Among bookstores surveyed by PW after Thanksgiving weekend, the most in-demand title at the start of the holiday shopping season, 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, with 40 more on order. She said it’s too soon to tell where the holiday season will lead, but added, “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.”
Obama’s new book was also among the strongest sellers at Gibson’s Books in Concord, N.H., where keeping it in 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 per day. “Unfortunately, we ran out of copies on Black Friday,” said store manager Ben Rybeck.
One bookstore, according to a buyer who asked to remain anonymous, also 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.”
Indeed, the biggest challenge for booksellers this holiday season may very well be keeping key titles in stock. Shortages of some popular books did not come as a surprise to many. David Enyeart, manager of Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn., said that he was told by several publishers, “You need to stock up.”
Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, called paper and printing issues “a new wrinkle” in the holiday sales equation. “We’re paying attention to book inventories,” she added. “We’re trying to hedge our bets on quantities.”
Matt Baehr, executive director of the Book Manufacturers’ Institute, said the overall capacity of book manufacturing in the U.S. has changed, with some of the biggest players having closed or consolidated. “Add in the demise of Edwards Brothers Malloy, and, for the first time in over a decade, supply and demand are close to being in balance,” he explained, noting that evidence is mounting that “demand is significantly exceeding capacity” this holiday season. Ultimately, Baehr went on, this could “make it difficult to get books to market in a timely way.”
At Boulder Bookstore, Arsen Kashkashian, the store’s lead buyer and general manager, 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 that “is bringing in customers who normally wouldn’t come into the store,” several fiction titles were in demand, including Less by Andrew Sean Greer and Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. Tickets for a January event for Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass Every Day are also very popular, and sales have exceeded those for her last event at the store.
Though sales of some political books have cooled, humorous political titles have started to heat up, led by Whose Boat Is This Boat, by the staff of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which was cited by multiple booksellers as a hot book. In addition to Boat, Phillip Black, co-owner of the Bookworm in Omaha, said Goodnight Trump: A Parody by Erich Origen and Gan Golan and the escapist novel Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer have sold well.
As for Black Friday, numerous booksellers have decided to co-opt the day and rebrand it. At the Bookworm, it is referred to as Plaid Friday, and anyone wearing plaid gets a discount. “Shoppers seem optimistic and happy,” Black said.
At Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vt., the day after Thanksgiving 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.
And at Avid Bookstore in Athens, Ga., Black Friday has been renamed Book Friday. Unfortunately, over the weekend, the city hosted a college football game that drew away customers. “Sales were down about 25% on Book Friday and Small Business Saturday, compared to the same two days in 2017,” said owner Janet Geddis.
Another bookseller who had a disappointing weekend was Barbara Allen, owner of Jack and Allie’s in Vernon, Conn. Sales for the full weekend were down 41% from a year ago, which she attributed mainly to vacant stores in the plaza where her shop is located. A bright spot was a 28% rise in sales on Monday over last year.
The Brenham Book Nook in Brenham, Tex., 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 had in the 10 years we’ve been open.”
Hoboken’s Little City Books opened a pop-up location at a bakery across town to extend its reach, and the main location saw a 10% increase in business over last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, with approximately one-third of sales occurring online and two-thirds in store.
Len Vlahos, owner of Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstores, saw improved online sales following the first upgrade to its website in a number of years. According to him, online sales on Cyber Monday tripled over last year, and sales from Black Friday through Cyber Monday were up 9.5%, giving the retailer its best Thanksgiving in at least five years.
Sales at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Conn., 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. 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,” Keilty said. “There are a lot of good books out there.”