Book Business – An Insider’s View with Linda Shirley, Border’s Books Store Manager

Book Store

Business of Selling Books

Wondering how the book business is these days from a bookstore manager’s perspective? Recently I had a chance to speak with Linda Shirley, manager of the W. Lebanon NH Border’s store, where we discussed coming out of a tough year, authors to watch and…is it really ok to just hang out at the store and read?

S. Becker - What’s hot at the W. Lebanon NH Borders these days? There are a few local authors who have great new books out right now.

L.  Shirley –  Chris Bohjalian’s Secrets of Eden is doing very well, as is Jodi Picoult’s House Rules. The areas of the store that have grown dramatically in sales and interest over the past year include young adult and independent readers — it’s truly wonderful to see more kids reading and some of the books (like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series which starts with The Lightning Thief), are fun and very well written. Speaking of young adult books, the twilight series remains a strong seller and we are having a midnight release party this Friday (March 19th) for the New Moon DVD.

Spring is coming which means the gardening section should be a strong selling area for the next 6 months — and there are more new books on vegetable gardening in particular this year, following the interest in books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Our cafe sales have been growing steadily — especially the coffee and cocoa drinks. People may be saving money by not going out to eat as much, but they are still treating themselves to something fun once in a while and good whipped cream never seems to go out of style.

S. Becker - Has the economic downturn affected book sales, and were there any types of books that were more popular during the worst of it?

L.  Shirley - 2009 was a tough year in many ways, but books on the economy itself have been very popular, and the publishing world continues to drive sales with new titles and updated versions of classics. Conversely, escapist reading — science fiction, mystery, horror, light fiction, romance — also did quite well. The strongest areas were the young adult and the independant reader areas of the store. People might have decided not to buy a hardcover book for themselves, but they were certainly willing to treat their kids to books that would keep them reading. The area that seemed to be the most strongly affected by the economy seemed to be music (industry wide, not just our store or our company).

S. Becker –  You seem to have a pretty liberal “hang out and read” policy. Hopefully they end up buying something!

L.  Shirley - It’s one of the reasons that I joined Borders over 16 years ago — I loved to buy a cappucino and look over an armload of books while deciding just which ones I was really going to buy. We truly encourage just hanging out and reading — even if not buying. If you love coming to the store, then you’ll share that with other people — having coffee or tea in the cafe with friends, buying gift certificates for relatives, picking up various gifts when something catches your eye or you need a housewarming present or a book on the toddler years. It’s not that you buy something every time you are here, but that you enjoy being here and buy something once in a while, or end up introducing other people to our store who may also buy things once in a while.

S. Becker - Are e-book readers becoming more popular?

L.  Shirley - Definitely! We had great success selling Sony E-Readers over the holiday season and we’ll be expanding that selection this year. What’s available online is expanding daily — and you truly can take 100 books with you on a 10 day vacation!

S. Becker - What’s the next big blockbuster book to hit the shelves?

L.  Shirley - Rick Riordan has a new series coming in May on Egyptian Mythology which we are all excited about. The third book in the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larrson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest will also be out in May. I’m counting on a new Stephanie Plum book to appear in June, of course — it wouldn’t be summer without a new Janet Evanovich title (Sizzling Sixteen). Those are some of what I’m waiting for, but I’m always curious to see what our actual bestsellers will be beyond what I know is going to top our sales. The Hunger Game surprised me, for example — and now I’m waiting for the third book in the series to come out at the end of the summer.

S. Becker - Who was the most popular author to make an appearance at your store?

L.  Shirley - We once had Captain Kangaroo do a reading in the kids department. Truly wonderful!!! Our biggest audiences beyond that one included Janet Evanovich and John McCain — both stretched our ability to actually make enough space for people to meet the authors (we really don’t have much open space in the store).

S. Becker - What’s big for spring books?

L.  Shirley - Gardening, gardening, gardening and travel. We also see an interest in weight loss and exersize books, but this is the season to start dreaming about where to go this summer and what will grow this summer.

S. Becker - What’s the best part of managing a bookstore?

L.  Shirley - I love to see what people are reading, and I really love to unpack new books! I love our coffee, pick up new movies, listen to all sorts of music – -and those are all bonuses to working at Borders — but I truly love to see the books, and to see what my employees, friends, family and customers are finding the most interesting or the most fun to read. It’s great to be able to work with so many people who love books as much as I do.

Photo Credit: goomauk

Filed under: Book Business

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