Chapters has new stores called “Lifestyle” and “Paper”

This Week's Fish Wrap (№33): Indigo Slashes Book Inventory

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.


Before we get too far into the topic of the headline, you ought to know that the two newest titles from Atomic Fez are not only available in eBook format from Kindle and Kobo now, you could even win one of 15 copies of each book being given away through LibraryThing! Here’s some linkage and graphic-​​happy stuff.

LibraryThing Early Reviewer logo WIN AN eBOOK COPY OF DIRK DANGER LOVES LIFE

click here to see details
CLICK HERE to get more details and order copies (new tab)
LibraryThing Early Reviewer logo WIN AN eBOOK COPY OF TERRIBILIS

click here to see details
CLICK HERE to get more details and order copies (new tab)

So, there we are. As always, the winners will receive DRM-​​free files in the following formats: ePUB, PDF, and PRC (and you can re-​​name that last one with the KMZ or MOBI extension to use on your Kindle or MobiPocket unit respectively). Whee!

Plus, while were at it, here’s a couple of things you might want to look at that have nothing to do with the topic about to be shouted about in the next section:

  • Cory Doctorow’s 45-​​minute Keynote Address about copyright at SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver: CLICK HERE (and thanks to ‘Jules’ for that)

  • Reading in the new age of things: CLICK HERE (and thanks to ‘Maryann Kempson’ for that)

  • If you spend all day at a desk, you can still get some exercise: CLICK HERE (and thanks to ‘Lifehacker’ for that)


The Bookstore's Books May be Found... Over There Behind the Pillows and Throw Rugs

Early last week, I saw that Chapters/​Indigo Books & Music, Inc had posted their latest financial figures for the year so far, or the last financial quarter, or whatever it was. Apparently, it was fairly good over-​​all, with printed books’ sales taking a bit of a dip alongside the rise in eBooks’ sales, so the end result is swings and roundabouts. All good so far, and hardly a surprise what with Amazon now getting all shouty about how they’re selling copies of more books through the Kindle store as they are selling in paperback and hardback combined. Good stuff, thinks I, this should increase the number of books available over-​​all, increasing selection for the reader and thus royalty payments for authors as their back-​​catalogues are thus easier for the publishers to maintain. Huzzahs in general ought to be heard around the land.

Now here’s the real issue that has got me jumping up and down, and possibly biting the hand which feeds me as a publisher, as mentioned in passing from the article linked to above:

The company is also planning to launch its own brand of gift and lifestyle products, which means that less space will be devoted to books.

Chapters has new stores called “Lifestyle” and “Paper”
Chapters has new stores called “Lifestyle” and “Paper”

Saying to myself …pardon me? I then saw the e-​​mail on the right (and click to make the image all big and legible), telling all and sundry on their iRewards SPAM-​​age list that Heather Reisman, CEO of Chapters/​Indigo, has undertaken to become more than merely a book retailer with a bunch of goo-​​gaws that have little to do with books on some shelves; now she’s selling her own, in-​​house designed, broad line of seemingly endless variety of goo-​​gaws that have nothing to do with books. Yes, Virginia, Canada now has its own Martha Stewart, and it’s Heather.

A BIT OF NECESSARY DISCLOSURE: Atomic Fez books are available through both Amazon and Indigo, including the Kindle and Kobo outlets therefrom.

To be perfectly honest, the selling of non-​​book items in bookstores is hardly something new. No doubt even as far back as the early 1800s people have been able to locate copies of books alongside blank journals and other ‘note books’, stationary, reservoir pens, wrapping paper, and illustrated note and post cards. No doubt the availability of books at newsagents’, filling stations, grocery stores, and cafés has been just as equally maligned by those who wish those locations to be purely places of broadsheets, transportation fuel, food, and caffeine. Just so have the denizens of book shops decried the offerings of non-​​book items therein. Nothing new there, then.

However, I find it difficult to recall any bookstore which has decided to create their own non-​​book stuff in any sort of amount this substantial, never mind enough of a selection that they could declare it their “fall collection”, as Ms Reisman has done. They’ve got two shop specifically dedicated to these products: their Lifestyle Shop and their Paper Shop. The video below appears on this page of their site, along with a 39 item display of their new in-​​house designed products. They are, in their words, creating “Home as a Nest”; although ‘nesting’ is something I thought all those YUPPIES were doing about half a decade or more ago, but whatever.

Were one not to have “Indigo” shoved at the camera repeatedly (and it’s a wonderful study on how to reinforce your ‘brand’ in that regard), it would be entirely understandable to mistake this for a new line of products from Bowring’s, the Bombay Company, Pier 1 Imports, or some such place. This may be the sort of market placement Indigo is hoping to accomplish, as any business is best operated when following where the money leads it. That said, what went so wrong with book retail that the books on offer are no longer seen as a sufficient enough draw to bring in customers to purchase the books they wish to read?

The answer, obviously, is Amazon.

Even before Jeff Bezos had the idea for the Kindle, Amazon was already making life damned difficult for book shops of all sizes, and apparently the struggle is even there for Indigo. A couple of years ago, if you had asked me what the landscape in the retail book industry would look like at this point – and some people did, so this actually was the answer – I would have said that, while the big boys might take some hits, the really narrow niche shops such as Murder One (in London, for the mystery lovers) and Biz Books (in Vancouver, for everything to do with show business from acting to writing to technical specialties) would continue, due to their one-​​stop shopping convenience. Well, gracious me, was I wrong. Neither the UK or American versions of Borders were expected to tank, Barnes & Noble in the USA is struggling its way through some complicated negotiations for a part change in ownership, it’s possible that Indigo is struggling (otherwise why would they try to hit a new market), and independent stores like Vancouver’s Biz Books and Ardea Books & Art have shut, along with Murder One and several others in London, as well as countless more the world over.

Obviously, times are hard for everyone, and the result is that people’s discretionary income is nigh-​​on non-​​existent. I know this to be the case because, despite all my efforts with promotion, marketing, and simple pavement pounding, there’s not a single Atomic Fez title on a shelf in a book shop anywhere in the world. Having mailed countless packages to store managers in authors’ hometowns suggesting in-​​store readings and signing events – complete with promotional posters, leaflets, and generous wholesale discounts and return policies on un-​​sold stock – nary a peep has come to this office by return post or e-​​mail; unless you count the three envelopes in front of me marked “RETURN TO SENDER, ADDRESSEE NO LONGER AT THIS LOCATION”.  While I hadn’t thought it a “slam-​​dunk /​ easy to do /​ wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” sort of affair, one had expected some sort of reply, especially after an author had done a face-​​to-​​face follow-​​up; none of which got anything more than “oh yes…? …so?” response. Further materials quoting glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and other respected industry sources, as well as British Fantasy Society Awards’ long– and short-​​list inclusions for titles and the publishing house itself have gone similarly ignored by those in the retail environs.

The key to retail shops being interested in a publisher’s books is often said to have a distributor: someone like Ingram, or Baker & Taylor, and so on. This permits the shop to include your book in an order for stock with a lot of other books from other houses, thus resulting in one shipping cost for all of them, as well as one bill to pay. Thus, very near the end of last year, Atomic Fez entered into a distribution agreement with Author’s Choice, thereby having not only the respectability of saying “yes, we’re distributed by…”, but also getting direct, up-​​to-​​date inclusion in the on-​​line catalogues of and Chapters/​Indigo, and potentially on the shelves of the latter retailer too! So far… nothing in that latter situation; neither Chapters/​Indigo or a shop on any continent.

Actually, there’s a bit of relief that Chapters/​Indigo hasn’t wanted to stock Atomic Fez books, because if they did want to stock them, I’d have to get a good two thousand or so copies of each title done and shipped to their warehouse, all at my expense, and then be prepared to get all of them back inside six months because none of them sold, and I’d be paying for that shipping as well as having to figure out how to sell nearly ten thousand books from the basement (never mind where to put them down there). The additional problem is that the return policy for Chapters/​Indigo has recently had the time period reduced by 50%: where it used to be the case that books could be returned from each shop after that title hadn’t been moving for 90 days, now only 45 days are required, making it likely that no book that a reader has heard about a month ago will be available to pick-​​up and handle in a store. The one advantage any retail outlet has over Amazon is that people can look at a book, leaf through to a random page inside, read it a bit, have a look at the page layout, maybe look at the photo plates in the middle if there are any, and then walk out of the shop with their book in their hand. To limit the number of ‘new’ books that a customer can do that with – especially given that this sort of customer is less prone to get the latest book quickly – is possibly the worst thing a retailer could do.

I have, quite honestly, given-​​up on ever seeing books published by Atomic Fez on sale anywhere but on-​​line book dealers, this site, and the occasional table at a convention where I (or the delightful men of Wales who generously handle UK orders) happen to be in attendance. While I had hoped to fulfill a vision of seeing my efforts sit proudly in public for people to wander past, judge the worth of through direct contact, then purchase, this dream shall remain unrealized. Instead, one must throw in one’s lot with the Artisans who ply their trade in craft shows, parking lots, and bazaars.

I refuse to believe, however, that people are reading less, or will ever not enjoy the telling of tales through the written word. All the rules may be changing, but surely this one is eternal…?

UPDATE: For those of you who, like me, could use a bit of a cheerier end to this, head over to THIS POST on George Verdolaga’s blog to read about a success that an author he knows has made.

4 thoughts on “This Week's Fish Wrap (№33): Indigo Slashes Book Inventory

  1. I personally am confused by what Chapter’s is trying to sell — books? or a “lifestyle”? Seems that books are no longer a profitable niche for this company (I agree that Amazon is the main reason for this shift in retailing tactics). Now they need to push accessories/​gifts and other types of stuff to sell. Clearly, more and more people are going down the electronic route. And as for getting shelf space for your books, you hit the nail right on the head: the answer is to partner up with a distributor. But it’s a massive investment of cash up front and — as you pointed out — you still have to deal with returns of unsold in the end. It’s great for exposure, though.

  2. The only downside I can see to old format ‘books’ is the storage space required. I have seen examples of people going back to vinyl records in music and there will always be those who will buy paperback versions (let’s not argue about which format) of books. My husband just bought the 4 volumes of the Game of Thrones series that’s available in paperback because all 4 were there when he was grocery shopping. Paperback. Complete set at once. Grocery store. Title about which he was curious. I don’t know where that takes you and it’s just anecdotal (for which read ‘actually happened in my world’) but books still pull. He was only asked to get potatoes and eggs.

    1. Pre-​​​​Orders for printed books are only activated once the ink starts hitting the paper, basically. Over the past decade, there have been too many small publishers taking orders for books literally years prior to publication. We need to re-​​​​earn the faith of the readers.

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