Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Award one for the books

Local woman among 3 top salespeople

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Janet Koehne, who likes to quip that she's been reading books since there's been dirt, might be a gem in a changing industry.

        Her passion for reading, knowledge of books and ability to share those gifts with consumers helped Ms. Koehne be named one of three recipients of the National New Bookseller of the Year Award.

        Ms. Koehne, a bookseller for Joseph-Beth Booksellers at Rookwood Pavilion in Norwood, won the inaugural award co-sponsored by New York publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux and the American Booksellers Association (ABA), the industry's largest trade group.

        An industry expert said Ms. Koehne's honor is notable because she won working for an independent bookseller in a business becoming dominated by national book chains and even online booksellers in recent years.

        “That's quite an accomplishment with 75,000 new books being published annually, and publishers being faced with intense competition to get their titles recognized,” said Mark Kaufman of Paz Associates in Nashville, Tenn., an independent industry book consulting firm.

        The award was established by Farrar, Straus and Giroux earlier this year. Candidates must have worked in an ABA-member bookstore for five years or less and been nominated by a bookstore owner or employee, a salesperson or regional bookseller association.

        The publisher said the award recipients demonstrate a passion for books and the book business, devote utmost attention to customer service and show superiority in reaching out to customers.

        Ms. Koehne, who received a $3,000 cash prize, will be presented her award next month at the ABA's annual convention in Los Angeles. The trade group and publisher will formally announce the award winners in early April. The recipients were notified Thursday.

        Ms. Koehne, who works in the fiction section at Joseph-Beth, said her biggest asset is “doing what it takes” to please customers, even if that includes talking about Ernest Hemingway for 15 minutes.

        “This can get very stressful at times, so you have to love what you're doing,” she said. “The biggest latitude we have is making sure people get what they want and taking time to talk with them.”

        Ms. Koehne was nominated by Jen Haller, director of book purchasing for Joseph-Beth Booksellers. The Cincinnati-based independent bookstore has one Joseph-Beth store in both the Queen City and Lexington and four Davis-Kidd Bookstores in Tennessee.

        Joseph-Beth Booksellers is small in the multibillion-dollar book industry. In contrast, New York-based Barnes & Noble Inc. has 483 superstores and 528 mall-based bookstores nationwide.

        Mr. Kaufman said Ms. Koehne could have been selected for the award because independent booksellers often are given more latitude to choose books they know their customers want, are more knowledgeable booksellers and have a greater understanding of customers' needs.

        In comparison, he said, books carried by national chains often are dictated by corporate management to meet sales quotas vs. focusing on providing customer service or expertise on a specific subject.

        “Being able to explain what a book or author is about is very important to publishers because those things translate into sales,” Mr. Kaufman said.


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