in gold.

O.K., I'm not trying to pick on Hachette, but this is getting crazy. "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World," is no where to be seen either (just like a cat, isn't it?). People are asking constantly for this one as well, but, it too is hard to find. Fortunately, I found a small, secret stash and I should have more copies shortly. But, once those are gone, I only hope Hachette has some more ready to ship.

One book that has been doing well here, and we still are able to get more of, is "Grandma's Dead: Breaking Bad News With Baby Animals." This postcard book has a picture of the most adorable baby animals you'll find anywhere, imprinted with some of the worst news you can break to anyone. That cute, puppy dog, telling you that "Grandma's Dead," or the baby bunny letting you know "The Meteor Can't Be Stopped." It gets better. This is an absolutely hilarious book that's had us rolling in the aisles and customers picking them up for stocking stuffers.

One thing that seems to be lacking is one or two real "breakout" books (maybe the "Twilight" or "Dewey" books if we could get them). "Tales of Beedle the Bard" by J.K. Rowling while having steady sales, has been mostly underwhelming. Is it because Scholastic failed to promote it properly, or does everyone just have Harry Potter burnout?

With the lack of one or two big titles really taking off this year, it gives me the chance to handsell some of my favorite books. I love talking to people about books, so in a year like this, when customers are asking for suggestions, I love being there to help.

I'm suggesting several mystery authors that I have "discovered" and really enjoyed. Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series and Sandi Ault's Jamaica Wild series have been two of my favorites this year. I love the characters, the settings in the West, and most of all, I love the writing. These are two talented authors who know, not only how to tell a story, but how to write really well.

I am still telling everyone about one of my favorite books from last year- now out in paperback. "The Meaning of Night" by Michael Cox has been described as Victorian mystery noir. It is historical, set in 1850's England. It is almost Dickensian. It is dark and brooding. It has everything; love, hate, murder, revenge, deceit, retribution, and then, it gets good. It is like "The Princess Bride," except everyone is bad and has an ulterior motive, oh, and its not so funny.

It hasn't been a great Christmas season so far, but it hasnt' been terrible either. It's just made me look a little harder to match great books to great customers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I've Been Googled. Is That A Bad Thing?

One of the things I love about my job is the fact that I constantly get advanced reading copies of books sent to me. Now, I 'm not complaining, but I get so many of these books sent to me, I can't read them all. So every month or so, I put them out in the employee break room and watch the book free-for-all that ensues.

I did this yesterday, mainly to get rid of the books that had been piling up in my office and that I didn't have time to read, and partially just for the entertainment value of watching people dig through the pile of books. Letting a greased pig go couldn't have been as much fun.

At the end of the day, few books remained on the table. There were some children's books left behind, which, I really can't blame anyone for not taking, as I wouldn't let my own children read a few of the titles. Not because of offensive content, but just because after a cursory look, the book was so badly written, I wouldn't want them subject to such poor writing.

One book that remained behind was a book that I had glanced at earlier, but put on the table because I just didn't feel I had the time to read it. Apparently, no one else wanted this book either. Just before leaving the store in the evening. I picked it up one more time, browsed the table of contents, flipped through a couple of chapters, then put it in my book bag. Yes, I have a book bag. What else am I supposed to carry my books in?

I ride the train to and from work each day, so I take the time to read and write, rather than stare out the windows at all the graffiti. I opened up this book and began to read. Wow.

"What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis is an enlightening look into what he calls both the Google Era and the post-link society. The book is a study of how Google has become the "the fastest growing company in the history of the world," by looking deeply into the practices of Google's success. But, he goes beyond Google. Jarvis asks us to imagine a world in which information is shared and collaborated on by businesses and their customers. For example, an open-source restaurant where feedback from customers about the food and dining experience is instant. Have the restaurant put their recipes online. Let their customers bake them at home, make changes, make suggestions. This doesn't, he argues, ultimately take the control out of the hands of the chef, but gives the chef and the restaurant the opportunity to change and adapt to their customers.

The scariest chapter for me, was when Jarvis re-imagined the book publishing and selling business. I work in a bookstore. I write books. As an author, you write books and hope people like your words enough to pay for them. As a bookseller, you help people find authors that appeal to them so that they will buy the books from your bookstore. What if my livelihood were suddenly changed by an influx of free books on the Internet, or offering only ebooks. Is this such a bad thing, Jarvis asks. I began the chapter by screaming "Yes." I ended the chapter by realizing that the Internet actually helps my business, both in writing and selling books. Collaborate with your community of book lovers, wherever they may be. True, they may get a book for free on the Internet, but as Paulo Coelho found out, free copies of his books on the Internet only increased the sales of books in the traditional format, therefore, making him money from those sales. Jarvis points out, and the book business is no different, that the world is no longer a place of "mass markets," it's a world of "markets of mass niches." Embrace what make you different, unique, and special. Take that to your community, take feedback, and improve. Find the community that already exists and offer them something that is indispensable to that community.

After reading the chapter on car manufacturers, I can only wonder: Would the big three American auto makers be in the situation they are in today, basically broke and looking for government handouts, if they quit operating like they were still in the middle of the twentieth century and recreated themselves in the twenty-first century, post-link world? No. In fact, they just might be flourishing, in a stronger position than ever.

Admittedly, I haven't finished the entire book, but what I have read has got me thinking. How can I find a community for my writing. How can I improve my bookstore in the post-link world? In short, What would Google do? If you have ideas for the University Campus Store Book Department, or bookstores anywhere, let's hear them in the comment section.

Jeff Jarvis is the author of the blog, Buzzmachine.com.

"What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis will be available for purchase on January 27, 2009, either in the Campus Store, or at our online fulfillment partner, Powells.com.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hand-selling Books

Today's blog post is written by our buyer, Josh Clemens. You can also read his regular blog postings at J.A. Clemens.

Like Steve Carell’s character in “Dan in Real Life”, bookstore employees pride themselves on hand-selling books. Unlike Dan they do it for a living, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude romantic entanglements similar to the one that made the movie so enjoyable. The nature of hand-selling is getting to know the customer’s preferences and introducing them to a book they can fall in love with, after all! Sales reps from publishers provide the same service to bookstore employees, making recommendations based upon each store’s unique clientele. This requires developing a personal relationship that goes far beyond ad copy in a catalog. Some of our reps have forged those candid relationships with us, only to have them sundered by the current retail climate. Henry Hubert, the independent rep who shared with me The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr, was forced into another line of work when his expenses exceeded his income. It’s not just the independent reps who are cutting back, however. Scholastic cut Dawn Kehret’s position when they couldn’t get enough volunteers for early retirement. Larry Yoder was forced to retire a year early by MacMillan. We will get new reps who may be every bit as enthusiastic and capable as Henry, Dawn, and Yoder, but they won’t have the same rapport with us. They won’t have as much time to develop that relationship, either, now that they will have larger territories to cover. We still have John T. Lake as our Pearson rep, but he is now responsible for every account west of Chicago as a result of restructuring. This does not bode well for the publishing industry. Books need publishers, so the houses must be fiscally responsible, but bookselling needs the personal touch, too. Hand-selling books is absolutely critical in lean times, at every level. We’ll miss you, Henry, Dawn, and Yoder!