While sales of hardcover titles are declining for most publishers and retailers, Forever Books in St. Joseph, Mich., a tourist town on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, reports that its hardcover sales are booming. Robin Allen, who has owned the store for 13 years, attributes the trend to the store’s staff. Not only do they present new and upcoming releases at a book club symposium held at the store three times each year, they also write effective shelf-talker reviews of new hardcover releases.

Forever Books has been hosting book club symposia for about 11 years; for the past five years, the store has hosted three of these events: one in May, focusing on mysteries; the second in September, focusing on fall releases; and the third in January, focusing on winter releases. Books included in the program have just been released or will be released within three weeks of the event. Fifty titles are presented by Allen and her four employees, with each providing two-minute reviews of 10 titles. When an author participates, staff presentations are limited to 40 titles so that the author can have more time to present his or her work. Allen says that attendance varies from 80 to 100 customers, which is about as many people as can squeeze into the 1,700-square-foot retail space. Sales of featured books are typically five times higher than sales on a regular weekday evening. On the last Monday in September, more than 90 persons crammed into the store to hear Bonnie Jo Campbell speak about Once Upon a River (Norton) during the book club symposium. Sales were double the sales on a typical Saturday, the busiest day of the week at Forever Books.

“It really makes a difference,” Allen explains, noting that 20–25 persons typically attend author events scheduled at other times. “We hit a nerve. It’s been growing and growing,” Allen adds, saying that everything in the store is discounted 20% during the symposium; the next day, those new releases that were presented the night before are discounted. These are the only occasions books are discounted at Forever Books. Symposium attendees also receive free galley copies of backlist titles that are at least two years old.

Allen’s policy of paying her employees to read and review new hardcover releases also provides a boost to the store’s sales. Employees receive $20 store gift certificates to read and review select adult titles, and $15 gift certificates to read and review select children’s books. The reviews are only three or four sentences long and are used as shelf-talkers as well as posted on the store’s Web site. When the book is released in paper, the review is posted with that edition.

Allen insists that her staff’s reviews move books and move them quickly. Using Rules of Civility (Viking) as a recent example, Allen said six copies the store had ordered weren’t moving at all until Allen herself wrote a review. The books sold “right away,” and the store had to reorder.

Paradoxically, while sales of hardcover books are strong at Forever Books, Allen reports that, overall, sales are down “a bit” this year—but last year was record-breaking, with sales up 6.5% over 2009; sales are currently tracking close to 2009, Allen says.

Forever Books' Current Hardcover Bestsellers

1. Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
2. Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly
3. Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
4. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand
5. Great Leader by Jim Harrison
6. I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck
7. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
8. Book of Man by William Bennett
9. Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
10. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
11. That Used to Be Us by Thomas Friedman
12. Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
13. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain