Front of Store Placement: How and Why

Previously published at BookWorks Aug 2017
Previously published at BookWorks Aug 2017

You walk into your local chain bookstore and see a table filled with cookbooks and a big sign that says “GRILLING COOKBOOKS.” BAM! Right in the front of the store as you walk in. Thousands of eyeballs see those cookbooks every week for a few weeks until the table gets turned into a “BACK TO SCHOOL” display. How does one get on the coveted book table? Why were those books chosen and not others?

The August Book Table Begins in February

The process for an August “Grilling” book table started back in February. The sales reps from publishing houses meet with the buyers in the corporate bookstore chain’s main office on a regular basis. Meeting with the buyer of each genre/category for a few minutes, they present all the relevant books they have coming out in summer and then move onto the next buyer to do the same.

The Marketing Department Weighs In

During the course of the day, one of the meetings that the sales reps have is with their marketing department rep. This marketing department staff member meets with “their” publishers and hears about the books that the sales reps want to promote. They also ask the sales rep to share which books the bookstore buyers ordered the most of and which ones they liked for displays. Ideas are exchanged and advertising dollar amounts are discussed in very loose terms.

A few months later, (April? May?) the sales reps hear from their marketing department rep with a list of displays and titles that were approved for August. What happened between the February meetings and the May emails? A LOT. The marketing representatives walked into a lot of small boardrooms and pitched the books they and their publishers decided that they wanted to display. Theme and display ideas were decided upon and tables and end caps assigned. It is decided that a “Grilling Cookbook” table will happen in August. Now the fun starts!

Who Makes the Final Cut

There are a bunch of marketing representatives in that room with their publishers. All of them have grilling cookbooks that they want on that table. There are 20 spots and 50 potential cookbooks vying for space. (There may have been 100 grilling cookbooks presented to the buyer last February, but only the ones that the buyer decides to order in large enough quantities will be eligible to even get INTO the fight for those 20 spots.) Once the smoke clears, 20 titles have nabbed the spots on the August book table and 30 are left in the dust. That’s life in the big city.

Co-op Percentages Count

Why those 20? Is it because they were the best? Maybe. Or maybe one of the publishers offered a deeper discount on purchases and that will make the bookstore chain more money on every sale. A few of the publishers likely offered a higher co-op percentage (credits on purchases against display costs). Perhaps one of the publishers had recently purchased an entire book table and the marketing department wants them to stay happy with the chain so that they keep buying display space. Who knows? Not us—we don’t get to sit in that room. Usually what happens is that the best books with the greatest and broadest appeal end up on the promotional book table. (But keep those other scenarios in mind when asking chains and bookstores to display your book.)

How It Works at Indie Bookstores

Does it work this way at local and independent bookstores? Sort of. Typically there are merchandising, marketing and buying staffers who separate their duties in a very similar manner. Sales reps pitch to the buyers and the buyers meet with the merchandising/marketing person to finalize the displays. Co-op (a credit against purchases) advertising dollars are requested and when approved by the publisher, those books are slated for an upcoming display. It's not as cutthroat, but it is a business decision with a lot more factors than “Is this the best book?”

Unlike the chains, however, your local bookstore is often quite open to hearing display ideas and working with publishers to come up with marketing ideas outside of a larger marketing program that was created nine months ago and needs approval from upper management. (In many cases, the buyer and display merchandiser is the owner.)

Pay to Display

Why do stores charge for displays? Because they can. They know that displays draw the eye and merchandising books on a table or in a window increases their appeal. It gives the book credibility and adds to the book’s overall sales potential. Publishers are willing to pay for these displays because they know the benefits as well. If you want to get into some of these displays at airport stores, in bookstore chains, or in your local independent retailer, you need to understand that you are not working only with the store, you are also competing with a group of publishers who have already offered the store some much-needed cash/credit to pick their books. Be ready to play on those terms and you can compete for the display spaces and opportunities.

Now is the time to ask your local store owner what holiday display plans they have and how you can participate. (Yes, they are thinking Christmas already.) Do you have some fun holiday inspired ideas for Thanksgiving, Kwanza, or Valentine’s Day? Start sharing those ideas now and follow up with an offer to give the store co-op credit against orders in exchange for displaying your books during the busiest retail season of the year.

Are Stocking Fees Worth It?

For those of you whose local bookstore told you that they only stock books that pay a stocking/display fee, that is not what we mean when we say “advertising or co-op funds.” That is paying a fee to be stocked on a shelf that you might not get on to another way. There are good reasons to agree to pay $50 (or so) to have your book stocked in a popular store for a few weeks or months. Again, the gravitas and added credibility of having your book in a store combined with the number of people who see the book increases dramatically when it is on a bookstore shelf. But here’s another way to think about this practice: Books that are in a great deal of demand are going to be stocked because the store recognizes that they are going to be profitable. Stores don’t charge to stock successful books. Perhaps you might want to try a stock fee for a while. But please, first spend money and time making your book a “must have” title that people are constantly asking for. That is the best way to spend your marketing budget.

What display idea will you be pitching for your book this upcoming holiday season?

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