Many independent booksellers contacted by PW earlier this week reported solid holiday sales over the Thanksgiving weekend. While those figures include adult titles, especially memoirs—former president George W. Bush’s Decision Points, Keith Richards’s Life, and The Autobiography of Mark Twain—children’s books contributed to sales boosts. Two standouts, even at stores that don't typically boost a high percentage of children’s sales, were the fifth Wimpy Kid title and the first book in the new Heroes of Olympus series. At 40-year-old Breakwater Books in Guilford, Ct., where children’s comprise 30% of sales, the bestseller for the entire weekend came from the kids’ aisle: Peter Yarrow’s The Night Before Christmas, which features a musical recording by Peter, Paul, and Mary, and paintings by Eric Puybaret. And at BarnesandNoble.com, the perennial holiday favorite, The Elf on a Shelf by Carol V. Aebersold, held top positions in books for the gift set, with a light-skinned elf at #1 and a dark-skinned elf #10.
While few bricks-and-mortar stores could match Saturday sales at Park Road Books in Charlotte, N.C., up more than 30% because of the the closing of a nearby Joseph-Beth Booksellers and the impending closure of a Borders store, most stores were up at least a little on Black Friday weekend. Sales rose 15% at Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose, according to general manager Tracey Filar Atwood, who was unsure whether to attribute the increase to the attention the store received in the wake of co-owner and founder Carla Cohen’s death, American Express’s Small Business Day on Saturday, or luck. At Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., which has had flat sales for much of the year, both Saturday and Sunday “far exceeded what we expected,” says co-owner Jane Dawson. Similarly Kris Vreeland, children’s buyer at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, reported that the store was “steadily busy over the weekend and the numbers looked good.”
Jill Miner, owner of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich., was one of several booksellers who reported a drop for the weekend; sales were down 10%. Although it made inroads in the sales gains experienced by the store this summer, Miner did not regard it as a harbinger of the Christmas season or the year as a whole. “A strong December can still pull me out,” she says. Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, Mass., was also down, but in their case it was expected. “It’s a busy weekend for us,” says children’s book buyer and co-owner Nancy Felton, “but it’s nothing like Bag Day.” Sales for the special downtown promotion, which is held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, are comparable to the Saturday before Christmas even with 20% off for the most expensive item in a customer’s bag. “This year Bag Day was slightly better than last year,” says Felton, whose sales have yo-yo’ed throughout the year. “It will be down 5% one month and then go up 5% the next. All in all, business has been even. We’re hoping for a push at the end.”
YA and chapter books were among the biggest kids’ draws. Jeff Kinney’s The Ugly Truth and Rick Riordan’s The Lost Hero were the children’s equivalent of Mark Twain and Keith Richards, but much easier to get. “I don’t have to work hard to put those in the hands of people,” says Jane Knight, children’s book buyer at Bear Pond in Montpelier, Vt. For Wimpy Kids fans looking for something else to read, she recommends Lincoln Peirce’s Big Nate books. Riordan’s release from last May, The Red Pyramid, is also moving briskly across the country, from Laurel Book Store in Oakland to Porter Square Books in Cambridge.
Booksellers like Charlie Leonard, owner of the Bookcase in Wayzata, an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, have been seeing Harry Potter sales pick up with the release of the seventh film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1. Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy has also sustained its momentum. “Mockingjay is still selling and will sell through Christmas,” predicts Lisa Baudoin, owner of Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., where children’s books comprise nearly half its sales. Collins’s trilogy is equally strong at the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., which has begun shelving some YA titles, including that series, with adult books. “A lot of YA titles are finding their way into the adult market,” says general manager Diana Abbott. “The lines aren’t as clearly defined as they used to be.”
Author appearances continue to help sales, as do booksellers committed to the category. “We had Mike Lupica here,” says Betsy Detwiler, owner of Buttonwood Books & Toys in Cohasset, Mass. “so we did really well with Hero.” At Saturn, where a number of college students on staff push YA, Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution, James Dashner’s The Scorch Trials, and April Linder’s Jane (a retelling of Jane Eyre) are doing well, according to manager Karen Beyer. Although Ally Condie’s Matched missed Black Friday weekend (it was released this past Tuesday), a number of booksellers, including Kelly Estep, manager of the Bardstown location of Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Ky., anticipate strong holiday sales for the dystopian novel.
But YA is only half the story. Judging by the books that were moving last weekend, the news of the demise of hardcover picture books proclaimed in the New York Times earlier this fall is premature. “I wouldn’t say picture books are soft, but teen sales are stronger,” says Meghan Dietsche Goel, children’s book buyer at BookPeople in Austin. President Obama’s just-released picture book, Of Thee I Sing, illustrated by Loren Long, “is really doing well for us,” she says. The same is true at Books & Company, which doesn’t typically sell hardcover picture books. “I love it!” says owner Lisa Baudoin. “Loren Long did a bang-up job. It’s rare that a book comes together like that.”
Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama Holiday Drama appeared on a number of in-store bestseller lists, including Bear Pond, which also did well with Marla Frazee’s The Boss Baby. “We have no problem selling picture books,” says Knight. “It’s just that there are just too many out there, and so many are subpar.” Picture books are also holding strong at the Bookworm, especially funny ones like David Scillian’s Memoirs of a Goldfish, illustrated by Tim Bowers. “People want to laugh,” says Abbott. Laurel Book Store in Oakland has always done better with picture books than YA, according to owner Luan Stauss, who attributes it to the many young families in the neighborhood. Among her top sellers this season are Tad Hills’s How Rocket Learned to Read and Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, which she says adults are buying for other grownups.
At Broadside, the right picture books will still sell, says Felton, who has been doing well with local author Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny Free. In YA, Third Place Books in Seattle has experienced the local effect for Conrad Wesselhoeft’s Adios, Nirvana. Other stores report success with local titles tailored specifically to their communities, like The Twelve Days of Christmas in Minnesota by Constance Van Hoven, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, which is selling well at the Bookcase. L Is for Louisville! by Gill Holland Jr., a fundraiser for the children’s gallery at the Speed Art Museum, has been a strong seller at Carmichael’s.
Whether Black Friday weekend will be a good predictor of holiday sales overall depends. Weather can play a significant role, as it did at Bear Pond with ice on Friday, snow on Saturday. For many booksellers, thoug,h the big push comes at the end, at Carmichael’s the last two weeks before Christmas. And the final three days are often triple the sales of a normal day. “Christmas Eve was almost our biggest day of the year, and we’re only open ’til 5,” says Estep. “We are a last-minute stop, that’s for sure.” No one minds last-minute, as long as the sales keep coming.