April 29, 2011

The one-book bookstore


Self-described nerd lottery winner and author of Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days With the Phoenix Mars Mission Andrew Kessler is not only a space nerd but, as the New York Times’ City Room blog points out, he is also a bit of a retail monoculturist.

Kessler’s book came out earlier this month published by Pegasus. While presumably the book can be found in all of the usual retail spaces (brick-and-mortar bookstores, online, etc.), it can also be found in one very unusual retail space: a bookstore selling only Martian Summer.

That’s right, according Elissa Gootman‘s post in the Times,  Kessler has opened a bookstore in New York’s West Village that sells his book and his book only. In what is either a stroke of marketing genius or ridiculous excess–maybe both–Ed’s Martian Bookstore opened with 3,000 copies of the book, filling all the shelves and tables in the space.

Kessler (surprise, surprise) is the creative director of an unnamed ad agency. But he sees his act as more than a marketing gimmick. “This makes books feel like an art installation,” he told Gootman. “We should care about them.”

Turns out, Kessler’s not the first person to utilize the sell-one-thing-and-one-thing-only retail approach:

Mr. Kessler said he was inspired by restaurants like the Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side. “I was thinking about people that just sell one thing really well,” he said. Religions, he reasoned, ply a single book. Why can’t a bookstore? He calls himself the Monobookist.

He is not the first: Walter Swan, a plasterer-turned-author, opened the One Book Bookstore in Bisbee, Ariz., after self-publishing a compilation of stories about his life that publishers had rejected.

Though the store seems to be equal parts art installation and marketing exercise, selling books is obviously on the agenda. But thanks to some sort of sweet deal he’s getting from the landlord, Kessler doesn’t appear to be terribly concerned about actual sales. When asked how many books he’s sold he said, ”I have no idea…I’m not a very good businessperson.”

The store is set to close in mid May, so that doesn’t give Kessler too much time to improve his business acumen. But it is enough time for plenty more people to happen upon this retail curiosity, if only to venture inside and ask themselves (as one customer did while Gootman was there), “What am I doing here?”