Learning that I know nothing about selling books is humbling, but I’m getting used to it. Every year during book set-up, for example, I find at least one volunteer who feels we’d be better off stacking the books on their sides rather than lining then up on tables, or someone who feels the books should face out like sentries around the edge of the table.
Merchandising is also a skill to which I have not given enough thought, I find. “Why don’t you give away one free children’s book with every two parenting books?” one expert asked me, oh, twenty years ago.
“Because we don’t need to give away children’s books,” I said. “Because children’s books just about sell out every year.”
“Ah, but what a way to sell more parenting books!” she cried, as if I had just proven her point.
“And what a way to slow down check-out, as the checker and the customer argue about which books are parenting books,” I said.
Narrow-minded, unwilling to experiment: I’m all this and more. But I hope I am at least alert enough to appreciate true marketing genius when I see it.
I was cruising through eBay looking for Newberry collectibles (nobody has bid on the doorknob yet, if you’re interested) when my eye was arrested by a set of six books being offered for sale. They were hardcover and largely unrelated, involving five novels and the diary of Julia Newberry, which was why the collection appeared in my search. They lacked their jackets, but were fairly good-looking books in an assortment of colors.
That was the point, in fact. “Handsome Hardcover Editions,” it said, and went on “To add a creative fun-accent or high level of sophistication to any home reading space or apartment!”
Here for over thirty years, I’ve been sorting books by subject for buyers when, as it turns out, I don’t even have to sort by color! Take six books of roughly the same size–not exactly the same size since that won’t give the necessary air of randomness to the display–and sell them to people seeking a high level of sophistication.
The seller, who had several lots like this for sale, points up the flaws and/or excellencies of the collection. These are not books ordered new by the yard. They show shelf wear, there are names written inside some of them. “These are antique books and show wear as such.” I resent that, as one of these books was published when I was finishing grade school, and that’s not quite a hundred years ago yet. What the seller means is that these are books which have been READ, and add that air of “Yes, I have a comfy spot where I read old books. Don’t you wish you did?”
It’ll revolutionize the Book Fair. People will drive up to the order window and order “Twelve books, hardcover. I prefer earth tones.” A volunteer will toss the first twelve good books into a box and hand it over for the cash. (We will discourage color choices: once we did have tables to decorate for an event and were told “light-colored books”. Yeah, two volunteers got into an argument over whether white is a light color or not. See, one of them said white wasn’t a color at all, but a lack of color, and…it was one of those afternoons, y’know?)
There’ll be bugs to be worked out–I don’t know if a group containing Fifty Shades of Grey, The Joy of Cooking, and a biography of Princess Diana will give exactly the air of sophistication you’re looking for–but we can figure it out. We mustn’t turn our backs on advances in book marketing.