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by Craig Stark

#94, 14 May 2007

Is this a good time to get into the bookselling business? Ask this question on any bookselling forum - well, outside BookThink's fences, that is - and you might fall asleep waiting for a yes. Not only will many think that it's a bad time indeed, but also, some will assert that it's a good time to get the heck out. Typically, the latter booksellers are been-there-done-that types, those who've had a pretty good or better run, sometimes for years, and now find themselves in trouble. Also, their arguments are often the most persuasive because the experience supporting them necessarily gives them some legitimacy, perhaps so much that you may be led to conclude:

If an experienced bookseller can no longer make it work, how can I, an inexperienced one, stand a chance of succeeding?

But something is being missed here. Something big. More books are being sold now than ever before. This market isn't going south, ladies and gentlemen; it's heading north - fast. Well, sure it is, you say, but new booksellers are entering in droves, and there simply isn't room for everybody. In one sense, this is correct, but in another, more important sense, what this doesn't mean is that your chances of succeeding are diminished; it just means that there will be more booksellers you'll be separating yourself from.

The key to succeeding at bookselling is to separate yourself from the competition. How do you do this? Easy. It's called growing, and most of your competition won't bother with it. Here's how it works: You don't find something that works and sit on it - eventually, your competition will catch up to you, and it'll stop working - rather, you find something that works, then immediately set out to find something else that works, and so on. If your sales have flattened out, if you're having to push yourself to accomplish tasks that you once approached with enthusiasm, I can almost guarantee you that you've stopped growing - that you've been sitting on what "works" for too long.

This is the approach we take at BookThink too. We're always looking for new things that may work. Some of the things we try, of course, lay goose eggs, but when this happens, we toss them off and look for something else. A good example of trying new things is a column we're launching today - "Report from Beginnersville: The Adventures of a Clueless Bookseller." Unlike BookThink's other columnists, Brenna Hopkins cheerfully confesses that she's clueless when it comes to bookselling. She's also brave: She's committed to learning the business and willing to let you watch her do it, maybe even help her do it, showing us all the inevitable failures - and hopefully successes.

Will it work? Who knows. Much depends on Brenna, but I think to some extent it could also depend on us. I'd like to invite each of you to read Brenna's reports and, when inspired, offer her some advice, suggestions, etc., for growing her business. If she ultimately succeeds, it would make for an intriguing account of how it's done and doubtless help all of us understand success better and how to achieve it. Send your feedback to editor@bookthink.com and we'll publish the best of it every month.

First up, however, Pamela Palmer presents BookThink's Top 10 on eBay - something of a sea change this month. She explains: "March 2007 came and went with eBay fiction sales turning distinctly domestic. No UK sellers showed up at all, though an Australian and a Canadian made valiant attempts to fill the vacuum left by the precipitous departure of UK listings on eBay US. Meanwhile, King and son wrapped up 4 of the fiction slots. As if that wasn't enough, there were 3 separate ties totaling 6 titles in the mix."

Issue #1 of BookThink's Quarterly Market Report of Common, Profitable Books was delivered Tuesday evening, May 8. All active 50/50 subscribers should have received a copy, also a separate email stating the number of QMR issues remaining before expiration. If not, email me at editor@bookthink.com

Not subscribed yet? Here's where to do it.

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