Katja Lena Rau participated in the RISE Booksellers Exchange last month, travelling all the way from Buchhandlung Fiederer in Germany to Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle.
Get an insight into the key takeaways that Katja and her host Tegan got from this experience and read the review that they wrote together after the exchange!
That’s me, Katja, in front of the bookstore’s signboard
Surprises about German bookselling
- Minimum price on front list enforced by publishers
- Not as much emphasis on "Street Smart" (strict on-sale dates)
- POS/ website provided by distributor
- No used book market in Germany
- Katja’s store places orders after the sales day; if orders are placed by 5:30 pm, books ordered will arrive the next day!
- With such quick turnaround on orders from the two warehouses, frontlist seasonal ordering is not as make-or-break
- [I’m trying to remember what it was about sales tax that surprised me! ]
Surprises about US bookselling
- Different prices for the same, new book everywhere
- Release dates are always Tuesdays. In Germany we don't have (at least for some bestsellers) a binding release date, but not on a special workday.
- POS and Sales Program are not connected, and so is the Edelweiss and POS
- Several second hand bookshops in town
- Orders are delivered by the post, not by a specific book delivery company. Books come in normal cardboard boxes. Usually in Germany we have reusable carriers, that they take back to fill them the other day again.
- Depending on one distributor only, that delivers frequently, is (also the price differences kept in mind) quite scary! It's absolutely liberating to be that flexible.
- The reduced sales tax on books in Germany is 7%, the normal sales tax e.g. for clothes is 19%. The tax is already included in the price that is printed on the book.
- I was surprised that almost all the books don’t come wrapped in plastic - which is a very good thing! In Germany some publishers have the plastic wrapping, but more and more do it without the plastic foil.
- In Germany we have multiple distributors, that are all very well organized (e.g. logistically).
1/ I’d heard of minimum advertised price in France, but I thought that was enforced by the Egovernment rather than publishers. Interesting to think that if federal governments won’t enact and enforce bookseller-friendly legislation, perhaps private companies can (so long as there isn’t violation of American anti-trust laws).
In Germany the book prices are set by the publishers, but the law (Buchpreisbindungsgesetz - BuchPrG) is binding. So, the publishers define the price, and the law protects it, which I think is an absolute privilege.
2/ DER SPIEGEL magazine is the main bestseller list in Germany. (I see that over 4,000 German bookstores report vs. I think almost 1,000 indie bookstores in the US, even though there are about 2,500 indie bookstores who are ABA members, so fewer than half.) *I forgot to ask how German sales are reported for bestseller lists! In the US, because there are different Point of Sale systems, some stores, like ours, have to create a bestseller report and upload it; there is something called BookScan that is used nationally across channels, there is the New York Times reporting site, and there is Indie Bestseller reporting. Depending on the store’s computer system, some might be automated or some might be done jointly.
The bestseller lists are determined by electronic queries in the merchandise management systems of bookselling POS. As part of the SPIEGEL-Bestseller analytics by media control cooperation, sales data from 6.550 stationary and e- commerce POS in Germany are currently being analyzed to compile the SPIEGEL bestseller lists. The POS include retail bookstores (on location and chain stores), online stores, train station bookstores, department stores, and secondary markets (including consumer electronics retailers and drugstore chains with media offerings). The available sales data from the previous week is analyzed each Monday afternoon.
The data is imported daily into media control's database. They provide a very accurate picture of market activity and reflect sales with a slight time lag. In order to obtain meaningful bestseller lists that provide orientation, the titles are sorted according to content criteria and book types such as hardcover, paperback and "Taschenbuch" (which is the smallest paperback book in Germany). The number of copies sold per title determines the respective order in the rankings.
The regulations are quite strict and confusing - but I thought it might be interesting for you:
Newly revised criteria have applied to the SPIEGEL bestseller lists for fiction and nonfiction since October 1, 2012. They govern which books are considered and on which list.
The following content and editorial requirements apply to the SPIEGEL bestseller lists for hardcover and paperback:
- It must be an original or German first edition in printed form.
- It must be an individual, original work.
- Reference works, compilations, compilations of previously published texts, textbooks, guidebooks (e.g., cookbooks, medical guides, fitness manuals), travel guides, comics, and gift books and illustrated books are not considered.
Children's and young adult books are generally not considered. However, books that reach beyond the target group of children and young people to a large extent also reach adults (all-ages titles, with age indication from 14 years).
Humorous treatments of nonfiction topics are published (as before) on the nonfiction bestseller lists, provided that the focus is clearly on conveying information and knowledge. Other humor titles are classified as fiction.
In the case of parallel editions of the same title (e.g. juvenile and adult editions), the sales of these parallel editions are added together, provided that they have identical sales price and content; the more frequently sold edition is shown in the list.
Foreign language editions are taken into account. If both the German-language and foreign-language editions can place, the edition that sells more frequently is taken into account.
The following deviating rules apply to the SPIEGEL bestseller list for paperbacks:
In the nonfiction segment, humorously exaggerated reports, whimsical compilations, and general guidebooks are also taken into account, but not travel guides, schoolbooks, and textbooks.
Both licensed editions (secondary exploitations of hardcover and paperback editions) and original editions, German first editions, as well as new and special editions are considered.
Which publisher rules apply to the SPIEGEL bestseller lists:
With the more diversified size and layout formats in recent years, the assignments must also be described more precisely in formal terms. Criteria here are characteristics that the target group of book buyers also recognizes.
These characteristics are described below as a guide for publishers from the manufacturer's point of view.
For the SPIEGEL bestseller list hardcover, a hardcover original edition or German first edition must fulfill all of the following four criteria in addition to the content and editorial criteria (see above):
- Three-sided projecting edges
- Three-part book cover
- Fully glued endpapers 1 and 4
- Open (free) spine
In addition to the content and editorial criteria (see above), a paperback original edition or German first edition must meet the following two for the SPIEGEL bestseller list paperback:
- Page height at least 20.5 cm
- Flap on cover pages 1 and 4
For the SPIEGEL bestseller list paperback, the rule is: everything that is not hardcover or paperback is a paperback (“Taschenbuch”). This also applies to larger booklets that do not have a flap. Books with a simple integral cover are generally only included on the paperback list.
3/ There are several Point of Sale systems used in the US. We use IBIDie. Others include Anthology, Basil, BookManager, iMRCHNT, WordStock. Some stores use non-book- specific POS, like Square or Shopify. Most do not have an integrated ecommerce solution. The American Booksellers Association (ABA) provides website templates, services, and tech support through their Indie Commerce arm. QABC’s website is through them; Krijn does most of the work updating and customizing the website, but each bookseller is responsible for adding their recommendations.
In Germany nearly every bookstore, that maintains a homepage uses so called “White Label Shops”, which are provided by the distributor. The distributors have different options here, varying from those who would spend a smaller budget to full service homepages. It differs from e-commerce-solutions, to webshops that would send the book to the customer directly (without sending it to the bookstore first). Even our “small budget” webshop offers a range of possibilities and also provides us with branded content we can use for marketing purposes.
4/ I may have misheard this, but it’s fascinating to think of not having a resale market that takes publishers and authors out of the profit loop! Some US bookstores are ONLY used books, which means they have more variable cost of goods (including selling some donated or “dumpster dive” free books) as well as more variable/ fluid pricing. But inventory/ POS systems are trickier for used books, someone on staff needs to be trained about buying used books, and there can be considerations of safety/ quality (i.e. mold, smoke, bed bugs YIKES) that are off-putting. Our store chooses to sell only new books; there is a small but well- respected used-only store at the bottom of the hill, Mercer Street Books. We don’t really see each other as competition. (And we also contribute books to the local Little Free Libraries and, when time allows, have even been known to help our customers find books in the Seattle Public Library system.)
In Germany there are (except maybe in really big cities) no second hand bookshops. But the online trading became quite famous, like www.medimops.de (which belongs to amazon now) or www.rebuy.de . Sometimes we order a book for our customer if we cannot find it elsewhere (or the book is really old for example) on those platforms in order to keep the customer. We also have a lot of customers, that are not familiar with online shopping, so we do that for them, for a little extra fee.
5/ Since Partners West, the Pacific Northwest regional distributor, closed in 2016, bookstores in our region have only had national distributor Ingram (plus publisher-direct ordering, which sometimes fulfills from the same warehouses owned by Ingram). We are lucky that there is a warehouse in Roseburg, OR (about a 5.5 hour drive away), so if we place orders by noon on weekdays, we can usually expect a delivery before the end of the next business day. But your speed of order fulfillment is very enviable!!!!
March 15, 2023: Tegan and Katja on a virtual sales meeting with Kurtis Lowe, independent sales rep with Imprint Group West
The “Büchersammelverkehr” (BSV) = “book truck service” is a transport service provided by the distributor/ assortments for the stationary book trade and also handles the delivery of publisher consignments to the bookstores. To increase transport efficiency, the book truck service of the assortments delivers not only the assortment shipments, but also the consignment goods of the company's own publishing delivery service and direct publisher shipments (so-called publisher's consignments). The returns to the publisher can also be organized and transported via the BSV. Due to the book price fixing, a price surcharge for higher procurement costs is not permitted. The transport fees for the bookstores are therefore assessed according to monthly weight volume.
6/ Frontlist buyers in the US have to do a lot of prediction about demand, reprints, and the ability to restock. Smaller stores with smaller seasonal budgets (like ours) can struggle because they don’t want to get stuck sold out of popular fresh releases (so they need to spend a lot on initial orders of known bestselling authors/ series) but we also want to be a place of discovery for debut authors or under-the-radar titles that aren’t going to get as much marketing push from their publishers. Space constraints are also significant in high-rent areas (like our neighborhood)-- we can’t always have space for all the books we know we’re going to sell. Having the ability to restock easily and quickly would reduce monetary stress and buyer stress. (*I forgot to ask: About what % of your orders are with the distributor vs. the publishers directly? I got the impression that almost everything comes through the distributor in Germany. Which makes me wonder about the role of sales reps! I’m sorry we didn’t get more opportunities to talk about this after our meeting with Kurtis!)
That discount depends, actually. If we meet the conditions, that we agreed to in the contract at the beginning of the year, we get a good discount from our distributor.
That contains also larger orders from schools, libraries etc., - shipping costs always excluded. Also the returned books do count (it’s a rate, that’s called "Remissionsquote") which is under 4% in our store for years. We have negotiated a really good discount with our main distributor ("Zeitfracht"), so we don't really have to order books from publishers directly (just specific wishes for customers). The difference in discount is maybe 2 to 3 %. Also if we meet the conditions in the contract we get another bonus at the end of the year. We have maybe just as little as 2 sales reps in the store - per year. As you can see, we don't really profit from the advantages, although they're of course very encouraged and dedicated to their work like Kurtis. And besides he was so much fun!
7/ Was it that customers don’t pay sales tax on books in Germany? Whereas book buyers pay normal local sales tax in the US? So, for example 0% in states like DE but 10.25% in Seattle. I am so fascinated by the idea of books being taxed as a necessity instead of a luxury, or of bookstores being seen as cultural institutions so they might be exempt from business taxes like churches or nonprofits are in the US.
The reduced sales tax on books in Germany is 7%, the normal sales tax e.g. for clothes is 19%. The tax is already included in the price that is printed on the book.
8/ In Germany the distributors maintain their own warehouses. Book truck services deliver the ordered books to the bookstores overnight. Book retailers are usually supplied within 24 hours by this distribution system. The German wholesalers Zeitfracht, Libri and Umbreit maintain complete, electronic warehouse catalogs of their deliverable books as a bibliographic aid for booksellers, with information on any delivery obstacles (report numbers). Umbreit, Könemann and the Swiss Book Center identify the titles they carry by listing them in the "Verzeichnis lieferbarer Bücher (VLB)" (=Directory of all books, that can be ordered). The VLB lists all books currently available in Germany - as reported by the publishers (for a fee). In addition, Umbreit and Könemann also sigell in the Zeitfracht catalog. With the help of sigelling, it is possible for booksellers to identify several supply channels from one bibliographic source.
Queen Anne Book Company celebrated its 10th anniversary at the beginning of March 2023
The great Staff-Picks-wall, I love it.
The shop-window and the lovely decoration
The shop front in the morning, very inviting and warm