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Deep In The Red, Seminary Co-Op Asks Members To Buy More Books

By Sam Cholke | June 3, 2016 7:54am
 The Seminary Cooperative Bookstore ended its fiscal year in the red and is asking members to buy more books.
The Seminary Cooperative Bookstore ended its fiscal year in the red and is asking members to buy more books.
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Flickr/Larry Miller

HYDE PARK — The Seminary Cooperative Bookstore is making a plea for people to buy more books as it ends its fiscal year with a six-figure operating deficit.

Jeff Deutsch, director of the cooperative that includes the seminary store and 57th Street Books, sent out a letter to the cooperative’s 53,000 members to buy an extra book this year — and ask a friend to buy one too.

“If every current member bought one additional book from us this year and then convinced a friend, family member or colleague to do the same, we would double our sales and nearly eliminate our operating deficit,” Deutsch said in the letter sent out late Tuesday.

He said the 55-year-old bookstore’s annual sales have dropped from a peak of $10 million a year to $3 million a year.

Deutsch said the bookstore’s unique turn away from stocking bestsellers and towards more obscure books that sometimes only sell one copy a year has taken a toll on the bottom line.

“If we were to seek counsel from consultants, they would advise on ‘efficiencies’ and ‘best practices,’” Deutsch said. “If we adopted them, we would only carry titles that sell well on the principle that a book must earn its spot on the shelf — its ‘real estate’ — by ‘turning over’ or selling multiple times a year.”

He said shifting towards stocking more bestsellers is not what the membership wants.

“Of one thing I am certain: As soon as a committee insists that the Seminary Coop adhere to ‘best practices’ we are at most one generation away from the institution’s demise,” said Jonathan Lear, director of the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago and a co-op member. “‘Best practices’ is the third to the last thing the Seminary Co-op says before giving up the ghost to Amazon.com.”

He said the only way for the store to survive over the long haul is to stock books no “best practice” would ever allow.

Deutsch said there is some good news, as the fiscal year ends in June, the cooperative has increased its sales results for the first time since 1990.

He said the store sells between 200 and 1,000 books on any given day now and about 75 percent are single-copy sales.

“If we were just a business — and not a cultural institution — we wouldn’t be worth saving,” Deutsch said. “We would have gone under five or 10 years ago and only a few nostalgic readers would have noticed.”

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