With New Year's Day and the torrid holiday shopping season behind them, booksellers around the country are able to look back on the past several weeks and assess in full: for many booksellers it was a happy holiday season.
Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., called the season "tremendous": a very strong November led into an even stronger December, and the bookstore was up 10.8% over this period last year.
Among the store's biggest sellers were Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, Randall Munroe's What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, and Anne Lamott's newest book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. Ocean: A Photicular Book, written by Dan Kainen, was a strong seller as a gift item for both kids and adults.
Like many other booksellers, Protti had trouble getting Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar back in stock after it was announced as the inaugural pick for NPR's Morning Edition Book Club. "It was disappointing that we couldn't fulfill all the requests," said Protti. Just before Christmas, however, a new shipment of Deep Down Dark arrived. "We called it a 'Christmas Miracle.' "
This holiday season, Protti said, the store sold a variety of books across a wide range of genres. "It really came down to staff recommendations; it was exciting," she continued. "I really feel like this holiday demonstrated the beauty of indie handselling."
At Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Va., owner Kelly Justice reported that sales were up in December and for the last quarter of the year. In fact, the store was up for the whole year "pretty consistently." A big increase in the store's online sales was a major contributing factor--signed hardcover books sold well, especially in December.
Being Mortal was a big seller, as was Sean Brock's cookbook Heritage. "That was a spectacular performance for us," said Justice of the cookbook. "We couldn't keep it in."
S.C. Gwynne's biography of Stonewall Jackson, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, and Billy Idol's autobiography, Dancing with Myself, sold briskly, and were paired together in a display. Justice commented: "I think that display sold a lot of both books."
Justice had the most trouble keeping The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, illustrated by Andrea Dezso and translated by Jack Zipes, in stock. "It was more spotty than anything," said Justice. "We would get a big clump in, and they'd all go. It was a question of me wondering when demand would stop."
Despite being up this holiday season, Justice noticed that the end of the year was not quite the "big finish" that it used to be. "It's becoming more even throughout the rest of the year," she said. "I think this is due to a lot of people doing holiday shopping online, and there are more local and neighborhood circumstances. Yearly our sales are increasing, but our actual December sales are not trending up."
Joan Grenier, co-owner of the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., reported that her store's trade books operation was up for the year (textbooks, which the store also sells, were down). The holiday season was particularly strong for children's books, which have been doing very well all year.
The Odyssey was "lucky" to keep All the Light We Cannot See in stock, fiction buyer Emily Crowe said: Doerr's book was the store's biggest fiction seller for both the holiday season and the year, and Odyssey's staff was able to stay just ahead of demand. For nonfiction, The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande were strong holiday sellers. Among children's books, Outside by Deirdre Gill and The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak were some of the season's best performers.
The season's biggest surprise, Crowe reported, was Julie Schumacher's novel Dear Committee Members. "We had not sold any during the year, and all of a sudden in December we couldn't keep it stock," she said. "It was on a couple of year-end best lists, and we're in a college town, and it's set in academia. Could be it just finally caught on."
Odyssey Bookshop kept up its event schedule until December 14, when children's author Mo Willems visited the store. "If you ask me, I think I would do more events later in the year," said Grenier. "But I think I would try to do things that weren't totally disruptive to the store."
This year, Grenier added, it seemed that more people made a point of talking about shopping local. "You keep hearing people say, 'I love to shop local, it's so nice to be here,' " she said. "And people are still surprised that we gift wrap for free, even though we've been doing it for 51 years."
At Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan., chief operations officer Roger Doeren and founder and president Vivien Jennings reported a good year and strong holiday season. The three days leading up to Christmas, in fact, set sales records for the nearly 40-year-old store.
The store's two bestselling fiction titles were We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. The bestselling nonfiction titles were Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Story and John Cleese's So, Anyway...; Rainy Day Books had signed hardcover copies of both titles. A selection of local titles, including KU 150: 150 Years of the University of Kansas by Monroe Dodd, Mizzou 175: The Remarkable Story of Missouri's Flagship University by Brian Burnes and a memoir entitled The Pulse of Hope, by Dr. William Reed, sold surprisingly well.
Rainy Day Books sold more gift cards this holiday season than in past years, and for the first time ever, Doeren and Jennings decided to package the gift cards in "gift card presenters" (right), which worked especially well for books that were out of print or on re-order. The presenters included the gift card as well as the cover image of a particular book.
"It made it a little more personal," Jennings explained. "It showed that you had a particular book in mind for that person."
Throughout the shopping season, Jennings and Doeren had trouble getting both Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pogue's Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life by David Pogue back in stock. Deep Down Dark, What If? and All the Light We Cannot See were also intermittently unavailable. Despite those difficulties, they both reported that the store seemed better stocked and better supplied than last holiday season.
This year, they said that there were more "residuals" than ever from store events--that is, shoppers who discovered the store through a major author event and then became regular customers. There was, Doeren recounted, a "definite increase in expressed appreciation for the value of our experience, knowledge, service and commitment to the community." --Alex Mutter