The advent of plastic gift cards has turned the two weeks after Christmas into one of bookselling's strongest seasons. "That's an increasingly busy period," said Willard Williams, owner of three Toadstool Bookshops in Keene, Milford, and Peterborough, N.H. "Kids are home from school; colleges are on extended Christmas breaks. It always seems like a lot of activity." And this year there could be more, especially as booksellers work to incorporate the sale of e-books in what is expected to be a record e-book sales period. Booksellers could also benefit from nearly $91 billion spent on gift cards this year, according to TowerGroup. Drawing on a study conducted by BIGresearch, the National Retail Federation estimates that more than 77% of shoppers will buy at least one gift card, with close to a quarter, or 23.7%, making it a bookstore card.
Some booksellers are actively working to boost gift card sales as well as sales during the week after Christmas. "I told my staff, if there's one thing I want, it's to sell gift cards," said Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz. She saw the power of gift cards two years ago when the store ran out of The Audacity of Hope on December 23. She loaded gift cards with the cost of the book plus tax, redeemable on December 26, the day the book came back in stock.
This year Bookshop Santa Cruz has pyramids of gift cards in decorative tins throughout the store, ready to put under the tree. In addition, to refocus attention on the week after Christmas, Protti is adding more staff and moving managers' vacations to later in January. She has also shelved her own travel plans and will be in the store immediately after Christmas to promote the store's Google-supplied e-books. She plans to use Bookshop Santa Cruz's postcard mailing to 9,000 customers to promote the New Year's Day sale to sell e-books. The store is also wrapping print books with American Booksellers Association–supplied belly bands about the new format.
Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, Ga., has celebrated the original 12 days of Christmas since it opened in 2003. "I get perturbed when people say Christmas is over," said general manager Doug Robinson, who marks the post-December 25 period with a sale. The store increases the discount by one or two percentage points each day, starting with 20% on December 26 up to 35% to 40%. "Instead of returning it, we're selling it," said Robinson.
An annual New Year's Day sale is one of several ways that Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz., brings in customers at the start of the new year. "We open at noon and close at 9 p.m.," says general manager and co-owner Cindy Dach. Customers bring cardboard boxes and wait in line at the registers for an hour to purchase any item in the inventory at 25% off. Changing Hands also seeds sales by running a 10% off discount on gift card purchases on Black Friday and by having booksellers at the register ask customers throughout the holiday season if they need a gift card.
At That Bookstore in Blytheville, Ark., owner Mary Gay Shipley doesn't do a lot of discounting after Christmas. "If people don't want a book, they don't want it for a dollar," she said. Roberta Rubin, owner of the Book Stall in Winnetka, Ill., agreed. "We'll return as much as we can to pay our bills." However, this year she's experimenting with strategically placed coupons, like one in the local Winnetka Courant newspaper on January 1. The store is also doing a 15% off promotion on the back of sales slips at a nearby Grand Food Center during its grand re-opening.
"We don't buy into the chain store approach at all: every book is great before Christmas and every book must be discounted 40% after Christmas," said bookseller and corporate counsel Geoffrey Jennings, Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kans. "The shelf life of a book is infinite." For him, what distinguishes the three-week time period from Christmas to mid-January is demographics. While the number of people in the store are about the same, after Christmas, "We see our regulars and their friends and family who have gotten gift cards." This year Jennings sees e-books and e-readers as wild cards, speculating that Rainy Day staff will be answering customer questions about how to download e-books.
Publishers also use the days immediately after Christmas to launch branded authors and series like Sapphique, the sequel to Incarceron, and Bloody Valentine, a Blue Bloods novel, in YA. "It has to be a big name," said Libby McGuire, senior v-p and publisher of Ballantine Bantam Dell, which is releasing Dean Koontz's What the Night Knows in a 400,000-copy first printing on December 28. "I think it's a good strategy for books and for e-readers." For Carisa Hays, v-p, director of publicity, at Free Press/Simon & Schuster, the post-holiday season can be a good time to curl up with new fiction, like Matt Haig's The Radleys. "We thought readers would be looking for some new fiction aside from what was published this fall," she said. Even Grand Central, which rarely publishes hardcovers in December, is testing the post-Christmas waters with Sarah Ban Breathnach's Peace and Plenty. "We're tying it into a lot of New Year/New You promotions," says v-p, executive director of publicity Jennifer Romanello. "People who received gift cards will want inspirational books for the new year. It's actually perfect timing for this kind of book. It's a little head start."