If bricks-and-mortar booksellers have a single wish for Santa, it’s that sales match or exceed those of last year, which ended on a high note. Sales in 2012 were up almost 8% at independent bookstores according to the American Booksellers Association, based on unit sales for 500 stores that reported to the Indie Bestseller List. Despite the fact that this year has fewer shopping days, 27 between Thanksgiving and Christmas—the fewest since 2002—indies could get an additional boost this weekend, which has traditionally marked the start of the holiday shopping season.
On Saturday, November 30, independent bookstores will celebrate Indies First, the brainchild of writer Sherman Alexie, who encouraged authors to work as booksellers that day. “Hello, hello, you gorgeous book nerds,” he wrote. “Now is the time to be a superhero for independent bookstores.” More than a thousand book nerds have heeded the call and will sling books at more than 400 stores across the country. (See map.) Saturday also marks the fourth annual Shop Small celebration, or Small Business Saturday, launched by American Express in 2010. Card members who register their cards and shop local that day get $10 back. And the ABA and its publisher partners are upping the ante again this year by bringing back 2012’s Thanks for Shopping Indie promotion, which will run from November 30 through December 7 or later. Participating booksellers receive an extra discount on a selection of titles, which they can pass on to their customers or use to defray expenses.
Neither ABA program fully takes into account this year’s early start to Hanukkah, which begins at sundown on Wednesday evening (November 27). While that might mean latkes on some Thanksgiving tables rather than traditional mashed potatoes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for booksellers. Hanukkah displays can come down as early as next week, which means more space for Christmas titles in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Many retail forecasts for the season include the entire months of November and December. That’s the case at the National Retail Federation, which has mixed predictions for 2013: holiday sales will rise 3.9% to $602.1 billion, but the average shopper will spend 2% less than last year, or $737.95.
“Though the foundation for solid holiday season growth exists, Americans are questioning the stability of our economy, our government, and their own finances,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “We expect consumers to set a modest budget for gifts and other holiday-related purchases as they wait and see what will become of the U.S. economy in the coming months.” On the other hand, Deloitte Development’s annual holiday survey was much more upbeat with a prediction that total holiday spending will increase 12% over 2012. While Deloitte’s survey predicts that the strongest gift category will be gift cards at 43%, followed by clothing at 42%, books will still be in the top 10. They hold the number three spot at 30%.
Books already got a strong start at Barnes & Noble, one of several retailers to extend the selling season by launching Black Friday promotions early. Retail CEO Mitch Klipper called “Discovery Friday,” celebrated on November 22, a great success; it brought people in stores. Books-A-Million is planning to jumpstart the holiday by opening about 80 of its stores from noon to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving day. Half Price Books is pulling out the stops with a 7 a.m. start to Black Friday. But most indies are waiting for Shop Small Saturday, with a few kicking off the season on Plaid Friday (November 29), part of a shop local movement that launched in Oakland, Calif., in 2009.
For Indies First some bookstores will have more than a dozen author/handsellers. R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn., lined up 15 writers, including Wally Lamb, who will also give a reading that evening. He’s not the only bestselling author participating: T.C. Boyle will be handselling Granada Books in Santa Barbara; James Patterson at the Classic Bookshop in Palm Beach, Fl.; and Erin Stead and Philip Stead at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor; to name just a few. As for Sherman Alexie, he’ll be at no fewer than five stores in Seattle.
Fortunately for the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vt., Indies First is elastic enough to stretch to Sunday (December 1), when it will celebrate its 25th anniversary with several authors, and cake. A few New England booksellers are also planning to promote the shop local message on what is better known as Cyber Monday (December 2). They’ve renamed it “Cider Monday,” and invite customers to come in and have a sip.