Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Jewish Book Business in the Economic Crisis

Here's a great interview with Danny Levine, the owner of a Jewish bookstore in midtown Manhattan, where he gives his view on the current state of the Jewish book industry. Keep in mind that he is a bookstore owner and is giving his perspective. I also think that his perspective will be different than that of the SOY Seforim Sale (his competitor), which makes a lot of money from impulse buying that will probably be reigned in right now (link):

How is the Jewish book business doing and where is it headed?

By nature our industry is not flippant. Ours is a need-based product. Passover, it’s one of the most celebrated holidays of the Jewish religion—everyone needs a Haggadah. Obviously, now people will buy a paperback rather than a hardcover.

Click here to read moreI see that in times of trouble our business seems to thrive, because we’re a spiritual entity. The calamities of Madoff teach people that the dollar is not to be worshipped. What matters is spiritual, God, and those are the things you buy from a company like J. Levine.

How has the Internet affected the industry?

The advent of the Internet was a major assault on the average bookstore. It was also major assault on the Jewish industry, because previously the only place to get a Jewish book was at a Jewish bookstore. But Amazon became a Jewish company, selling Jewish books and things like that, undercutting the prices terribly, offering 40 percent off and free shipping, and just destroying the whole market.

So what’s happened?

Some Jewish publishers got smart and don't sell to Amazon. Amazon will say the book is not available, but at least they'll have the chance to be sold and distributed at a bookstore. Also, in general, Amazon has lowered [its] discount. It gives huge discounts on bestsellers, but for average books is not so generous, and prices can be very very high for certain books.

How else has the business model changed?

It’s a partnership: the publisher publishers, bookstore promotes, publisher also promotes—we all work together to [serve] the public. But the publisher[s] [have] started to want to do it all themselves. It happened with some of the textbook publishers. Bookstores used to be big suppliers to different yeshivas, and little by little the publishers raised the discount they gave to the synagogue and lowered the discount for the bookstore. Publishers would say, "Bookstores were slow to pay." They'll say they'd rather get the money up-front from the synagogue, not having any feeling for the chain of normal distribution. If you look at the volume they've taken away from bookstore sales, it’s enormous. I used to do $200,000 of school business every year and now not.

Some of these Jewish publishers’ websites have specials where they give 33 percent off and free shipping. It’s unfair business practice—they have the ability to go as low as they want. That really bothers me because every time a customer goes to their website they're putting a dagger through the heart of the Jewish bookstore.

What advice would you give to other booksellers?

If you don’t make yourself unique, these Barnes & Nobles have great Judaica sections.

Here in Manhattan the rents are astronomical. I thank God own my building, but if you don’t, and can’t control your rent—how much can you make on a book? Throughout the country you have to not let your costs or your landlord control you.

The Jewish bookstore sells also prayer shawls, yarmulkes, ketuvahs. These are all “sidelines” that can be big business.

I myself have developed a website over the last 10 years, with over 10,000 products on it, and have a lot of things that Amazon does not have: books from Israel, self-published people, books from companies that don’t want to deal with Amazon because they really kill the market...
The rest of the interview is here: link

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More