Don't Overlook the Book

BY MICHAEL ANDERSON | Contributing Editor

Book Sales About To Take Flight

IN A MISTY SEA OF APPS AND E-READERS, one might think the old traditional bound books are a thing of the past. And when a huge national bookstore chain files for bankruptcy, one might assume there are no sane reasons to remain in the book-selling business. Well, here's a surprise: One would be wrong. Books are selling, and selling well. And birding retailers can cash in on those book sales if they know what to look for.

Book Fledglings

How big are books? Big. Total sales of books in the U.S. in 2010 were $11.67 billion, up 3.6% from the previous year according to the Association of American Publishers. That number doubles if you include text and educational books.
"Our book sales are presently less than 5% of our overall business, but growing," says Cathy Morin, co-owner of the Bird House, Muskegon, Michigan. "Books make a nice up-sale item."

Niche market categories like birding, backyard nature, and children's books, also saw significant increases, which experts mark as a growing trend.

"Judging by the excitement during the July Market in Atlanta there seems to be a rising trend in educational and entertaining books that focus on gardening, birding, and nature," says Kelly Escarra, exhibit space Sales Manager for the nature products category at AmericasMart. "The media focus on the economy has empowered more consumers to become aware of home grown fun and this includes being together, being outside, and enjoying nature. Educational books that touch on these topics are a natural extension."
Book sales in bird stores and birding departments are like fledglings; they are about to fly off the shelves.

May I Check Your I.D.?

There are some great time-tested birding books out there from the basic bite-size digest reads to the latest edition of Stokes Field Guide. We've always had our book display right by the front door," says Linda Clos, co-owner of Backyard Birds of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. "We do well with the basic Peterson and Sibley books, and we have sold 315 of Stan Tekiela's Birds of the Carolinas in the five years we've been open."

"I do about 3% of my volume in books, mostly field guides," says Rich Crete, Rich's Backyard Birds, Lithia, Florida. "I have three 48" slat-wall shelves with books for sale. My best selling books are the Adventure Publications Florida Guide for Backyard Birders, followed by the National Geographic Guide For Field Birders, and the Bill Thompson Young Birders Guide. I also do well with the Waterford Press laminated bird I.D. pamphlets. I purchased new titles at the gift mart in Atlanta in July, as I anticipate increasing book sales."

Did you know there are even more reading resources worthy of your shelf space? Let's explore some additional titles that will help drive your store sales.

Fuel the Hobby
Publishers in recent years have expanded the breadth of their nature selections, opening up new opportunities for birding enthusiasts' libraries.

"While field guides and how-to books continue to be important, bird book sections can be so much more now," states Jessica Pellien, Assistant Director of Publicity, Princeton University Press. "We recently published Avian Architecture, a book about how birds build their nests, and it was covered in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Bird books are unique in their ability to capture the interest and imagination of the public at large - whether or not they are bird watchers."

"Our bestselling birding book in the last year has been Bird Feathers," says Sarah Wolf, Sales Manager at Stackpole Books. "We've been told it's a must-have title for all birding enthusiasts and has enjoyed brisk sales. We feature well-known authors such as Pete Dunne who is a favorite among birders and has a new release with us called The Art of Bird Finding."

No Child Left Inside

On July 14, 2011, a bill was introduced to the 112th U. S. Congress that will support environmental education and stress the importance of children's exposure to the outdoors.

"Not only will these children be our future customers, but they will also experience a richer life from their exposure to the natural world," says Betsy Puckett, President of Droll Yankees (bird feeders).

There are a growing number of children's books out there that are both fun to read and teach kids about nature, birds, and backyard critters as well. If you create an interesting book space for kids in your store, they will bring the parents in for repeat visits.
"We carry fun books for kids young and old," adds Morin. "Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon is a story about a baby bat, and it's a favorite of teachers and grandparents. Books and videos by Carl Sams, Laura Sams, and Jean Stoick are often purchased for birthday party gifts. And who can resist the characters in the Stranger in the Woods series? On occasion we play one of the movies based on these children's books. Adults as well as kids love to watch! Other popular books include Mysteries & Marvels of Insect Life, Everything Bird, and The Cutest Critter."

"Customers are looking for quality children's nature books at a fair price," says Kathy Miller, author/photographer of award-winning Chippy Chipmunk Parties in the Garden. "Birding retailers are looking for fresh subject matter, something that could also be cross merchandised with feeders, peanuts, or plush toys. In-store author events always create excitement and additional sales."

"Today, featured animal characters tell the story as children's books are driven by engaging digital photography," comments Margie Carroll, wildlife photographer and author of Barnabus Bluebird and the BB3. "There's a real interest in backyard animals and their families by kids and parents alike."

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

If you surveyed your customers asking, "what other book topics would you like to see in our store", you might be surprised at the answers. Birders might like books on animal tracks, folk remedies, local area history, and (surprise?) even cats. You need to develop your own store's book boundaries to pique the interests of your customers while staying within your birding business mission goals.

"When we were operating the Wild Bird Marketplace franchise, every store had a book area," says John Gardner, veteran birding retail consultant. "The stores carried much more than just field guides. We included gardening, landscaping, almanacs, kids books, and the like. Today there are even more options available about and for the birds." 

"We carry a few fun books that have nothing to do with birds, but rather notable places in Michigan," adds Morin. "We offer a series of books titled Mystic Michigan, popular reads for road-trip travelers with a flair for the unusual. We also carry Ghost Stories of Michigan which features a couple of prominent places in our hometown."

Let's not forget to carry select books written by local authors. Usually there are only a handful of brick & mortar stores that will even carry their books. Why can't your store be one of them? You can accept their books on consignment with a standard 60/40 sales split with little or no up-front cost to you.

My backyard nature shop (now a Birdwatcher Supply store near Atlanta) carried local author books including titles about Indian trail trees, homemade sorghum wine, area hiking trails, and backyard critters, often titles not available anywhere else. As a storeowner, I also benefited from free author in-store book signings, free public service announcements on the radio, and free community events listings in the newspaper. We would have people attend our author events that had never been in our store before. Once inside, some became long-time customers. You can create a community buzz with your own unique book department. 

Don't Judge Covers
Remember the adage don't judge a book by its cover? Today, consumers are often forced to judge that way because there's no time to examine the content. So it's important that your store shows titles that let your customer at least perceive what the book is about at a glance; but always allow them time to explore the inside.

Colorful dust jackets on hardback books radiate quality and give a customer that in-store touchy experience which is absent from on-line vendors.

"And because many of these books are so heavily illustrated, it is important that retailers offer a chance for customers to thumb through them," adds Pellien. "Seeing is buying."

Make It Cushy
You don't have to be a superstore to make your book section inviting. A dedicated space with books nicely merchandised (and a sprinkling of cross-merchandising too) might be all that is needed.

At the Wild Bird Marketplace chain, "We emphasized that not only did the book area have books, but a rug to define it, chairs and lamps so folks could browse and rest," said Gardner.

Buy the Book
Your store may be ordering the faster-selling titles directly from the publisher, but new titles, or orders for just a few copies might be better directed through your wholesale distributor until the title has established for itself a good track record. Common Ground, Ingram and Gold Crest all have remarkable selections of birding titles and in many cases can offer same-day shipping.
In summary, expanding your book section to include additional topics to stimulate the birding enthusiast's interest can further enhance your store's community impact as the premier wild bird resource destination.

Michael Anderson is a veteran retailer of award-winning stores. You may contact Mike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.