How can we create a financial model that recognizes that booksellers’ primary work is cultural – and the funding can’t come from the retail activity exclusively – without losing sight of our primary work: bookselling? And how can we do it in collaboration with (not in opposition to) publishers and other literary community?

Host:  Jeff Deutsch

Notes

  • Philanthropy  as a path towards non-book-sale funding
  • JD ‘any step away from bookselling is a step in the wrong direction’
  • How to preserve bookselling as core practice
  • Publishing partners, what would you want bookstores to do/provide?
  • Josh Cook: “why can you be a successful bookstore and still struggle financially?” … where is there room to move the dial on policy issues (publishers? gov’t?)
  • Daniel O’Brien : 1. Non profits are also struggling to maintain themselves. As more and more businesses and non profits rely on the philanthropic model, it will increase competition for funds from individuals and corporations, and the funds will not be reliable — you can’t guarantee funds year over year. The most consistent philanthropic model is from localized sources and depending on the store location and demographics, that is either more or less viable. 2. Can whatever model is developed be scaled based on the above criteria? How to imagine something that can be adaptable across store demographics?
  • Working with city/municipal level support
  • Elaine K: ABA umbrella health policies? Way for stores not to have to carry the full cost of benefits alone
  • Jamie F: need to ID multiple approaches to increasing stability
  • What’s the value of bookstores to publishers? : Morgan Entrekin: indies are the key to the kinds of books grove/atlantic publishes: Curation and discovery
  • Value bookselling but also don’t devalue books by discounting (Lanora, Princeton)
  • Is there a viable career path in bookselling? How can we build a model that creates that

How can we create a financial model that recognizes that booksellers’ primary work is cultural – and the funding can’t come from the retail activity exclusively – without losing sight of our primary work: bookselling? And how can we do it in collaboration with (not in opposition to) publishers and other literary community? – Jeff Deutsch

Margie Franzen, Wanderlust Bookshop, Madison, WI. New, pop-up, online bookstore. Works with foreign booksellers. they are translators. 

Larry Engel, retired bankruptcy lawyer. Pro-bono work for bookstores. Offering knowledge as resource. 

Jeff Deutsch, Sem Coop. member owned coop for 50+ years. Recognized store could not have a viable option with only books (no sidelines). Non-profit model. How to make this viable. 

Jean Forstner, Kepler’s Books. Literary programming spun off to a 501c3 non-profit. Hybrid model. “Kepler’s Literary Foundation”

Beth, R&B Used, Grand Blank, MI. For profit store, non-profit outshoot that deals with the problem with discarded used books (library, estate sales). Having issues, different customer base for profit vs. non-profit.

Kathy Brozek, San Franscico. Wrote an article detailing the Kepler’s model. Goes into detail how Kepler’s has two separate entities. Article available online. Forrester law website. A philanthropic model has to be incorporated into bookstore model to allow for another stream of income. Philanthropic capital as an ongoing stream.

Cherilyn Parsons, Bay Area Book Festival, runs. One of the ways they sustain is individual donors, sponsors, foundations (but little foundation support for literary causes). Could be an opportunity to partner with a bookstore. 

Kathy – Foundations not easy to work with. Get them to understand bookstore needs. Don’t give grants to for profit organizations. They need to adapt a little to understand needs.

Jeff – SC not 501 anything. Can’t get income from foundations. Any step away from bookselling is a step in the wrong direction. When they looked at other revenues (events, etc.) was away from their core missions. What would publishers want bookstores to do on a cultural level. Bring in revenue to create browsing experience. 

Josh Cook, Porter Square Books. Why can you be a succesful bookstore and still struggle financially? Why are the stores so tenuous. If all rent cut in half? Didn’t have to provide health care coverage? Need to look beyond factors that make bookstores difficult. What is it about our relationship with publishers where they can have millions of cash on hand. Not all good at fundraising, philanthropy. Where is there space to change policy issues. Need bookstores as allies against AMZ.

(from chat) Daniel O’Brien: A few thoughts: 1. Non profits are also struggling to maintain themselves. As more and more businesses and non profits rely on the philanthropic model, it will increase competition for funds from individuals and corporations, and the funds will not be reliable — you can’t guarantee funds year over year. The most consistent philanthropic model is from localized sources and depending on the store location and demographics, that is either more or less viable. 2. Can whatever model is developed be scaled based on the above criteria? How do imagine something that can be adaptable across store demographics?

Jamie Fioocco, Flyleaf Books, NC. Pubs in London cultural landmarks. Can we have a seachange as how bookstores are viewed in the general public? This is what bookstores do for the community. I wonder if we can’t make publishers happy to give us a revenue stream to deal directly with readers. Instead of working at odds with direct marketing from publishers, can bookstores help with that and benefit financially?

Larry Engel: One bookstore had an idea that there were lots of local authors. One idea to consider: you guys read. you read a lot of books, you have taste. You know what’s good. A lot of these authors would pay booksellers to read and give thoughts on their work.

(from chat) Evan Karp, HELP, Oakland: If your business is of a certain age, you should see if your city offers legacy business status (or the like), in which case you may be eligible for funding (even if you don’t own your building). I believe the designation criteria varies …

(from chat) Tom, New Story Community Books, MI: I’m curious how a co-operative/ worker owned model could influence these funding questions. Does anyone have insight into the limitations or potential with that?

Lisa, Buffalo Street Books. Applied for HUD funding to create a new position. Went before biz development committee. Didn’t get, but opened conversation with the community for other support moving forward. ONe of the avenenues pursuing is about where we fit and role we are serving. Asking for money from your municipality is an option to look at.

(from chat): Cherilyn Parsons, BABF: I totally agree with Daniel: fundraising is a nightmare overall because it’s unreliable and incredibly demanding to do (you turn somersaults for donors). And yes it’s highly localized. Frankly I’ve been appalled at how little literary funding is available. The large arts funders have told me that “literary” is at the bottom of the priority pile, after theater, dance, visual arts, etc., which they figure will never be profitable on their own. They say that books have a viable commercial model. HELLO…! And, agree a lot with Josh’s comments earlier about publisher support.

(from chat): Evan Karp: I think that’s a great idea, Lisa, and wonder if it might make sense to try and hone a collective pitch we could each take to our city’s office of economic development.

(from chat): Lisa, Buffalo St: Yes Evan! This is something this group/organization can help us all fine tune and put out into public.

Elaine Katzenberger, City Lights: Biggest cost of doing biz is rent. City Lights now owns building. Can some organization help with ways to buy building, subsidize rent? How do we make the case that the work we do is invaluable? PR campaign (a fertile time to use this method)

Camden Avery, Booksmith: Shops that are exploring alternate designations, making the case for bs to occupy a certain cultural realm. There needs to be a higher level gov’t acknowledgement of the cultural work bookshops do. This is in play in France. Locally or nationally, the ability to take advantage of an opportune political moment to advocate for the work we do.

(from chat) jeff Deutsch: Thought experiment: what would your margins be if you only sold books, not sidelines or services? Could we build a model for bookstores that is about selling books exclusively?

(from chat) Josh Cook: I know the ABA explored a unified healthcare solution and, If I remember correctly, the best they were able to work out, with the size of the membership, and I think also some laws around trade associations, was giving bookstores access to a database of insurance providers. I don’t know how well it works because Massachusetts had a different ste up.

(from chat) Tom, New Story: @Jeff They wouldn’t be anywhere near sustainable. Also, I’d dislike that completely. We offer sidelines that celebrate reading and literacy culture. We help people enjoy their fandoms. I never understand the push to be purely books.

(from chat): Cherilyn Parsons: CalifHOw ornians for the Arts did an amazing job in lobbying CA’s governor, legislature, etc., to allocate a good chunk of the Rescue Act to arts. It was a major campaign.

(from chat): Elaine, City Lights: Even bigger, obviously there are countries who have designated books as worthwhile beyond “commodity” status, and have reined in discounts, giving a better playing field to all. This is another massive undertaking, and it requires ALL segments of the industry to collaborate, but it is actually possible.

Jamie: Can we identify the many approaches we need to do in order to monetize what we do

(from chat): Jeff Deutsch: I think sidelines are great! But are they an economic necessity or a curatorial decision?

(from chat): Lisa, Buffalo St. Yes re: Josh Cook here in NY State the individual rates on the health care exchange are still the best option over ABA’s offerings

Ross Rojek: Local schools provide part-time interns from HS to help them with experience. They save payrool, student gets experience.

Jeff Deutsch: Publishers. What is the value of independent bookstores to us as opposed to rest of the market. What are the things we can do that can’t happen at a B&N or AMZ.

Morgan Entrekin: Publisher of Grove Atlantic. The things that booksellers can do that help us is in curation and discovery. The online digital monopolis can’t do this. B&N do some, but the lifeblood of the kind of books that GA publishes are indies. We have always put more resources into backing indies in any way they could. Galleys, coop, authors for events. I can’t understand why large corporate houses don’t recognize and support that more. It’s getting better post Borders & AMZ squeeze. The ABA tries to do that. Trying to push forward together. But I don’t have an easy answer to this. Bookshop. org: those who use it well are using it well for curations. Indies need to double down on the need for curation and discovery. What you do is amazing, but you have to find a way to get paid for that?

Jeff: follow-up question: Coop is an outdated system. Is there a different model where we are paid as consultants, discoverers, publicists?

Kathey Brozek: Big name authors. Are they aware of what is going on with indie bookstores? Is there a way to create a contract when millions are sold by an author, a small percentage goes to bookstores? 

(from chat) Jeff Deutsch: Thought experiment: what would it take to no longer need BINC as an institution? Pam and her incredible colleagues are AMAZING! But it would be so nice not to NEED them to supplement are embarrassingly low wages and benefits.

Evan Karp, HELP, Oakland: Challenge focus of Jeff’s. Something they do at his store that is helpful: We partner with local authors who are fans of the store already to do signed copies on demand. They can promote their own books, but also the store. Helps the authors they want to invest in. A program that is effective. 

(from chat) Jeff Waxman: That’s something I think about a lot, Jeff Deutsch–BINC is there to address emergencies. What if booksellers were in a less precarious situation, less prone to emergencies?

(from chat) Lisa, Buffalo St: To add to that Jeff, so many bookstores want/strive/do provide living wages, etc. but we are in an industry that obviously many stores do not, in order to try to beat the odds we all know – Is there a way for this group of us and/or ABA or??? To create more of a demand for living wage jobs and other positive work environment benefits for staff?

Cherilyn Parsons, Bay Area Book Festival to Everyone (3:26 PM): How many mega authors can follow James Patterson? Like “The Giving Pledge” gathers mega-wealthy… can there be a coalition of very successful authors to donate? Some of them have foundations. There’s just such an insane, immoral amount of money out there, growing faster than the billionaires can spend it.

Josh Cook (Porter Sq Book, Cambridge, MA) (he/him) to Everyone (3:28 PM): For me, this a big part of the frustration of conversations like this. As innovative and creative as our ideas are, as much value as we bring to communities, as much as we do for publishers, when we talk about the capital we can access through our direct actions, that capital is crumbs in terms of big publishers, the biggest authors, and other aspects of our economy in general.

Jeff Waxman (he/him) to Everyone (3:28 PM): Books cost the same amount in Tulsa as they do in NYC or Boston; imagine trying to maintain different costs of living in wildly different markets and with identical margins–I stopped expecting bookstores to pay for health care long ago. Publishers should give up on totes, abandon enamel pins and other swag, and start supporting the booksellers in what they actually need: health care

Cherilyn Parsons, Bay Area Book Festival to Everyone (3:29 PM): YES Josh (the same goes for literary event producers btw…)

Sarah Bagby to Everyone (3:29 PM): Amen, Lanora!

Clancy D’Isa: We need to have a conversation on how we narrate our work. What is the work of a professional bookseller, what are the terms that we classify that. How do we get paid for that work.

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