July 24, 2015

Astoria Bookshop is selling Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book at cost to encourage people to read it


The building sense of urgency leading up to the publication of Between The World And Me, the second book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, was palpable. The decision by Spiegel & Grau to move up the pub date by two months, Toni Morrison‘s cover blurb calling the book “required reading”, and a pub-day desk drop to Penguin Random House employees fueled the perception that this was not just a book that needed to be read, it needed to be read now.

It’s doubtful that any book would be able to share a release date and actually square off against Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman in terms of ink spilled and opening-day sales, but on July 14th, Between The World And Me didn’t falter. The savvy crew at Greenlight Bookstore began tallying via Twitter the numbers sold throughout the day, and though Lee led Coates (by only a sole copy) by day’s end, store co-owner Rebecca Fitting predicted the two would remain neck and neck through the weekend.

Last week, Astoria Bookshop in Queens echoed Morrison’s sentiment by announcing that they would be selling copies of Between The World And Me at cost ($14 per copy vs. the full retail price of $24) in order to encourage readers to buy and read it for themselves.

We are not alone in our passion for this book. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates has instantly become an essential part of the national conversation about race, and we think everyone should be able to join that discussion. So we’re going to make it easier for you: we’ll be offering the book at cost, for $14.00, while current supplies last.* If you’ve already purchased the book from us, bring in your receipt and we’ll give you $10 off your next purchase. If we could afford to simply give it away, we’d be standing at the bottom of the stairs at the Broadway stop with a box of books. And please, tell us what you think. *In store purchase only. Limit 2 copies per customer.

A photo posted by Astoria Bookshop (@astoriabookshop) on

I spoke with Astoria Bookshop owner Lexi Beach about the decision to discount Coates’ book, and the response she’s seen so far. You can follow Astoria Bookshop on Twitter and Instagram at @astoriabookshop.

When did you make the decision to price the books at cost?

I had a visceral reaction to reading this book — I burst into tears on the subway upon turning the final page, about a month ago. The decision came about gradually between then & this past weekend.

An indie selling a very popular frontlist title at cost is fairly uncommon. As the owner, what factors went into making the decision?

As soon as I finished reading the galley, I started telling people — friends, customers, my Random House sales rep — that I thought everyone I know should read it. I do not have that reaction very often.

The idea to sell it at cost was an extension of that feeling. If I think everyone should read this book, how do I make that happen? And more broadly, what can I do to bring more people into this conversation? I’m not an educator, I’m not an activist, or a civil servant or a talk show host–I’m a bookseller. Buying new, hardcover books is a luxury for many people. And so it seemed like one small thing I could do is to make this book more easily available to more people so that they could also join the conversation.

Ultimately, I just felt so strongly about Coates’s book that I needed to do something in response, put something out into the world.

What’s the traffic been like since the announcement?

This book has been selling very well for us right from day 1. It’s definitely picked up since I announced this plan. My sense is that many are people who were curious about the book to begin with, but the table stacked with dozens of copies of Between the World and Me has certainly gotten the attention of a lot of my regular customers, and perhaps people that may not have otherwise picked it up.

What other books or writers similar to Coates (in terms of focus and/or benefit to the national discussion on race) do you recommend customers read after they finish this one?

My customers seem to be finding those books on their own. They are a pretty smart crowd, and often suggest titles to ME. The Fire Next Time is the obvious pairing, but I’ve also seen sales picking up lately for bell hooks and Audre Lorde. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen of course has been a bestseller for many stores. Men We Reaped. Roxane Gay. Charles Blow.

Melissa Harris-Perry made a suggestion on her show earlier this summer to read something written by a writer who does not share your race, gender, or sexual identity. That’s key to my mind. Read outside your own experience, whatever that has been.

Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.