Creating Demand in your Bookstore

Don’t Wait for Demand—Create It!

We all know that demand drives prices in out-of-print books and drives sales of new books, too, but how many of us realize that we can work to create demand? Let me take my example from my own bookstore.

on the farmDog Ears Books in Northport, Michigan, has a small but concentrated selection of books on agriculture, both new and used. Farming might seem a strange specialty for a bookstore that survives year to year on the seasonal influx vacationers, but while it’s true that many more people walk into the store looking for summer beach reading, farming is near and dear to my heart, and I want to have a part in promoting sustainable agricultural practices. If this seems far-out and irrelevant to your store, think of your own favorite category, which might be easier to boost than mine. The question is still, how to do it?

  1. Build a collection. There might seem no point wasting energy to create demand for a category if you only have three or four books, because when those books are gone, they’re gone, but if you are passionate about that subject, start looking for more. Get the word out about what you want. When people call asking, “Do you buy books?” have a quick, short spiel ready. My priority list starts with out-of-print Michigan history, followed by Civil War and World War II, and then nature field guides and agriculture.

  2. Love your special books. Of course, you love all your books, but books in your specialty niche need to be showcased with particular attention. Cover them with archival protective materials, and give them a place of honor. Even customers without an interest in these books will notice this unique area of the shop and appreciate your attention to detail, and your overall reputation will be enhanced.

  3. Publicize your specialty niche. When interviewed for radio or print, I naturally emphasize my Michigan titles, but I also get in a plug for my old farming books. You never know who among readers or listeners will be surprised and delighted by your unsuspected interest. (Encouraging word to new booksellers: journalists will contact you more frequently the longer you last in the book business. It takes a while.) And don’t forget connections to nonbook special interest groups whose members share your passion.

  4. Cultivate your clientele. Some of the best sources for books and tips on your specialty are the customers for that specialty. You already share common interests, so it isn’t hard to develop relationships. Make it easy for these customers to remember you and keep in touch.

Creating demand for agriculture books means more to me than prices and revenue: I’m working to create increased demand for the kind of future I want to see. What do you love? Collect according to your passion, nurture and cultivate specialty clientele, and love your books and customers.

Pamela Grath

Dog Ears Books

106 Waukazoo Street

P.O. Box 272

Northport, MI  49670

(231) 386-7209

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  • Thanks for the valuable tips, they should help many of us focus a bit better and prevent some farming books from being lost to posterity.

    Coincidentally, this past Saturday a businessman from a town in farming country 80 miles south of us came in and asked me where we keep our books on farming. I told him I had 2 or 3 in the back of my van I purchased the week before and was intending to take to our largest store where we have more shelf space but I would try to let him see them by Monday.

    He was so anxious to get a look at them he visited the store 3 times and phoned another 3 times on Sunday before I finally got them into the store for him to purchase. We look through millions of books every year and in over 20 years I personally might have seen fifty books on farming and yet I know they are very salable in almost any condition – that type of information is very hard to pass on to staff who come and go. I’m sure our ineptitude in this area has been responsible for sending thousands of worthwhile books to garbage dumps.

    We have been building a comprehensive point of sale database for the past eight years and yet we are probably 2-5 years away from having the time and ability to trap much of the information needed by our staff and relevant to book buyers in our area (we have no time or inclination to sell on the internet). Fortunately, we do have the 8 years of data to draw upon when we find the time – unfortunately, as we get better at what we do the everyday workload is increasing and restricting our ability to do much of what has to be done.

    A few other things you’ll seldom see but are always worth buying are books on logging and loggers, anything on turtles, books by Lobsang Rampa, Aleister Crowley, Edward Said and dozens of other authors too numerous to mention here.

    One other tip to all booksellers – let’s all work a bit harder because what we are doing is important to the world – whether it knows it or not!

    • George, I’m glad to have someone back me up on the farming books. Turtles? Who knew? Logging, yes, and hard to come by.

      Geographical location can play into what specialties work for you, too. Here in Northport, Michigan, we have a small township airport (grass landing field), and I learned early on to look for books on aviation.

      Thanks for all the work you are doing, George, to strengthen bookselling.


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    • Good posting Pamela. I first want to tell George his website is excellent. I like the fact that all Fair’s Fair bookstores have ‘easy to recognize’ pictures of each store and maps to show how to get there.

      Pamela, Another method I’ve used to is to comment on blog postings ‘of interest’ with relevant comments, perhaps a book title with relevant info if it fits with the posting and comment. Don’t just advertise which would really be comment spamming but give out some handy dandy teaching or trivia. Human interest stuff. Of course with your name and email info leave the ‘optional’ website link.

      • This is a good idea, too, and I’m glad you included the reminder to be relevant and chatty rather than commercial.

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  • What about hosting readings or receptions for local authors? Another idea is a working with local inns and cafes. Up in Sonoma my wife and I stay at this B&B and their library is stocked by the local bookstore ranging from regional fiction to culinary and architectural pictorials.

    • This is especially important in a small town, perhaps, which is where my shop is. I do, however, review books first before scheduling appearances by authors to make sure each book is one I can strongly recommend as worth its cover price, as my reputation is on the line every time.

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