26 November 2011

One of the Book Fair Faithful

I grew up with the New England Mobile Book Fair as one of my local bookstores. It was a store like no other. The company started as a wholesaler for book fairs, but, fueled by our local community’s firm opposition to buying anything at retail, became a superstore with everyday discounts years before Barnes & Noble and Borders started their battle to the death.

With its roots in wholesaling, New England Mobile never adopted some standard bookselling practices. Like shelving books by category rather than by publisher/distributor and, within those groupings, author name. Like shelving books on attractive shelves rather than rough plywood. Like offering a computer system geared to its stock rather than Bowker’s Books in Print. Like opening a café, even though it’s one of the best cookbook suppliers in the country.

Hey, I remember when a colleague from the publishing company went to work for the store and brought the revolutionary idea of maps and signs for customers.

The family that founded New England Mobile just sold it to a retired insurance executive named Tom Lyons, the Boston Globe reported today. And Lyons has big plans to turn it into…a bookstore.
Lyons wants to sponsor author events at the store, create a more family-friendly children’s section, and invite the area’s professors and professionals to give advice on what specialty books to sell. He must computerize the inventory.

And — this may sound like heresy to the Book Fair faithful — he plans to reorganize the volumes by genre instead of by publisher.
Those will be tremendous changes in an establishment that aesthetically owes more to used-book barns than any mall. Indeed, Lyons expects eventually to sell used books in addition to the huge stock of remainders. But getting from the current situation to that new model will be a seismic event.

Meanwhile, bookselling is undergoing plenty of general seismic events. The Globe article starts by quoting Lyons on loyalty to printed books: “Pretty much everybody I talk to loves books and reads books and wants their children to feel and put their hands on a book,” says Lyons. Which would bode well for the store’s prospects if he wasn’t, you know, a 66-year-old bibliophile. Of course his circle likes printed books.

My first piece of advice to Lyons would be to install an Espresso Book Machine. Then he could publish his novels, and serve our local community of thousands of other people who have unpublished novels. He could even offer that service at a nominal discount.

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