Among bookstores surveyed by PW following the start of the holiday shopping season that began over the Thanksgiving weekend, it is clear that the most in-demand title and the one likely to most drive customers into stores is Michelle Obama’s Becoming. At Little City Books in Hoboken, N.J., co-owner Kate Jacobs reported having sold 80 copies of the book, with 40 more on order. Jacobs said it’s too soon to tell where the holiday season will lead, but after the weekend, she said, “I have a general feeling that people are a bit tired of gloom and doom. Nobody is buying any books about how terrible things are in Washington or the dire books.”
The ABA reported that sales at independent bookstores nationwide were up 1.3% in 2018 over 2017 for the week including Small Business Saturday. For IndieCommerce stores, Small Business Saturday generated a more than 50% increase in online sales compared to last year; Black Friday sales were up 28% percent, and Cyber Monday sales were up 12%.
Obama’s new book was also among the strongest sellers at Gibson’s Books in Concord, N.H., where keeping stock has been a focus for owner Michael Herrmann. “We’re trying to keep up with Michelle Obama, and now we know how Barack feels!,” he quipped. Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Tex., has been selling 10 copies of Becoming a day. “Unfortunately, we ran out of copies on Black Friday,” said store manager Ben Rybeck.
Indeed, the biggest challenge for booksellers this holiday season may very well be keeping key titles in stock. David Enyeart, manager of Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn., said that he was told by several publishers, “You need to stock up.” Becoming sold more than 100 copies already at Common Good, including large-print format and audio. “Probably the single most must-have book this year,” said Enyeart, who also noted that people seem more politically engaged this year, and that influences the books they are buying.
One bookstore buyer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that their store too ran out of Becoming on Black Friday and resorted to restocking from Costco. “I wonder if I shouldn’t do it more often: it turns out I only save a point or two on the discount, since Costco is selling them at 45% off and I get 46% from the publisher direct.”
At the Boulder Bookstore, Arsen Kashkashian, the lead buyer and general manager for the store, noted, “We’ve had some hiccups getting things [in stock], but so far we’ve gotten everything customers are really demanding.” He said, that in addition to Becoming, a book which “is bringing in customers who normally wouldn’t come into the store,” several fiction titles were in demand, including The Less by Andrew Sean Greer and Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. Ticket sales for a January event for Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass Every Day are also very popular and have exceeded those for her last event at the store.
As for Black Friday, numerous booksellers have decided to co-opt the day and re-brand it. At The Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., it is referred to as Plaid Friday, and anyone wearing plaid gets a discount. “Shoppers seem optimistic and happy,” co-owner Phillip Black said. At Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vt., it has been dubbed Flannel Friday and Flannel Fairies give out discounts to local shops. “We had a record breaking Flannel Friday,” reported owner Claire Benedict.
The Brenham Book Nook in Brenham, Tex., which has been open for 10 years, had an outstanding first holiday shopping weekend. “Black Friday sales were up 95%, and our Saturday sales were up 78%” over the comparable days a year ago, said owner Stefani Snead Kelley. “They ended up being two out of the best three days we’ve ever had in 10 years.”
Little City Books in Hoboken opened a popup location at a bakery across town to extend their reach, and the main location saw a 10% increase in business over last year’s post-Thanksgiving weekend, with approximately one-third of sales going online and two-thirds in store.
Sales at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Ct., were up 1.5% over last year. Owner Fran Keilty said that’s a good sign because last year’s sales were very strong compared to the previous year. “We have a lot of second home New Yorkers, and it all depends on who’s here and what’s happening,” said Keilty. She joined numerous booksellers in citing Jeff Kinney’s The Meltdown: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #13 and J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald as the two top-selling children’s books.
“I think it’s going to be a good season,” said Keilty. “There are a lot of good books out there.”