What Was I Thinking? | Newberry

What Was I Thinking?

As heretofore mentioned, I get a lot of advice on how to make more money by selling less. This year the push seems to be to eliminate audiovisual material, the more extreme cutback folks arguing that even DVDs and CDs are outmoded. “People download everything now.”

“Including books,” I murmur, and they pretend they don’t hear.

They flock to me, especially in July and August, urging me to realize that we will make a far better profit if we give up putting things out for those oddballs and misfits who buy things like:

ROMANCES: Actually, it has now been at least a decade since anybody suggested abolishing romances, but I used to get this one every year. “They’re all the same, and they lower the reputation of any Book Fair that sells them,” I was told. I was occasionally told the same thing about Mysteries, Science Fiction, and even Westerns, but most everyone sees the Paperback Romance which is the lowest common denominator. “Nobody with any thought for their reputation sells those!” I mentioned a bookstore I visited in Dallas which had a whole wall devoted to them. “That’s Texas,” I was told. “No one reads anything in Texas.” (This was before Larry McMurtry. As I say, it’s been a while.)

RELIGION: This is a big section, and gets a lot of attention from customers, but I have had volunteers inclined to treat it like a box of Beta tapes. “Obsolete,” they told me, “The only people interested in that is terrorists and elderly people cramming for their finals.” I pointed out that the books sell fairly well, and was treated with revulsion. “The Newberry should not be seen hawking such stuff! It encourages bombings and burnings!”

(I hope you’re planning to drop by this fall and see the big Religious Change exhibition at the Newberry, which didn’t get the memo about not hawking such stuff. There was a lot going on in religion during the period covered—including some burnings—and you might pick up some hints on what to shop for at the 2018 Book Fair.)

PROOFS: Selling advance copies of books was deemed absolutely unkind by one volunteer. “Uncorrected proofs?” he demanded. “What if an author comes by and sees an uncorrected copy of her book for sale?” Authors who come to Book Fairs looking for their own books deserve whatever they find.

BBLP: This is my own acronym for a constant seller wherever we go: Big Books with Lotsa Pictures. Show people an array of coffee table books, and they can’t help leafing through. But this is also bad for the Newberry. “You don’t want people to think our constituents just look at pictures!” I’m not saying that; for all we know they’re buying the books for their pet hippo to read.

LBLW: I don’t actually use this acronym; I just now made it up. But I have also been warned about selling Little Books with Long Words. “Maybe one person in a thousand would ever read anything that obscure and scholarly,” I’ve been told. All I need is one. (I say this to the anti-sellers, who almost always reply, “Yeah, what if he’s busy that weekend and can’t come?”)

And there’s more. OUR clientele would never be interested in Math, everybody’s already read last year’s bestsellers, yuppies will not buy books more than two years old (the person who told me this has passed beyond the Great Golden Ultimately and cannot see that the Yuppie has been declared an endangered species), nobody will look at books where the lettering is rubbed off the spine, even if people MIGHT buy that it takes up space you could use for something better…the beat goes on.

One has to smile and move past it all. Because these critics almost invariably have relatives who glare at me as I’m taking out the torn, abused, and moldy. “Why are you throwing THAT way?” they demand. “Someone might BUY that!”

A manager’s place is in the wrong. As long as I remember that, and that everything in the world is off by a quarter of an inch, I’m safe.

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