What I Learned from a Hudson News Book Buyer

By Keri-Rae Barnum for New Shelves on September 16, 2021
By Keri-Rae Barnum for New Shelves on September 16, 2021

At least once a week I get an email from or speak to an author who tells me, “My book would be perfect for airport stores!”

But is it, really?

Let’s find out what’s really popular in airport bookstores – straight from a Hudson News book buyer.

A Serendipitous Meeting

Recently I went on a trip to visit an old friend, and when traveling I always stop in at the airport newsstands and bookstores to check for friends' and clients' books. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s almost a compulsive habit. I can’t help it.

And, it paid off, because this time I found The First to Lie by USA Today bestselling author Hank Phillippi Ryan. I immediately took a selfie and texted it to Hank. Obviously.

As I was taking said selfie, I noticed a woman inventorying books with a checklist. Me, being me, and being blessed with the gift of gab, I went up to the woman, Ann, and asked if she was the book buyer for the airport’s Hudson News store. She was AND she was almost as chatty as me. Jackpot.

What I Learned from a Hudson News Book Buyer

Ann is a 10-year veteran Hudson News buyer. She’s been around long enough to see trends rise and fall as well as to know the general rules of what books sell – and don’t sell – in airport stores. She graciously gave me a few minutes of her time, and this is what I learned…

COVID and Airport Book Sales

Although book sales at the airport have been impacted by the number of travelers (or lack thereof) over the past year and a half, books continue to be a staple at airport stores. During the early days of COVID in 2020 when travel restrictions were being strictly enforced, there were some temporary closures – mostly smaller terminal kiosks, while the main stores typically remained open. However, as travel has increased over the past months, so have book sales.

Book sales were on a steady upswing over the summer months. Only time will tell if that trends continues throughout the fall as new variants of COVID continue to spread.

What’s Selling at Airports

  • Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers
  • Women’s Fiction
  • Chick Lit/ Romance
  • Literary Fiction
  • Inspirational Non-Fiction
  • Self-Help
  • Business

What sells well does, in part, depend on the area. Smaller airports in rural areas tend to sell less Non-Fiction and Literary Fiction. Big cities are more likely to focus on “bestseller” titles as well as to carry and sell memoirs.

It’s important to note that while Inspirational Non-Fiction, Self-Help and Business made the list, these titles don’t get nearly as much shelf space that fiction titles do; meaning the selection process for stocking is more competitive.

Mystery, Suspense and Thrillers are a win at every airport – regardless of geographic location. Chick Lit sales spike during spring and summer. And “older” classics like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code never seem to go out of style.

What Doesn’t Do Well at Airport Stores

  • Series. No matter the genre, series aren’t a top seller at airports. Travelers tend to look for stand-alone novels they can finish on the flight or trip.
  • Titles with high page count. Same reason as above.
  • “Serious” books. Travelers like to keep it light and airy – maybe even inspirational and motivational – but nothing too serious.
  • Erotica. Not only do airport stores not tend to carry these titles, there is just something about sitting two inches from your neighbor that keeps some readers from diving in to steamy scenes.

What About Children’s Books?

I also asked Ann about the popularity of children’s books in airport stores. She said yes, they do sell some children books, but more often than not airport sales for this demographic are focused on toys, tchotchkes and giftable items. When children’s books do sell, it tends to be board books over, say, middle grade fiction.

Size Matters

Mass market paperbacks are popular in airports because they can easily be carried under an arm or thrown into a travel bag. Paperbacks in the 5”x8” range are also common, but I was surprised to note that hardcovers (typically 6”x9”) liberally littered the shelves. Ann says travelers like the durability of a hardcover. Non-standard size books are less common, and most frequently found in the children’s section.

Local Authors vs Local Setting

Do local authors receive special stocking consideration? Not typically.

Unlike most bookstores, airports don’t have hopes of you sending friends and family to their store to buy your book. So, Ann says pitching yourself as a local author isn’t going to get you nearly as much attention as pitching your book with a connection to the state/city the airport is in.

I.e., if you have a book that is all about Norfolk, VA and you are asking an airport store for stocking consideration in the Norfolk airport, your chances of being carried as “local flavor” are much higher than a Norfolk based author pitching a romance novel set in Georgia.

How Do Authors Get Their Books on Airport Shelves?

Ann says authors may garner interest from a buyer if they strike up a conversation in the store. However, just because the store buyer likes you/your book doesn’t mean you will make it on to the airport store shelves. Rather, the airport store buyer may submit your book for consideration to the regional buyer, who would then make final approvals for ordering after vetting your book for things like:

  • Wholesale Availability. Is the book available from Ingram or other distributor, as specified by individual stores?
  • Discount. Is the book offered at a full trade discount?
  • Appeal. How, specifically, would the book serve the airport’s needs and demographic?
  • Professional quality design. This includes a price specific barcode – non-negotiable!
  • Proven sales record. Airport store shelves are limited and every inch needs to bring in income.

Final Advice and Insights

Don’t try to pitch your book to busy employees, lead with a smile and always have a book one sheet on hand to leave with interested buyers. (Don’t have a book one sheet yet? Check out our templates and create one ASAP!)

Special thanks to Ann for realizing I was smiling behind my mask and taking the time to share her insights, knowledge and a few laughs with me.

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