Anyone For Coffee and Books?

Coffee and books—a natural partnership? No doubt this weekend many coffee addicts and book readers will combine the two in some leisurely spent hours by the fireside, in bed, or perhaps in a local coffeehouse or restaurant. Whether the location is Tokyo, London, Paris, New York or some quiet out-of-the-way location, millions will enjoy the indulgence throughout the world. I suspect the most concentrated period of coffee drinking and book reading happens every weekend. There is nothing unique in partnering both pleasures and many larger bookstores offer areas specifically for this, though I’m not sure I’d favour the idea on a busy Saturday afternoon.
One well-know bookstore in Dublin City, some years ago, used to employ an irate customer service assistant who would march around the store every Saturday and Sunday, just after 4pm, and instruct customers to ‘finish up there folks and kindly start moving toward the cash point with the book you’ve already half-finished reading.’ On a trip to London during the 1990’s, I dropped into a small, quaint bookstore on Charring Cross Road and became engrossed in a book by Robert Cullen (The Killer Department) for over half an hour until the store owner tapped me on the shoulder and announced, ‘Oi! You buying that or trying to memorise every word in it before you leave?’ I slammed the book shut, returned it to the shelf, and announced to the owner, ‘I was making some mental notes. I’m thinking of getting into serial killing myself.’ There was a brief standoff of several seconds, before he awkwardly put on a pair of thick brown glasses he had hooked onto the collar of his chequered jumper. Why do older men still insist on repairing glasses with blue or white insulation tape? ‘Right, well, I suppose I should get back to my book indexing.’ I still don’t know who would have made the better serial killer—him or me!
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Coffee & Books, an innovative new venture by Mark Levine, CEO of Hillcrest Media and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Long-time readers of TIPM will be very familiar with Levine and his explorative book on the self-publishing industry and critique and rating of many US-based self-publishing service providers. His book, now in its fourth edition, remains the seminal blueprint and charter for how self-publishing service providers should operate, and, often, don’t operate to service the needs of authors. Owners of service providers, as well as authors interested in self-publishing, would do themselves a great deal of good to read it.
Coffee & Books provides an opportunity for traditionally published and self-published books to be sold side-by-side in coffeehouses throughout the USA. There is nothing new in selling books in non-book retail outlets, or for that matter, selling self-published books under the same roof as traditionally published books. Except, for the most part, when self-published books do rarely find their way into brick and mortar stores, they are tucked away at the back of the store, hidden among thousands of other books, or placed on the shelf labelled ‘local authors’ in independent bookstores. The bookstore owner or buyer usually can’t wait to ship the remaining consignment copies back to the distributor or directly to the author after a book-signing event. The reality is that most self-published books, because they are printed as POD (print-on-demand) never get to experience an overnight speck of dust settle on them in a physical bookstore. The few high-quality self-published books deserving of a wider readership are sold through online sellers and certainly most don’t get the distribution and front-of-sale display marketing restricted to a limited amount of traditionally published titles.
This is where Coffee & Books is innovative. The best of self-published books sold alongside traditionally published books the reading public don’t always get to see in their bookstore chain. It’s a great opportunity for savvy self-published authors and independent presses and publishers. With the pressure on booksellers and publishers, and the competition from online book retailers, authors and publishers need to start thinking far beyond point-of-sale as just amounting to general high street sellers and what can be achieved through the traditional channels of placing books in front of readers. This requires a bit of lateral thinking and planning. The physical sales of books still dominate e-book sales. POD (print-on-demand) and e-books should still be an augmented way of selling books for self-published authors and independent publishers. Physical booksellers are fast becoming browsing networks, where readers touch and feel and experience a book as a purchase, and then purchase the book at a discounted price online later. It’s a weird reversed science for the book buyer. And much of that has to do with the reluctance of readers to let go of the physical experience of buying a new book combined with the continued lack of discoverability of books online. Unless you know what you are looking for—you won’t find it easily.
Amalie Howard, Don Shelby & Janet Shawgo

At the launch in Minneapolis of Coffee & Books, Levine revealed that the idea came to him several years ago, and he parked the domain until the time was right. Levine is a shrewd businessman and entrepreneur. He’s had more ideas for business ventures than Imelda Marcos had pairs of shoes, and parked more domains than a Las Vegas valet attendant has parked cars. A meeting with an old friend and a recommendation that he speak to the CEO of one of the USA’s most-respected independent coffeehouse chains reignited his plans. In 2012, Dunn Bros, a Minnesota-based coffeehouse chain became the first primary partner in the deal to sell self-published and traditionally published books across the USA. This year, more independent publishers have come on board, and Levine plans to expand Coffee & Books to more coffeehouse chains and make the enterprise a global affair.

Coffee & Books was officially launched on January 11thin one of Dunn Bros. coffeehouses in Minneapolis. Karina Taylor of Hillcrest Media explains the concept of the venture in the accompanying video and further details for self-published authors and independent publishers can be found on the Coffee & Books website. Several authors helped to launch the event, traditionally and self-published, including Janet Sawgo, Amalie Howard, Don Selby, Chuck Logan and Tim Forbes. Every one of them showed the power of the written word when they read. My only regret on the evening is not capturing more of the authors on video. After all, this was about coffee and books. My highlights of the evening were hearing the wonderful prose and delivery of Chuck Logan’s (no wonder he has struck a film deal for one of his books with Sylvester Stallone—Homefront), and a wonderful anecdote by the ever-consummate and professional news anchorman, Don Shelby, about the game of Basketball, and how you should never deliver your best game when it’s too late in the day.  

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