International Flavor: Independent Interview!

Hello all!

In the interest of spreading the Mixed-up Files love internationally, your foreign correspondent *coughs modestly* will present you various aspects of the Middle Grade world as seen from an “outside the US looking in vantage point“.

Exciting stuff, huh?

And so we begin with an interview of a store dear to my heart – Storytime Books & More in Berlin, Germany.

This shop is situated on a very kid friendly side street in a quite nice area of Berlin – Friedenau. The proprietor, Diane Pentaleri-Otto, is a lady after my own heart. First off, she’s a New Yawker, an expat, and has a 12 year old (as we can all agree, a quite optimum age) whose English is flawless and accent-free (not as easy as you might think around here!).

Her already eight and a half year old store specializes in books for the 0 – 14 year old set (another mutually agreeable aspect!) and it offered a veritable cornucopia of brilliant MG literature when I oh-so-innocently browsed around beforehand (don’t believe me? Check my debit card bill after I left! *cries*)

Storytime Books & More, Friedenau, Berlin, Germany

So onward and upward! I present to you Madam Pentaleri-Otto:

Welcome to the Mixed Up Files, Diane! Let’s start off. Tell me: why a children’s book shop? Or to be more direct, a children’s English bookshop in Berlin, Germany?

Well, I tell everyone it was a case of temporary insanity *laughs*. But really, when I had my daughter there were hardly any English options for books for her and I loved to read to her. This was eight and a half years ago. There were simply no opportunities for English books here. Plus, after I had her I experienced a shakedown of priorities. You might understand that > *nods to my baby daughter Loki in stroller*

*nods back* Boy do I!

So anyway, nothing I did BB (before baby) seemed right or ‘worthy’ of being worked on afterwards, if you will, so I started Storytime. And it really took off!

I can see that! This is a wonderful shop! It looks like you do activities for the kids that include writing and imagination?

*nods* Yes! We started off with a singalong in English, and have gradually moved to a successful series of weekly story-times, a musical theater camp, Afternoon English club, Musical English and other small English classes – all with tie-ins to writing and telling a story of their own!

That is so great. So you naturally offer books for the expat community, huh?

Well, that’s only one aspect of our sales, to be honest. Expats love the hassle-free aspect of Amazon…but many do feel as I feel – that any story to be experienced happens through good old ink and paper – and so they will bring the kids in or just come in and look around themselves. We do have our German parents that come in and want stuff for their kids, too! Early English Learning is very popular in Germany. We have German and English books for most of our copies, as you can see.

I can, indeed! Does this make it easier for people? (I think that the placement of a book’s English and German books alongside each other is an absolutely brilliant idea.)

Definitely.

And how do you choose the books you bring in? Recommendations? Publishers hitting you up?

We get a large majority of German subsidiary publishers sending reps by and the reps plugging the new releases. They’re quite honest – as Germans are known to be! We do get a couple UK reps over as well, and we tend to choose our new books from these guys (German and UK combined). They know our store, they know our likes and dislikes, so it’s very personalised shopping geared to us. Sometimes I’ll discover an English book by reading the German version (oddly enough, this is how I discovered the Hunger Games!)

** Pause for gushing over the Hunger Games **

We do also sometimes get requests that turn into orders for the store. We get books just about every way you can!

This is heartening to hear! (Authors – send your reps cookies! STAT!) So…do you have author signings and events?

We do, but they’re a mixed up bag. (no pun intended)

Howso? (none taken)

Well, consider this: We are an independent (read: not huge) bookstore. We focus on children’s literature, and we are not made of golden coins. So when an author charges a huge reading fee, we either suck it up and lose the money sometimes, or just break even. Sometimes an author will be classy and waive their fee, but then sometimes we don’t get a big turnout because of lack of marketing, bad time of year, etc. It’s really the luck of the draw, and that’s definitely one aspect of the bookstore I’ll be looking at in terms of making it even more successful in the future. Among other things.

Really? Like … ?

Well, take technology. My daughter is 12 and she uses technology in a totally different way than I ever, ever would. When will the day come that kids simply log into their e-readers to read a book and bypass print entirely? But then, if you *do* bypass print, is it really a book? Is it really a read?

I know what you mean. *points to the Hunger Games* I can tell you exactly where I was when I read about Katniss and Ree, for instance. Could you do that with an ereader? Would the experience still be there?

*nods* Exactly. That’s exactly what I wonder, but the scene has changed so radically from even a year ago and it’s changing so rapidly every day that I’m looking at new ways of bringing in customers to a brick and mortar and/or getting our own piece of online pie.

Do tell!

Well, for one, we’ve set up an online shop on our site with the help of our largest German distributor, LIBRI. If our customers simply click and buy here, we get a small kick-back – and every little bit helps when you’re up against Amazon! We’re also looking to expand our web presence even more, amp up our Twitter presence, and we’re working on a top-secret project for a Kid’s Book Club online. That’s going to be very exciting!

In the meantime, we’re working out how we will survive in an electronic technology world. What is our new market situation? How do we catch and keep the 8 to 12 year old reader? How do we help to inspire the love of reading in a new generation of readers?

All very relevant questions for any brick and mortar, that’s for sure! Let’s talk trends. Just shoot some thoughts out at me as I ask you the question.

Sure!

Challenges?

Amazon, definitely. Technology. Space. We need space! Importing. Exchange rates! *Argh!* Getting our name out there!

Good things?

International schools working with us for book fairs. More and more English throughout the city. More providers…new kids! Our new Workshops we’re debuting soon!

Trends you’re seeing, book-wise?

Was Fantasy. Fantasy was huge. Then vampires. *sigh* Now, with the Hunger Games being so successful, we’re seeing lots of…how can I say it…Sci-fi. Dystopian. I love books that question how we live and Sci-Fi is a great question-asking type of book!

Diane, this was wonderful. Thanks so much for allowing your wonderful store to be interviewed! You were fabulous!

Thanks for having us!

Was that not brill? She brings up many points, one of which we’ve talked about on the Mixed-up Files before. As Jan, I’d love to know your thoughts on ereaders and their place alongside a brick and mortar. Are they the end of stores? Any ideas on how to make paper books relevant for young readers? How the brick and mortar can survive?

****

Jen K Blom writes literary fiction for the Middle Grade set from her home in Berlin, Germany. She is ably assisted in her endeavors by her hairless cat muse Yoda, his mentally unstable brother Blue, and her lovely daughter Loki. All pictures look as lovely as they are thanks to her patient (and photoshop talented!) husband.

13 Responses to International Flavor: Independent Interview!

  1. What a great post, Jen. It’s always so interesting to see what bookstores are doing in other parts of the world!

    xoxo — Hilary

  2. Ich wünsche euch nun viel Spaß beim Lesen! I would love to visit your store.

  3. BB (before baby) has always been referred to as BC (which some people think is a biblical reference, but for me it’s always been, Before Children).

    My husband just applied for a job transfer to Germany….so I’m glad to read this post and know that there’s at least one book store we can go to (even if it’s across the country!)

  4. What a gem of a store! And I’m with Karen – didn’t know that there was an interest in Germany regarding early English learning.

  5. Awesome interview! :)

    I think as long as parents read to their kids while they hold them, there will always be a place for ‘real’ books. :)

  6. Wow! I learned one VERY important thing in this interview… BB does NOT stand for Brilliant Brian. ;-(

    This was insightful. It’s a scary time for Bookstores everywhere. I remember back in the day when I could hardly walk through Waldenbooks without bumping into someone.

    Kudos to Diane for braving the storm. We need more proprietors like her!

  7. Karen B. Schwartz

    Fun interview! So interesting that Germans are interested in early English learning for their children.

  8. What a cute book store. I love the pictures of all the books and the sign outside.

  9. This was such fun. The photos plus relaxed questions and answers made for a very intimate experience. I truly felt as if I was sitting there with the two of you.

    I wish much continued success to Storytime Books & More!

  10. What a wonderful idea! I’m glad her business has really taken off. If I’m ever in Germany, I’ll be sure to stop by! I love the poem on the sign in the first picture. It’s very clever!

    I wouldn’t buy an eReader because I love the look, feel, and smells of a book in my hands. If eReaders do take over books (God forbid that ever happens, though!), it probably will be the end of stores. *cries* It’s just like how music went from vinyl records to cassette tapes to CDs and now downloaded from the computer. People are still making music, but the experience of purchasing and experiencing it is vastly different. There aren’t too many CD stores around anymore, at least not in my area. I’m sad to think that’s where the book industry seems to be headed.

  11. That was fascinating. Thank you! (and now I may have to refer a German-native patron of ours to her online store for a source of German and English-language books for her youngest.)

  12. Madelyn – Happy to oblige! :-D

  13. As the only international traveling I seem to do these days is on the Internet, this was perfect. Thanks for the insights and the humor!