said, “that people come [here] for the backlist, small press, and
university press titles.” In a bookstore that’s only 2,100 sq. ft.,
Yamazaki has to be particularly selective regarding frontlist in
order to maintain that 80/20 balance. That’s one reason why
City Lights decided not to stock Bruce Springsteen’s Born to
Run, which, Yamazaki noted, is readily available throughout the
As part of its backlist focus, City Lights
ensures that 20% of its backlist comes from
university presses, including books such as
Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings’s
Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (Belknap),
which continues to do well in hardcover three
years after publication. Booksellers are
encouraged to recommend older titles for
their staff recommendations, including trade
university press books.
Indies located near Amazon’s physical bookstores use backlist to differentiate themselves.
Adrian Newell, book buyer and operations
manager for the book department at
Warwick’s in La Jolla, Calif., said that, though
“we are primarily a frontlist store, and 40% of
our sales are generated from new hardcovers,”
she feels “backlist titles help to make our selection stand out; they make the store more interesting.” She’s willing to try bringing back
older books, such as May Sarton’s The Fur
Person. “I remembered it from my early days of bookselling,” said
Newell, who recently put it at the cash register and sold 39 copies.
Each season Newell meets with her “core” publishers to come
up with four or five displays that highlight backlist titles. She’s
also noticed a push from publishers to include core backlist in
partnership agreements. But it can be hard to carry the number
of titles that publishers would like her to in a 2,200-sq.-ft. store.
She focuses more on authors: she tries to always keep a rotating
selection of books by certain authors, such as Jim Harrison,
Richard Russo, and Anne Tyler, in stock.
At Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., book buyer Jeanne
Costello has a different set of must-have authors for her backlist,
such as Terry Tempest Williams and Pema Chodron. “About 20%
of our sales are [generated by] books that are five or more years
old; 50% are over a year old,” she said.
Why Backlist Matters
A solid backlist can make a bookstore’s selection stand out
With the introduction of programs such as Indie Next’s Revisit & Rediscover that highlight backlist titles, as well as backlist book swaps at bookseller gatherings, the American
Booksellers Association has tried to encourage independent
booksellers to carry more backlist titles. Publishers, too, have
been pushing for a change. At the start of the year, HarperCollins
introduced one of the most innovative programs to date: offering a discount on Harper
and Harlequin backlist books for indies.
No extra incentive was needed for some
booksellers, such as John Evans, owner of
Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Miss., to carry
a strong backlist selection. “Backstock is how
you create your store’s individual identity,”
Evans said. “It’s no different than the national,
regional, and local authors that come to your
store. They’re creating that identity.” Sue
Boucher, owner of Cottage Book Shop in Glen
Arbor, Mich., agreed: “For us, backlist pro-
vides the spice and adds to the adventure of
searching through a little bookstore.”
Though Evans also has a deep commitment
to frontlist, particularly new books by authors
with whom he has developed strong relation-
ships over the course of the past 41 years, his
store actively promotes backlist. Lemuria has
two rooms dedicated to first editions, and it
is one of the few bookstores to seek out hardcover editions of
popular paperback titles. “What we found, predominately, is
that people prefer hardback if it’s a good book,” said Evans.
Boucher and her staff handsell backlist titles alongside
frontlist, and she added a spinner rack to display booksellers’
favorite older books. Despite the store’s location in a summer
tourist destination, Cottage Book Shop sells a lot of backlist, and
many store sections are primarily backlist. “We would have a
hard time selling new hardcovers in sections like self-help/psy-chology, mystery, history, and bio,” said Boucher.
City Lights Books in San Francisco is even more committed
to backlist: books that have sold out their initial orders compose more than 80% of inventory, said head buyer Paul
Yamazaki. For him, a major consideration in buying a book is
how well it will sell as a backlist title. “We know for a fact,” he
Top: Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Miss.
Below: Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor,