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Investing in Better Bookstore Business: Seven Ways to Buy "Pull"

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Getting your books into bookstores can be a Pyrrhic victory if they sit on the shelves and then get returned. In marketing terms, you have created “push,” but you also need “pull”–consumers walking into the stores and buying your books–thus generating bookstore reorders and long-term success.

To create pull, you can use public relations, direct mail, author promotions, and the Internet, but for certain books you can also use some specific bookstore tools.

Special Placement

Bookstore chains offer publishers the option of buying into marketing programs that include bookstore “real estate” and certain promotional categories, some of which are available regionally or seasonally. You can pay to get display space on endcaps (shelves at the end of aisles that are perpendicular to the main shelves and that feature special selections); you can pay to get shelf-talkers (customized labels that draw attention to certain books in a section); and you can even pay to get shelf space in a particular featured section of the store. While these programs are expensive, they can be successful not only for new books but also for backlist sales of a line or a title in a publisher’s niche, and the costs are somewhat offset by orders for copies to fill the purchased positions.

Point-of-Purchase Displays (Dumps)

While bookstores usually initiate special placement programs, publishers can manufacture and promote the use of point-of-purchase displays, unceremoniously known in the trade as dumps. Whether they’re floor stands or countertop display units, dumps are usually free to bookstores and other retailers with the purchase of a minimum number of copies. And while the purchase of your dump filled with books doesn’t guarantee the sale of those books–or even that the bookstore will use the display–it does give you an edge. Be aware, though, that once the initial stock is sold, booksellers almost never restock dumps with the books they were intended to hold, so don’t assume reorders when calculating the cost.

Bookstore Catalogs

Both the chains and many large independent bookstores create promotional catalogs–either seasonal or thematic–that can be effective tools for them and for participating publishers. Publishers bear the brunt of the costs by paying catalog or advertising fees. On the plus side, bookstores give books that are featured in their catalogs special placement in the store, and bookstore personnel tend to think of these books first when customers ask for recommendations.

Author Appearances

A central strategy for big books as well as those with more modest audiences, author appearances attract readers and win the attention of bookstore personnel. Hometown readings and signings are, of course, especially good for selling books, since they typically draw an enthusiastic audience of friends and acquaintances; even better, when programs are local, you have no travel expenses to pay. After an author program anywhere, though, bookstores frequented by writers often keep featuring the author’s book with special placement and recommending it to customers. Authors who have relationships with many bookstores can multiply this effect. Even on those bad days when they show up for an appearance and find an empty bookstore, authors can develop relationships with bookstore staffers and leave some signed copies for the bookstore to display.

Co-op Marketing

This is a common marketing practice, especially for larger companies. Publishers offer booksellers “co-op” advertising or marketing money for programs that promote both a particular title and the bookstore. Typically, the co-op allowance is a percentage of the book’s retail value with a cap on the amount that can be used for any single promotion. Thus, a bookstore that orders a case of 32 books with a cover price of $16.95 might be offered $61 (10 percent of the retail value) in co-op funds for promotional uses. While co-op dollars were originally used primarily for a retailer’s print or radio ads, they are now often applied to all the kinds of programs described above.

BookExpo America

A major event in the publishing year, BEA currently features publisher display booths, professional meetings, celebrity book signings, and a multitude of authors, agents, and media personnel. With an annual attendance of about 25,000 people involved in publishing and bookselling, the show has evolved since its early days as the American Booksellers Association convention. Independent booksellers still stroll the aisles and take advantage of show specials to place orders, but as their number has diminished, publishers have found other reasons to attend. It’s an opportunity to connect with professional colleagues, meet foreign publishers and sell rights, take a good look at the competition, gauge recent developments in packaging and design, generate interest in domestic subsidiary rights, and get acquainted with some of the many media people who attend, as well as a chance to make booksellers more apt to focus on your titles.

Because exhibiting at BEA can be expensive–booth rental, personnel time, exhibit costs, travel, and lodging–you should have a clear sense of what you want to accomplish before you decide to go, and you need to prepare thoroughly. If there are people you want to meet, start making your appointments well in advance [see “The Matrix Method for Working Large Trade Shows” in the November 2003 PMA Newsletter]. And remember, too, that a lot of business at BEA is done before and after the show. Sometimes your most important contacts are the ones you make standing in line for lunch, on the shuttle bus, or at parties.

Regional Trade Shows

Very different in feel and logistics from BEA, the trade shows sponsored by regional bookseller associations are still the province of independent booksellers, sales reps, and local businesses. Less expensive and far less glitzy than BEA, they offer publishers and their reps opportunities to renew contacts with booksellers and meet with the proprietors of small stores they would otherwise rarely see. These shows are, for the most part, grassroots affairs that are especially valuable for regional and specialty publishers. You can use them to cultivate personal contacts with bookstore owners and smooth the way for author appearances, co-op marketing programs, and that most elusive and valuable commodity, word of mouth.

David Cole has spent almost 30 years in book publishing. He provides business plans and brokerage services through his consulting firm Gemini Marketing & Communications (www.geminicole.com) and is principal of Bay Tree Publishing (www.baytreepublish.com). He can be reached by email at dcole@geminicole.com or by phone at 510/525-6902.

This article is adapted from The Complete Guide to Book Marketing by David Cole, available for $19.95 plus $5 shipping and handling (NY State residents must add sales tax). Order toll-free from 800/491-2808; by mail from Allworth Press, 10 East 23rd St., New York, NY 10010; or via www.allworth.com.

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