Saturday, April 7, 2007

How We Work With Book Groups

We're big supporters of book clubs, in case you didn't know it. Our staff can work with you to develop your reading lists, and we have several ways we can make your 2007-2008 book decisions easier.

First of all, we're very happy to host your club here at the store. It's fairly simple to set up for discussion groups during or after store hours, and we don't have any restrictions on any refreshments you might want to enjoy. Using the store can serve as a pretty good way to launch a book discussion group until everyone gets to know each other. Give it some thought. Whether you want to use the bookstore just once a year (for example, to make your picks) or make it a regular monthly event, we're happy to work with you.

As you may know, we have one club that is itinerant, traveling to area independent restaurants on the third Tuesday of every month. The group has remained fairly stable, with some members attending only when they like the book. It's a great success and the combination of fine dining and books is a boon to the local restaurants.

There's a recent addition to our book group program that you may be unaware of. I'm dismayed that so many book groups let economics dictate their selections. To economize, most groups choose trade paperbacks, the quality editions that sell for $12-16. But that means that the book will have been out for as much as a year - sometimes more - and much of the "heat and light" that makes a book a success has faded. Authors have moved on to their next books by that time and publishers have far less incentive to provide extras.

We want to remove the impediment of price. Since we can fairly well predict the future price of a new release (let's say it's The Book of Air and Shadows, the thriller about a mysterious Shakespeare document by Michael Gruber via William Morrow publishers). The new hardcover sells for $24.95, a price just high enough to discourage a book group from picking it up, even if it's the hottest book of the season. Major reviews, author appearances, special promotions, and huge buzz might surround it, but almost all groups around here will wait until 2008 to take it on. In the meantime, a couple will read it in hardcover and then next year be bored to read it again.

We know, within a dollar or so, what that same book will cost when it releases in trade paperback - something like $16.95, considering inflation. We figure, why wait? If a book group of five or more people doesn't want to wait, we'll sell it to you for $16.95 RIGHT NOW. Now, some clubs make their picks a year in advance, so this might not work for them. But it might be just the ticket for you.

This can be especially valuable for that hot new nonfiction book on a topical subject in the news. 18 months from now, it may have lost its relevance (say, a Barack Obama biography or John McCain's book on decision-making, Hard Call). After November of 2008, those may be duds, but that doesn't mean they won't stimulate a rousing book discussion now. I lament the fact that price influences the selections so much, so I'm making it easy for your group to READ IT NOW!

A third way we work with book groups is to offer standing discounts on books with regular trade discounts (that's pretty much every book, but not all). Any group purchasing five or more books gets an automatic 13% discount; ten or more (the rare club) gets 18% off; and 15 or more earns a hefty 23% discount off the list price - whether it's a $9.99 mass market mystery or something like the upcoming Ike, the definitive biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

You'd be surprised how many clubs (and school classes, for that matter) let their members fend for themselves to scrounge for 10-100 copies here, there, and everywhere. We can make it simple. Place a certain order and we'll even have the book there when you meet next. Give us a heads-up and we can ensure that everyone has a copy well in advance of your meeting.

We also archive book club selections on our Web site at Ann has placed a quick link at the top of the page so you can see what other book groups are reading. We invite your group to send us past and future lists to share with our readers.

Honestly, my forehead crinkles up when three members of a 12-member group come in to buy their next book. Where are the other nine going? And why? I remain convinced that we need a hometown bookstore, but when 9 out of 12 readers vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere...well, does that mean they want us to leave?

We welcome your suggestions as to how we can help your existing or prospective club prosper. If we can help to arrange an author visit or a live telephone call during your meeting, we'd be happy to do so.

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