Books

Home Depot to Stop Selling Books, and My Advice to Publishers

Garden books on display

This just in from Publishers Weekly:  Home Depot has announced they will no longer sell books.  It may be that you never bought a book at Home Depot.  Last time I looked, they sold an array of how-to books on home improvement and gardening, some of which were fairly humdrum (Ortho books, that sort of thing) and some of which were the sorts of books that you and I know and love.

Clearly the books weren't selling well, which is why Home Depot decided to drop them. Or maybe they were selling just fine, but Home Depot had other ideas for that section. In the announcement they say that "the move is part of a wider strategy of 'front end transformation.'" 

Whatever.  It's over.  I don't know how much hand-wringing is going on at publishing houses, but if you're a publisher of garden books, here's my advice:  Help independent garden centers become better booksellers.

Borders is gone.  Home Depot is, as far as bookselling goes, also gone.  Many cities have no independent bookstore at all.  But there are over 3000 large independent garden centers in the United States, and with a little help, they could become much better booksellers. 

People who own garden centers are not necessarily book people.  They don't read Publishers Weekly.  They don't go to BEA. They've never heard of the ABA.  And they might not even read much. This is not a criticism.  It's just a fact that when I go to IGC, I meet a lot of people who own or work in garden centers who say, "I don't read much." So they might be happy to add more books to their gift shop, but they need some help.  What could publishers do?

  • Help them make sure they're getting the best possible terms and working with the right kind of sales rep or distributor. Some garden centers just don't know where to get books, how to take advantage of special shipping terms, or how returns work. When should they discount books, and why?
  • Help them understand, in very concrete terms, what kinds of books gardeners might enjoy reading.  I've seen many IGC owners pick up interesting, top-selling, well-written garden books and say, "Will this tell how to prune shrubs in zone 6?"  They might not understand that books can be more than instruction manuals.  I have actually had to explain to garden center owners who Michael Pollan is and how many copies of his books have sold in order to help them understand about literary garden writing, or reading nonfiction for entertainment rather than instruction.
  • Just generally, help them figure out what books to order.  What's new, what's hot. Not just garden books but garden-themed cookbooks, nature books, children's books.
  • Teach them basic bookselling stuff.  I'm talking shelf-talkers, nice displays, where to buy shelving and book stands, etc. (or how to make them, since many garden centers employ very handy people or are next to a hardware store)  Garden centers can be dusty, humid, or otherwise inhospitable to books and signage.  Customers and staff sometimes have dirty hands. Help them figure out how to deal with all that. 
  • Help them teach the staff how to hand-sell books.  If someone comes in with a lot of questions about fruit trees, great.  Answer their questions, but show them some wonderful new book on fruit trees, too.
  • Give them ideas for cross-merchandising with other things they sell like tools, seeds, birdhouses, etc.  I mean literally–send out an email in September suggesting exactly what could go on a fall book table about, say, the harvest season.
  • Teach them about author events.  They might not know how to advertise an author event, how to introduce an author, how many books to order, where or how to do the signing–all of that could be brand new. Also, what about book clubs?  A book discussion group?
  • Give them some benchmarks to go by.  How much can a successful bookstore sell, per square foot?  How quickly do bookstores turn their inventory?  These are things that a garden center might have no idea about.

Just my two cents.  Publishers are worried about independent bookstores closing, but if you're a publisher of garden books, you have 3000 potentially great bookstores out there–they just need some help.

What do you think?  Do you buy books at your garden center?  Would you, if they had a truly fantastic little book section and enthusiastic staff selling the books?

 

Posted by on March 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm, in the category Books.
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23 Responses to “Home Depot to Stop Selling Books, and My Advice to Publishers”

  1. Carol Hassell says:

    Hear, hear! We all should be supporting our local garden shops — and local booksellers, as well.

  2. Laura Bell says:

    We have local garden centers, but all of our bookstores are chains except for a few highly specialized shops. I would LOVE it if my favorite IGC had a book section !

  3. Jim Lister says:

    How much longer will we continue to store information on pulp made from dead trees ??? Get over it and move on… E-Pub is the future whether we like it or not. You are connecting to thousands on the internet right now – many more people get garden info this way – I still have a few books – but don’t read garden mags anymore… just sayin’

  4. Terry Golson says:

    My books, both a cookbook, “The Farmstead Egg Cookbook” and a picture book, “Tillie Lays an Egg” sell really well at farmstands – when I personally get them stocked. Both books are published by big houses (St. Martin’s and Scholastic) but they have no idea how to sell in alternative spaces. One thing that helps at such places is to have the book shrink wrapped. The store owners are (rightly) worried about the books being damaged by dirty hands, and then having to eat the loss. Also, these sellers often don’t have shelving for books. Cardboard stands to display books (near the cash register!) would be a start.

  5. houseplantguru says:

    Our family owns an IGC. I am an avid reader, by the way. My spare bedroom is a library exclusively containing gardening books. My favorite gardening books are garden memoirs. I would love to sell books at my garden center, but have space constraints. Shrink-wrapped would be a must. I miss Borders and LOVE real books. I do not want to read my books on a computer. Sorry.

  6. Jim Lister says:

    I wont read a book on a computer either… but an iPad or Kindle is completely different. I prefer Audio books for pleasure and while I’m driving. And I am not cutting down trees for paper. Come on Folks – remember the environment? Books are dying – maybe not right away – but just like magazines and newspapers – they are on the way out as a commodity – they will remain as collector’s items like vinyl records. Authors like musicians need to self-publish on-line and keep the profit. No publisher taking 85%, no printing cost, shipping cost, warehousing, stocking, etc… AND authors get paid more !!!

  7. Regina says:

    I love this idea, but I may be biased since I used to work at a bookstore and now manage an IGC. Would I like to introduce gardeners to Henry Mitchell? You betcha! How many of our customers own a copy of square foot gardening? SO MANY. I’d be glad to sell it to them. The shrink wrap is a great, and practical idea. I brought this up with the owner of an IGC I used to work for, and his feeling was that the margins would be too low, since we’d be paying a lot as small volume buyers. I have and love my kindle, but will always prefer gardening and cookbooks in print.

  8. Jim Lister says:

    How many remember Ruth Stout – No Work Gardening ? That got me started 35 years ago…

  9. Hap says:

    I am proud of our book selection at the nursery, after all we carry books we like and think have good information or are fun reads (Amy, we have manage to sell a case of Wicked Plants, which makes you our second best seller, sorry Debera Lee Baldwin tops our sales, but then we are a cacti and succulent nursery). But it looks like we will likely have to lower our stock levels since most customers are just using us as a show room and using Amazon’s app to snap and order while in our store. I am shocked that they think that is OK to do to a small local business, but I can’t think of polite way to tell them to knock it off. The first time it happened I was appalled and furious, now I am just hoping that I can sell through enough titles to cover costs before converting the glass book cases to more terrarium supplies and using it to showcase local artists.

  10. Loree says:

    I feel so lucky to have an IGC close to me that stocks an amazing amount of books (maybe it helps that we’re in Timber Press country up here in Portland). I do have to admit though that I’ve never actually bought a book from them. Ouch, I need to rectify that.

  11. A. Marina Fournier says:

    In Santa Cruz there is an IGC which used to be San Lorenzo Lumber Gardens–I know they were bought out, but do not recall the current owners–there was a corner full of books for gardeners, some fairly specialized (Japanese Maples, f’rinstance). I believe a few came home with me. Magazines were right at the cash registers.

    There are garden/botany book specialist bookstores in Palo Alto and Berkeley which I’ve visited, and I’m sure there ought to be some IGC (Berkeley Horticultural?) who are likely to have at least books about what they sell. Memory shows me none at Yamagami’s Nursery in Cupertino, save perhaps the Western Garden Book, and I also see noe, or hardly any, at Roger Reynolds Nursery in Menlo Park–both of these are relatively high-end shops, too.

  12. A. Marina Fournier says:

    Would those of you who run/are employed by an IGC or specialist bookstore (aside from Amy) kindly give the name of the place, and the city&state where one might find it?

    I do research with Amazon, to see if I want a particular book of possible interest, but then I buy it elsewhere. Only if I can’t find it anywhere else will I order from them.

    If you are looking for a book that’s in print, but hard to find, or out of print, consider using addall.com. Before it came along, I was having to check about four sites for each title, but now those sites are indexed by them, and you can see who has a copy of that book, by condition, cost, details, what bookservice with which they might be affiliated, etc. You can rather easily determine which copy of the book you prefer to order.

  13. There is probably more success selling a great variety of gardening books at nurseries on the west coast, but I don’t think it’s a great success here (in Colorado–and I’ve been studying it for a year). Most people that go into the local nurseries here are looking for how-to books only. Henry Mitchell, Michael Pollan, and Amy Stewart are not on their to-buy lists. My daughter and I have come to the conclusion that for our magazine a better bet is to find readers who love gardening– not gardeners who might also love to read. That said, there are a lot of niche opportunites for garden writers. Boutiques, farmer’s markets, etc. As usual, writers have to get very creative.

    I agree with Jim on electronic publishing, but I have personally talked to a lot of people who want the option of a real book (or magazine) in their hands. (I am in that category.)

  14. trey says:

    If Hap is having a hard time selling books in downtown Berkley you have your answer. Books and IGC’s just don’t work. We turn into the “Best Buy” of the book world. A place to go see, and feel the stuff before you buy on Amazon.

    We had a discussion about this in our nursery group. One member was upset because they wanted to sell the New Sunset Western Garden Book but couldn’t get it from the publisher. Yet it was for sale at Costco, for the price our member would have had to pay for it. Why? The publishing industry, like the record industry just doesn’t get it. Sunset let their biggest fans (the IGC)down so they could sell through the volume places like Costco.

  15. One thing IGC’s would be much better about then the big bookstores is regional selection. Having written/self-published a “gardening memoir” myself, I found the biggest issue to getting it into the hands of readers WAS the large bookstores; who only sell what their major publishers tell them too. Despite personal letters and some visits to over 100 area bookstores, I got one nursery to sell it (20 copies sold in a month), and one B&N. The latter got in three copies, sold all three in a week, and never restocked it. No wonder the big bookstores are going out of business if they can’t recognize what is selling.

  16. Marisa says:

    These are great ideas, Amy. But do you really think it makes sense for publishers to invest all this time & energy targeting and teaching handselling when in reality the stores might only sell a handful of books a week?

    3 copies a week or 20 copies a month is not going to cut it for any of the parties involved.

  17. anne says:

    This is an interesting puzzle. When I make a trip to my local IGC I am not looking for books, rather gardening stuff or plants. so a book purchase there would be an impulse buy (and probably what I would go for is something very regional or specific). Yet in my small town bookstores (yes, we have 3!), the selection of garden-related books is small and quirky; I wouldn’t think to look for gardening books there, unless I had a specific title in mind (which I would special order from the bookstore–I don’t like to buy things on-line).

    Yet look at all of the small businesses that sell books pertaining to their specialty–yarn stores selling knitting and crochet books, quilt stores selling quilting books, wineries selling wine books, etc. I think it takes a concerted effort on the part of the individual store to make book sales successful.

    The issue of people browsing books and then buying them at Amazon is a general problem for all places that sell books–including bookstores, for that matter. We live in a culture that prioritizes getting a “better deal” over supporting our local small businesses.

  18. C.L. Fornari says:

    Since I’m an author and an employee at an independent garden center, I see this from two perspectives. From the writer’s side it sounds like a great idea – from the garden center’s point of view, not so much. No matter how we’ve displayed and marketed books, they don’t sell well for us.

    I suppose that if a garden center had lots of space and could devote a large enough portion of it to books (maybe along with a cafe or place to sit), and customers got used to the fact that books were in that section, it could work. Frankly, most garden centers don’t have that extra space. Much of what we sell is bulky and at my garden center we have “space wars” already.

    Also, many garden centers are going toward the “greenhouse look” – much of our display space is now covered greenhouse-style. This allows us to mix product and plants in most sales areas and provides cover for the customers on rainy days. The plants do well and for the customer, going into a bright space with flowering hangers above is pleasant. But the mix of sun and moisture in these spaces is not good for books.

    Finally, garden centers would be facing the same problem that other bookstores see. People come in, page through a book and say, “I can get this online later.” I have heard this repeated while sitting at book signings at local bookstores! My colleagues at the garden center are not likely to create an area that serves as a demonstration space for Amazon.

  19. Michelle says:

    I want to say that I would definitely buy books at my local garden store- but to tell the truth, I don’t even know if they already carry them. I impulse buy books even more often than I impulse buy plants, which might mean that I would only pick up books at the garden center if they were staring me in the face, like next to the line for the register. There are already impulse buy items by the registers, though, like garden gloves and houseplants, so books sales would maybe just displace those sales.

  20. One of my local garden centers stocks a decent supply of books in a cozy little reading nook that I browse whenever I shop there. I enjoy supporting them by buying both books and plants from them.

    When traveling, I like to visit garden centers and if they have an enticing region-specific gardening book (or 2!), I will often buy it as a special treat for myself.

    It’s great to run across a garden center (or public garden, for that matter) with a local flavor, stocking regionally adapted plants and books as well as local art, music, even food. I’m rooting for more.

  21. Claire Splan says:

    These are great ideas, but implementing them requires staff–something most publishers don’t much believe in having around anymore.

  22. IGCs here in the NE don’t usually carry a lot of books that I would read. I am more likely to find what I want in the garden section of Barnes & Noble, nearby, or a couple of independent bookstores that also have a garden section.
    I always avoided the books at Home Depot, so I will not miss that section at all.
    From this post I take away the idea that books in IGCs is an idea worth pursuing. I think it would work if the selection was good.

  23. ChrisTS says:

    I have noticed that at my area Home Depot’s the books and mags are always in an ‘after you checked out’ location. I would think this might undercut sales. :-)

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