Friday, April 16, 2010

Books & Books vs. Sweet with Fall and Fish

Because of "the harsh realities" of the current economy, Books Inc., which has 11 stores in California, has restructured its main office and let go Barry Rossnick, senior trade buyer.

Books Inc. co-owner and CEO Michael Tucker called it "the hardest thing I've ever had to do running the company." He noted that since the beginning of the year wages were frozen and executives have taken weekly furloughs each quarter to avoid store-level layoffs. Books Inc. announced last week it is opening a 4,000-sq.-ft. store in Berkeley. Tucker said, "The last thing I thought I'd do this year is open another store, but the developer really wanted a bookstore and gave us what we needed to make it happen."

Rossnick may be reached at
- Shelf Awareness, 8-12-2009

Unfortunately, to make room for a Corporate and Educational Sales Director on the payroll, Books & Books made its first layoff since it opened its doors in 1982. The “room” happened to be vacated by one of my closest friends (we’ll call him “Bloom.”) Unlike Michael Tucker’s decision to publicize the event, our owner chose to keep the decision in-house.

I understand not making Bloom’s pain – and being laid off hurts more than you might imagine – public. Unfortunately, Shelf Awareness published Tucker’s announcement almost the same week. It made Bloom’s layoff feel like a dirty secret.

I also understand why the layoff needed to happen. Like Books Inc., Books & Books is expanding at a time when the entire industry struggles for breath. To make this happen, innovative partnership models with publishers and other businesses, putting on amazing events, and plain old good karma were not enough to move the bottom line. We need this position to thrive, and we needed space in our labor for the position.

But why Bloom? If I gathered the employees of Books & Books, filled a condom with yellow paint, and threw it in their midst, the splatter would strike a dozen people worthier of the chop. And this isn’t just my biased opinion. Ask anyone at Books & Books and they’ll toss you a handful of names they would have booted before Bloom.

For this reason, despite Borders' better health plan and bigger paycheck, Bloom still longs for his old job at Books & Books.

In Henry IV, Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Perhaps if one day I own and operate a business which requires me to be equal parts adventurer, intellectual, innovator, reader, rebel, merchant, and figurehead, I will understand the logic of this decision.

There are beautiful things about working for Books & Books which go beyond free books. As long as I get the job done (and as Lionel Shriver points out via characters in So Much For That, shouldn’t that be the only measure of job performance?), I can come and go as I please.

When I missed two months of work after the car accident, paychecks for forty-hour weeks continued to show up in my mailbox.

I’ve met authors I’ve worshipped and admired. I’ve rubbed elbows with famous folks and politicians, people I certainly never would have otherwise met.

Yeah, it’s just retail. But since we’re trying to keep the fabric of Miami distinct and Miamians employed in the face of encroachment by online retailers and chains, it feels like I’m doing something important.

Books & Books wants me to blog for them once our website is updated. With tens of thousands of readers across the country who subscribe to our website and online newsletter, this should go a ways toward answering that most difficult of questions publishers ask potential authors: “What’s your platform?”

As corporations become more concerned about their online presence, the freedom to question what my employer does has become another wonderful thing about my job.

Still, I doubt you’ll see many posts like this one on Books & Books website.


  1. It's strange how business come to calculate the value of 'worth' when having to let people go. It's one of the harsh realities - letting people go that is - of business life. But how less frequently, how less traumatic could it be, if they just picked the right ones in the first place. Even more so when the employer is providing an environment such as you describe here with your accident, apparently determined to do the right thing even if they don't have to. If anything it makes it harder to take when they get it wrong.

    The issue of independence is an important one too. It won't be an easy path to tread and there will be an impact here potentially too.

    good luck.....Al.

  2. every time there's a layoff anywhere, anyone can name someone more deserving of said layoff.

    the way it goes.

    Tell Bloom hi for me

  3. Thanks for commenting.

    "If anything it makes it harder to take when they get it wrong." Exactly. We had a manager offered a bookselling position a few years back to save funds. Bloom wasn’t given this option, and he was on better terms than the old manager. We’ve also done some between-store shuffling, which didn’t happen this time around.

    A dozen people more deserving is a huge exaggeration on my part, I’ll admit. More like four. I’ll pass your “hi” along.