Books Climb out of Niche
Barbara R ther -- 12/4/00
Falcon Publishing's outdoor adventure books expand into general bookstores with interesting results

John Long has
written 23 books.
Rock climbing, like other adventure sports that were once the territory of a committed minority, have spread in popularity throughout the country. Likewise, books on the subject which were once tucked away in climbing stores are now commonly found on the shelves of national general bookstores. The surge in outdoor guidebook sales from strictly outdoor retail venues to general bookstores is having some interesting effects on booksellers, publishers and distributors.
This month Falcon Publishing in Montana will release Long on Adventure: The Best of John Long, an anthology of high-thrills writing from one of the world's most famous climbers and outdoor adventurers, John "Largo" Long. Long's name has been at the pinnacle of the climbing world since 1975, when his team became the first to climb Yosemite's El Capitan in one day. His work spans 23 books and hundreds of magazine articles. His award-winning stories and instructional books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and published in periodicals like Reader's Digest and Granta. His classic How to Rock Climb, now in its third edition, has sold more than 250,000 copies. A new Falcon series edited by Long, On Adventure, with volumes on subjects such as surfing, solo climbing and whitewater,has sold over 50,000 copies in less than a year. Though highly revered and sought after by thousands of outdoor fans, most of Long's work has been largely unknown to general readers, until now. First introduced to the book world at BEA 2000, John Long and his new collection have climbed over the niche market of outdoor retail and into bookstores nationwide.

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Since the publication of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (Anchor, 1997), the appetite for travel adventure has waned somewhat but never gone away. The steady growth of the adventure travel industry has made books like Long's relevant to a new and changing audience, while the advent of indoor climbing gyms and sports facilities has brought climbing books to urban areas as well.

In a strange reversal of trends, instead of fueling book sales in outdoor retail venues, the increasing popularity of adventure sports has made it more difficult for these stores to compete in the bookselling arena. According to Gary Neptune, owner of Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colo., one of the outdoor meccas of the Rockies, book sales have always been a critical part of his store's sales, but increasingly customers can find the same titles at Borders. "It used to be so specialized, there were three or four reps we dealt with who did outdoor books," Neptune told PW. "If a New York house released a book about climbing or mountaineering, we often didn't even hear about it, since we weren't on the book sales circuit. Likewise, if you wanted a book about climbing in the Rockies, you had to come here. Now you can get these books everywhere. Still, we've had events with famous climbers where we sold 200 books or more."
Long's classic (above) and latest
(right) have sold a collective
300,000 copies.
According to Carole Hickman, community relations coordinator at Borders in Tigard, Ore. (a suburb of Portland), the outdoor sports and guidebook section of the store is a vital and growing area. "We have a selection of outdoor-related books that can serve the highly experienced technical climber as well as the family looking for a day hike in the mountains," said Hickman. "The first-timers are more likely to come to us than the hardcore adventurers, simply because adventurers don't think of us as a source for books that speak to their level of expertise, but we do have them."
Hickman said that some of Borders's most popular titles in the category are books that combine elements of travel and outdoor activities, such as a guide to cycling in a given area or a travel guide to waterfalls. The store's Travel Narratives section, which includes Long on Adventure, is also growing in popularity. She noted that holiday sales in both the guidebook and outdoor categories are often quite high as housebound adventurers plan the season to come.

Bob Koch, president of Alpen Books in Seattle, one of the largest book wholesalers to the outdoor retail market, said his company has seen a flattening in sales in the last few years.

According to Koch, this may be due more to increasingly aggressive discounts and to competition from similar guidebook lines, than to sales from chains. "There are simply more outdoor retail stores and more books trying to find a place in them," Koch told PW. "Though there is now definitely a perception that the chain stores are carrying mountain sports and guidebooks, I have yet to walk into one of those stores and find a selection that would really answer the needs of a true enthusiast."

Though opinions differ among the handful of booksellers PW spoke with, several trends seem clear. Most how-to books are not tied to any locale or season and remain steady sellers in both venues. "Where-to" books, such as guidebooks to local natural areas, do well in their own areas but do not travel well. Paddle sports are growing in popularity, while guides to the new sport of trail running may be the next bestsellers.

John Long and his publisher Falcon (which was purchased by Globe-Pequot in September) find themselves at the heart of the shifting market for guidebooks and outdoor books. Traditionally, Falcon has sold one-third of its titles through outdoor retailers, another third at bookstores, and the remaining third in the gift market and venues like National Park visitor centers. According to Falcon marketing director Max Phelps, that profile is likely to change. "We have traditionally published books that focused on areas or activities that were very far from a bookstore," Phelps told PW. "That's why Falcon designed a sales force that traveled through regions with all their books in a yellow van, stopping at every ski store and bookstore on our route, hand-delivering the latest titles. Globe-Pequot will continue to support these existing routes while adding our books to their bookstore distribution network in other parts of the country."

Pajama Party at Kepler's
Sandra Boynton captivates
her pajama-clad audience.
When Kathleen Little, the children's book buyer at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, Calif., drove to work one recent Saturday morning in her bathrobe and slippers, people did look at her strangely. She had not forgotten anything; she had actually won something--a contest through Workman Books to host a pajama party visit with children's author Sandra Boynton, who seldom tours. "Boynton is one of our bestselling children's authors," Little told PW. "Her board books Pajama Time, Going to Bed, and Moo, Baaa, LA LA LA, are store staples for the two-to-five age group. We re-order every month, so I knew this was right for us."
Though also dressed in their pajamas, the nearly 100 children and parents who spent the Saturday morning of November 18 at Kepler's bookstore were anything but sleepy. The crowd of little ears were tuned to Boynton, who read from Hey! Wake Up! and Pajama Time!, her latest board books from Workman. Milk and chocolate-chip cookies were served to the under-five crowd, while Boynton, accompanied by her daughter, signed new and old (sometimes partially chewed) copies of her books. The bookstore gave awards for the best pajamas in various categories (including footed, fuzzy, funny and others). The special party, among the first Kepler's events for this age group, was a great success. The store sold nearly 200 books.
Small Is Beautiful
Since 1997, Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, Calif., the only nonprofit wholesaler dedicated exclusively to distributing books from small and medium-size presses, has teamed up with P ts & Writers on "Get Lit," a nation-wide event to promote small literary presses in independent bookstores. Last month 75 indies took part in the third annual "Get Lit" and another 45 California bookstores participated in a similar program, the first "Underground California," designed specifically for them.
SPD supplied booksellers with posters and shelf talkers for 20 designated "Get Lit" or "Underground California" titles. This year it also placed ads in the New Yorker and the Village Voice, under the headline, "Get Your Next Book from an Independent Press." By participating in "Get Lit," stores such as the Rainbow Bookstore Coop in Madison, Wisc., and Revolution Books in Honolulu, Hawaii, helped support their publishing equivalents, independent presses.
"We've been pleased with the level of participation. The program is expanding exponentially," said Brent Cunningham, SPD sales and Web manager. "We started with 30 stores the first year and had 60 stores last year. There are two ideas driving "Get Lit." One is to help independent presses; the other is getting independent bookstores together on a project."
Booksellers that would like to be part of next year's "Get Lit" should check the SPD Web site ( as early as next March.
--Judith Rosen

Children's events have begun to move to the foreground at Kepler's as the children's and teen departments continue to expand. Little, who is one of two children's book buyers at the store, has focused on outreach to area schools. Kepler's has found author events to be increasingly popular among younger readers. A recent Halloween party with R.L. Stein attracted over 150 children and parents, while a visit from Tomie De Paola attracted another 200.

Workman is offering interested stores a Pajama Party Kit which includes a sign-up sheet, pajama awards, setup ideas and Boynton's chocolate-chip cookie recipe. A visit from Boynton is not part of the usual package.

Boynton created many of her characters in greeting cards she sold to friends and bookstores to help pay her tuition at Yale. When she graduated in 1974, she turned pro with a big card company. By 1980, she was selling 80 million cards a year. Boynton, who writes and illustrates her book from a barn in Connecticut, has been creating her frizzy-haired cats and fat hippos since her first children's book, Hippos Go Berserk, came out in 1977.
--Barbara R ther

NBN Relaunches
It's all part of the e-NBN plan," said Larry Fox, director of e-commerce for National Book Network in Lanham, Md. "We started working on the Web site in June and did a quiet launch the first week in November. We try to have everything a bookseller or rep would need online."
What the revamped site d s for the first time is cater to NBN customers' customers, or "the reader" as the header indicates, rather than publishers. Booksellers and consumers can now search NBN's database by author, title and subject. "Our next part of the plan is to get 8,000 excerpts--an excerpt for every NBN book--online," said Fox, who worked on the new site with e-commerce associate Eileen Judd. Fox also plans to make these excerpts available to online booksellers and to related specialty sites. "We don't have a shopping cart," noted Fox, adding that NBN d s not want to compete with retailers. Instead, NBN provides links to all the major online booksellers, including, as well as to the ABA store directory.
Other site changes include password-protected areas for reps to check warehouse stock and for NBN publishers to get the latest information on their books' sales. Ultimately Fox would like reps to be able to visit an account, go to the Web site, sort by subject and print out a specialty catalogue for the customer during the sales call.
--Judith Rosen