THE BLOG
08/03/2011 05:10 pm ET Updated Oct 03, 2011

Adjusting to the Vanishing Bookstore

For book lovers, nothing is quite so disheartening as seeing our local Borders or Barnes & Noble with a "For Lease" sign on the door. It's the indigestible realization that an increasing number of books now require a battery to read.

Not a good time for books, is it? And by books I mean those quaint glue-bonded, ink-on-paper pages that adorn whatever book shelves you still have. Bye-bye Guttenberg. Hello Kindle!

While books migrate like electric lemmings to DigitalLand, what happens to all those other bookstore items - like calendars, for instance? Where do they go? Well, surely they go to the web, like everything else.

"No," says calendar maven Mike Brown. "Calendars are an impulse buy. People buy them when they SEE them and that doesn't happen on the Internet in huge numbers. We have a very short selling season from mid-November to mid-January AND we've got a thousand titles to move."

This guy should know. As CEO of BrownTrout Publishers, the 6-foot, 3-inch former Merchant Marine is a major producer of calendars. He says that the disappearing bookstore account for more than $170 million of the $400-$500 million calendar market. That's a big hole to fill and the Internet fills up only 8 percent of it, he explains. So where does a Mike Brown go to ensure that we see some those adorable puppy calendars he puts out?

Like many manufacturers, he goes to the cross-roads of America - the mall. Malls may be running out of bookstores but they have lots of kiosks selling hats, smart phones accessories, doo-dads -- and calendars.


"There wasn't enough growth in bookstores, even when they were doing well,
" Brown tells me. "Retailers are sitting there with their big boxes with their big staffs. When the water goes out and they can't float anymore, it's over."

A prescient Brown adjusted and weaned himself away from the book store chains a while ago. His biggest outlets now are the 1,200 kiosks that line our malls.

"If manufacturers are nimble enough and keep making the best product in their category, they can survive by jumping from one surfboard to the next," says the calendar maven.

Who benefits from the disappearing bookstore? Just about every other retail outlet you can think of. Discount stores like Walmart, Costco and Sam's Clubs for example, take in about $100 million in calendar sales. Office supply outlets, about $12 million. Five years ago, supermarkets didn't even carry calendars. Now, with Mike Brown's considerable effort, there are now three to four thousand supermarkets now selling calendars and pulling in around $22 million a year.

If manufacturers like Brown can adjust to fewer book stores, why can't we book lovers? Brown's doing all right. His calendar sales were up 15 percent in 2010 over 2009 and up 15 percent again this year. So, while doors may be shutting, I take comfort in knowing that neither books nor calendars are really going away. They're just behind different doors now. And I adjust.