By Scott Foley
Those of us at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Spring Show in March in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, were treated to the stirring spectacle of another ABA employee waxing poetic about the beauty of their Book Sense program. This time, Carl Lennertz! brought his show to the Northwest, hoping to kick our collective Book Sense involvement into a higher gear. Much of Carl!'s enthusiastic message focused on the benefits of revealing our individual store bestseller numbers to Book Sense in great enough numbers to occasion a PNW Independent Bestseller list (brought to you by Book Sense) of our very own.
Like most indie bookstores our size, Grass Roots Books & Music tends to pick and choose elements of the Book Sense program that will benefit our store. Rather than accept or deny the program as a whole, we take the "buffet" approach to Book Sense, browsing, trying a bit of this offering, passing on the next, knowing what will satisfy us and what might not agree with our constitution. Out of obligation, we began reporting our bestsellers to Book Sense as soon as the online service was available. For a few weeks, I ran reports, crunched numbers, and spent some quality time with the primitive online reporting mechanism -- usually around 30 to 45 minutes once a week. This soon dropped off to once in a while, then faded even more, eventually existing as a vague cloud of guilt surfacing at the outset of every week. Then, as the content of the Book Sense Bestseller List inched increasingly towards the mediocrity of the New York Times's, even that guilt passed. In the great buffet of Book Sense, the Bestseller List simply became another offering that didn't agree with us.
In Couer d'Alene, Carl! played the part of the itinerant Bible thumper, waving his ubiquitous laptop aloft, testifying to the converted and witnessing to sway the hearts of those not yet committed. And I took the altar call. Reporting, it turns out, has gotten much simpler and less time consuming than in Book Sense: The Early Days. Using most common inventory control systems, we can simply run a single report to disk of everything that sold during the week, then jump online and upload that information for Book Sense without sorting, searching, or crunching. More information on reporting may be obtained by contacting Bill Cunningham or Jeff Wexler at the ABA offices (800-637-0037, ext. 1211 or 1250, respectively), or by visiting http://bestsellers.bookweb.org.
Even books with one single sale during the week will be accounted for in the new reporting procedure. As before, sales from smaller stores account for just as much as sales as from larger operations. Favorite regional or specialty titles are given as much weight as the newest mega-seller. At Grass Roots, our bestsellers are a curious blend of nationally recognized titles, local-interest books, and favorite handsells. When lists from individual stores from across the country are tallied for the national list, regional-specific titles may be lost in the crush of Big Titles common to all independent stores. A regional list will be much more relevant to you and your customers.
Not converted? Carl! didn't stop there. Aside from ease of use, a Northwest bestseller list will further capture the attention of the often distracted publishers, for both our region and for your particular store. Like New York Times reporting stores, Book Sense reporting stores are now given more weight in determining author appearances, marketing strategies, and other specialized publisher attention. A more inclusive list will also paint a more accurate picture for the industry of how we read in the Northwest, further focusing their promotional efforts to our benefit (to quote Carl!, "cha-ching!"). In addition, regional media are more responsive to printing a regional list than a national one, or a list from one particular store.
We are currently just a few stores away from being able to receive our very own Northwest Bestseller list. With a quick call to the ABA offices, I will get us one step closer to what I see as a very desirable goal. I encourage you to do the same.
Scott Foley is the buyer for Grass Roots Books & Music in Corvallis, Oregon. He is also vice president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. E-mail Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.