Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bookselling without Borders

As you've probably heard, Borders has filed for bankruptcy and is closing 200 of its remaining 600 stores, including two in San Francisco (Union Square and Market Street). We've been hearing lots of concern about Green Apple's future, so we'd like to address this transitional moment.

While we were never fans of Borders' aggressive expansion, which effectively shut down hundreds of locally owned independent bookstores in the US, we will not dance on their grave. They did a lot of things right, which is why they thrived for a while. But in their absence, we're hopeful that fewer chain stores may mean more opportunity for local indie bookstores.

And more indie stores means a healthier local economy, as indies return 40% more money to their local communities than chains, and indies return 99% more money to their local economy than online competitors. (more here)

We are also concerned about the impact on publishers, those creative people who produce the "product" that we love and sell. In the midst of a rough economy, the tumultuous evolution of ebooks, and other challenges, they are owed tens of millions of dollars from Borders. That could have a significant ripple effect and compromise their ability to publish new and interesting books. And fewer good new books isn't good for us or our customers. [Update/oops: Not to mention the ripple effect on authors, the true generators of everything worth reading].

And, of course, we're concerned about our own long-term viability.

I should start by saying that Green Apple is currently a viable and healthy business, and we'll do everything within reason to keep it that way (sorry, no taqueria in the annex). As long as readers buy enough books from us to keep the lights on, the rent paid, and our staff supported, we'll keep reading, buying, shelving, and displaying good new and used books in all subject areas.

We've long adapted to the changing marketplace and will continue to do so: we constantly shift the balance of new books to used; we expand and contract sections in response to demand; we introduce and phase out whole lines of merchandise based on what you're buying.

What else is Green Apple doing to remain vital?

Well first, we're selling Google ebooks. These are device-agnostic, cloud-based ebooks that you can access on any device (except Amazon's proprietary Kindle), any time, anywhere. And for most titles, Green Apple's price will match everyone else's, including Apple's, Amazon's, and Google's. We've just finished training our staff, and we invite customers to ask us questions--in the store, by phone, or via email--about getting started. We can help those who already have a device or those thinking of trying ebooks for the first time.

We've also spruced the place up a bit, installing new flooring in two rooms and expanding our children's section significantly.

We're honing (but not eliminating) our DVD and CD selection to make room for more of what you want, including literature in translation, remainders, and gifts.

And we're doing more in-store author events, all of which are free and entertaining. We know you want to get away from your computer every once in a while and talk to other book-lovers.

And we've upgraded our computer system to better serve you. And we've improved boring back-end stuff, too, for better efficiency.

And we will continue to hire, train, and give benefits to the good booksellers who keep the store vital and dynamic. We’ve provided health insurance for our employees for over 25 years, and we don’t even tack a “Healthy San Francisco” surcharge on your tab (tempting as it is).

We will continue to collect and remit the sales tax (unlike Amazon) that keeps public schools open and public transportation running. We will continue to donate gift cards and books and money to the 100+ schools and organizations that we support each year. We will continue to support local authors by taking their books on consignment and hosting their readings. We will continue to be the booksellers who have fun. And we will continue to support live literary arts, like the Literary Death Match and Litquake and Writers with Drinks.

Like other local business owners (but unlike chains and internet retailers), the owners and employees of Green Apple live, work, study, invest, and play in San Francisco. We care about our city.

But it's really up to you, our customers. If you think Green Apple is a necessary part of the San Francisco literary landscape, then shop here, or shop here more often, or bring us new customers, or pay cash, or bring your own bag, or Yelp or blog about us. If you're in "the media," write about us or have us on your show. Forward our email newsletter to friends who read.

Or if you'd rather shop online, our website is very functional.

And if you read ebooks, give our Google ebooks a chance. We can help.

We're here to help you find good books to read, be they new, used, or e. And we're here to offer you much more, like magazines, gifts, a fine selection of greeting cards, CDs, DVDS, and so on.

But if you'd rather not have a bookstore in your community, shop mostly or only at Amazon. No one should shop at Green Apple out of charity or pity or noblesse oblige, but because you want what we’ve got. You mold the retail landscape with every purchase; vote wisely.

from a photo by Robin Allen

And by all means, if there's something we can be doing better, please tell us. The owners are Kevin Hunsanger, Pete Mulvihill, and Kevin Ryan, and at least one of them is here pretty much every day. And the phone number is 415-387-2272. We'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.


Luke said...

I buy books from their website. They come in the mail to pittsburgh just like if I ordered them from their unnamed enourmous online competitor. I vote for Green Apple. I'll try the google books even.

muskrat said...

stellar post, Pete!

Anonymous said...

I have been a happy green apple customer since 1989. Keep up the good work!

Michelle said...

Thanks for another great post, Pete. The Borders bankruptcy is scary for writers too. I'm ever thankful for Green Apple, and I think (hope!) niche neighborhood stores with a devoted following like Green Apple are uniquely positioned to survive the changing book retail landscape. Amoeba Records, for example, is still here, knock on wood, many years after the arrival of MP3s.

Devlin (Meredith) said...

Thank you for posting this great article! I feel so lucky to have Green Apple in SF: such a great independent purveyor of the written word, music and more! Keep being awesome and I'll keep buying stuff from you!

Sparkleneely said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

bookdiva said...

Closing Green Apple is one of the few reasons I would march down Market Street with a big sign. It's as important to me as food (slight exaggeration)

Bob said...

Borders' rapid expansion may or may not have contributed to their bankruptcy -- but their lack of knowledgeable staff definitely did. I was an avid Borders shopper -- but only when I knew what I wanted and/or where to look for it. The staff didn't have a clue. Technology replaces people fist in those companies where management stops caring about people -- and then it becomes a continuous spiral. Morons may be cheaper to hire -- and cutting training may be a quick way to save money -- but, in the end, everyone loses

Pat said...

Everything you wrote is so true. I will shop at your store when I visit the Bay Area this spring. I used to live on 5th and Clement! Is Holy City Zoo still across the street? How about the Plough and Stars on 3rd? House of Java? Russian Tea Room? Such a great neighborhood!!

steve h said...

best new/used bookstore in town. even better when the taco truck is out front (hint)


Susie Bright said...

I want to hand this out like fresh hot cross buns!

Liana said...

This bookstore is one of the reasons I moved to San Francisco. You have (or can get) any title I need, and, even better, you expose me to books I'd never see at Borders. Best of all, though, you shine a light on how to weather the storm in the publishing industry: Evolve, listen to your customers, take care of your workers, invest in communities, and, yeah, make a profit too. Booksellers, publishers, even writers can take heart from your conviction -- and maybe even follow your lead.
In my book, y'all are big damn heroes.

Anonymous said...

I live in Chicago and was introduced to Green Apple over a decade ago. I was having a glass of wine at the Clement St Bar and Grill and walked over. I left with 5 books, have ordered online ever since and always stop in whenver I am in San Francisco. My Green Apple T shirt is about worn out, time for a new one.
Viva la Green Apple, an awesome place!