Movies, movies, and more movies were the key to book sales for teens and younger readers this summer. Although John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was mentioned by every bookstore in PW’s informal poll of nearly two dozen bookstores as one of their bestselling children’s books – “If John Green writes it, teens will read it,” said Helen Stewart, floor manager at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C. – it was by no means the only tie-in to keep on selling despite the heat.
At Books on Broadway in Williston, N.D., located in the heart of the oil boom, James Dashner’s Maze Runner series (Delacorte) had a resurgence, as did Lois Lowry’s The Giver (HMH) and Gayle Forman’s If I Stay (Penguin/Speak) because of upcoming or current films. For younger movie-goers, the Frozen Junior Novelization (Disney), the Big Golden Book series of Frozen (Golden/Disney), and the Step into Reading Frozen series (Disney) did so well that Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books and Toys in Zionsville, Ind., outside of Indianapolis, coined a new Frozen category and keeps them together on the shelf. Sales of Frozen books, which she describes as the category between picture books and chapter books, at her store were more than double every other category; overall, sales at the store are on track to rise 15% for the year.
Similarly, sales for most bookstores PW contacted were up, some way up. Many overcame a tough winter and high rents to beat preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau showing a 7.9% drop in overall bookstore sales for the first half of 2014.
At Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., sales for the summer were up more than 15%, were helped by big events with two other leading summer sellers, Four by Divergent author Veronica Roth (HarperCollins/Tegen), and Chris Colfer, whose A Grimm Warning (Little, Brown), the latest in his Land of Stories series, came out in July. “Middle grade, especially series, remains our sweet spot, though we are seeing more and more nine- and 10-year-olds wanting to ‘read up,’ ” said co-owner Diane Capriola. “Picture books continue to sell well for us, mostly because of the birthday party factor and how passionately our staff gets behind them.”
Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., also benefited from a large event with Colfer. Sales were up 9.5% this summer over 2013 because of events and walk-in traffic, according to owner Holly Weinkauf. She attributed the increase to better promotion of summer reading and events at area schools. “Our YA sales have grown steadily over the past two years,” said Weinkauf, who has seen the category increase to 8% of sales. “Our middle grade section is still one of our strongest-selling sections, 19% of sales. I’m a little surprised that our picture book section sales were slightly down this summer, and the percentage of total is also slightly down.”
Events helped boost sales at Parnassus Books in Nashville, which did particularly well with a recent event with Jon Scieszka for Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor (Abrams). Store co-owner Karen Hayes described him as “fabulous.” Sales at the store are up 21% YTD through July, and were also helped by summer reading selections like Ruta Septetys’s Between Shades of Gray (Penguin/Speak).
At Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., Christopher Franceschelli’s Countablock (Abrams) board book; Kazu Kibuishi’s Escape from Lucien (Scholastic/Graphix), the sixth book in the Amulet series; and Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000 (Scholastic) are starting to build and could hang on through Christmas, noted children’s buyers Kim Tano and Richard Corbett. While middle grade books continues at a steady pace, the store now stocks 40% more YA than middle grade titles, a continuing trend over the past few years. Picture books also did well this summer, and Tano and Corbett compare their sales velocity to that of YA, which was propelled by all of John Green’s books.
Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, Va., is one of the few children’s specialty stores PW spoke with that is on the verge of a major expansion. When the offices behind the store were vacated this summer, they began planning how to use the space to double the store’s footprint. Bookseller Emily Henry said that construction won’t begin until early next year. Although the plans haven’t been finalized, she said the store will likely use the added space to grow each section, including its “Grown Up” section.
Books that have done well at Hooray for Books! this summer include Stephanie Perkins’s Isla and the Happily Ever After (Dutton) in YA and Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist (Scholastic/Levine) in middle grade, which has been “huge,” noted Henry. She added, “the #WeNeedDiverseBooks put it on our booksellers’ radar. I think it would make a great movie.” Inspired by the diversity movement, booksellers at the store put up stickers to direct customers to books like Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (Viking) if they liked Harry Potter.
Amazon-Hachette Plays Out
While #WeNeedDiverseBooks continues to have an impact across the country, the longterm effect on indies of the Amazon-Hachette dispute isn’t clear. Twenty-year-old Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vt., which recently expanded into an adjacent space to give the store a more open feel, has found unexpected sales as a result. Co-owner Liza Bernard said that she’s been able to come in as the lowest bidder for school orders she might not have gotten in the past because Amazon is not discounting a lot of Hachette titles. “The other good part of the dispute,” she said, “is it’s bringing business practices back into the conversation.”
The dispute was also a conversation-starter at Women & Children First, which featured an in-store display about the controversy and posted articles on the subject on its Facebook page. “While we didn’t generate any preorders, it did start some fruitful conversations with customers about the importance of shopping indie,” said Hollenbeck. For Michael Barnard, owner of Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif., the dispute had “some bounce.” “I think it had its moment,” he added. “People aren’t as aware on an ongoing basis. It’s not that they’re not loyal to us. They don’t necessarily view it as a monogamous relationship.”
The dispute gained legs at Secret Garden Books in Seattle, in part because of the series of stories that the Seattle Times has done about Amazon’s impact on booksellers abroad. “People are really talking about [Amazon] in a way they never have before,” said store manager Susan Scott, who has noticed more teachers trying to support the store at the start of the fall semester. “We’re seeing a definite but subtle shift in our customer base. We’re seeing people we wouldn’t have seen before.” Although YA, middle grade fiction, and picture books each hold their own at the store, with middle grade having “pretty lively” turns, Scott singles out two picture books that are doing especially well, both featuring chickens: Anna Walker’s Peggy (Clarion) and Elizabeth Rose Stanton’s Henny (S&S/Wiseman).
Although no one has a crystal ball, Carol Spurling, manager and co-owner of BookPeople of Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, is optimistic about the future. Her sales this summer were up almost 12% and kids’ books continue to be a bright spot. “So far this year,” she said, “our children’s and YA categories comprise 23% of our total book sales.” The store has made an extra effort to improve its YA sales, which are only 3% of total book sales. This year the children’s buyer launched a teen book club. One of their picks for the holiday season is Rookie Yearbook Three (Razorbill, Oct.), but they are especially excited about Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes (Razorbill), due out in spring 2015, which Spurling predicts could be the next Hunger Games.
Local books, which often sell especially well at the holidays, were on a number of booksellers’ lists of books that could do well in the fourth quarter. A local favorite at Norwich Bookstore is Lizi Boyd’s wordless picture book Flashlight (Chronicle), which co-owner Bernard describes as “quietly magical.” Quail Ridge has already sold a lot of North Carolina author Sheila Turnage’s The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (Penguin/Dawson). Red Balloon’s Weinkauf singles out books by a few Minnesota authors: Kelly Barnhill’s The Witch’s Boy (Algonquin), which is #4 on the Autumn 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List, and William Alexander’s Ambassador (S&S/McElderry).
Gayle Shanks, owner of Changing Hands Books in Tempe, Ariz., summed up many booksellers’ feelings about the coming holidays. “Sales are up for the year,” she said. “I’m excited to see what happens. I’m anticipating a really good fall.”