State of the Union 2.0


April 2012

Last April, in response to many concerned queries from our customers, we issued The State of the Union at Broadway Books, which outlined just where we were and what we were doing to address the many changes that had hit the publishing and bookselling worlds in recent years. In our statement, we listed things we were doing or planning to do in the near future to address those changes and stay afloat. We also listed things that you could do to help us in our stay-afloat effort.  After a year, we think it’s a good time to assess and report.

 We guess that adage about change being the only constant is true, because changes continue to rock our world. We are happy to say that we are learning to roll with the punches – in fact, some of the changes are not punches at all, but little love pats (more about those in a minute).

 The biggest pledge we made was to revamp our infrastructure to enable us to sell ebooks, and to make our website available to customers for ordering ebooks and print books online. This was a huge step for us, and we are proud to say that we have been up and running for several months, and it’s working. Not only are we able to interact with you in this way, other things are now possible. For instance, we are now the place for customers to get personalized, signed copies of books by Cheryl Strayed. We are also the place for local performer Storm Large’s fans all over the country to get signed copies of her memoir. We love partnering with authors in this way and hope to do more of it.

 We also promised to expand our schedule of readings and other events in the store, and we have. These events have made us more visible to the public and are also engendering more invitations to do out-of-store gigs for private parties and author events hosted by non-booksellers. Although we cannot do every event offered to us, we do the ones that we can afford to take on and appreciate these new opportunities.

 Our support of local schools and literary entities has also grown. In December, we were able to join with you to give a huge number of books to Roosevelt High School’s library. We’ll do it again this December. And in May, we are honored to host two readings by students from Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program at Grant High School. These continuing associations are important to us and fostering them remains an integral part of our mission.

 The short of it is that a lot has been accomplished in the past twelve months, and here’s where you come in, and we get to talk about the “little love pats.” Your response to these changes has been overwhelmingly positive. You are visiting our website! We take orders every day on our website for print books and ebooks. You are reading our blog, liking us on Facebook, and following our Twitterfeed. We see you in the store, bringing your own bags and your friends and paying more often with cash and checks rather than credit cards. We know that you heard us last year, and we have been amazed by your support and thoughtful (and constructive) suggestions.  

 And here we want to say something about the Occupy movement. This is the piece we did not expect and could not have planned.  Both nationally and locally, the movement that hit the streets last fall has been a boon to many small businesses like ours. For the first time in years, independent booksellers across the country are posting sales increases. It is clear to us that consumers have been affected by this movement, and are taking action to ensure that local economic entities (credit unions, non-chain businesses, brick-and-mortar stores) do not disappear. There are many who complain that the Occupy movement has no focus, no goal, and no effect. We are here to say that our business is experiencing the positive effect that education and public awareness can have on a community. Our sales have consistently increased since October. These increases are crucial to our survival.

 We have not reached the end of our story. We are still fighting increasingly predatory, deep-pocketed, nationally based competitors who love to play on an uneven field. And as reading habits change, we continue to restructure our business model.  But we’re still here, and we’re stronger than we were a year ago. As we celebrate our twentieth anniversary next month, we are mindful of the many customers, both the ones who have been with us for years and the ones who have recently discovered us, who have made it possible. Thank you. Truly.

 It’s been a wild ride these past twenty years. We’ve gone from a computerless beginning through two inventory control systems. From one partnership to a single proprietress to another partnership. From a few sparsely attended events a year to several popular events a month. From a small public presence to a feature article in a national magazine, lots of local news coverage, and being the subject of a Twitter-produced video that has been seen by thousands of people around the world.  From a tiny nibble to a burrito to what feels more like the whole enchilada.

 What will the next twenty years bring? We can hardly wait to find out. Stay tuned.