Tis the season.... Every bookseller knows the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve can make or break a store. According to the ABA's most recent ABACUS Survey, 24% of annual book sales occur in November and December. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence suggests that used, rare and antiquarian booksellers endure a slight dip in sales during this same period.
Robin Gutterman, head of the children's department at Read It Again Sam, a 2,000-sq.-ft. store in Charlottesville, Va., told PW, "Normally, in the used book trade, Christmas sales are a little bit down." Jonas Kyle, owner of the year-old Spoonbill and Sugartown store in Brooklyn, N.Y., confirmed that during December "business isn't bad, but there isn't an overwhelming surge of traffic either."
In the past two years, the used, collectible and rare market has opened to a variety of new customers through Internet services such as Advanced Book Exchange, Bibliofind and Alibris, which aggregate the inventory of thousands of booksellers into an online database. Now, with only a few keystrokes, a customer in Idaho can find a title from a part-time bookseller in Georgia.
Andrew Gutterman, owner of The Avocado Pit, a 625-sq.-ft. store on the other side of Charlottesville from where his wife, Robin, works, maintains a small inventory of 5,500 scholarly nonfiction titles. Since listing his books for sale through Amazon.com's used book Marketplace and zShops last April, he's had a 50% increase in business. Still, his business remains somewhat slow during the holiday season. "Christmas used books sales are never going to become that big, because some people just don't buy used books," he told PW.
Robin Gutterman says Sam's experienced a pre-Thanksgiving rush by out-of-towners, mostly from Maryland, an adjacent state. "But I've worked in many bookstores over the years, and it's the first time I've ever seen it," she told PW.
Most used and collectible dealers are dependent on browsers, enthusiasts and tourists-people with enough time to comb carefully through stacks of books, seeking out a specific title or patient enough to be struck by something special. Scott Proffitt, owner of The Main Bookshop in Sarasota, Fla., which specializes in publishers' overstock, said, "What we like best is a busy tourist season with lots of rain and cold."
"We usually have a strong December," John K. King, owner of the 80,000-sq.-ft. John K. King Books in Detroit, told PW. "Whatever is lost in sales on used trade is made up on rare books. Unfortunately, this year is a little down."
At Christmas people go from buying for themselves to giving to others, though, according to Robin Gutterman, "People who buy books as gifts still buy books for themselves at Christmas."
As in most sectors of the retail market, gift certificates sell well. King typically experiences a 50% leap in sales of certificates during December. Scott Proffitt said December accounts for 90% of gift certificate sales in his bookstore.