A sales rep walks into an independent bookstore


Booktimist has showcased perspectives from authors and editors, but there are many other professionals involved in making and disseminating books. Today we hear from Bob Barnett, the regional sales manager for the University of Texas Press. He sells titles to bookstores in the southern United States for a number of university presses, including WVU.

During the annual winter meeting of publishers and booksellers, American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher referred to the “indie resurgence.” New independent bookstores are opening (40 last year) and sales have improved, year to year, for the past five years. According to a new study associated with the Harvard Business School, the resurgence of indie bookselling has been influenced by three factors – community, curation, and convening. On a recent trip to Florida, I had the chance to visit Copperfish Books for the first time. Based on my visit, I think it illustrates the three C’s of indie bookstore success.

Copperfish Books is located in Punta Gorda on the Gulf Coast, just south of Sarasota. Punta Gorda has the notoriety of having been mostly decimated in 2004 by Hurricane Charley. It’s a small town with fewer than 30,000 residents, but it has long been a vital spot on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Cathy Graham and Serena Wycoff arrived in Punta Gorda in 2005. At the time, Cathy notes, “There had been a bookstore downtown near our current location, but it was destroyed by the hurricane.” They had an online business selling used and antiquarian books, and after almost two years of planning they opened their bricks-and-mortar shop.

Copperfish has a friendly and inviting vibe. On the day I visited, Cathy reminisced with a retired couple about old Punta Gorda, made recommendations to another customer for his elderly father, and indulged a curious publisher’s rep. Experiencing the recovery of Punta Gorda, Cathy and Serena seem to have become an essential part of the reborn town’s community. Snowbirds from the Midwest, tourists from Europe, and the locals all have found Copperfish available to fulfill their book desires.

The store’s inventory is a blend of new, used, and antique books. Most categories blend new and used titles. A special antique section shelves much older books and series. (In fact, if one were looking for a nineteenth-century American edition of Dickens, one might give them a call.) Since the store opened, the mostly used book inventory has been surpassed in sales by new books. Now the store sells twice as many new books as used.

Thirteen years a bookseller and 23 years a sales rep, Bob Barnett represents an assortment of university presses to indie bookstore accounts and serves as Regional Sales Manager for UT Press. He lives in Louisville, KY. (Photo credit, Bailey Walsh, University of Chicago Press.)

Even though the area is mostly retired, mostly Republican, and mostly white, the owners recognize their role in expanding their patrons’ interest by selecting titles that they might not otherwise encounter. Whether introducing a local teacher to the highly regarded young adult novel The Hate U Give, or displaying the recent Ta-Nehisi Coates book on their front table, these booksellers take seriously their commitment to curate a diverse and interesting selection in their small space. (At the time of my visit, they were still trying to keep up with a Fire and Fury waiting list.) They also support local-interest publishers and university presses. Cathy says, “I appreciate the special interest and regional titles published [by university presses]. Making those titles available to independent stores is invaluable, enriching our customer experience!”

Between sponsoring events at their store and participating with local community groups, Copperfish averages about 75 events a year, most of them during the high season of January through March. Each Saturday, they host a story time for kids.

Like indies across the country, Copperfish is optimistic about their future. The store faces the remaining undeveloped area created by the hurricane in the historic downtown. A boutique hotel and mixed used development are planned for this area, and as Punta Gorda grows, one can expect Copperfish Books to grow and prosper.

Illustrations from Aliki’s How a Book Is Made, which belongs on every publishing person’s shelf.

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