The American Booksellers Association’s Tuesday, September 1, bookseller Coffee Break was reprogrammed to focus on buying monthly versus seasonally. For this special session, booksellers heard from Noëlle Santos of The Lit. Bar in Bronx, New York; Cynthia Compton of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana; Matt Stowe of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York; Melanie Knight of Books Inc. in the San Francisco area; Penguin Random House VP and Field Sales Director Beth Koehler; and Penguin Adult Sales Manager Justin Goodfellow.
Booksellers can view a recording of this event on the Education Resources page on BookWeb.org and read a full recap below. Here are just the top 10 points:
- Indie bookstores are shifting to monthly buying because of the disruption in business resulting from COVID-19
- Buying monthly can let you bring in smaller numbers of each book
- Buying monthly can let you look at smaller pub date windows, rather than an entire season’s catalog
- In other industries, buyers aim to hold onto their money until the very last second, which is in line with monthly buying
- Booksellers can keep a list of the store’s top 150 items and reorder them monthly, so they’re always in stock (this can be done simply by keeping a running spreadsheet that staff can add to)
- Stores can get a better margin on orders and have more inventory control
- Buyers can get a better sense of buzz surrounding a book and plan buying around that
- Some publishers have buying and promotion cutoffs that stores could miss if buying monthly
- Buying monthly means stores may not be able to get as much feedback from sales reps because the typical meeting window will have passed
- Stores ordering less than three to four weeks out from an on-sale date might not get the title by pub day because of delays with reprinting and shipping
Here’s a more complete recap of the session:
4 Kids Books & Toys
- Compton shifted her store’s buying over the course of 2019 in order to take advantage of seasonal shifts that her store was witnessing. After January 2020, her store never climbed back on the seasonal buying horse, partly because all of the big toy buying shows happen in February. By the time Compton returned to her store to schedule buying appointments, the COVID-19 outbreak had begun.
- The store shifted to monthly buying at that point. The shift made sense because her store is selling a lot more backlist during quarantine.
- She also has to do less planning for things like book clubs. Her community tends to host book clubs outside, and they don’t choose their book until the day before their first meeting. Buying seasonally doesn’t work in this instance.
- While it’s extremely low-tech — she keeps spreadsheet that lists every single order placed with a publisher, and when they choose to restock, they simply add the items that need to be reordered — a monthly buying schedule has allowed her store to have the store’s top 150 items always in stock.
- Knight, the children’s frontlist buyer for all 10 of Books Inc.’s locations, normally buys seasonally, but switched to buying monthly because of COVID. Books Inc. closed its locations in early March, and Knight did not restart buying until May. Because of that, she essentially had to start the process over, bringing in small numbers of each book.
- Her experience has been chaotic, but she doesn’t think she’d mind buying monthly going forward. It allows her to look at a smaller number of titles each month, instead of a whole seasonal catalog. But, since she has to make up for lost time, she never feels as if she’s caught up completely.
The Lit. Bar
- Santos has bought monthly since she opened her store. She said that she’d never worked in a bookstore or retail before, so she hadn’t inherited any practices regarding buying. In previous industries that she’d worked for, the standard was choosing the option that allows buyers to hold onto their money until the very last second. So, for her bookstore, monthly buying made sense.
- To buy monthly, she uses her sales reps. Her store also uses BookManager as its POS system, and she manages her books through Edelweiss.
- She selects books for her store seasonally with her reps. Then, she uses Edelweiss to organize the titles in collections (broken out by season). Once she has all of her titles selected for the season, she imports them into BookManager, and separates them by order.
- She keeps her display quantities between 8 and 12 copies per title, and she chooses how many to buy based on the buzz each book is getting.
- Greenlight closed due to the pandemic in early March, and because there was a state mandate that prevented people from entering the store, Greenlight had to cancel its frontlist orders.
- At that point, the store focused on Ingram Direct-to-Home orders and online orders. They kept up the feeling of browsing through hand-selling videos, and Stowe began generating a weekly new release list. To do that, he used their POS system, Basil, and captured everything the store had on order and imported it into a spreadsheet. He would then copy that column and paste it into Ingram, where he could sort titles by pub date.
- The store didn’t begin doing full frontlist buying again until July. The store has bought monthly for August, September, and October, but Stowe isn’t sure what they’ll do in the future.
- The benefits of buying monthly from a publisher are that Greenlight gets a better margin on orders and more control. In addition, buying from publishers helps the store stay better stocked with the small press titles that sell well. By ordering closer to a book’s on-sale date, Stowe can also get a better sense of the buzz surrounding a book.
- Cons include: some books arrive a few days late, some publishers have cutoffs stores could miss, there’s less feedback from reps because stores are not able to meet with them, and stores miss some of the promotions and signed copies they’d normally be able to stock up on.
Penguin Random House
- Koehler noted that PRH is fine with stores buying monthly or seasonally.
- In the past, PRH has done everything they could to get books to stores by the on-sale date. The publisher will continue to do that, but many factors are impacting its ability to do so, the biggest of which is printer capacity. The marketplace is volatile; PRH has expectations when a book goes on sale, but then sales numbers can double or triple, while they’ve only printed so many copies and reprints are taking longer to get. Stores ordering less than three to four weeks out from an on-sale date might not get the title by pub day.
- Goodfellow added that reps are focused on catering to bookstores on a case-by-case basis. Since stores have shifted to buying monthly, he’s had to get used to the increased workflow. But, reps will always do what helps buyers the most.