The Market on Books

May 16 2018
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What is the market?

A recent edition of the American Book Trade Directory lists 26,000 retail and wholesale booksellers in its database. Of these, about 5000 have inventories of more than 10,000 titles and gross sales in excess of $250,000 and are likely to be visited by sales reps. The remaining 21,000 outlets are small bookstores, chain store branches, religious stores, antiquarian and used-book stores, and specialized booksellers of various kinds and conditions. Making allowances for chain operations, superstores, and bookstores that are simply too small or too far off the beaten path to justify personal calls, an informed estimate would be that about 2500 accounts are seen and sold on two to four visits per year by book reps. Many additional bookstores and specialized accounts are also serviced on a regular schedule each season.

This count of 2500 outlets regularly visited includes the buying headquarters of chains (but not their branch outlets), wholesalers, and virtually all bookstores with annual sales of $300,000 or more that are known to buy directly from publishers. Obviously, not all of these stores buy all lines. Increasingly, a large proportion of their business—backlist, reorders of fast-selling titles and random special orders from smaller publishers—is bought from local and national wholesalers to take advantage of fast service, free freight or consolidated shipping cost, reduced paperwork, and Vendor-of-Record programs. Competition from chains and superstores, rising costs of real estate and the expenses of doing business, and other factors are eroding the account base of general independent bookstores—the bread and butter of most commission reps. Consequently, although book reps have always called on many specialized accounts, there is now a strong trend to seek out and to increase calls on museum stores, children’s book shops, travel bookstores, teacher-aid outlets, and a variety of other retailers (gift shops, garden centers, toy stores) that handle books.

The six traditional territories in the United States for coverage by book sales reps are usually divided as follows:

  • New England ME, VT, NH, MA, RI, CT
  • Mid-Atlantic NY, NJ, PA, MD, DE, DC
  • Southeast VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, TN, AL, MS
  • Southwest AR, LA, OK, TX
  • Midwest WV, OH, KY, MI, IN, WI, IL, MN, IA, MO, ND, SD, NB, KS
  • West AK, HI, WA, OR, CA, ID, NV, AZ, MT, WY, UT, CO, NM