J.K. Rowling’s screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Scholastic/Levine), Jeff Kinney’s 11th Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, Double Down (Abrams/Amulet), Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase series (Disney-Hyperion), and standalones like Monica Hesse’s Girl in the Blue Coat (Little, Brown) were among the top sellers over Thanksgiving weekend – the official start of the holiday season, which includes Black Friday and Plaid Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and Small Business Saturday and Indies First (the Saturday after Thanksgiving).
Based on responses to PW’s informal survey of more than two dozen booksellers around the country, indie booksellers of all stripes saw a post-election sales boost. “Before the election, we were just dying,” said Mary Emrich, owner of Turning Pages Books and More in Natchez, Miss. “But something happened the day after the election. Our business was phenomenal. It was as if people were holding on to their money, and then said to themselves, ‘Okay. We’re going to survive this.’”
At Women & Children First in Chicago, customers expressed their commitment to “shopping their values,” said co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck. Sales at the store were up 50% for the month of November over last year. Black Friday sales were up 52%; Small Business Saturday up 42%. “We’re very optimistic. So far we are standing in a very good position to have an amazing holiday season,” Hollenbeck added.
“I felt the holiday season started right after the election,” said Brein Lopez, manager of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles. “We put out a selection of books that were not about the election but were about anti-bullying, how to make change in your life, and children making change in the world. That positive step actually made a big difference for people, because that’s what they were looking for: how to talk to your kids about what you can do and how different results happen.” Black Friday weekend at Children’s Book World was even with last year. The busier weekend there is usually the one before Thanksgiving, because so many customers travel and bring books for their family and friends.
Vivien Jennings, founder and president of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans., was one of several booksellers to bristle at the notion of celebrating Small Business Saturday. “We celebrate local business and indies every day of the year. We have the indie spirit every day,” she noted. That said, sales at Rainy Day were up 10% for the weekend just as they have been all year. Part of that is due to changes in signage and displays. In its children’s and YA sections, Rainy Day added displays of its picks with signs indicating Top 16 YA Titles or Winners for Middle Grade Readers. “We want to make it easier for people,” said Jennings. Staff has also been making a point of reminding customers to shop the store’s Autograph Wall of signed children’s and adult books.
Thirteen-year-old Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, Ga., is one of several stores to report that they expect a banner year for 2016. “We are having the best year we ever had,” said owner Doug Robinson, who anticipates being up 25%. He attributed much of the growth to children’s books, especially business-to-business sales to schools, as well as online textbooks. “We even had a Half Price Books move in close to us this August,” said Robinson. “But we have done fine with them there.”
While most stores were pleased with Thanksgiving weekend sales, Larry Yoder, floor manager at The Bookies in Denver, Colo., was one of the few to report that sales were not especially good. “We didn’t see any real pick-up until Monday or Tuesday last week,” he said. “For the last four years we did $10,000 to $14,000, and we only did $7,000. This is the second year in a row where parents and grandparents are asking me to give some suggestions [for] books that are under $10 or $20. Contrasted to other years, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in buying the best, just the cheapest.”
Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville, had sluggish sales just before and after the election but her sales nearly doubled on Plaid Friday year over year. “We are running about even year to date,” she said, adding that December is usually huge so she anticipates finishing the year up. One trend that she anticipates could help boost sales is customers’ reliance on end-of-year staff favorites in picture books, middle grade, and YA for gift ideas. “I believe children’s bookstores are more insulated from the national mood and even economic [downturns],” said Compton. “A larger concern is the continued age compression of childhood, and the lack of time we have to introduce kids to the wealth of great reading that’s available to them.”
OMG: Middle Grade Books on Top
As for what’s selling, while middle grade is hands down the strongest category this season, no one book has emerged as the “it” title. Even top sellers like the Fantastic Beasts screenplay aren’t working everywhere. Some booksellers and their customers would have liked to have had a reissue of the book on which the movie is based available now rather than wait for March. “We sold Cursed Child very well. But the screenplay of Fantastic Beasts has sold only five copies here,” said Kenny Brechner, owner of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine. “People are not that interested in a screenplay. They are disappointed to find that that is what it is. A nice edition of the original would have sold very well.”
“There doesn’t seem to be one driven title,” said Todd Dickinson, owner of Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Pa., who has seen sales drop off somewhat at his store for perennial November favorites like the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. Sales at his bookstore surged over the Thanksgiving weekend in part due to its newly opened pop culture and gaming area, Of Dice and Pen, which has strong teen appeal. “A lot of people have come in who have learned about our store through that. Some are gamers,” said Dickinson, who added that it’s too soon to tell if the new section will pay off. Customers were also looking for a variety of titles including new picture books like Jory John and Lane Smith’s Penguin Problems (Random House) and Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat (Chronicle).
By contrast, A Likely Story in Sykesville, Md., a nationally designated Main Street community, is doing particularly well with Double Down, which it has had to reorder four times. Owner Debbi Scheller has also found that while adult coloring book sales have dried up since last Christmas, children’s are still going strong, particularly sales of the Where’s Waldo? The Coloring Book (Candlewick) and The Harry Potter Coloring Books (Scholastic). In fact, Scheller removed her adult coloring book titles so that she could expand both YA and children’s nonfiction. She also added a section of wrapped books that she’s calling Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.
“We really depend on our local titles to generate sales,” said Turning Page’s Emrich. She’s not alone. On the kids’ side at Taylor Books in Charleston, W. Va., a locally published picture book from Quarrier Books, Mountain Christmas by Marc Harshman and Cecy Rose, is the store’s leading holiday title. The Bookies is doing well with the Crime Traveler Spy School Mystery series (Flying Solo Press), a middle-grade espionage series by local author Paul Aertker. “He knows how to spin a good adventure tale,” said Yoder. The third book in the series, Priceless, was released this fall.
At Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, Wash., it’s local first when it comes to many bestsellers. One of November’s big books was Craig Roman’s Urban Trails-Kitsap, a guide book for the family, which is published locally by Mountaineers. The store’s bestselling kids’ series, Imaginary Veterinary (Little, Brown), is written by Suzanne Selfors at the coffee shop next store. That’s not to say that Liberty Bay doesn’t do well with other titles. Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brigitte Barrager’s Uni the Unicorn (Random House) is a personal favorite of children’s buyer Madison Duckworth, who has handsold many copies along with a matching plush toy from MerryMakers. Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Christmas (Putnam) “is selling like crazy, said Duckworth. Two years ago, when Brett visited the store, it sold more than 300 copies of The Animals’ Santa. The new book is prominently displayed in the front of the store, and Duckworth hopes to equal that number.
Nancy Taft, children’s frontlist buyer at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa, was one of several people to single out I Dissent (S&S), a picture book about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Melissa Sweet’s heavily illustrated Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (HMH) as strong holiday titles. She also anticipates strong sales for local author Michelle Edwards’s picture book, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman (Random House/Schwartz & Wade).
Unfortunately, a good start doesn’t necessarily ensure a strong holiday season. As Michael Herrmann, owner of Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., pointed out, it’s the days leading up to Christmas, and this year Hanukkah, too, that will determine how well stores do. “We had a great start,” he said. “But it’s always been true that the last 10 days make [or break] the holiday season.”