Earlier this month in the run-up to Black Friday, John Mendelson, senior v-p of sales and digital initiatives at Candlewick Press, let PW tag along on store check visits to an indie bookstore, three chain stores, and a price club in the Greater Boston area. Although it was just days before the election, only Porter Square Books in Cambridge had a related display in the children’s section, where the shop had deliberately held back on selling holiday items. That wasn’t the case at other stores, which had moved on to holiday-themed planograms weeks before Thanksgiving, or even the adult side at Porter Square. Calendars and cards were at the front of the store under dangling LPs and an accompanying banner, “A Record-Setting Year.”
As Mendelson predicted, hardcovers were king in children’s sections across retailers. “We’re seeing great strengths in hardcover picture books,” he said. “It’s a way for bricks-and-mortar stores to differentiate themselves from the digital world. These books you have to touch to understand.” Although it was early in the morning for book shopping, at Costco, people weren’t just touching, but loading up on groceries and books. A giant display table in the center of the store, which was surrounded by fake Christmas trees and warm coats, held runs of bestselling children’s series, pop-ups, and other titles from multiple publishers.
Based on the amount of space devoted to children’s titles, the category continues to be a strong sales driver at bricks-and-mortar stores across the board, including a few that we couldn’t fit in on our drive-by, like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, which stock pop culture titles like Waldo. The Target we visited in Woburn had an exceptionally large kids’ section. The chain is known for strong YA crossover sales, as well as picture books. According to some children’s book publishers, Target together with Barnes & Noble, Amazon and independents comprise the magical matrix needed for a book to top the bestsellers lists. While many of Target’s titles tie in with television and movie characters or figures and packages like The Elf on the Shelf, Jon Klassen’s new picture book, This Is Not My Hat, was also prominently displayed. Tags like one for Middle Readers even showed book characters. YA was well represented as well, and was located across from adult titles to erase the boundaries between the two categories. The store was still finishing filling in displays on the morning of our visit.
Kohl’s may not be a leading retailer for kids’ books, but the chain moves a lot of books through its Kohl’s Cares for Kids proprietary printing program. Books are displayed next to the registers and paired with plush. Early in November the store promoted two Sterling titles illustrated by Charles Santore: Aesop’s Fables and L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz . All net profit for Kohl’s Cares is donated to charities that support kids’ health and education initiatives. Since 2000, the retailer has raised more than $208 million on the books, which are sold for $5. Elsewhere in the store, Kohl’s has a small display of children’s books, many that have previously sold through Kohl’s Cares.
Like other bricks-and-mortar booksellers, the Barnes & Noble store in Burlington, rumored to be one of the chain’s top five stores in the country, has displays that celebrate physical books. But in the case of this store, a display table on children’s classics intended to promote the concept of home libraries, as well as signage for an in-store book fair, are opposite a large Nook display. On the second floor, where children’s and YA are displayed, the store has tried to make physical books even harder to resist. For teachers, Barnes & Noble now has a School Section with teaching aids. It also promotes tie-ins for smaller holidays like Thanksgiving, and its wall of picture books and lap-sized board books is a staple, though it now showcases titles from bestselling series and introduces fewer new titles. YA has been moved at this store from outside the children’s section to in front of the adult fiction section, just to make the connections between the appeal of these books across teens and adults stronger.
On the way back to Porter Square Books, we stopped by its new neighbor, a Michaels craft store. None of the other stores we visited have too much to worry about, as far as the more-than-1000-outlet chain’s first foray into Cambridge. Porter Square and other bricks-and-mortar retailers are promoting hardcover high design, higher priced fare with eye-catching displays. Michaels, at least for now, is focused on low-priced seasonal board books and activity books.