Books Climb out of Niche
Barbara R ther -- 12/4/00
Falcon Publishing's outdoor adventure books expand into general bookstores with interesting results
This month Falcon Publishing in Montana will release Long on Adventure: The Best of John Long, an anthology of high-thrills writing from one of the world's most famous climbers and outdoor adventurers, John "Largo" Long. Long's name has been at the pinnacle of the climbing world since 1975, when his team became the first to climb Yosemite's El Capitan in one day. His work spans 23 books and hundreds of magazine articles. His award-winning stories and instructional books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and published in periodicals like Reader's Digest and Granta. His classic How to Rock Climb, now in its third edition, has sold more than 250,000 copies. A new Falcon series edited by Long, On Adventure, with volumes on subjects such as surfing, solo climbing and whitewater,has sold over 50,000 copies in less than a year. Though highly revered and sought after by thousands of outdoor fans, most of Long's work has been largely unknown to general readers, until now. First introduced to the book world at BEA 2000, John Long and his new collection have climbed over the niche market of outdoor retail and into bookstores nationwide.
Since the publication of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (Anchor, 1997), the appetite for travel adventure has waned somewhat but never gone away. The steady growth of the adventure travel industry has made books like Long's relevant to a new and changing audience, while the advent of indoor climbing gyms and sports facilities has brought climbing books to urban areas as well.
In a strange reversal of trends, instead of fueling book sales in outdoor retail venues, the increasing popularity of adventure sports has made it more difficult for these stores to compete in the bookselling arena. According to Gary Neptune, owner of Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colo., one of the outdoor meccas of the Rockies, book sales have always been a critical part of his store's sales, but increasingly customers can find the same titles at Borders. "It used to be so specialized, there were three or four reps we dealt with who did outdoor books," Neptune told PW. "If a New York house released a book about climbing or mountaineering, we often didn't even hear about it, since we weren't on the book sales circuit. Likewise, if you wanted a book about climbing in the Rockies, you had to come here. Now you can get these books everywhere. Still, we've had events with famous climbers where we sold 200 books or more."
Hickman said that some of Borders's most popular titles in the category are books that combine elements of travel and outdoor activities, such as a guide to cycling in a given area or a travel guide to waterfalls. The store's Travel Narratives section, which includes Long on Adventure, is also growing in popularity. She noted that holiday sales in both the guidebook and outdoor categories are often quite high as housebound adventurers plan the season to come.
Bob Koch, president of Alpen Books in Seattle, one of the largest book wholesalers to the outdoor retail market, said his company has seen a flattening in sales in the last few years.
According to Koch, this may be due more to increasingly aggressive discounts and to competition from similar guidebook lines, than to sales from chains. "There are simply more outdoor retail stores and more books trying to find a place in them," Koch told PW. "Though there is now definitely a perception that the chain stores are carrying mountain sports and guidebooks, I have yet to walk into one of those stores and find a selection that would really answer the needs of a true enthusiast."
Though opinions differ among the handful of booksellers PW spoke with, several trends seem clear. Most how-to books are not tied to any locale or season and remain steady sellers in both venues. "Where-to" books, such as guidebooks to local natural areas, do well in their own areas but do not travel well. Paddle sports are growing in popularity, while guides to the new sport of trail running may be the next bestsellers.
John Long and his publisher Falcon (which was purchased by Globe-Pequot in September) find themselves at the heart of the shifting market for guidebooks and outdoor books. Traditionally, Falcon has sold one-third of its titles through outdoor retailers, another third at bookstores, and the remaining third in the gift market and venues like National Park visitor centers. According to Falcon marketing director Max Phelps, that profile is likely to change. "We have traditionally published books that focused on areas or activities that were very far from a bookstore," Phelps told PW. "That's why Falcon designed a sales force that traveled through regions with all their books in a yellow van, stopping at every ski store and bookstore on our route, hand-delivering the latest titles. Globe-Pequot will continue to support these existing routes while adding our books to their bookstore distribution network in other parts of the country."
Pajama Party at Kepler's
Though also dressed in their pajamas, the nearly 100 children and parents who spent the Saturday morning of November 18 at Kepler's bookstore were anything but sleepy. The crowd of little ears were tuned to Boynton, who read from Hey! Wake Up! and Pajama Time!, her latest board books from Workman. Milk and chocolate-chip cookies were served to the under-five crowd, while Boynton, accompanied by her daughter, signed new and old (sometimes partially chewed) copies of her books. The bookstore gave awards for the best pajamas in various categories (including footed, fuzzy, funny and others). The special party, among the first Kepler's events for this age group, was a great success. The store sold nearly 200 books.
Children's events have begun to move to the foreground at Kepler's as the children's and teen departments continue to expand. Little, who is one of two children's book buyers at the store, has focused on outreach to area schools. Kepler's has found author events to be increasingly popular among younger readers. A recent Halloween party with R.L. Stein attracted over 150 children and parents, while a visit from Tomie De Paola attracted another 200.
Workman is offering interested stores a Pajama Party Kit which includes a sign-up sheet, pajama awards, setup ideas and Boynton's chocolate-chip cookie recipe. A visit from Boynton is not part of the usual package.
Boynton created many of her characters in greeting cards she sold to friends and bookstores to help pay her tuition at Yale. When she graduated in 1974, she turned pro with a big card company. By 1980, she was selling 80 million cards a year. Boynton, who writes and illustrates her book from a barn in Connecticut, has been creating her frizzy-haired cats and fat hippos since her first children's book, Hippos Go Berserk, came out in 1977.
--Barbara R ther
NBN Relaunches NBNBooks.com
It's all part of the e-NBN plan," said Larry Fox, director of e-commerce for National Book Network in Lanham, Md. "We started working on the Web site in June and did a quiet launch the first week in November. We try to have everything a bookseller or rep would need online."
Other site changes include password-protected areas for reps to check warehouse stock and for NBN publishers to get the latest information on their books' sales. Ultimately Fox would like reps to be able to visit an account, go to the Web site, sort by subject and print out a specialty catalogue for the customer during the sales call.
Volume 246 Issue 49 12/04/2000