Buy the Book

Black bookstores may be the way of the dinosaur. Here's what retailers must do to survive and thrive.

channels also tap more directly into the book-reading demographic that her store is targeting than do networks.

McGee also places ads with the Michigan Chronicle, one of the country’s largest black weekly newspapers, because it’s more affordable than either of the city’s major dailies. Besides advertising on a local, top-rated classic R&B station, whose primary listeners are the key demographic that fuels black book sales-African American females, 18-49-McGee has built a monthly promotional partnership with the station. It includes a book club that is promoted on air, as well as co-sponsored book signings and other annual events that give Apple added exposure.

Most major publishers can provide co-op funds to help offset the expense of advertising their titles. Co-op dollars usually range from 3%-8% of a previous year’s net purchases for promoting a publisher’s title.

While advertising can pull people into a bookstore, marketing is what creates loyal customers who won’t abandon small boutique stores for the convenience and lower prices that chain stores offer. That marketing advantage is the personal relationship independents have with their customers and surrounding communities.

When Fugate and Hamilton started Eso Won, they promoted their store’s grassroots image by paying to bring in self-published and small press authors-who often have no promotional tour budget-for book signings. While Fugate admits that the store seldom made money from these events, he says it proved an extremely effective means of growing its customer base and establishing an identity.

Although gaining new customers is key, Villarosa says keeping existing ones is equally important. This became clear when Barnes & Noble opened a store in Hue-Man’s neighborhood. In response, she has begun giving her customers incentives to shop more frequently at her store. “When I got free tickets to a screening of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, I went down my list and gave pairs away to my best customers,” she says of the recent incentive.

“The one thing any black bookstore owner has to know is that we’re competing with upscale retail now. We have to provide the product, ambiance and good customer service,” advises Villarosa. “It’s a much more competitive environment than it was a few years ago.”

A bookseller’s Resources
Trade associations are often the best source of information and support for entrepreneurs launching new businesses. The American Booksellers Association (ABA) is a national membership organization that was created in 1900 to provide support and advocacy for independent book retailers.

Based in Tarrytown, New York, the ABA provides classes on how to finance and manage a bookstore, legal support, group health insurance benefits, financial and 401(k) plans, and discount purchasing for merchant supplies such as bags and autograph stickers. Membership costs $175 for bookstores in business less than a year; a fee schedule based on annual sales determines membership costs and dues for all other stores. Contact them at 800-637-0037 or visit the ABA Web site at for more information.

The Manual on Book Selling by Willard Dickerson Jr., offers advice on financing and managing a bookstore.

The booksellers’ trade magazine is Publisher’s Weekly (www.bookwire.

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