Shelf Awareness for Friday, December 15, 2017


Penguin Press: A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir by Ian Buruma

Scribner Book Company: The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

St. Martin's Press: After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

Little Brown and Company: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

Quotation of the Day

'When I See a Store, I MUST GO IN'

Jesse Meacham

"When I see a store, I MUST GO IN. I'm a sucker for books, but indie bookstores take that up a few levels because they'll curate for me. I go in saying I want to learn about some obscure topic and they won't look at me as if I'm from Mars! Instead it's almost as if I see my own curiosity reflected back at me, and they share it instantly. I've had that same experience happen in multiple cities, so I think it's common to independent bookstore owners and I love them for it."

--Author and CPA Jesse Mecham, who will present the Wi13 education session "Bookselling 101: Hacking Your Bookseller Salary," in a q&a with Bookselling This Week 

GLOW: Grove Atlantic: The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop


News

Bookstore Sales Down 4.6% in October

October bookstore sales fell 4.6%, to $684 million, compared to October 2016, according to preliminary estimates from the Census Bureau. This marks the fourth down month after a four-month streak in which bookstore sales rose every month. For the first 10 months of the year, bookstore sales are $8.4 billion, down 2.9% compared to the same period in 2016.

Total retail sales in October rose 4.9%, to $476.9 billion. For the year to date, total retail sales have risen 4%, to $4,692 billion.

Note: under Census Bureau definitions, the bookstore category consists of "establishments primarily engaged in retailing new books."


Binc Foundation: Helping Booksellers #MoreThanEver Donation Campaign


Change of Ownership at the Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Jane Stroh

Jane Stroh, who has owned the Bookstore in Glen Ellyn, Ill., for 20 years and been with the store for 32 years, will retire on December 31, Bookselling This Week reported. In a farewell letter posted to the store's website, Stroh wrote that after spending nearly half her life at the Bookstore, it was "time to pass the torch."

"I want to say a special thank you to all of you," Stroh wrote to her customers. "You have made The Bookstore what it is. You have valued what you find here--enough to spend your dollars with us. I say it over and over again--we could not do this without your support."

Stroh will hand the reins to Shannon Burgess and Gail Dickson, longtime customers of the Bookstore who both have daughters who have worked at the store. Burgess and Dickson will officially take over on January 1, and plan to change the store's name to the Bookstore of Glen Ellyn. The pair have been working at the Bookstore and learning from Stroh since earlier this year.

Stroh wrote: "And I can tell you they are naturals at it! They are well read and especially so in the books many of our customers love."


Clarion Books: The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst


The Book Cellar in Lake Worth, Fla., Adds Café

The Book Cellar, which opened in October in Lake Worth, Fla., will host a grand opening for its new café today, the Palm Beach Post reported. Co-owner Tamara Ayraud said she had originally planned to open a cafe in the back of the store early next year, but that timetable accelerated.

"We're paying rent on the whole space so we needed the income for the entire space," she said, adding that she borrowed $35,000 and built the cafe herself with a little help from her boyfriend, an amateur plumber. "It was a lot of hard work, long nights without any sleep, but it was well worth it when I see the end result." Offering coffee, wine, beer and pastries, the café seats 30 people and is about 1,000 square feet. "There's plenty of space for people to stand," Ayraud added.

She also noted that since its launch, the Book Cellar has done well: "The whole community has been so supportive and very excited. But they keep asking, 'When is the cafe opening?' When is the cafe opening?' "


Oxford University Press: Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship by Nadine Strossen


Holiday Hum: Rebel Girls a Hit; Obama, Pachinko Scarce

Hanukkah has begun and Christmas is just 10 days away, and as the holiday rush increasingly ramps up, booksellers from around the country have shared their thoughts on the season so far.

At Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, Calif., booksellers Stephen Sparks and Molly Parent are approaching the end of their first year as the store's owners and are on track to have the store's best grossing year ever. The holiday season began with a great Thanksgiving weekend that saw sales nearly 40% higher than the previous year. The store's single bestselling title has been Obi Kaufmann's California Field Atlas, a richly illustrated guide to the ecology and environment of California. The book is currently out of stock, with a reprint set to arrive in mid-January, but Sparks and Parent ordered the book "aggressively" and in November it accounted for nearly 75% of the store's online orders. Other bestsellers include The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith and The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman, while J.A. Baker's The Peregrine, originally published in 1967, was the store's bestselling title on Small Business Saturday. In fiction, strong sellers include Tenth of December by George Saunders, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.

In addition to California Field Atlas, several other books have been difficult to get back in stock, including Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza, Lee Min Jin's Pachinko and Naomi Alderman's The Power. Sparks said that the store carries limited sidelines, but he and Parent "just got" Point Reyes Books-branded sweatshirts and T-shirts, and those are proving popular.

Josh Niesse and Megan Bell are the owners of two independent bookstores in Georgia: Underground Books in Carrollton, which Niesse opened in 2011, and Hills & Hamlets Bookshop in Palmetto, which he and Bell opened in 2016. Niesse reported that sales began growing in early to mid November, but things "really took off with a bang" on Small Business Saturday/Thanksgiving weekend. Underground Books and Hills & Hamlets were "incredibly busy" every day since then, until a "freak snowstorm" dropped more than 10 inches of snow in western Georgia for the first time since 1993. The storm essentially shut things down for an entire weekend but, according to Niesse, things seem to be bouncing back quickly.

For both stores, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls has been the "standout seller" not just for the season but the entire year. At Underground Books, which is around 80% used or bargain, a ton of literary fiction has been selling, and the store's antiquarian stock, which is sold mostly online for the majority of the year, has seen a surge in in-store sales. At Hills & Hamlets, meanwhile, photography and art books have been popular, along with children's and young reader books. The store is also located within Serenbe, a small, planned community focused on sustainable urban living, environmentalism and the arts. Hills & Hamlets always carries signed stock of writers who are part of Serenbe's artist residency program, and those are moving well this time of year.

In Boston, Mass., Papercuts J.P. has celebrated its third anniversary and expanded, nearly doubling in size from just under 500 square feet to around 800. Owner Kate Layte said it was "great to have that in time for the holidays," and things have definitely picked up over the last few weeks. This fall also marked the anniversary of the launch of Cutlass Press, Papercuts J.P.'s own independent publishing imprint, and Layte reported that musician Rick Berlin's memoir The Paragraphs--the press's debut title--is also Papercuts's bestselling title of the year. Other popular titles include A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Eve L. Ewing's poetry collection Electric Arches, which Layte said was a "book for everyone." Several other Cutlass Press titles are among the store's bestsellers, such as A Dream Between Two Rivers by KL Pereira and Ragged by Christopher Irvin.

Layte added that among the surprises of the season are This Book Is a Planetarium: And Other Extraordinary Pop-Up Contraptions by Kelli Anderson, which can become a mini-planetarium when paired with a smartphone, and The Wild Book by Juan Villoro and Lawrence Schimel, which Layte called "a treasure for book lovers of every age." She said that it looks as though there's no chance of her getting Souza's Obama in before the end of the season, and things are getting "down to the wire" with Turtles All the Way Down by John Green and The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman.

At the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., things have been "pleasantly busy," with November sales strong from the start and Small Business Saturday/Indies First marking the beginning of "serious holiday shopping," said co-owner Philip Black. In addition to a variety of local-interest books, strong holiday sellers include Obama: An Intimate Portrait, which Black agreed has been difficult to restock; Ron Chernow's Grant; and Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush; as well as another popular but tough to restock book, Oprah Winfrey's Wisdom of Sundays. When asked about surprises, Black said that there haven't really been any yet, except for Senator Al Franken's "fall from grace" and the resultant disappearance of any interest in Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. As for sidelines, Black said that almost all of them are doing well, with games and puzzles particularly strong.

The Bookworm has brought on extra gift-wrapping help for the holidays, but otherwise deals with the rush by having the staff work more hours. The store also continues to do author events after Thanksgiving, but with a more casual meet and greet format. And earlier this month the store held its 11th annual Santa Paws event, in which customers bring in their pets to be photographed with Santa and all proceeds from tickets go to a local animal shelter.

In Bozeman, Mont., the Country Bookshelf had a great Thanksgiving weekend, with the store's Black Friday sales up double over the previous year. Despite that, owner Ariana Paliobagis said that the holiday rush truly began on Friday, December 8, and some of Country Bookshelf's top sellers are Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin, Emily R. Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe, The Secret Lives of Color by Kassa St. Clair and Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich. Other standouts include Chernow's Grant, Walter Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci and both volumes of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

In terms of surprises, Paliobagis said that even though Snow & Rose was in the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association holiday catalogue, which usually boosts a title's sales, it has sold far more copies than she would've thought. On a similar note, Paliobagis added that while she and her staff expected Reckless Daughter to sell well, they "didn't foresee the customers buying stacks of it." Several titles have been difficult to get back in stock, including Souza's Obama, Oprah Winfrey's Wisdom of Sundays and Pachinko. Among sidelines, posters from Cavallini Papers & Co. have been popular, along with mugs made by Meriwether of Montana (particularly one featuring a woman in a yoga pose with the caption "let that s**t go"), Conscious Step socks, enamel mugs from Gift Republic, and other assorted smaller items and stocking stuffers. --Alex Mutter

 


Notes

NYC's Strand Bookstore: 'We're in Vogue!'

"We're in Vogue!" the Strand in Manhattan posted on Facebook Wednesday, along with the link to a Vogue magazine piece reporting that the legendary bookshop's third-floor Rare Book Room "was the setting for the Koché Pre-Fall show. Designer Christelle Kocher is French, one of a rising class of Paris talents, and she has her eye on the American market. The Strand is a place she makes a point of visiting on every trip to New York, so it was a fitting spot for her stateside runway debut, imbued with meaning not only because she's a reader (currently it's Russell Banks's The Darling), but also because back home in Paris, she presents in similar public spaces--cultural crossroads like Les Halles or L'eglise Saint-Merry.... Kocher also liked the fact that the Strand has never been used for a fashion show before."

L'Officiel noted that "models marched through the aisles and shelves while the press sat captivated. Regular customers, who were browsing the books on the second floor, served as an accidental audience to the backstage and runway path. It may have been a spectacle to the uninitiated, but at the end of the day, it was just another one of Koché's fashion shows."

"I think it's an eclectic collection and I wanted to also to feel a connection and to feel an energy. But, also, my brand is not only about Paris and history, it's a lot of spontaneous energy with the way that I mix sportswear," Kocher said, adding: "It's important because it's about passing along a message that communications value in what I believe, in what I design, and to be in a bookstore--it's an important symbol of culture."


'15 Gifts for Book Lovers from Indie Bookstores'

Noting that the "simplest way to delight a book lover is, of course, to present them with their next read," Read It Forward suggested that "one of the loveliest ways to present said gift is to include a memento of your favorite indie bookstore--for, as Jen Campbell puts it in The Bookshop Book, 'bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places.' These gifts celebrate and support shops all over the country--because every day should be Independent Bookstore Day."


Nicole Banholzer Founds Children's Book Publicity Firm

Nicole Banholzer is launching Nicole Banholzer PR, a children's book publicity business. She formerly worked in the publicity departments of Macmillan Children's Books, Random House Children's Books and Sasquatch Books. She may be reached at nicolekbanholzer@gmail.com or at NicoleBanholzer.com.


Personnel Changes at S&S Children's Publishing

Jennifer Wattley has joined Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing as associate digital & social marketing manager. She was most recently a production associate at St. Martin's Press.



Media and Movies

Media Heat: Chris Matthews on Hugh Hewitt

Tomorrow:
CBS Saturday Morning: Tiffany Haddish, author of The Last Black Unicorn (Gallery, $26, 9781501181825).

MSNBC's Hugh Hewitt: Chris Matthews, author of Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit (Simon & Schuster, $28.99, 9781501111860).


On Stage: Rosie Revere, Engineer

Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, the composing team currently represented Off-Broadway with The Mad Ones, are developing a new children's musical based on Andrea Beaty's Rosie Revere book series (Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; Ada Twist, Scientist), Playbill reported. With the working title Rosie Revere, Engineer, the project features a book by playwright Lauren Gunderson, lyrics by Kerrigan, and music by Lowdermilk.

Peter Flynn recently directed a reading with Theatreworks USA, which produces theatre for young audiences and families. The cast included Andréa Burns (In the Heights, On Your Feet!), Alyse Alan Louis (Amelie, Disaster!), Nicole Powell (Ragtime, Hairspray), Destinee Rea (Amelie) and Daniel Quadrino (Newsies, Wicked). Dan Garmon served as music director, and Marco Santana choreographed.


Movies: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Todd Spiewak's That's Wonderful Productions have optioned the film rights to Michael Ausiello's memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, with Parsons attached to star, Deadline reported. Parsons and Spiewak are producing, and Ausiello will executive produce.

Spoiler Alert is set during the 11-month span between Ausiello's partner, photographer Kit Cowan, receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis and his death, interwoven with memories of their 14-year relationship.

"All of us here at Deadline, and our parent company PMC for that matter, adore Ausiello," the publication noted. "We watched him grapple with grief over the loss of the love of his life, and admired how he channeled his emotions into a testament to Cowan and the life they built together. Getting the chance to see that memorialized onscreen seems a wonderful epitaph."


Books & Authors

Awards: André Simon Food & Drink Books

A shortlist has been released for the 2017 André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards. Winners in each category receive £2,000 (about $2,685). In addition, there is an award of £1,500 (about $2,015) in honor of John Avery and a £1,500 Special Commendation Award. All winners will be announced February 12 in London. This year's shortlisted titles are:

Food
Gather Cook Feast by Jessica Seaton and Anna Colquhoun
Lisboeta by Nuno Mendes
The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes
The Meaning of Rice by Michael Booth
The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis
The Sportsman by Stephen Harris

Drink
Bursting Bubbles by Robert Walters
The Smoke and the Smell by Thad Vogle
Champagne by Peter Liem
Miracle Brew by Pete Brown
The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom
Wine Dine Dictionary by Victoria Moore 


Reading with... Emily Dufton

photo: Travis S. Pratt

Emily Dufton holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from George Washington University and lives near Washington, D.C. Her book Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America is published by Basic Books (December 5, 2017)

On your nightstand now:

Alice Waters's Coming to My Senses: The Makings of a Counterculture Cook. It's fantastic. 

Favorite book when you were a child:

I had so many, and I'm rediscovering many of them now with my own son. As a little kid, I loved Dr. Seuss and can still recite How the Grinch Stole Christmas by heart, but as I grew older, I was attracted to a lot of those books published in the 1970s and '80s that featured some pretty intense characters and scenes--some of which are downright disturbing when I reread them 20 years later. I loved Sylvia Cassedy's Behind the Attic Wall, and that book--about a lonely girl who befriends talking, moving, haunted dolls--is crazy. I also read and reread Somebody's Horse by Dorothy Nafus Morrison, about an abandoned girl who finds and saves an abandoned horse in Wyoming. Looking back on it now, I realized that I was really attracted to stories of troubled young girls who find homes and meaning in impossible places and with odd companions. Who needs therapy when you have children's literature? On the more upbeat side, I loved the Little House series and Brian Jacques's Redwall books, so there was some triumph and love in the midst of all that abandonment and sorrow.

Your top five authors:

I have to split this answer into two sections: the authors I loved most when I was at my most impressionable, and the authors I've come to love today.

When I was 15 and starting to understand that writing was what I wanted to do professionally, I was Kurt Vonnegut's biggest fan. I worshiped him--Vonnegut became my moral compass, and I judged the world, and good writing, from his books. But I was also deeply inspired by Joan Didion, John Steinbeck, Annie Dillard and Ernest Hemingway. They taught me narrative and language and syntax and structure, and how a beautiful scene, rife with emotion, could be created with just a few strokes. I owe the creation of much of my voice to reading, and rereading, them through my teenage years.

Today, my tastes are more varied. I read everything Haruki Murakami publishes. I love Toni Morrison. Katherine Boo and Laura Hillenbrand do amazing work with nonfiction. I read a lot, and there are so many talented writers working right now. Could I name my 50 top authors instead?

Book you've faked reading:

Book I faked finishing: War and Peace. Started it when I was in the Peace Corps, never finished. Maybe someday.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I love anything written by M.F.K. Fisher. When we think of extremely talented female writers, her name rarely comes up, which is a shame. I suppose this is because she's primarily considered a food writer, even though her work covers such a wealth of other subjects--including travel, expatriatism, philosophy, love, the joys and pains of the human condition. If we were to categorize her writing solely as that of appetites, she's less of a writer concerned only with food, and more of a writer concerned with all unquenchable human hungers: for love, for belonging, for home and for meaning. I can't recommend her books enough.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Paris Stories from the Everyman's Pocket Classics series. Lovely rainbow spine, hilarious picture on the back of a man and a poodle sitting side by side at a cafe. Plus, I'm an easy sell: I'll read anything set in France.

Book that changed your life:

Martin Torgoff's Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000. I bought this book on a whim my last year of college and read it in a two-day binge. I had never encountered such an intriguing, entertaining and fascinating history of American counterculture, told entirely through the lens of drug use. Torgoff taught me that history could be fun, and that certain substances, actions and ideas could provide a new, necessary and illuminating perspective on how American history has unfolded, and who we as Americans really are. Without Torgoff, I never could have written Grass Roots.

Five books you'll never part with:

I've moved a lot over the years, but there are certain books that always come along. The first is my signed copy of Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard, second is my signed copy of Joan Didion's After Henry, third and fourth are my heavily annotated copies of Torgoff's Can't Find My Way Home and Moby-Dick from college, and the newest addition is my signed copy of Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I would love to watch that mystery unfold anew.


Book Review

Review: The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories by Denis Johnson (Random House, $27 hardcover, 224p., 9780812988635, January 16, 2018)

With the death of National Book Award-winner Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke) in May 2017, one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary American fiction was silenced. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, a collection of five short stories that showcases his memorable style, will delight his fans and should attract new readers to his work.

As was the case with his other much-admired short story collection, Jesus' Son, drug addiction, alcoholism and other aberrant behaviors plague Johnson's characters. Indeed, two of the stories are set in a rehabilitation center and a county lockup, neither of whose residents appear to be on the path to recovery or redemption. Illness, murder, suicide and death in other forms are recurring events, and yet the stories are more noteworthy for their smart, bleak humor than for their grimness. A subtext of deep humanity hums beneath the unsettling surface world described by the first-person narrator in each of the five tales.

Representative of these qualities is "The Starlight on Idaho." In it, Mark Cassandra, relying principally on letters to relatives, friends, Pope John Paul and Satan, describes his "third time in rehab"--but "first time to make it past four days"--at the Starlight Recovery Center, a converted motel in Ukiah, Calif.: "a salvage yard for people who totaled their souls." "Strangler Bob," narrated by an 18-year-old car thief nicknamed "Dink," thrums with the barely suppressed violence of a group of inmates. Bill Whitman, an ad man in the twilight of his career, narrates the collection's title story. He is in New York City to collect an award for his work when the story delivers an edgy assortment of incidents involving a death row inmate, the suicide of a prominent painter and the confusion engendered by a phone call from Bill's dying ex-wife, their first conversation in 40 years.

The final and longest story, "Doppelgänger, Poltergeist," fully displays Johnson's fondness for characters with bizarre preoccupations. In this instance it's Mark Ahearn, a prodigiously talented, if aggressively unconventional, poet. He is convinced the real Elvis Presley was murdered by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, in 1958, and replaced by a twin brother, thought to have died in childbirth. Dead Elvis's poltergeist wanders the earth, offering uncannily accurate predictions to the awestruck witnesses he encounters.

Denis Johnson's world isn't necessarily one in which anyone would want to live, but, as these vivid stories illustrate, it's a most entertaining place to visit. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Shelf Talker: This posthumous collection of five stories showcases National Book Award winner Denis Johnson's gift for exploring some of the darker corners of our world.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: For Indie Bookstores, Weather Can Be the Grinch

As a rule a bookshop is horribly cold in winter, because if it is too warm the windows get misted over, and a bookseller lives on his windows.

--George Orwell, "Bookshop Memories" (1936)

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich.: "There’s nothing cozier than a bookstore during a snow storm all aglow."

Forecasts for the book industry have always been cloudy, with at least a 50% chance of contradiction. For independent booksellers, however, gauging the weather is more than just a retail metaphor; it's a tangible factor in their day-to-day business decisions.

Weather can be the Grinch this time of year anywhere, if for different reasons. What is good weather for bookselling? That varies from region to region, of course. Often, however, the best bookstore weather is just a little bad, to lure people indoors, but not so bad they can't drive to your store at all. It's a fine line that gets razor thin during the holiday season.

My thoughts turned to bookselling weather last Saturday, when I spotted a great "Snow Safety Advisory" tweeted out by Belmont Books, Belmont, Mass.: ‏"To increase car's traction in snow, purchase 20-50 lbs. of books from local #IndieBookstore and put them in trunk. Also doubles as emergency reading supply if power goes out. #YoureWelcome."

Then Changing Hands posted the following on Facebook Wednesday: "77 degrees and sunny in Phoenix. Still, a winter wonderland." It was 16 degrees outside my office, with single digit wind chill, when I read that one, but I appreciated the sentiment nonetheless.  

Throughout December's all-important gift-shopping season, booksellers must chart weather forecasts with an alchemic blend of meteorology and wishful thinking. The window of opportunity can be slammed shut harshly by an ill-timed storm front, especially as the countdown to Christmas Day accelerates.

Titcomb's Bookshop, East Sandwich, Mass.: "The view from here, a winter wonderland!"

Civilians--aka customers--may not realize how important the weather is to bookstores. They might assume that since bookselling is an indoor job, what's happening outside--short of a blizzard--can't possibly make or break a store's year. But it does matter, big time, to the Scrooge-ish bottom line, which doesn't give a tinker's damn whether the sun was shining in 2016 on this date, when sales were up 11% over the previous year day-to-day.

Weather excuses? Bah! Humbug! 

Seeking the middle ground between "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" and "the weather outside is frightful," most indie booksellers have been charting storm patterns online since Thanksgiving, and now hope predictions for Christmas week are not frightful, and that any lurking predatory storms will run out of time or strength before they can seriously threaten the rest of this crucial home stretch.

Please, Santa, all we want for Christmas is the absence of blizzards, Nor'easters or "freezing rain events" (as the Weather Channel people like to describe such things). No early afternoon closings. No snow days.  

"As the largest external driver of consumer need, weather is more than just a conversation-starter for retailers," the National Retailer Federation noted this week. Evan Gold, executive v-p of global services at Planalytics, a company that helps retailers account for weather, said the trick is to remove weather-driven volatility from historical data to arrive at the 'weather-neutral baseline' from which retailers can plan, allocate resources and buy product in advance of the next season." Nice trick if you can pull it off, Evan.

"The secret around weather is that it very rarely repeats," he observed, adding that a common misconception among retailers is that year-over-year, they expect consumer demand to repeat previous patterns, but they overlook weather, particularly consumer's reactions to a chill in the air... or more. "50 degrees in Miami is very different than the same 50 degrees in Minneapolis."

Planalytics has identified "five myths about the weather's impact on retail":

  1. You can't plan for the weather.
  2. It all evens out in the end.
  3. Consumers will shop during the holidays, regardless of the weather.
  4. My products aren't seasonal, so the weather doesn't affect me.
  5. I'm an online retailer--the weather doesn't impact me.

My favorite may be this tidbit from myth #3: "During the holidays, weather not only influences if a customer goes into a store, it also influences the items they place in their basket. For example, 18% of boot sales are influenced solely by the weather in December...." Maybe boots could be an unexpected sidelines hit for bookstores next year. Or a holiday season cross-promotion with a shoe store? Does AccuWeather have a brainstorming forecast module?

On December 16, 2005, during my last week as a full-time bookseller, I began the day with a blog post at Fresh Eyes: A Bookseller's Journal: "Weather affects any business, but Vermont weather is a particularly nasty ingredient for a bookstore this time of year. Everything, or nearly everything, is riding on what happens between Black Friday and New Year's Day. One bad Friday or Saturday can be crippling financially in a way it wouldn't be in, say, mid-February. But Mother Nature doesn't give a sh*t, and this morning I woke up to sleet, freezing rain, snow, and, for extra spice, no heat in my house. So, the house was warming up some as I left it to drive the treacherous dozen miles to the bookstore. Now I'm at work and I don't expect to see many customers until after noon, assuming the roads clear and we don't get much more of what the weatherman cheerily calls 'wintry mix.' "

Later that night, I added: "The 'wintry mix' didn't deliver a knockout punch today (we opened and stayed open), but it certainly delivered a few good, stiff jabs to the chin. Tomorrow. we'll try again." Because that's what booksellers do, weather be damned.

--Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives at Fresh Eyes Now)

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