“A lot of times we get high school and
college kids with summer reading lists, and
they need the classics,” he says. “We have
them, and for a whole lot cheaper than the
$20 or $25 they’d spend on a new book.”
JUST AS SAGE-EL accommodates Montclair’s literati with cultural events and
Robinson caters to Ocean City’s sandy-toed tourists with thrillers, Scott Asa-lone, co-owner of Words! Asbury Park,
has tried to mirror the cultural predilections he’s observed in his Shore town
since opening in 2009.
“People who come into the store are
incredibly well-read and want the most
recent literary best sellers. They think
things through carefully and have excel-
lent taste,” he says. “When we first got
here, we had a broad selection. But then
we found that stuff like detective novels
and lower-market books didn’t sell.”
Book-buying loyalists reward that kind
of resourcefulness, says Anne Laird, who
has owned the Town Book Store in West-
field for eight years. And they respond
especially well to shop owners who can
relate to their desire to linger, smell the
fresh ink and flip through the pages.
“Like a lot of independent bookstores,
I sell stuffed animals and educational
toys, and I have a nice selection of cards
and journals,” she says. “You sell those
things because you can make money on
them. But I’m a bookstore, and I want to
stay true to being a bookstore, and I only
have 1,300 square feet to do it. So the
vast majority of my sales are books. And
that’s why I have loyal customers who
pretty much understand that they’re go-
ing to walk out of here with something
they want to read.”
In Westfield, that usually means what
she calls a “mainstream” book. “We’re
not an eclectic, quirky shop, because
that’s not what my customers want,” she
says. “I know how to pick and choose. I
don’t carry the whole best-seller list, but
I do carry what’s popular,” Laird says.
She also has a strong selection of chil-
dren’s books, which account for 40 per-
cent of the store’s sales.
“A lot of women in town count on us
to hook them up, and their kids, with
their next great read,” she says.
That customer connection is an edge
that the online stores can’t match. “Ama-
zon is a giant, and I don’t see how that’s
ever going to change,” says Laird. “But
they can’t offer you the experience I can
offer you when you come into my store.”
Evidence of that ongoing connec-
tion is in an Indiegogo crowd-sourcing
campaign conducted by the founders
of Little City in Hoboken. Jacobs, Gar-
ban and a third partner, Emmanuelle
Morgen, a literary agent, launched the
campaign this spring to help pay for the
1,200-square-foot shop’s fixtures. They
surpassed their goal of $22,000 in 40
days, raising a total of $22,732.
By Jacobs’s estimation, indie stores
like Backwater Books, a Hoboken institution that closed in the 1990s, were victims of a less-intuitive age in retail.
“Bookstores aren’t just places where
you go to buy things,” she says. “They’ve
evolved into community centers. It’s that
whole notion of a third space, where
you’re not at home, you’re not at work,
but you’re in a place where you’re around
like-minded people and the things that
make you happy,” she says.
To that end, the new store has a sound
system and a small performing area for
acoustic music. And because the partners
have seen an uptick in young families in
Hoboken, they’re prepared with wide
children’s and young-adult sections.
Jacobs says refining the inventory will
take awhile. “We know that the best independent bookstores are reflections of
their communities,” she says. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot about my
Tammy La Gorce is a voracious reader of literary fiction, mostly checked out at her local
library. Sometimes she feels guilty about not
buying more books.
Audible Founder Don Katz Likes the Sound of Books
Audible, the audiobook company based in downtown Newark, is in a couple of ways the enemy of indie
bookstores. One, it’s owned by Amazon. And two, it prefers its literature spoken rather than on the page.
But the company and its founder and CEO, Donald Katz,
can’t help appealing to bibliophiles. Katz, who lives in
Montclair, is a word guy.
Before he sold his company to Amazon in
2008 for a reported $300 million, Katz spent 20
years as a journalist and author. His 1992 nonfiction book, Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of
One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America
(Rare Bird Books), was nominated for a National
Book Critics Circle Award, and he won a National
Magazine Award in 1994 for his Outside magazine article,
“One Animal Year.” His byline has appeared in Rolling Stone,
Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal and Worth.
Audible’s uber-modern offices in a high rise reflect
Katz’s reverence for books and authors. Near the recep-
tionist’s desk is a digital crawl, similar to the kind in Times
Square, that spools out the text of one of the 18,000
titles per year into which the company breathes new life
via its roster of voice talent. That roster includes famous
voices—Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman have read for
Audible—as well as about 100 actors and actresses, many
from New Jersey, moonlighting at the company’s
Newark studios until their next role comes along.
Katz jokes that, as a journalist turned captain
of industry, he has “a checkered past.”
“People still ask me, ‘Are you the same Don
Katz who’s the author?,’” he says. “I loved every-
thing about that part of my life.”
But he also loves the mission that has turned
Audible into the world’s largest producer of audiobooks.
“Most people’s childhoods are marked by their parents
reading stories to them,” he says. “There’s a primordial
pleasure to that, and audiobooks are the way to rediscover it.”—TLG
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