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