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!

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