At last week’s ABA Winter Institute in Arlington, Va., maximizing relationships was a key theme, whether it was Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Books in Bellingham, Wa., speaking about a kiosk a local Apple dealer is building in his store to sell iPads—for which Village Books would provide e-reading—or Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books in Indianapolis, describing how she partners with a local nonprofit on every store event. “What we’re doing on the frontline is extremely valuable. You should be able to leverage it,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of several Books & Books stores in Southern Florida and the Cayman Islands.
The day before the conference opened, the ABA released figures that underscored the importance of partnering with other independents. A post-holiday survey conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that retailers in cities with active buy-local movements had year-over-year revenue gains more than double those of retailers in cities without such initiatives. An additional study, commissioned by the ABA and available at IndieCityIndex.com, identified the ten most independent cities with such partnerships: Ocean City, N.J.; Bellingham, Wash.; Medford, Or.; Carson City, Nev.; San Jose, Calif.; Barnstable, Mass.; Austin, Tx.; Dalton, Ga.; Glens Falls, N.Y.; New York City; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Eugene, Or.; Redding, Calif.; and Corvallis, Or.
Several workshops focused specifically on developing new business models by leveraging relationships. At a panel on Exploring New Partnerships, moderator ABA CEO Oren Teicher said, “to be successful, to be profitable we need to use that cliché to think out of the box.” For Susan Novotny, owner of Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany and Market Block Books in Troy, that has meant forming her own publishing venture. One day, while sorting dozens of unread galleys for not very good books, which she was donating to shelters and prisons, Novotny said that she decided, “Something’s got to change. New York isn’t the center of the publishing universe anymore. We are.”
For her that change was forming her own publishing house to do the books that she as a bookseller can get behind, Staff Picks Press. It launched this fall with books by two of Novotny’s customers—Peter Golden, author of the novel, Come Back Love, and Judith Barnes and Erik James, authors of the fable Change. Both are currently being considered to republished by mainstream houses. The concept behind the press is that booksellers know better than publishers what they can sell.
Novotny is looking for booksellers from 10 bookstores across the country to help her vet the first 50 manuscript pages of submitted books. John Hugo of HugoBooks with three stores in Massachusetts, was particularly excited about Staff Picks Press. He said that he gets five self-published books a day and especially liked the idea that if he submits them to Staff Picks and one of the books is accepted, he would become a co-agent and share in profits. Novotny is also getting submissions from agents.
Kaplan, too, is leveraging his bookseller relationships to create publishing opportunities, primarily regional ones. For example, he matched the manuscript of a book about the Adam Walsh murder case with a writer he knows and co-agented the project, Bringing Adam Home (Ecco) by Les Standiford and Joe Matthews,an IndieNext pick for March with a 100,000-copy first printing. He also used his relationship with former Assouline Publishing head Ausbert de Arce to work with an events-planner who approached him about whether he would carry a self-published book on Miami’s South Beach. The three formed a publishing group to create South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance, which has sold 5,000 copies at $45.95.
In another publishing venture, Kaplan approached writer John Dufresne at Florida International University to edit an anthology of nonsentimental holiday stories due out next fall, Blue Christmas. Kaplan plans to sell it directly to other booksellers on consignment. Although Kaplan is the publisher on these ventures, he said that he’s open to collaborating with other independents on future projects.
Book packager Bob Spears, owner of the Book Barn in Leavenworth, Kans., has also begun publishing books for tourists, but ones with lower price points, under $15. This summer he published nine public domain books about Kansas homesteaders in the 1800s. “Because of that,” he said, “the summer, which is usually the slowest selling season is now constant.”
For Kaplan, publishing is a way to make his bookselling knowledge pay. “I want to get out from feeling threatened by credit departments,” he said. A sentiment most booksellers can relate to.