Sales were strong across much of the country this past summer, and the attitude going into the fall is positive, according to a PW survey of more than 15 independent bookstores last week.
“We had a really good summer,” said Ann Woodbeck, owner of Excelsior Bay Books outside of Minneapolis. “Sales were way up. We expect to finish out the year with a double-digit increase over last year.”
Anne Holman, general manager of the King’s English in Salt Lake City, reported that sales were up 14%–15%, and Kristen Sandstrom, manager of the Apostle Islands Booksellers in Bayfield, Wisc., said sales were likely to add up to the “best year ever.”
Peter Reynolds, owner of the Blue Bunny Books Toys in Dedham, Mass., said that sales are up 25% this year, 9% from last summer—despite the fact that Amazon Books opened a store less than a mile away earlier this year and his own store closed for three weeks to renovate. “Our loyal customers became even more loyal,” he added.
Nicole Sullivan, owner of BookBar in Denver, pegged the increase in sales at her store this summer at 20%, in part due to an influx of new residents in her store’s neighborhood and the addition of an outdoor patio where customers can linger over coffee, tea, and hors d’oeuvres. “That helps sustain us through the summer while others might be leveling off after the holidays” she said.
In Athens, Ga., the Avid Bookshop saw sales 57% higher than last summer after adding a second, larger location in town, owner Janet Geddis said.
Only a handful of the booksellers surveyed reported modest gains, including Beth Black, co-owner of the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb. “Things were up 1% or 2%, but that’s essentially flat,” she said. Colleen Kammer, co-owner of the Book Beat in Detroit, reported sales were “flat, about even” from last year.
Assistant manager Kate Thomas Wood of Bookstore One in Sarasota, Fla., noted that “summer is out of season [for Sarasota]—sales were about the same for us [as last summer].” The store, which moved to a larger location in February and has seen sales double in some book sections since the move, used the off-season to extend opportunities for local, self-published authors to hold events, which attract year-round residents.
Stan Hynds, book buyer at Northshire Bookstore, with locations in Vermont and New York, said: “We were up a little bit every month this summer in the Saratoga Springs store. In the Manchester Center store we were up two out of three months this summer, and we were down a little in August only because the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child numbers from last August were so big.”
A similar report came from Brandon Stout, director of marketing at Changing Hands Bookstore, with locations in Phoenix and Tempe. Stout said sales were off a percentage point or two this summer. “That sounds bad, but in fact is extraordinary, because last summer, we had the Harry Potter release, which generated incredible sales,” he said.
Some booksellers cited the impact of specific improvements they made at their stores as the reason for a sales boost. At the Penguin Bookshop in Pittsburgh, store manager Mary Ferris reported that sales increased 15% from last summer, crediting her effort to take advantage of offers for signed first editions and displays from publishers. “We got six signed Rick Riordan first editions,” she explained. “I personally called five customers and said: ‘I know you are regular shoppers with us. Would your son or daughter be interested in this?’ And they were over the moon, and came in the next day—and they bought other books.”
Among the books identified by several booksellers as bringing customers into stores were A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Viking), News of the World by Paulette Jiles (Morrow), The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Anchor), and Golden Hill by Frances Buford (Scribner). “[Golden Hill] is one of those books that we really loved, and then all the indies jumped on it and it’s doing great,” said Holman from the King’s English.
As for nonfiction, booksellers identified Theft by David Sedaris (Little, Brown), Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (HarperCollins), Evicted by Matthew Desmond (Broadway), Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken (Hachette), and The Radium Girls by Kate Moore (Sourcebooks) as summer favorites.
Among the children’s and YA titles identified repeatedly were Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Timbuktu Labs), Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte), Refugee by Alan Gratz (Scholastic), and She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger (Philomel).
Zane Fletcher, the children’s/YA area manager for children’s books at the Bookworm, is among those who pointed out Not Quite Narwahl by Jessie Sima (Simon Schuster) as a top-selling title. Maureen Palacios, owner of Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, Calif., expressed appreciation for the book: “Thank goodness for Not Quite Narwhal—we have sold almost 100 copies. Our first half of the year was awful, as many of our customers were still in shock that Trump was elected”—which made for a poor retail environment.
Looking ahead, booksellers are expecting excellent sales for several books to finish out the year. John Green’s forthcoming YA novel, Turtles All the Way Down (Dutton), was by far the most anticipated book among booksellers surveyed. Other titles cited by booksellers as likely bestsellers include the novels Artemis by Andy Weir (Crown), Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Scribner), and the apocalyptic flood fiction The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (Grove), which several see as a possible sleeper hit. Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened (Simon Schuster) has the potential to draw those hoping for a change in political leadership, according to those interviewed, and Armistead Maupin’s memoir Logical Family (Harper) is likely to lure loyal fans.
Booksellers are hopeful sales will remain resilient for the remainder of the year. Richard Deupree, store manager at Katy Budget Books just outside Houston, said that sales were up slightly prior to Hurricane Harvey, and while he acknowledges that buying books is not a high priority for those recovering from the storm, he remains upbeat. “I feel confident that we’re going to see good things—the economy is slowly getting better [overall],” he said. “I’m hoping that Harvey didn’t take the wind out of our sails, and that we’ll have a surge of sales. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for here in Katy, and I’m optimistic that the second half of the year will reflect that.”
The Top Summer BestsellersRank Title Author Imprint 1 Camino Island John Grisham Random House 2 The Woman in Cabin 10 Ruth Ware Simon Schuster 3 Wonder R.J. Palacio Random House 4 Milk and Honey Rupi Kaur Andrews McMeel 5 Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Neil deGrasse Tyson Norton