Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Learnin' Don't Make You Smart

My first interview leaping from restaurants to the book business, the manager of a Barnes & Noble warned me, "People who read are very high maintenance customers because they think they know everything."  I've been a bookseller for ten years.  Cynical as they are, I haven't been able to erase her words from my mind.  

Whether readers are smarter than non-readers or we just think we are, and whether Books & Books shoppers are smarter than the average reader, we get our fair share of clueless customers.  Of course, I use the term "customer" very loosely.  According to Webster's, a customer is someone who pays for goods and services.  

Depending on whose head count you believe, 500-700 people showed up to hear Ingrid Betancourt in conjunction with the Florida Center for the Literary Arts and Miami Dade College.  Books & Books gave out 600 free tickets.  I think 700 was suggested because it was Standing Room Only, but I doubt every single seat was filled.  Let's say that for a book event, this was a Hell-a-ton O' Folks.  It's an industry term.

The good news is, hell-a-ton does not need to be exaggerated to any publisher or publicist.  I have no idea what we're telling Penguin we sold, but the bad news is our actual sales: 26 in English, 35 in Spanish.  10% sell-through?  As our events co-ordinator put it, "That's the saddest thing I've heard all day."

Lugging books downtown only to lug them back to the store might - might - have been tolerable, if not for this person:

Look, it's Ingrid's elbow!
Pardon the crappy cell phone shot.  If you can't tell, it's a Barnes & Noble bag.

I wish I could say it's the first time I've seen people bring A-Word and B-Word books to see authors we've brought to Miami, but... no.  Let's hope, after Books & Books shuts down because no one who came to our events could be bothered to buy a book, that Barnes & Noble will be there to host sixty events a month.  If they're not too busy closing stores.


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