Copperfield's CEO looks to the future of books

Not too long ago, my day job collided with the CEO of Copperfield's Books.

That is, I bumped into Tom Montan, who oversees the eight used and new bookstores in Sonoma and Napa counties, at a conference in New York put on by the folks I work for, Sebastopol's O'Reilly Media.

I've known (and admired) Montan for more than 20 years, and it's always a pleasure to see him. As a bookseller, Tom has pushed Copperfield's forward during especially tough economic times in the book business. I thought it was appropriate to talk to him about the business we've spent our lives in, and why he attended the conference:

Q. What made you decide to attend O'Reilly's Tools of Change Conference?

A. TOC focuses on how the publishing industry can utilize and adapt to new technologies. I had to practically beg, borrow and steal to get there, but I am very glad I did.

Q. Did you learn anything at the conference that you were able to apply immediately as Copperfield's CEO?

A. Absolutely, and if only a perspective or attitude shift for me personally. What was apparent to me is how the industry has shifted, both because of the rapid economic depression that has happened in our world, but also because of the evolution of the book format and the inherent changes in distribution channels. The place of a bookseller as a needed component to a supply chain is rapidly diminishing.

Q. What new directions are you taking Copperfield's in?

A. We have been looking at and expanding many parts of our business, while shrinking others. New books, for example, are a slowly decreasing part of our business, while non-book items, sale books, and magazines continue to grow. We are in the middle of a process that will integrate much of our new, used and sale inventories on our shelves. So we'll have the same book but at different price points, on the same shelf. This has been driven by the consumer experience online. We all have begun to expect a choice of what format we want our books to be in.

Q. I'm asking you questions the day before the arrival of the iPad. How have you and the stores dealt with the rising popularity of ebooks and ebook readers? Will you stock ereaders?

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