Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is the what(?) and how do they get there?

I'm always interested in what I see displayed or otherwise "showcased" in small stores. I look at endcaps in co-ops or displays at the Electric Fetus. I stare at the piles of t-shirts, yarn or fountain pens. What were the steps or decisions that got them there? The answer for us is not one but many. The stocking of a store like ours is a grab-bag of decisions, non-decisions, chance and luck.

Now, for instance, we are meeting with sales reps from a variety of publishers and going through their catalogs for spring and summer. Relationships get formed over time and these reps are a very important part of what we do. They suggest, prod, beg and sometimes demand that we carry certain titles or that we should buy more and sometimes less than we first decided. We feel lucky to have great relationships with a huge number of the reps we see. They help us to have an informed, interesting and wide-ranging stock of books. And while this is the main way any book finds its way into our store it isn't the only manner by any means.

We get a surprising number of books onto our shelves after a customer has special ordered a book. We do look over all the books on order and many become things we sell multiple copies of. It's part of what makes this a community store--sometimes people give us valuable input without even knowing it.

We read reviews--constantly. A common misconception is that only reviews in the New York Times or London Review of Books makes an impact. Things pop-up in several of the small, local, papers as well as the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune. I, especially, do a lot of on-line reading and find new gems in lots of tiny places. Later this week I'm planning on focusing a post on some of these little corners of the internet where I find great stuff. Sometimes bad reviews even push to get a title. Reviews, after all, are just one man(or woman's) ideas. One of the great powers of books, to us, is that there is no gold standard. The whole "One man's treasure is another's trash" is certainly true in the world of books.

The bottom-line is that we fish with a relatively small net and know, painfully so at times, how much good stuff evades us. So our stock is an organic and constantly shifting thing.

As for our displays: nothing in Micawber's is paid placement which is outside the norm--even for small stores. And that is a fact we're very proud of. The books you see on the front tables or even faced-out on the shelves are that way because we like them or find them important It's never because a corporate department has given us money to show them off. The tables change frequently and the goal is to always showcase new and interesting things.

If you have ideas for us--whether it's one particular book you think we should carry or a section we should have--please let us know. Do we always take that advice and make it happen? No. But we very often do.

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