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Booksellers doubtful U.K.-style Super Thursday event could work in Canada

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Bookmark in Halifax, NS

Bookmark in Halifax

U.K. readers are getting their wallets – and elbows – ready for Super Thursday, the day the British publishing industry releases its largest number of books at one time, taking place Oct. 8.

The event – which this year will see the launch of more than 400 titles, including Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight 10th anniversary edition, Bill Bryson’s first travel book in 15 years, and celebrity memoirs by Tom Jones and Steve Coogan – is the start of the book industry’s Christmas shopping season.

Canadian booksellers have mixed opinions about whether a similar initiative would be feasible here, noting that while the idea has flourished in the U.K., it may not work under Canada’s distribution model.

“It would be a logistical nightmare. With most of our warehouses now dispersed throughout the U.S., shipping in a timely manner is spotty at best,” says Mike Hamm, manager at Bookmark in Halifax. “To have that amount of new releases advertised to be on shelves on one day would be a bit dangerous in terms of customer relations. I see the potential for a lot of disappointment and anger. Also, only a small segment of the book-buying public is driven to stores for release-day shopping. Granted, those that do pay attention to release dates for their favourite authors or category books are very keen. However, in our store at least, the majority of people who want a new title are simply content for us to take a personal order and call them when it hits the shelf.”

Andreas Kessaris, events co-ordinator of Montreal’s Librairie Paragraphe Bookstore, agrees that the logistics of the day seem overwhelming, though he’s always excited about “daring” potential new initiatives in book promotion, like last spring’s Authors for Indies Day. “Having a big push like this is a noteworthy effort, but so many books released on the same day could be a strain on inventory levels and staff, and not all stores have large amounts of new-release shelf space,” he says.

Some store owners question how many books of value are present within such a high volume of titles. “This strikes me as a goofy gimmick,” says Christopher Brayshaw, owner of Vancouver’s Pulpfiction Books. “Our interest is in the production and distribution of quality books that will still be read in three, five, or even 20 years, not in marketing events designed to produce short-term buzz or to ‘drive traffic.’ Bringing back mass-market paperbacks of almost every title that is now in trade paperback would do 2,000 per cent more for our business and bottom line than any one-day event ever could.”

Chris Hall, owner of Winnipeg-headquartered McNally Robinson, also expresses doubt. “This might be good for books where quantity is the concern rather than quality,” he says. “The concept could generate lots of attention and send lots of people to bookstores, I have no argument with that. But I would hesitate to release a book that week where quality is more the issue than pure commercialism. It is certainly an interesting idea. I’m curious how it works in the U.K.”

Jessica Walker, co-owner of Munro’s Books in Victoria, is one of the few booksellers Q&Q spoke with who sees potential for a Super Thursday in Canada. “I don’t think it’s daft. I like the Books Are My Bag [day of signing and readings] campaign that’s gaining traction in the U.K., and this too seems like a very supportive move by publishers to encourage people to visit their local bookstores that week to see what’s new,” Walker says.

Marla Simpson, owner of Calgary’s Self Connection Books, echoes the ambivalent sentiments of others like Kessaris, and says she still has several questions, like whether Super Thursday would be noticeably successful considering the reduced prices offered by online booksellers.

“Any kind of event to build excitement is good,” Simpson says, “but I wonder who the excitement is for: the bookseller or the buyer? Are buyers even aware of the publishing side of the business? Having something like this just before the Christmas season makes sense, but as long as Amazon has the same inventory at their prices, I don’t see it being a great opportunity for booksellers.”