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Are Seasonal “Pop-up” Bookstores the Answer to Sluggish Sales?


By Edward Nawotka

Today’s lead story profiles Berlin’s Dialogue Books, an English-language bookstore that was open for just six months — and then moved online. In the story bookseller Sharmaine Lovegrove describes the store as a “pop-up” bookstore.

Opening short run, pop-up retail locations is increasingly trendy. You tend to hear of them “popping up” around specific events, such as the clothing brands that open small boutiques during New York Fashion Week or the seasonal-specific stores that WIRED magazine and Target open in New York City during the holidays.

Could the same model be effective in selling books?

Calendar Club (the company that also now operates Kirkus Reviews) opens 1,000 stores in malls each holiday season specifically to sell calendars. It’s a logical business decision, since calendars are only truly in demand for a short window at the end of the year and the beginning of the next.

In bookselling, the holiday season often represents as much as 25% and sometimes more of a typical bookstores annual sales. Could you then argue that some opportunistic entrepreneur could take advantage of this demand to open quirky or interesting “pop-up” bookstores to help sell the year’s hottest and most in-demand titles? There would be distinct advantages for last minute shoppers — no worrying about if Auntie May’s package will arrive on time — and it might entice non-traditional book buyers to browse.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  1. Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    An interesting idea. And perfectly possible but with a lot of challeges to overcome.

    The first would be the admin; insurance payments, rates, local taxes, none of these are really set up with the idea that businesses will come and go.

    The second would be the incredible mix of skills you’d have to have to keep something like this going in between the pop up shop time, running an independent shop and online presence presents a challenging mix of skills.

    The third would be profit levels. There’d be a lot of admin involved in starting up and closing down again, all of which would have to be covered by sales.

    I guess fireworks shops are another good example of this – there’s a great empty space near me that fills up with fireworks every October – but I have a feeling it’s the landlord’s family that staff the shop, getting them out of a lot of admin.

    Given how hard it is to survive as a retail shop this might happen with a lot of industries. But there are a lot of stakeholders, not only customers but local residents, local governement and utility companies who’ll have to re-imagine what they perceive the high street to be.

  2. Posted February 28, 2011 at 4:40 am | Permalink

    Pop-up stores are an intriguing idea but I’m not sure it would work for books the way it works for calendars. True, the holiday season is the time 25% of yearly sales are made but what about the 75%? Can it really be taken up by Internet traffic? I’m not so sure. The article about Berlin’s Dialogue Books mentions it was up for 6 months before going on line: in other words, long enough to get known and find right away some active demand online.

    So should pop up shops last for at least 6 months to be effective? Given the investment to set up a store and run it, all this doesn’t seem very reasonable, does it?

  3. Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I see this working in favor of the larger literary community. As you suggested, it’d have to be focused on the hottest and most in-demand titles, but those same titles are the ones that don’t really need help making sales.

    The average author — the one who makes most of their sales through Amazon or at face-to-face readings and book signings — isn’t likely to land a spot in that pop-up store, even though that kind of author is vastly more numerous than the one who becomes a bestseller and a household name.

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