Politics and Prose wins National Book Festival contract

(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Washington’s Politics and Prose Bookstore has been chosen as the official bookseller for the National Book Festival on Aug. 30. This is the first time an independent bookseller has won the contract for the annual festival, which last year drew more than 200,000 people.

FleishmanHillard conducted the bidding process for the Library of Congress, which runs the festival, now in its 14th year. Barnes & Noble has previously been the official bookseller. Thousands of people buy books at the festival, where they can get them signed by the 120 authors in attendance. (Festival goers are also free to bring their own copies of books to be signed.)

Bradley Graham, who co-owns Politics and Prose with his wife, Lissa Muscatine, said, “We really weren’t given any specifics about why we won, only that we had. In making the pitch, we stressed not only our ability to manage the job but also the message that selecting an independent bookseller would send. Such a choice, we said, would underscore that indies are alive and well and remain a vital part of the cultural life of this nation.”

You never know who you'll run into at the National Book Festival. Last year, Don DeLillo met Margaret Atwood for the first time. (Ron Charles/WashingtonPost)
You never know who you’ll run into at the National Book Festival. Last year, Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood met for the first time. (Ron Charles/WashingtonPost)

“Many of the authors on the line-up this year are store favorites and familiar faces,” said Lena Khidritskaya Little, director of marketing and publicity for Politics and Prose. “We’ll be bringing the books and registers, of course, but also the customer service we pride ourselves on and are known for. We’ll be working with the American Booksellers Association and indies across the U.S. to get on the horn.”

Little said that in its bid for the festival contract, Politics and Prose pointed to the Miami Book Fair International, “where a local independent bookstore brings their energy, reader base and know-how to bear on the event.” (She’s referring to the Miami-area independent Books & Books.)

This will be, by far, the largest event Politics and Prose has participated in. The store is a partner with the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which drew about 20,000 people in May.

Ingram Content Group will assist Politics and Prose with inventory management and delivery to make sure the store can meet the demand. Little said the store has ordered more than 15,000 books, covering more than 100 titles. Such calculations are a science and an art. Festival goers are often motivated to buy a book by a particularly effective author presentation; if copies aren’t on hand, sales may be lost for good. And Graham notes that the shift to Labor Day weekend – from mid September – raises a new challenge. “It’s more difficult to predict this year’s turnout,” he said, “and hence the number of books to order.”

This is also the first year that the festival will be held in the Washington Convention Center instead of outdoors on the Mall in order to protect the grass. Some festival goers may be disappointed by that change, but for a bookseller trying to move thousands of units, the indoor venue simplifies delivery and removes the risk of rain.

The Washington Post is a charter sponsor of the National Book Festival. Look for a special NBF issue of Book World on Sunday, Aug. 24.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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