Bookstores find

Kane Loukas

Basic Fact One: Go to college; it will help you get a job.
Basic Fact Two: If you run a bookstore, move it to a college; it will help you stay in business.
Independent booksellers like the Student Book Store on University Avenue Southeast avoid extinction at the hands of the Barnes & Nobles of the world by virtue of their relationships with the biggest book-buying clubs: colleges and universities.
With more than 37,000 credit card-happy students blindly rushing bookstores every few months, the University’s Twin Cities campus is a good place to be if you sell books. This isn’t a big secret and it’s no coincidence that companies like Bigwords.com and textbooks.com plaster every kiosk — as well as any other immobile surface — with their advertisements.
Despite more and more companies fighting for a piece of students’ book money, universities and colleges remain largely untouched by book superstores and online booksellers. This leaves a somewhat safe haven for smaller independent bookstores.
The University’s own bookstores actually noticed an increase in sales thanks to higher enrollment.
Amazon Bookstore in Minneapolis in Loring Park — no relation to Amazon.com — plans on making its way to greener, more lucrative pastures near the University.
Mev Miller, Amazon’s book buyer, reports glumly that business is “really bad. Our sales have really been off this year.” Sales in the last 12 months have dropped off 20 percent, he said.
Employees have been let go and Amazon managers talk seriously about a relocation for the 30-year-old bookstore.
The yellow brick road, if sales point the way, leads to the University.
Course book sales for the store have been on the rise and now comprise about one-fifth of the store’s total sales, an all-time high. At the start of winter quarter, Amazon even rented a space in Dinkytown to cater to the women’s studies students who buy their books.
“We’ve been working harder to accommodate whatever (students) need,” said Barb Weiser, general manager at Amazon.
It’s getting harder to find someplace in the Twin Cities unsaturated by one of the five Borders or 10 Barnes and Noble bookstores in the metro area. The mega-stores are growing, too.
Between February and October 1998, Borders’ total sales increased 17 percent to $1.65 billion. In about the same time period, Barnes & Noble’s sales, barnesandnoble.com included, increased 10 percent to $2.02 billion.
Amazon.com’s sales rocketed about 200 percent every three months last year.
Together the three companies account for more than one-third of all U.S. book sales. That leaves one-third fewer customers for stores like Amazon, which, 10 years ago, never heard of Borders.
The Hungry Mind Bookstore’s long-time partnership with Macalester College in St. Paul has shielded it from a new Borders superstore a few miles away.
So far, their sales haven’t gone down — or up, for that matter — despite their big neighbor and “a million commercials during Christmas about how great it is to shop on the Internet,” said Hungry Mind’s president David Unowsky.
About 30 percent of the store’s sales come directly from textbooks, school supplies and Macalester sweat shirts or other school merchandise.
Only linking up with a school won’t necessarily keep the boat from sinking. Both Amazon and Hungry Mind have the advantage of a strong local reputation, a big plus when it comes to arranging book signings, readings by authors and maintaining steady customers.