Josh Mosey, who runs a blog here on Wordpress is a marketing manager who owns his own marketing business, specializing in creating print materials for the publishing industry. He has also worked at a book store for many years. I was able to interview him about his industry and how he relates to self-publishers like myself. 1. How did you get into the book sales industry? I've always loved books, but I never set out to work in a bookstore. My degree is in Recreation (think summer camp, YMCA, or anything on the NBC show Parks & Recreation), but after my position at the camp where I interned was claimed by a senior staff member, I just needed a job. After a stint of working in the mall at Eddie Bauer, I saw a Help Wanted sign in the window at Baker Book House, a large, independent Christian bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I've been there now for eight years, starting as a part-time clerk, going full-time as the store's music buyer, and finally getting promoted to Marketing Manager which I've been for the past three years. When I got hired, I don't think I planned on staying as long as I have. Now, I can't imagine being anywhere else. I love books, and I love my co-workers.
2. How do you think e-books are affecting your business? There is little doubt that we've lost some business to e-books, but I don't know many people who don't want a physical copy of a book that they love, even people who own that book in e-book format. E-books can be a great way to expose people to new authors, but once they find an author they like, they'll come into my store and find the physical copy so they can loan it out to friends and family. Baker Book House is also a bit insulated by the fact that many people come to our store for our used book department (over 100,000 used books on hand), which has a lot of out-of-print books that are simply not available in e-book format.
3. What have you done to ensure repeat customers to your store? There are three things that set Baker apart from our competition: selection, expertise, and events. We have the widest selection in the Midwest of new Christian books, music, DVDs, and gifts. Each department has a buyer who is responsible for knowing the current hits and trends, and our buyers are passionate about their jobs. As an example, our academic buyer, Louis McBride, started a blog simply to have a medium for communicating with area pastors and academics on the books about which he was passionate. Last, we have in-store events a few times a month. We host everything from local bands and authors to nationally known best-sellers like Todd Burpo (Heaven is for Real) and Kate Gosselin (while she was still someone worth hosting). Every now and again, we put on a forum to discuss a relevant topic or book. And all of our events are free. So, we like to think that people keep coming back because we give them what they are asking for as well as things they didn't even know they needed before we put it in their hands.
4. How do you know what books will sell well in your local market? Each of our buyers do a fair amount of research on national trends, but they each know the area well enough to know which trends will pass our area by. Some of that research is gathered online and through best-seller lists, but most of it happens just by listening to our customers. If we notice a few people asking about a specific book, we know that there will be more asking soon. Also, we all read a lot of books. After a while, you can tell by the first few pages which books will sell and which won't.
5. What does the future hold for the brick and mortar book store? I hope brick and mortar bookstores will have a long and fulfilling future, but with giants like Amazon setting prices so low that even publishers have trouble making money, I don't know. As long as people still value the feel of flipping actual pages, the interaction with real humans who can hold a conversation as well as suggest a book title, or the fact that by supporting local businesses they are contributing to the local economy, I'm not too worried. The thing is that we need to be able to adapt and meet the consumers where they are and provide them with an experience that is worth repeating, not just with the products they are asking for. To this end, Baker is currently undergoing a massive renovation to add a cafe, fireside seating, a community room, and wi-fi just to make it nicer for people to visit us.
6. What kind of a relationship do you have with publishers and how much do they have to say about what people want to buy? Publishers like us, mostly because they see that we are being proactive about selling books and trying new things to get people in the store. We hear from visiting publishing sales reps about stores that close because the owners were unwilling to put the work into making a profit. It helps that Baker Book House is owned by Baker Publishing Group and we understand a bit better what struggles the publishers are having and what they want a bookstore to do. As to the influence they have over what people want to buy, we can't sell books that haven't been published in one way or another, so they are definitely gatekeepers in that sense. But even when they come in with suggestions of what quantities of which books, the ultimate decision for what our store puts on the shelf rests with our departmental buyers who know more intimately what books will sell in our area.
7. What is one thing you wish you could do in your book store that time/money won't allow? Great question! If time and money were both abundant, I'd love to open some new locations. At one time, we had nine stores spread around the West Michigan area. Today, we have our flagship store and we'll be around for a long time, I'm sure, but I wish we had a few more locations so people would know what a bookstore could be. The only other thing I would change has nothing to do with time or money. I know that our niche is in Christian books, but there are so many mainstream books and authors out there that I love, it's a shame that we can't carry every kind of book, but that's my personal opinion and has nothing to do with what the management of the store may or may not want.
8. What is your policy on non-returnable books? If I were to sell my book in your store, (which is non-returnable) would it be through consignment or how would that work? Do you do this kind of thing at all or is it too much of a risk? We sell quite a few books by local and self-published authors on a consignment basis. It's a standard 60/40 split arrangement (60% of the sale price goes to the author, 40% to the bookstore) with the authors setting the prices they need in order to turn a profit. Books that are non-returnable where the author does not wish to work a consignment deal are turned away. We can't afford to have shelf-space for a product that even the author is unwilling to take a risk on. We also do a fair amount to promote local authors through events like speaking engagements, book signings, and professionally designed marketing materials. As long as we see that an author is willing to promote their product and that product won't offend any of our shoppers, we'll promote it too. We love local and self-published authors.
I would like to thank Josh Mosey for his time and thoughtful answers. He also interviewed me and I will be re-blogging that interview here when it posts.