Interview with Tattered Cover Book Store’s Matt Miller

Welcome. I’m very excited to have as my first guest Matt Miller, a general manager at the Tattered Cover Book Store.  As many Denverites know, Tattered Cover is one of the premiere independent bookstores in the nation, a model for conducting a successful book business in changing times. Matt has been with the store since the early days and has graciously agreed to answer some questions. Stay tuned after the interview for a big announcement from the Tattered Cover.

Devlin: Hi, Matt! Thanks for taking the time to chat. About a decade ago, you showed the Tattered Cover staff one of the first e-readers and joked “There go our jobs.” Fortunately, that hasn’t turned out to be true. But e-readers and the technological revolution have certainly profoundly impacted the book industry. What has Tattered Cover done to adapt?
Matt: You’re certainly correct in saying that e-readers and the technological revolution have impacted the industry. I think the jury is still out as to the long-term impact on the industry. We have been selling e-books on our website for several years. Last year, the addition of Google E-books to our site has helped make us more competitive. We are constantly promoting e-books on our website and we’ve been using in-store signage as well. The sales are still relatively small, but we have the capability to sell e-books and to sell them at the same price, in many cases, as anyone else on the web.

Devlin: Can you talk about Google e-books and the connection to independent stores?
Matt: The ability to provide Google e-books was made possible through negotiations with the American Booksellers Association. [The ABA is a group of independent booksellers–Devlin.] Now, any independent bookseller using the ABA’s IndieCommerce site has the ability to sell Google e-books.

Devlin: Certainly great customer service has always been important for a successful business and Tattered Cover has always been a leader in putting customers first. Has the pressure increased?
Matt: Our core belief in providing the best possible customer service hasn’t changed. Because the competition for book buyers has increased, the pressure to attract and keep customers has increased as well.

Devlin: Where do you see brick-and-mortar bookstores in five years? Ten years?
Matt: The future of brick-and-mortar bookstores? I think we are seeing evidence of the future now. Many stores have increased their product mix to include many non-books items. Others have developed programs and services—food, classes, events, and local business alliances—to expand the purpose of the independent bookstore. I think the model of the superstore, the 40,000 square foot store, is a thing of the past. I think stores in 5 years will be smaller, maybe 3,000 to 5000 square feet, with mixed usage and more integrated technology. The store as a community center can still provide a need that people have to come together and interact in person. Something more than Faceboook can provide. Having said all that, the crystal ball is still a little cloudy.

Devlin: I’m curious about the closing of Borders and how that’s impacted Tattered Cover and other independents. What’s the upside and what’s the downside?
Matt: The impact of Borders closing varied by location. Some stores saw increased sales if there had been a Borders close by. Others experienced less impact. Overall, I think that it is unfortunate for any community when a store closes. In some smaller cities or towns, Borders was their local bookstore and those people have certainly felt that loss. Publishers have fewer places to showcase their books and authors in turn have fewer opportunities to let the world know about their hard-earned efforts. We hope that the upside of Borders closing will be that the value of independent stores will be enhanced in the eyes of customers and publishers.

Devlin: Here’s a question I want to ask everyone I meet these days. If you were a Big Six publisher, what would you be doing to adapt to the changing publishing landscape? Are there traditional publishers that are being innovative?
Matt: If I were a Big Six publisher, I would hope that I would be open to a variety of possibilities and changing relationships. I don’t know that there is one answer for every company. The internal cultures can vary quite a bit. However, I do think that the changing landscape is foremost in their discussions and strategies. No one has his or her head in the sand about this issue. I know that the American Booksellers Association has been actively engaged in discussions with publishers to try to develop innovative solutions. You have probably heard about Chelsea Green working with bookstores on consignment. That model can work for other publishers too, but it’s not right for everyone.

Devlin: For those who want to support Tattered Cover and other independents, what can we do (besides buy books?)
Matt: Besides buying books at the Tattered Cover, I think that word-of-mouth (and social media) is still the best way to help us and other independent stores. Spreading the word about the value of shopping locally continues to be important especially in these economics times. Helping to maintain the uniqueness of our communities is still so important. As Joni Mitchell says, “ You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…”

Devlin: What’s the best way for local authors to contact Tattered Cover for information about connecting with book buyers?
Matt: I think the best way for local authors to connect to Tattered Cover is through the information on our website. Here’s the link.

Matt also has some big news about a new feature at the Tattered Cover.
Matt: This week we installed an Espresso Book Machine. Why? I think that some of the questions you asked above regarding innovations in the industry and in individual bookstores provide the answer. We are hoping to use the machine to provide better customer service, to work with individuals in the community to promote the value of books as resources and keepsakes, and to work with self-published authors to help provide a valuable resource in their efforts to publish their works. It is also an opportunity to work with publishers to sell their books if we are out-of-stock of a particular title. Harpercollins will be making thousands of their backlist titles available to print on the Espresso Book Machine. Our press release went out this morning.

Devlin: Wow! The Tattered Cover Press is now a reality. Very exciting.

I’d like to thank Matt Miller for taking the time to talk about the state of independent bookselling. See below for the press release:

Neil Strandberg, Operations Manager, Tattered Cover Book Store,, 303-322-1965 ext.2711
Joyce Meskis, Owner, Tattered Cover Book Store, 303-322-1965 ext.2710


November 11, 2011 (DENVER, CO) Tattered Cover Book Store is excited to announce the installation of an Espresso Book Machine®(EBM) in their Historic LoDo location. This brings a revolutionary book-printing technology to one of the largest and most respected independent booksellers in the world.

The EBM is the only digital-to-print at retail solution on the market. The technology will allow the newly created Tattered Cover Press to become a community self-publishing center, offering services to self-published authors as well as families, non-profits, schools, business, and other community organizations. Through the SelfEspress software, writers can format, design, edit, and upload their physical book for printing and inclusion on the EBM catalog, as well as convert the print file to an .epub format suitable for e-readers.

The EBM will also provide a new sales channel for publishers and vastly increase the availability of titles available at Tattered Cover, reducing loss of sales due to books being out-of-stock. Within minutes, the EBM can produce a bookstore quality paperback with color cover, in any standard trim size, at point of sale. The content is fed to the machine via EspressNet, On Demand Books growing digital network of over seven million titles (including public domain, in copyright, and self-published). The EBM improves efficiency and sustainability by reducing shipping, returns, and the pulping of unwanted books.

We at the Tattered Cover are thrilled to be the first in Colorado to be able to provide this new service to our customers, said Joyce Meskis, owner of the store. It will enhance our inventory selection by providing quick access to millions of books that can be printed in the store. That means more options for the reader. This cutting-edge service will also be a boon to the self-published author and the creative memoirist. We will be offering to them the ability to do affordable short print runs of their books, whether for resale to the public or as a family keepsake.

Installation of the machine and staff training are being completed this week, and the new Tattered Cover Press will be up and running with a website and customer information before the holidays.

Tattered Cover Book Store
Beginning in 1971 as a small bookshop, Tattered Cover has grown into one of the premier indie bookstores in America, with three expansive locations in the greater Denver area. Each store offers intimate spaces furnished with old sofas and overstuffed chairs, an internet cafe and a world-class newsstand. Tattered Cover sells new, used and bargain books, as well as Google eBooks via

On Demand Books, LLC
On Demand Books was cofounded in 2003 by Jason Epstein, former Editorial Director of Random House; Dane Neller, former CEO of Dean & DeLuca; and Thor Sigvaldason, former technology consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Espresso Book Machines have been placed in bookstores, libraries, universities, and other locations in the USA, Canada, the UK, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and the Caribbean. In September 2010, On Demand Books and Xerox announced a partnership whereby Xerox will market, sell or lease, and service the Espresso Book Machine worldwide. Made in the USA, Espresso Book Machines are environmentally friendly green machines. For more information go to Erin Hardy, On Demand Books, 212-966-2222,

Espresso Book Machine® and EspressNet® are trademarks of On Demand Books, LLC in the United States and/or other countries.

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