With just over a week left until Christmas, the holiday shopping rush is in full swing. For many independent booksellers around the country, event schedules have slowed down almost completely and the tasks at hand involve trying to keep up with demand and keep titles in stock.
Several independent booksellers have mentioned that copies of Deep Down Dark, Hector Tobar's account of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped in a collapsed mine for 69 days in 2010, recently became impossible to obtain.
Published October 7 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the book was chosen last week by Ann Patchett as the inaugural title for NPR's Morning Edition Book Club--leading immediately to heavy demand. (The Book Club discusses the book on January 20.)
"The book started off slow," Lisa Baudoin, the co-owner of Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wis., commented. "We didn't order a bunch back in, and then it hit fast and hard, and it's gone." Judy Crosby, owner of Island Books in Middletown and Newport, R.I., and Sally Brewster, the owner of Park Road Books in Charlotte, N.C., both shared similar stories.
But help is on the way. Farrar, Straus & Giroux has just done two reprintings and shipped 30,000 copies of the book. By this week, said Jeff Seroy, FSG's senior v-p, publicity and marketing, "Everyone will have the book," including Ingram and Baker & Taylor.
Baudoin added that Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, an edited and annotated collection of Laura Ingalls Wilder's diaries that tracks her family's movements across the frontier and great plains, has been unavailable from the South Dakota State Historical Society, which published the book, in recent weeks. And for Crosby, the other book that's recently become hard to get her hands on is Lily King's Euphoria, which was published by Grove Atlantic in June.
Books & Company has been in full swing since the store hosted its annual holiday open house three days after Thanksgiving. Baudoin reported that among fiction titles, Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See has performed very, very well. A local title called Pabst Farm: The History of a Model Farm by John C. Eastberg has sold very well. The biggest surprise for Baudoin, though, has been the diversity of what's selling.
"It really feels like people are shopping for the person rather than shopping for the trend," Baudoin said. Beyond a handful of big titles that are selling consistently, she continued, "people are really searching after other things."
Crosby, meanwhile, also pointed to All the Light We Cannot See as her store's strongest seller for fiction. Other than The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown, nonfiction sales have been extremely diverse, Crosby reported. For children, Natalie Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic and The Animals' Santa by Jan Brett, have both performed very well.
"Small Business Saturday of course was great," Crosby said, but right afterward business stalled a bit. Then this past weekend the store hosted a holiday open house that was a success, and the level of sales has continued. "It was really a great weekend," she said. "Now people are madly rushing about."
This year, Crosby said, more people are talking about shopping local and making more of an effort to do so. "Small Business Saturday has certainly raised awareness there," she continued. "We keep trying to hammer home the Indies First message in all the stuff we do.... I feel like people are having less of a problem with paying full price for a book or buying a hardcover."
At Park Road Books, Sally Brewster has been surprised by the strong sales of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. "I was really taken by surprise," she said. "I knew we'd sell it well, but not this well."
The book, she continued, seems a bit of an odd fit for the holiday season. "Who wants to give a book about getting rid of stuff for Christmas?"
Like Crosby and Baudoin, Brewster is selling a great deal of All the Light We Cannot See. Smith Henderson's novel 4th of July Creek, which came out in May, has re-emerged as a strong end-of-the-year seller. Brewster added that more oversized gift books are selling than in a long time.
Brewster has no plans to run any sort of promotions or sales this holiday season. "We've learned that it's better to give great customer service, to keep things steady and consistent," she said. "We just pride ourselves in knowing our books."
For Joy Vogelgesang, the co-owner of Kona Stories on Hawaii's Big Island, the only title that's been difficult to find is The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson. "That's a bit of a local oddity for us," Vogelgesang explained. The book, published in the early '80s, is a nonfiction account of Thompson's time in Hawaii, mostly in Kona. It was in print only for a short time, and has gone in and out of print since. "Otherwise it's going well, I haven't come across anything that's too much of a challenge."
Conventional author events have all but stopped for Kona Stories, although Vogelgesang and her co-owner Brenda McConnell are maintaining their normal book club schedule. They have also, however, been hosting an event called Sangria Saturday every weekend since Thanksgiving, and plan to continue until Christmas. "It's gotten a pretty good following," Vogelgesang remarked. "There are no discounts or anything, it's just relax and have fun shopping. That's how we pitch it."
Vogelgesang has been surprised this season by the slower than usual sales of hardcover fiction. "I thought Lila [by Marilynne Robinson] would fly away, but it's just doing okay."
Despite the apparent slump in hardcover sales, Kona Stories is still up compared to last season, Vogelgesang reported. Paperbacks, particularly Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken and The Boys in the Boat, have been flying out the door. Oversized gift books are selling well, as are cookbooks. And two lines of educational toys, Melissa and Doug and Klutz, have been surprisingly popular.
Vogelgesang expects the strong sales to continue through the end of the season. "It seems like more people are trying to shop local and that the economy is back," she said. "People are not afraid to spend money." --Alex Mutter