The tanking economy is on everyone's mind—from Wall Street to Main Street. So how are independent booksellers faring? Indies across the country talked to PW about business and the results point up two things: the backlist is the first to go, and being forced to spend more prudently isn't always a bad thing.
Karin Wilson, Page & Palette, Fairhope, Ala.Sales are (from this time last year): Up about 10% for October and down 15% for January—September.Have you cut back on orders? Absolutely! I've reworked my frontlist orders for the fall by reducing threes to twos and taking off marginal books.Made other cutbacks? Everything from switching from Muzak to XM Radio to clearing out a storage unit. The biggest reduction was publicity and advertising... I've been able to reduce this expense by about 40% by having the e-mail blasts, press releases and Web site updated internally.Nicola Rooney, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Sales are: Down 7% overall.
Have you cut back on orders? Since we order nonreturnable from almost all the publishers, we've had a lean buying regime for some time now. We reorder backlist daily, keeping a just-in-time inventory on all titles. We have reduced orders on slow backlist titles in certain sections, like computers, decorating, psychology, New Age and religion.
Made other cutbacks? [Among other things,] no staff overtime without preapproval; no annual increases; changing accountants to a much smaller and cheaper firm; and increasing the deductible on employees' health insurance (which saves around $1,000 per month).
Carol Besse, Carmichael's Bookstores, Louisville, Ky.
Sales are: Up 2% for October, and up 10% year-to-date at one store and 4.5% at the other store.
Have you cut back on orders? No.
Made other cutbacks? We're always frugal about expenses, but if I had to isolate one area I am looking more carefully at, it would be advertising.
Any positives? I think people who are cutting back on going out are perhaps even more likely to see books as a good value—something you can stay home with, and that gives many hours of enjoyment.
Mitch Gaslin, Food for Thought Books, Amherst, Mass.
Sales are: Down 8.4% overall, but when you take out textbooks, they're down 4.1%.
Have you cut back on orders? At this point, no.
Made other cutbacks? Not really.
Kevin Corvello, RJ Julia, Madison, Conn.
Sales are: Up 1%.
Have you cut back on orders? In our holiday catalogue and holiday merchandising, we're featuring more fun, upbeat, under-$20 titles. And we're really focusing on kids' books and gifts; we believe folks will still buy for the children, even if they have to cut back on the rest of their list. We've become more cautious with the beautiful but expensive art, photography and home titles.
Made other cutbacks? We're always watchful and looking to be effective in our spending, but we're not planning any across-the-board cuts.
Vivien Jennings, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kans.
Sales are: Up 13%.
Have you cut back on orders? No.
Have you changed the type of books you're ordering? No. We always order to anticipate the wants and needs of our customers. One thing we have done is make every effort to read as many ARCs as possible to truly know the potential for those titles, and we adjust orders up or down to maximize margins and manage returns.
Anything positive? The selection this fall is fantastic... and we've generated traffic into the store with admissions to our events. We've also benefited from working with various community partners.
Lyn Robert, Square Books, Oxford, Miss.
Sales are: Down, but being in a small college town, I think the numbers are tied more to the football season. We've only had one game in October, as opposed to three last year.
Have you cut back on orders? Yes. We're certainly being more cautious and more careful. When times get tough you, perhaps, act like you should all the time.
Made other cutbacks? Not really, but I'm being hyper-aware.
Roberta Rubin, The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, Winnetka, Ill.
Sales are: Down 21%.
Have you cut back on orders? We are trying to slow down our ordering, but the presence of a lot of books in the store is important for our customers—we have to be careful that our stock doesn't look sparse. I'm letting go of old books more readily on our restocking reports. And our wholesale orders are smaller.
Anything positive? Times are hard—we see lots of traffic still—but people are not buying the quantities of books that they did in the past. That said, we're looking forward to a good holiday sale. I think the books are enticing this year—our fiction and gift books and cookbooks look especially inviting.
Neil Strandberg, The Tattered Cover, Denver, Colo.
Sales are: I won't share numbers, but sales dipped below expectations in late September [at all our locations]. But October sales have recovered somewhat from the sometimes frightful experience of September.
Have you cut back on orders? We always want to keep returns down, and this year is no different. But timing is everything—our current sales experience prompts us to return more than is usually the case in late October, as we seek to stay current with an inventory that is appropriately sized.
Made other cutbacks? We're not going to hire temporary employees for the holiday season, which is a first in my 19 years at the store—the old-timers tell me it has been even longer than that.
Anything positive? The recent turn in the economy has motivated us to proceed swiftly to implement operations changes that should yield some relief to the bottom line.