One History for A Million Books
Books-A-Million has not only mastered the art of finding ideal locations to place stores but has also mastered the concept of providing books and other products that match the personalities, opinions, attitudes, and views of the people they provide for in their unique locations. They have done this since the very beginning, whether it’s making deals with newspaper stands to appeal to larger crowds, or even today where they offer more than just books with the hope of catching someone’s eye. They have found their ideal “place” in the bookselling world (along with their other products) and have a unique way of appealing to the cultures, lifestyles, and opinions of the public that most other bookstores can only attempt to recreate.
Books A Million started off as a small and self-run newspaper stand in Florence, Alabama in 1917. It was run by a 14-year-old boy named Clyde W. Anderson who dropped out of school to support his family after his father’s death. After a few years of running the stand and making business deals with other newspaper companies there was enough profit to turn the stand into a bookstore. Clyde’s son turned this store into a chain of stores originally called Bookland in 1964. These stores sprung up around the country quickly as malls were built and by 1980 there was around 50 stores located throughout the Southeast. At the same time a book and periodical distribution business was founded by his son as well. In 1988 Bookland bought out Gateway Books (a chain in Tennessee) and had closed about half of them due to poor performance, and had other ideas for these empty locations, planning to turn them into the first of the “superstores”. The first superstore in Huntsville, Alabama was opened with decorations and ideas from the old Gateway stores and did not last long. Attempting a second time at building a superstore for books, the next site was just down the street but was much larger and was named Books-A-Million.
This is the first Books-A-Million superstore to ever open. Books-A-Million stayed in the competition because of their unique view of what “space” was during their early years and into today. To stay in the business each individual store could run campaigns for certain books and authors that might appeal to the local audience in order to bring in revenue. This not only gave each store its own personality but allowed stores to keep opening in areas that were targeted rather than open new places in larger and busier areas like their competitors. In 1992 the company officially changed its name to Books-A-Million Inc. and went public (opened on the stock market).
Continuing their diverse store campaigns and essentially giving the public what they wanted, Books-A-Million became a much larger player in the book selling business and redefined what a superstore was. Throughout the next several years they made store changes (such as including a kid’s section for a time) and several deals with other large companies in order to expand their venue and to put even more pressure on competitors as they stole the show. One of the largest deals they made was with Alibris, a company that allowed customers to request rare or hard to find books that BAM would then order for them and have them delivered to the store for the customer. To stay on par with the rest of the major booksellers Books-A-Million created their own website in 1998, allowing their book selling capabilities to expand beyond the crowd that visits their stores. Now BAM has locations with unique personalities and an online sector that appeals to an ever-changing audience with a vast variety of cultural and political differences, all in one place. (www.fundinguniverse.com)
On September 26th, 1978 the Susquehanna Valley mall opened with almost half a million square feet of space and a few major anchor stores such as Boscovs and Bon-Ton. By 1998 J.C. Penny and Sears were also a part of these anchors. With several stores already closing as time went on due to various reasons, Waldenbooks closed in 2011 and was replaced with Books-A-Million. This replacement of the bookstore is just one of many more recent closings as well in 2017-2018 as more major players such as Bon-Ton and Sears closed shop.
This placement of a store seems to fit BAM’s calling card when it comes to putting stores in suburban areas, especially those with failing shopping centers or malls. The company focuses mainly on opening stores in the Southeast where there is an already existing market (replacing a bookstore) and where there is a chance to reform poor performance stores/shopping centers (trying to boost profit of the area as a whole) (www.fundinguniverse.com). Not only is there one in the Susquehanna Valley Mall, but from living near a failing mall myself, there is also a Books-A-Million that replaced whatever former store was there before it. This also goes along with the sense of place BAM has that I briefly mentioned earlier. Their “place” focuses on suburban areas, tending towards areas with failing malls and provides a business that manages to thrive every time. As mentioned before in my first post, BAM has simply managed to find “the proper environment for the sale of books”, as Laura Miller says in her book on bookselling (page 40). They manage so well because they continue to offer content that appeals to the area they are placed in (giving the people what they want) and it attracts the most attention (and profit) possible based on the culture and attitudes of the location. Not only do they provide products based on the location but as culture or views change as time goes on, BAM manages to follow these trends and always provides something to those who shop there. Much like Roger from Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels, BAM offers the books or other products that are just right for the consumer every time, but much like a corporate store they don’t get involved in your time there too much unless asked to. As Perry says in his work “Bookstores, Communist and Capitalist” on page 109, the capitalist bookstores have a much broader selection of works and it usually includes things that are fancier or more decorated to attract the attention of the public. They provide for smaller areas and personally it seems like an homage to where they started off, in a small town in Alabama.
Morley C., Parnassus on Wheels, published in 1917
Perry, J., Bibliophilia, “Bookstores, Communist and Capitalist”
Florence, AL Books-A-Million, https://www.yelp.com/biz/books-a-million-florence-2
The Bon-Ton at Susquehanna Valley Mall, https://www.yelp.com/biz/susquehanna-valley-mall-selinsgrove