Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Georgia: Bookselling in the Peach State

By Edward Nawotka

From Publishers Weekly, 3/5/2007

Georgia boasts 188 bookstores, including 68 chain stores, with the heaviest concentration in Atlanta, the state's largest city and one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States. There, a coterie of dynamic specialty booksellers—including the feminist Charis Books & More, gay Outright Bookstore and children's bookseller Little Shop of Stories—thrive amid the burgeoning chains, which include some 22 Borders and Waldenbooks stores (out of 31 total in the state), as well as five B&Ns and B. Daltons (out of a total of 21, with a new B&N store expected to open in Newnan, Ga. shortly).

Marlene Zeiler, owner of Atlanta's Tall Tales Book Shop, said her 28-year-old 3,000-sq.-ft. general bookstore caters to a "sophisticated" readership that includes employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University. "Some people in other parts of the country may think we Georgians are dumb, but they're wrong," said the former New Yorker.

All this growth and prosperity has its downside. "Bookselling in Atlanta has definitely become more challenging. Atlanta is now so big and with so much happening, it's hard for a bookstore to get noticed," said Frank Reiss, owner of A Cappella Books, which started in 1989 as an antiquarian bookstore, but has transitioned to offering new and used titles from its location in the hip Five Points district.

Likewise, Doug Robinson, owner of nearby Eagle Eye Books, said growth at the four-year-old store has been "modest" if not "flat," and it is primarily the store's Web business that continues to grow, as students are more and more comfortable ordering books online.

The competitive environment in Atlanta has had the greatest impact on the home-grown Chapter 11 bookstore chain, which at its peak had 16 stores and was lauded in the Wall Street Journal as a model independent bookseller. The chain has since fallen into bankruptcy and been reduced to three locations.

Outside of the metro area, the concentration of stores is less dense, but the market no less interesting, said Tom Murphy, v-p of book reps George Scheer Associates. "Though it's true Atlanta has some wonderful bookstores, the real action for me is now in the more rural corners of the state," said Murphy, who has been selling academic and small trade press books, including those from the University of Georgia Press, for 18 years. He pointed out that stores such as Cowan's Book Nook in East Ellijay (est. population in 2005: 706), which is in the mountains near the Tennessee border, and Hattie's Books in Brunswick along the southeast coast, are in out-of-the-way locales isolated from competition and have readers hungry for regional titles.

Leigh Baumann, owner of Jekyll Books at the Old Infirmary on Jekyll Island, one of the Sea Islands, agreed. "We do have a strong regional bias in our book selection," she said. "There's a sense of history here—it's where Vanderbilt, Pulitzer and Morgan had their summer homes and remains a high-end tourist destination—so people who come here want to read about the history and local community." She cited the novels of the late Georgia author Eugenia Price, as well as titles on ecology, birding and the store's self-published Golf Lovers Guide to Jekyll Island as big sellers.

Jeannie Young, manager of G.J. Ford bookshop on St. Simons Island, agreed that her store's temperate island locale is a boon. The wealth of the year-round residents—which include celebrities and athletes, such as golfer Davis Love III—ensures a consistent trade in hardcover books. Tourists are also important customers, and Young sends her store's newsletter to residents in 40 states who continue to order books throughout the year. "I feel very fortunate," said Young. "We continue to grow year after year."

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