Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who Gives a Hill of Beans?

Does anyone really care that Starbucks is going to sell Mitch Albom's book? That'll be some great book section -- it won't even need to be alphabetized. Our store's coffee selection will be its equal. We carry Zapatista Coffee, and I don't think Starbucks or any of the local independent coffee shops around are too worried about it.

According to an article in Publishers Weekly, independent booksellers are worked up about this. I love the title of the piece: Booksellers See Starbucks as Unneeded Competition. Frankly, I see all competition as unneeded. If no one but the Boulder Book Store sold books, we all would have retired long ago on our riches and gone home. Everywhere you go, books are for sale: from supermarkets to drug stores to boutique furniture shops. It's about time Starbucks joined the party.

What we have to do as independent bookstores is to fight back. If other stores are taking pieces of our pie, we just need to reach across the table and take a bigger piece. We've sold an awful lot of Zapatista coffee over the years. We peddled Zen Alarm Clocks for awhile, their lovely chimes reminding customers it was time to buy. If you need a yoga mat, the Boulder Book Store has black ones, sticky ones, oversize ones and many more. We also have a magnificent chocolate selection. I've never seen a gourmet food store that can match our variety of $7 chocolate bars.

So where is the line? When is it too much? I really don't know. I know that when I go into my favorite seashell store, Whale's Tale, in Cape May, New Jersey, I can't tell you how relieved I am to look at some playing cards, jewelry and -- yes -- books. This seashell store actually has the best selection of childrens books on the Jersey shore. That's why it's a great store. Can a business survive by conch shells alone?

Now, there are a few limits to all this selling. I would scream from here to Colombia if the Starbucks down the street got a book signing with Albom rather than our store. That would seem like a real betrayal. We have a deeper relationship with the publisher, one that includes thousands of failed novels as well as all the successes over the years. I see that Starbucks will get eight signings around the country, it will be interesting to see if any of those are near significant independents. If Starbuck's host an author on Pearl Street, I guess we will just have to fly the world's greatest coffee growers up from South America and have one hell of a tasting.

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