Thursday, February 12, 2009
Curating the Apple
Publishing/bookselling is, as you would think, kind of an old-fashioned business. While the e-book is gaining a little more traction every day, the UPS driver still carries most of the books we stock through our front door. And as they have for probably a hundred years, publishers' sales reps still go from store to store, meeting with the buyer and showing next seasons' wares. Lunch is eaten. Sometimes alcohol gets thrown into the mix. Very civilized. As the partner responsible for new books, it falls to me to meet with reps and go over the catalogs and pick out which titles I think will keep Green Apple in business for another 4 months. I got to looking at the shelf (pictured) by my desk that holds all of the catalogs for the current buying season. By my very rough estimation, my eyeballs have to pass over 25,000+ separate title listings to choose the 3,000 to 4,000 new books that will get ordered in a 4-month season. I've been asked how that decision gets made, why one book gets ordered and 7 others get passed over. It's more art than science. Many of the skips are easy: too commercial; bad jacket; an author whose last 3 books haven't sold. Others are harder: the subject seems interesting, maybe, but there are already too many similar books out there; or the price just seems too high. And some books call out: maybe the author is someone who has sold well before; maybe some pages are available to look at; maybe the word "Oprah" is whispered. And best of all, sometimes a book just feels like a Green Apple Book. Because ultimately, the most important thing to remember as a buyer is that I'm not actually the buyer, my customers are. I just have to try and imagine one or two of them finding a book compelling enough to plunk down $15 or $25 for it. It's important to put out a mix of titles, from the bestseller that every bookstore is going to have up front, to books like The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges Library of Babel, which my Oxford rep assures me Green Apple has sold more of than any other store in his territory. I'm proud to be a buyer for a store with such smart and interesting customers.