Where Books Come From

It has come to my attention lately, through conversations with other booksellers and with my own customers, that a lot of people are confused about where exactly the books in bookstores (and online stores) come from. Most likely, they’ve never had reason to give it much thought. You walk in or log on and buy what you want. As a customer, there’s not much reason to think about the supply chain.

But interestingly enough, it seems that some people may not quite grasp the retail process in general. (A store buys product at wholesale cost from the manufacturer, then turns around and sells it at retail price to the consumer. The difference between the wholesale cost and the retail price is how we pay the rent, utilities, insurance, etc. for the store and order more books for the customer to browse through and–hopefully–pay the staff a little something to live on.) Or maybe for some reason it’s just when it comes to the book business, specifically, that they are confused by the all-pervasiveness and … well, sheer bigness of outlets like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. I have actually been asked by several customers if my store doesn’t buy its books from Amazon.

I was also asked recently by a very loyal, very well-meaning (and very intelligent) customer, when I offered to special order a book she wanted that we didn’t have in stock, if it “wouldn’t be just the same to order from Barnes & Noble online.” She instantly reacted to the look on my face (goodness knows what it was), and asked if I made money on it if I ordered it for her. I tried my best to not look or sound hurt or offended or impatient when I told her that if she orders it from Barnes & Noble they’ll make money on it, and if she orders it from my store then we’ll make money on it. I would never, ever try to browbeat someone into spending their money here if they would really rather buy elsewhere. I realize that often you can score a deep discount online, and sometimes, for some people,  that little bit extra can mean the difference between being able to afford something or not. But just for the record, in case anyone reading this has never thought about it before or has wondered and been confused:

Yes, Amazon is our competition. So, technically, is every other place you can buy a children’s book. We buy our books from the same places that Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Borders and other independent bookstores (and these days even price clubs, grocery stores and gas stations) buy books from: the publishers–the producers or manufacturers, if you will, of books. Amazon is not where books are born. Although it was recently reported in Publisher’s Weekly that Amazon is planning to put a toe in the waters of book publishing by putting out a few titles by new authors in the coming year, primarily, Amazon is a retailer that buys books from publishers and keeps them in warehouses until customers order them, just as Spellbound is a retailer that buys books from publishers and keeps them on our shelves in our little store until customers come in and buy them.

Oh, and we can make a point of buying the particular book that you want which wasn’t on our shelves, which is all a special order is. If you can come back to pick it up, it won’t cost you any shipping. It will be just the same financially, for the store and the customer, as if the book had been there and you had plucked it off the shelf and taken it to the register. At this point, we can only afford to offer free shipping on orders of $50 or more, so yes, in order to get free shipping for a smaller purchase you would need to come back by the store. For a few dollars we can have it shipped directly to your house and save you a trip.

Thinking of Spellbound as being in competition with Amazon may seem strange. We’ll never be that big or, truthfully, that cheap. We can’t buy in the volume Amazon or B&N does, so the same book often costs us more than it costs the big guys. If we could afford to sell books for what we paid, we would.  If we could afford to absorb the cost of postage on every special order, we would. If we could afford to have every children’s book in print sitting on our shelves at any given moment in case someone wants it, we would. But there are trade-offs between shopping at a big store and a small one, between online and bricks-and-mortar stores.

What we can do is give you back, in discounts, 10% of what you spend at our store when you join our customer loyalty program, The Bookworm Club. What we can do is provide, in exchange for your support, a cozy place to hang out and browse for books, where someone is always on hand to answer questions and make personal recommendations. What we can do is offer you  a space where you can bring your kids to meet and have fun with other kids, meet  authors both new and world-famous (or occasionally even a real celebrity like Curious George or Winnie-the-Pooh), and where you can have a genuine, personal, offline experience.

Published in: on June 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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