Books Outside Bookstores: Selling to Specialty Stores

Earlier this year, a friend and I were feeling particularly flush and went into a boutique well out of our price range. Among the silk gowns and hand-stitched shoes and ornate jewelry was one book—a paperback of watercolor drawings of trees commonly found in Canada. The connection between this illustrated paperback and a seven-hundred-dollar dress still eludes me, but I certainly started paying more attention to books featured in non-book retail locations.

Here’s what I’ve learned: books are everywhere. Art books are in shoe boutiques, coloring books are in grocery stores, and Anthropologie now has an entire section for books and stationery. How do these books get there? Who chooses what is displayed next to the fishing nets and knives? And how can we at Ooligan Press cash in on this?

Specialty stores can really boost a book’s sales for a number of reasons:

    1. Visibility. With hundreds of thousands of books published each year in the United States—not to mention the video games, movies, and TV shows that all clamor for our attention—it is increasingly important to be seen. The majority of a bookstore’s stock will be shelved spine out, and any single title is easy to miss among its brethren. But among shoes or clothes or jewelry or homegoods, every book is a bit more remarkable and definitely more noticeable.
    1. Association and Audience. Subtle as it is, the books in a specialty store are imbued with a certain value based on that association. We naturally assume the books to have the same tone and appeal as the store. And when that principle is flipped on its head, you’ve got a built-in target audience.
  1. No Returns. The dreaded right of return is an inherent risk and par for the course when dealing with traditional booksellers. A sale made to a specialty store won’t come back to haunt you three months later. It’s a bit of solidity in an ever-shifting landscape.

As the incoming marketing manager, I’m really excited about the possibility of selling to a specialized market. For a small press like ours, this kind of visibility and recognition can really boost our sales and our brand name. We have some really exciting titles in the works for this year, and I’m glad we’re having conversations about how they will perform in a gift market, in a sporting store, or in a museum—all places that are a bit off the beaten path. Who knows. Maybe you’ll walk into a boutique and see an Ooligan book next to your new pair of shoes. I sure hope so.

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