In Montreal, an independent bookstore owner got into a public spat with the building’s landlord. Fortunately, the tale had a happy ending. But before it got to that point, a smarmy comment by one of the two parties irritated the heck out of me.
Stephen Welch, who owns the store, called S.W. Welch, has been in business 37 years. He sells used and rare books, and pays $2,000 a month in rent. Welch said the firm that owns the building, Schiller-Lavy Realities, demanded a hike to $5,000. That, he said, would force him out of business when the lease is up this summer. Danny Lavy, partner in Schiller-Lavy, said the requested increase was actually 75%.
Regardless of the numbers, the story garnered local coverage and blew up on social media. Partly because of a remark by Danny Lavy, partner in Schiller-Lavy. He said there’s only so far he would bend to accommodate Welch:
“I’m happy to have him there if he can make a living and survive. Some businesses that were viable 20 years ago, like videos, are no longer viable today. You have to ask yourself: does anybody buy books today?”
1) Yes. And 2) Do not compare a bookstore to a Blockbuster outlet.
In fact, book sales remained strong even in this past pandemic year – and maybe because of it too.
Noah Genner, CEO of BookNet Canada, said surveys show readership rates up about 5% over the pandemic. That rose steadily throughout the year, he reported to CTV News.
With COVID restrictions, sales in physical stores took a hit, as was the case with many types of retailers. Nevertheless, audio books and e-books continue to grow. And Beth Lockley, VP of marketing and communications at Penguin Random House, told CTV that sales are up across all formats.
As she said, “One thing is clear: people want and need books more now than ever.”
In the U.S., meanwhile, 2020 was the bestselling year for print books in the last decade. Unit sales volumes jumped 8.2%.
What accounted for the rise?
With many of the usual distractions shut down, maybe people had more time to read. Some of the genres that did particularly well also spoke to what we were doing with the time: romance and fantasy (escape), cookbooks and DIY books (taking on new pastimes at home), and children’s books and educational books (help with home-based schooling and home-bound kids).
U.S. figures show that sales were up across all big categories: adult fiction, adult non-fiction, juvenile fiction and juvenile non-fiction.
One category was down, but for obvious reasons: travel books. Still, the right book can take you on a different sort of journey.
So, does anybody buy books today? Absolutely.
And Welch will continue to sell them. A week ago, he announced that he had negotiated to keep his store open for two more years. The announcement came just days before a planned community demonstration in support of the store.
As for Lavy, I get that he has to make a living too. Yes, things come down to dollars and cents. Sometimes, you listen to the bookkeepers.
I have a fondness for the book keepers.
Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.
March 17, 2021