Does it pay to own a small bookstore?

Does it pay to own a small bookstore?

A student asked this question. My answer:

…it’s a bit like asking if it pays to be a poet. The answer is, “it depends.”

It certainly doesn’t pay to be a poet who only makes money from a few journals who pay a few dollars a poem.

But it might pay to be Bob Dylan.

All an elliptical way of saying, in my opinion, at the scale you’re at, you can’t make a profit in the way you hope.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t sell books. You might need to sell baskets of books (for gifts) and memberships in book clubs (for connection) and coffee to go with the book (because–caffeine and community).

The books are an excuse to have a business, but they’re not a business.

Of course there are exceptions, but they tend to be real estate dependent and at a much larger scale.

I think the same thing is true for “does it pay to write a book.”

Not like it used to. Not like it should.

But writing a book might be the seed that you can grow into reputation and influence and connection. It might be the chance you need to discover the challenges that others need your help with. And it might merely be joyful.

Commercializing the thing that doesn’t lend itself to making a profit merely makes you sad.

Building a book (part 2)

Building a book (part 2)

Amazon is it.

There are now two channels for non-fiction books in the USA.

There used to be 4,000.

The second channel is “special sales.” This means sales to organizations, sales at events, sales through your team. It means, most of all, using the book as a method to spread the word.

The first channel, as I’ve already mentioned, is Amazon. For many business books, it’s more than 70% of the total retail sales of a book. That’s up from 1% about twenty years ago.

Most publishers still act as if the dog is the universe of retail bookstores and the tail is Amazon. That a book needs to be scheduled and optimized and rolled out to the retail ecosystem, and Amazon sales are part of what follows.

With the book we’re doing for Defy, though, we didn’t have the resources or the team to build that sort of on-the-ground rollout. So instead, we’re going all in with Amazon. The hardcover and the Kindle edition are the whole bet.

[An aside: I love booksellers. I shop at real bookstores often. I think they’re priceless. I wish everyone would visit one every day, and buy more than coffee when they did. But, alas, the public has made it clear that, for the kind of books I write and publish, the bus has already left the station.]

[Another aside: I’m pausing here, remembering all the years my mom ran the bookstore at the Albright-Knox in Buffalo, and my talks at the American Bookseller Association conference, and book signings at bookstores large and small. A four-hundred year tradition continues, books (particularly kids books and gift books and novels) will be handsold for years to come. But for many categories like this, Amazon is it.]

This brings us to Shawn Coyne’s rule of 10,000: The job of the publisher is to get the first 10,000 books into the world, to prime the pump. After that, the book (and thus the author, through his or her work) do the rest.

We think we can do that with the Amazon platform (and your help). It’s not everything a full-service publisher can do, but we hope it will be enough.

Cat Hoke’s book, A Second Chance, is now officially on-sale at Amazon.

The elegant, powerful landing page was built for us by Zach Obront at Book in a Box. Zach and his team are bringing a new approach and a new attitude to the creation and publication of non-fiction books. By leveraging the power of a single platform, they’re making it easier for people without the experience Alex Peck and I have to build books. Thanks, Zach, for being so generous and volunteering your time and expertise on Cat’s book.

Building a book (part 1)

Building a book (part 1)

Tom Kubik is a gifted and successful commercial photographer working in New York.

He’s also a generous soul and an active volunteer at Defy Ventures, the organization that Cat Hoke founded. Cat is on the front lines of fixing the massive problem facing those released from our sprawling prison system. While recidivism is more than 70% (that means that three-quarters of the men and women released from prison reenter the penal system at some point), Defy lowers that number by 90%… just 6% of Defy’s graduates end up back in the system.

Tom travels with Defy to prison and works to give Defy’s EITs (entrepreneurs in training) a face. He captures their light, amplifies their possibility and helps each person be seen for who they are–a person, a human with potential, a family member capable of making a difference.

I was lucky enough to spend a few days with Tom on a recent trip with Defy to California. Here he is with Cat…

 Tom is just one of the dozens of people we’ve been lucky enough to work with in building her new book, A Second Chance. It’s a groundbreaking memoir, a useful lesson in what it means to forgive, and most of all, a building block in finding a new way forward. Not just for people in prison, but for all of us.

I’ll be back after the holiday with more details on the book (it’s being printed today and comes out in 9 weeks!). I hope that you and your family find peace and joy and connection together.

In the meantime, here are some of Tom’s photos of EITs. Thank you, Tom, for your time, your energy, your light. Photographers tell stories, and few do it as well as Tom does.

 

 

A new book… we would love your help

A new book… we would love your help

In February, we’ll be publishing Catherine Hoke’s new book, A Second Chance.

Cat’s the founder of Defy Ventures, a groundbreaking non-profit that is changing the lives of men and women while they’re in prison (and after they get out.) As a direct result of Defy’s program, recidivism has gone from 75% to less than 6%. Not only does this transform the lives of the families involved, it improves the fabric of our society and it saves the taxpayers a fortune.

Domino is donating all of its efforts to Cat and to Defy, and we’re determined to share this book with as many people as we can.

It’s a book about second chances, forgiveness, responsibility, opportunity and love. And it applies to everyone I’ve ever met, not just those that are in prison.

YOU CAN HELP: If you’re interested in helping us, we’d love to keep you posted.

Just click here to sign up for our special list (and there’s a bonus video of Cat there as well). We’ll be posting updates on this Domino blog and on Seth’s blog from time to time, but this book-only list will get excerpts, strategy memos and more. We’re counting on this informal street team to make all the difference.

Thank you all!

All the books, any book and this book

All the books, any book and this book

At the beginning, bookstores only sold the books they actually printed. The bookstore and the publisher were one and the same.

Throughout our lifetime, of course, that hasn’t been true. A unique element of this industry more than any other I can think of is that every store sells every book. They might not have it in stock, but just about every bookstore is eager to sell any decent book.

Books actually benefit from being next to their competitors. A book sells better at a bookstore than it does at furniture store.

The flip side of this, though, is that publishers and bookstores do their best work when they can promote a particular book more than the others. Promoting a book, making it stand out, working hard to have it be this book instead of any book—well, when you’re the author and it’s your book, this is exactly what you seek. And that’s what the very best bookstores and the very best publishers do.

I have always respected and celebrated the comity and camaraderie of the book industry. I think the positive contribution of a book to our culture demands that we treat them as special objects, and that publishing and selling them is not just another form of commerce.

Today, my longtime publisher Portfolio (part of Random Penguin whatnot) is republishing four books that started here at Domino: Anything You Want, Poke the Box, We Are All Weird and Read This Before Our Next Meeting. You can see all four of them right here.

It’s my hope that readers will be able to find these books at fine bookstores everywhere. Including Amazon (Derek, Al, Seth & Seth) and B&N, too.

In a nutshell these are two of the problems facing bookselling going forward: How to build an online store that’s good at selling a particular book, not merely all books, and how to maintain ubiquity in an industry that’s being pushed toward silos.