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Has the death of books (and bookstores) been greatly exaggerated?

May 13, 2010

At a time when bookstores are closing worldwide (see this recent obit from London), Mitchell Kaplan is extending his reach beyond South Florida (again!) by opening a branch of the much-beloved indie store Books & Books in Westhampton Beach, New York.

Actually, it won’t be a Kaplan-owned store, but an affiliate, like the Books & Books store in the Cayman Islands. Kaplan is teaming with publishing vets Jack McKeown, cofounder and former CEO of Perseus Books, and Denise Berthiaume, president of Verso Advertising.

McKeown and Berthiaume will own the store (with McKeown porviding on-site management), while Kaplan acts as consultant, providing help with marketing, author events, website development and staffing. Kaplan will send staff north to work in the new  affiliate in the summer — slow season in South Florida, high season in the Hamptons.

“The idea is to leverage all our strengths,” Kaplan tells Shelf Awareness, a book-trade e-newsletter. “I am learning from them, and they are learning from me. This is exciting and proactive.”

Publishers Weekly reports that McKeown thinks the Books & Books brand will work in the Hamptons for a number of reasons. For one thing, the name “resonates” with affluent local residents, many of whom winter in South Florida.

“With franchise comes the idea of conformity,” said McKeown. “But we’re putting our unique stamp on the store. Thirty percent of the inventory will be different from Books & Books.”

McKeown says the 2,000-square foot store will adopt aspects from each of Kaplan’s South Florida stores, borrowing the “store within a store” approach of the Lincoln Road location, where separate rooms are devoted to fiction, nonfiction, reference, children, lifestyle and art books.

While it’s heartening to see three veterans of the book industry opening a store, there’s more at work than blind faith. As PW reports, McKeown conducted a research survey in 2009 that found there will be a market for physical books, albeit a hybrid one shared with e-books, for many decades to come.

“Older Americans, especially the retiring Baby Boomers, are disproportionately avid book buyers,” McKeown says, adding that over 27 percent of avid book buyers prefer to shop in local independent stores. “This represents a growth opportunity for bricks-and-mortar stores.”

For McKeown’s complete report of the survey, which he delivered at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute in February, go here. It’s the most encouraging thing (okay, the only encouraging thing) I’ve read about books and bookstores in recent memory.

Meanwhile, McKeown is “putting his money where his mouth is” by opening the Books & Books store in the Hamptons.

“Denise and I would not be doing this if we did not have this association with Mitchell,” McKeown said. “We’re pooling our knowledge.” The arrangement “means we can jump-start the store and gives us an even greater likelihood of success. It’s an enormous advantage for a startup.”

“We’re all in an era where we have to look for new business models and new ways of operating,” Kaplan added.

Could it be twoo — bookstores might survive for decades?!? Or is this some last glimmer of false hope, before we are all assimilated by Amazon?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010 1:41 pm

    Books and Books is one of my favorite places in the world. Honestly, my first thought was that it’s ours (SoFla’s) and that they can’t have it!!! But I know that spreading the joy around is actually a good thing and I shouldn’t be selfish.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 13, 2010 3:20 pm

      I understand the impulse to keep B&B for ourselves, but if anyone can keep the independent bookstore alive, it’s Mitch Kaplan. Let’s hope that McKeown’s research proves out, and we have bookstores alongside e-book retailers for “many decades” to come. I was fretting that e-books would take over the world by 2012, just in time for the Mayan apocalypse…

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 13, 2010 2:22 pm

    Fear not, Chauncey Mabe, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people, for there shall always be Books and Books. Thus sayeth Candice.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 13, 2010 3:21 pm

      O great Candice, while you’re doingth good works, please grace your humble servant with a winning lotto number….

      • Candice Simmons permalink
        May 13, 2010 3:40 pm

        You misunderstand. I do not do great works. I am merely the messenger.

  3. rachel permalink
    May 13, 2010 2:42 pm

    Booksandbooks is one of my favorite places in the world too! And I agree, although I am often selfish I think we can share the booksandbooks love. I would much prefer to go to independent bookstores. Here in Fort Lauderdale we are just out of luck when it comes to new books, we have our fair share of quality used book stores. I had to buy a book last week actually and it practically tortured me to hand money across the counter to the cashier at Barnes and Noble.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      May 13, 2010 3:23 pm

      One reason we don’t have an independent bookstore in Fort Lauderdale is that Mitch Kaplan has resisted the temptation to spread his little empire out of Miami-Dade and into Broward. As he told me a few years ago, “I’d love to have a store in Fort Lauderdale, but I can’t make the numbers work.” Mitch may look like a serene minor saint of books and readers, but he is in fact a savvy businessman. This is why I think if anyone can keep the indpendent bookstore alive, it’s him. And I’ll bet the numbers for the Hampton store work.

  4. Sean permalink
    May 13, 2010 4:49 pm

    I liked the idea of the hybrids – hardcovers bundled with a digital copy of the same book for e-reading. There are so many variations on this already in prerecorded music retailing – CD/DVD combo discs, vinyl albums with a bonus disc tucked into sleeve, albums on custom-designed USB flash drives. On No Doubt’s last tour, you bought higher-priced concert tickets and got the band’s entire song/album catalogue in mp3 format.

    A book all by itself is an amazing thing and always will be. But the trade can still emphasize pure bookselling, no add-ons, while also having fun with bundling. Publishers, f’rinstance, wouldn’t have to just have a duplicate e-copy of the same book packaged with the hardcover. It could be an e-set of the author’s short stories. Or a gallery of illustrations done for the author’s books, if that’s applicable. Or all of these things.

    And why limit every digital copy to use on a dedicated e-reader? e-books bought as part of a deluxe hardcover package ought to be less “locked” than their standalone e-book counterparts, and open to use on any ol’ computer with a PDF viewer or Word.

    • Tommy Smart permalink
      May 13, 2010 11:30 pm

      Sean is way more optimistic than I. Unless we are talking cars, the word “hybrid” makes me think “mash-up”. You know, where you take two really good (even great) things, crowbar them together and voila, instant crap. Think Jane Austen and Zombies, or Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page (okay, P. Diddy is a bad example, thank goodness he has disappeared, I hope I didn’t jinx it) or best example, Pizza and Ice Cream.

      Just leave books alone, good old-fashioned, perfect, aromatic, make a sublime sound when the page is turned books.

      p.s. Sean, how are you liking Mankell?

  5. Candice Simmons permalink
    May 13, 2010 7:10 pm

    Kudos to Mitch Kaplan.

  6. John Karwacki permalink
    May 13, 2010 9:43 pm

    In answer to the blog’s title question: I sure hope so. Chauncey, I have it in writing that you will take me to this magical place some day, I will hold you to it.

  7. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    May 14, 2010 10:38 am

    John: Let’s make plans. Visit the Books & Books website and feast your eyes on the upcoming author appearances: http://www.booksandbooks.com/

  8. Sean permalink
    May 14, 2010 1:54 pm

    @Tommy the ‘hybrid’ idea does have great potential for abuse. I’m hoping publishers confine it to packaging and leave the content be. I for one am in no way suggesting, advocating, promoting or even visualizing a digitally enabled, slash-fiction mashup of Anna Karenina and iCarly (“Write your own awesome ending with Kindle!”), although I did just hallucinate dollar signs thinking about it.

    Seriously, I still shudder at the crime against culture that was the Gap ad mixing Audrey Hepburn and AC/DC.

    Have not yet started Mankell. I gotta get off this blog and do some damn reading! S.

  9. John Laadt permalink
    May 15, 2010 1:09 am

    It’s unfortunate that this “independent” bookstore is moving towards the same tactics, it’s larger competitors resort to – squeezing the underdog out. As a resident of Westhampton Beach, I want to know why this Florida chain is coming up north and taking shop less than 500 feet away from an already well-established bookstore in the community. As a truly independent bookstore, the Open Book has been a wonderful part of Westhampton Beach community for the past decade. One of the trademarks about the Hamptons is that people vacation and visit here because of the local aesthetic. Almost every shop that lines the Main Streets in every Hampton is locally-owned. I’m not quite sure what the reaction to this new bookstore will be. Most people that come to the Hamptons are looking for local flavor, which a chain bookstore from Florida most definitely will not provide. On top of that, this new store is bringing in employees from Florida rather than hiring locals. I know THAT will not sit well. The Open Book has a big following in Westhampton Beach and many of the locals are very loyal so I think it will be interesting to see how well this chain makes out this summer. As the old movie saying goes “this town ain’t big enough for the two of us” and I for one, no offense to Books and Books, hopes that the real independent bookstore (at least to us) comes out on top. I know I’ll do my part to try and make that happen.

  10. November 22, 2010 6:56 am

    i get my art books from barnes and noble that come or amazon, they have some great discount coupons too “~:

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