A confident mood prevailed among independent booksellers over this November holiday sales weekend. Stores organized author events and other special promotions to entice foot traffic, and visitors not only stocked up on books and sidelines but donated to holiday giving trees for others. Some have rebranded Black Friday as shop-local Plaid Friday, Small Business Saturday as Indies First, and Cyber Monday as Cider Monday. Sunday has yet to be spoken for. Sales data from Circana BookScan showed that, in a year in which overall unit sales of print books are down 3.3%, sales were up 1.4% for the Thanksgiving week ended November 25 over the comparable week in 2022.
Booksellers contacted for this roundup said readers’ must-have fiction includes James McBride’s The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, Ed Park’s Same Bed Different Dreams, Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake, Zadie Smith’s The Fraud, Tanarive Due’s The Reformatory, and Jesmyn Ward’s Let Us Descend. Rebecca Yarros’s Fourth Wing and Iron Flame were essentials, several noted.
Tom Nissley of Phinney Books (Seattle) sees a “strong season for fiction,” he said. “One author we’ve really stocked up on is Claire Keegan. All three of her beautiful little books from Grove—Small Things Like These, Foster, and So Late in the Day—are a favorite recommendation for almost any reader, and small enough to fit in a large stocking.”
Stores’ nonfiction standouts include David Grann’s tale of mutiny The Wager, Rachel Maddow’s Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism, Margaret Renkl’s The Comfort of Crows, and Barbra Streisand’s showstopper/doorstopper My Name Is Barbra.
Mitchell Kaplan of Books & Books (Miami) said, “While we don’t have all our results in yet, I think it’s safe to say we’re up about 15%–20%” this November. Books & Books did well with Kerry Washington’s memoir Thicker Than Water, Abraham Verghese’s family saga The Covenant of Water, and Henry Winkler’s memoir Being Henry.
Tombolo Books (St. Petersburg, Fla.) founder Alsace Walentine was “surprised by how steadily Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act: A Way of Being, which pubbed in January, is still selling. Still 5–10 copies per week!” In a nod to Floridian tastes, Walentine added, Tombolo’s bestselling book over the weekend was Gator Country by Rebecca Renner, an inquiry into alligator poaching in the Everglades.
Ben Rybeck, general manager at House of Books (Kent, Ct.), noticed a diversity of titles rather than one breakout sensation. “It doesn’t seem like a monoculture right now, and the conventional things that used to move the needle of sales—awards, New York Times, NPR, whatever—just don’t anymore,” said Rybeck, who thinks handselling guides many choices. House of Books sales have been “consistently” up this year, “generally between 7% and 10%.”
Indie e-tail and audio options
Bookshop.org had a strong holiday weekend, partially driven by promotional free shipping from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, said founder Andy Hunter. Hunter noted that “sales are higher than 2022,” adding that Bookshop moved lots of copies of Sohla El-Waylly’s Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook, history professor and blogger Heather Cox Richardson’s Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America, and Paul Lynch’s Booker prize-winning novel Prophet Song.
Libro.fm, where the weekend’s top-selling audiobook was R.F. Kuang’s Yellowface, had an excellent month overall. “The number of on-sale audiobooks sold in the month of November doubled compared to November 2022,” said marketing director Albee Romero. Over the holiday weekend, Libro.fm pulled in customers by offering many audiobooks at $5 or less, and they plan an annual sale December 5–7 to keep up the momentum.
“While more than 70% of Libro.fm customers prefer monthly memberships, on-sale audiobooks are a great way for independent bookstores to introduce their customers to audiobooks without the commitment of the membership,” Romero said. Libro.fm also touted audiobook credit bundles, which can be gifted anywhere around the world and scheduled in advance.
A celebratory atmosphere
Island Books (Mercer Island, Wash.) and BookPeople of Moscow (Idaho) kept their 50th anniversary parties rolling over the long weekend. “We sold a ton of picture books, holiday and regular, in kids’,” said Island Books owner Laurie Raisys.
Sidelines went fast, too. Carol Price at BookPeople called it “a record-setting weekend,” with combined Friday and Saturday sales “the highest ever by over 25%.” BookPeople sold “a great mix of titles from the PNBA holiday catalog,” Price said. “We did overhear several customers who were excited about our ‘sapphic romance’ section, which amused us. Technically we don’t have an entire section of sapphic romance, but we’ve worked hard to incorporate them into our ‘beach reads’ shelves.”
At Broadway Books (Portland, Ore.), where Kim Bissell is becoming sole owner as longtime co-owner Sally McPherson steps down, the holiday weekend preceded a “Sayonara, Sally!” send-off. McPherson, who will continue to buy frontlist books on the adult side for a while, called this year’s sales “fairly comparable to past year’s,” with lengthy lists of hot titles. Broadway’s bestsellers in nonfiction included How to Say Babylon by Safia Sinclair, Ed Yong’s An Immense World, World Within a Song by Wilco musician Jeff Tweedy, and There Was an Old Woman by Oregon author Andrea Carlisle, who writes about aging and gender. Fiction stars included Let Us Descend, Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting, and paperback editions of Hernan Diaz’s Trust and Jen Beagin’s Big Swiss.
At children’s bookstore Green Bean Books (Portland, Ore.), owner Jennifer Green called the picture book How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? by Mac Burnett and Jon Klassen “the runaway hit of the season.” Green Bean hosted a Small Business Saturday/Indies First event with Caldecott winner Doug Salati, which included “an interactive drawing component for kids,” Green said. The shop also partnered with the Oregon Children’s Theatre to raffle off a four-ticket theater packet, another family attraction.
Booksellers in the nation’s interior had varied assessments of the holiday weekend. Lynn Mooney, co-owner of Women and Children First in Chicago, reported that more than 20 people were waiting in line when the store opened on Small Business Saturday, and the store was jammed all day, while another bookseller, who asked not to be identified, said that Black Friday through Cider Monday sales “have been declining since a peak in 2021. It’s not a huge decline, but it’s clearly a trend here.”
Janet Webster Jones of Source Booksellers in Detroit put a positive spin on the weekend, reporting that sales were “acceptable” and that booksellers “served our walk-in customers easily and well without too much of a rush. I liked the pace of both days because we were not over hyped.”
Women & Children First’s top three adult bestsellers were Let Us Descend, Big Swiss by Jen Beagin, and Let This Radicalize You by Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba, but a 2022 release also flew off shelves: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Mooney said a bookseller “overheard some conversations and believes a lot of Tomorrow’s sales came from people who received it as a gift last year and are buying it to give as a gift this year.”
In the children’s department, WCF bestsellers were the new Andrea Beaty book Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year, the graphic novel Aquanaut by Dan Santat, and Brave Little Bear by Steve Small.
Sales during this holiday weekend were up 10% this year at Gramercy Books in Bexley, Ohio, with the top seller being Faking Christmas by Kerry Winfrey. “We expect to see continued strong traffic through the rest of this holiday season,” said owner Linda Kass.
Several booksellers mentioned stormy weather, but that didn’t seem to dampen shoppers’ spirits too much. “Friday and Saturday were so fun, and sales weren’t too affected by the snow dump,” reported Sarah Bagby, the owner of Watermark Books in Wichita, Kans. “We felt like we were inside a snow globe on Saturday.” Bestselling titles included The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson, The Woman I Know by Mary Haverstick, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh by Mo Willems, and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Watermark Books also launched an initiative to benefit its Authors in Schools fund: selling signed copies of books for $5 and giving all proceeds to the fund. “Our signed book initiative went very well,” Bagby said. “Customers were delighted since the selection included signed books by Angelica Huston, Stephen King, Colson Whitehead, Jill Conor Conway, and Joy Harjo. We raised substantial funds for our Authors in Schools program.”
Miranda Berdahl, owner of Wind City Books in Casper, Wyo., also reported a strong weekend of sales, despite winter weather rolling through the area. “The storm and the cold did affect our sales,” Berdahl said, “but we still did well and were busy both days. I was extremely grateful that customers still made the effort to come out to support us.” Hot books included Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, Shield Maiden by Sharon Emmerichs, and Longmire Defense by Craig Johnson; children’s bestsellers were the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland and the Mother Bruce series by Ryan T. Higgins. “I’m expecting that as long as we have decent weather,” Berdahl said, “the rest of the season should continue to be pretty busy.”
As for Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, manager David Enyeart noted, “This year looks a lot like the past several years. While I don’t see huge improvements on printer capacity, most publishers seem to have adjusted for most titles, and shortages aren’t as widespread as a few years ago. Also, I’ve learned to buy more aggressively earlier in the season, so our inventory is pretty robust already. Of course, we’ll be chasing a few hot titles, but we already have a lot of what we’re going to sell this year.”
Overall, he added, sales are up for the year, “and I’m expecting a solid holiday season. We’ve been seeing good foot traffic since the middle of the month, and online sales are increasing at about the same rate as in years past.”