Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Bookseller entrepreneur: Mitchell Kaplan

Mitchell Kaplan, former president of the American Booksellers Association, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair and owner of four Books & Books stores in Florida, will deliver the keynote address at this year’s Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) conference. He spoke to Andrea Hanke about leveraging his bookstore’s brand and moving to a consignment model.

What can booksellers expect from your keynote address? 
I will try to give a clear picture as to how we’ve been able to sustain our business over these past 32 years, in the process talking about the challenges and opportunities I’ve encountered as a bookseller in the United States. I’ll also weigh in on just where I think bookselling might be heading and how we can try to suggest some changes to the way we do business. I plan to bring a hopeful message with me from the States.

Previously you’ve discussed leveraging or monetising the brand of your Books & Books stores. What are some examples, big and small? 
We’ve partnered with stores that are owned by others who use our name, our store designs, our contractors and even our database; there are Books & Books stores in The Cayman Islands, Westhampton Beach, New York, and the Miami International Airport that are members of the extended Books & Books family of bookstores. We also provide them with a variety of services in marketing, buying and financial analysis. 

Books & Books has also partnered with Miami Dade College to co-found the Miami Book Fair and presented authors at the University of Miami and at various synagogues, churches and other community centers. We use our connections with publishers to help book authors for a variety of groups in Miami and in return we ask these groups to guarantee a book purchase from us. Similarly, we work very closely with schools to present authors and other programs which help to ensure our next generation of readers.

You’ve partnered with airports, museums and galleries and opened mini stores in smaller markets. Do you see a future for single-store independents?
Yes, I believe that single-store independents have a bright future. There are cities where we’re seeing an upswing in younger people opening stores and they’re quite successful. Each store will have its own strategy for sustainability.

How do you think independent booksellers can work better together? 
Independent booksellers are some of the most generous folks I know. We share with each other all the time. I do think that there might be some very creative ways we can work together to be more efficient. Perhaps we can share resources when it comes to buying, marketing or even some back-end operations. 

What do you think publishers could be doing (or doing better) to support independent booksellers? How has moving to the consignment model helped business?
I’m very enthusiastic about publishers who work on the consignment model. I’ve gone from doing business with some publishers from $3000-4000 per year to over $300,000-400,000 per year after moving to a consignment arrangement. Publisher after publisher has been approaching me about working out consignment deals with them. As of now, we’re working with close to 12 publishers on a consignment model. And there are even some very major publishers we’ve begun tests with, so it’s my hope that we will see more and more of this in the future.

Your stores include cafés and you host events such as music nights and wine appreciation evenings. Do you think there’s a danger in booksellers moving too far from their traditional industry? 
Not at all. I subscribe to the notion that bookstores should become ‘great good places’ or ‘third places’; after workplace and home, we continually look for those ‘third places’ where we can go to get a sense of community, an offering of interesting programming, wonderful books to browse and maybe even a delicious meal. The bar has been raised. Bookstores need to become community institutions, and like parks, schools, museums and performing arts centres, once established, bookstores will become too important to their communities to fail.

You’ve said previously that you’re hopeful for the future of bookselling even though the outlook is not so rosy. What gives you hope? 
The past is prologue to why I’m so hopeful. We’ve managed to withstand deep discounting, the superstore expansion, the consolidation among publishers, the internet, and I believe we will survive the ebook. I look to all the new bookstores opening, I see younger customers hanging out in the store or coming to our events, I know that publishers are recognising the importance of the independent channel and I become hopeful. 



Category: Features