What Bookstores Buy: Spaces Corners in Pittsburgh

By Meghan Ahearn

Courtesy of Spaces Corners
The inventory of Spaces Corners is small and carefully selected.

When it comes to selling their photo books, an important thing for photographers to consider is which bookstore to stock their books in. We asked book buyers from five independent bookstores nationwide how they choose the books they buy, how they display these books and which photo books sell well at their store—and which ones don’t. The first article in our series featured Ampersand in Portland, Oregon; the following articles featured Tattered Cover in Denver, Arcana: Books on the Art in Culver City, California, and St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York City. Below, in our final article in this series, we speak with Melissa Catanese of Spaces Corners, a photo bookstore in Pittsburgh.

Photographers Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar founded Spaces Corners almost two years ago because Pittsburgh didn’t have a store that carried photo books exclusively. “We’re definitely filling a void,” Catanese says. “The audience is pretty small here. There are a lot of people who are new to photo books—but our customer base ranges from curious newcomers to specialists.” Part of the mission for Spaces Corners is to educate Pittsburgh’s emerging photography community; Catanese jokingly calls photo books “a gateway drug to art.”

Catanese says what makes Spaces Corners unique is that she and Panar are acting almost as curators for the bookshop. “We’re really coming at it from an artist’s perspective, from a photographer’s perspective, from someone who makes books themselves,” she says. “It’s fun because, ultimately, we’re choosing books that we like to see alongside our own work and that we feel have a dialogue and relationship together as a whole.”

Spaces Corners has a clean, minimal decor with relatively small inventory (approximately 100 titles at any given time). All the books are displayed face-out on shelves. To encourage browsing, Catanese opens books displayed on the table to spreads. “When folks come in and see that the books are already open, [they know] that they can pick them up and page through them,” she explains.

New books are purchased every couple of weeks, instead of twice a year as in many larger bookshops. Catanese says they buy books from distributors, publishers and photographers themselves— though they prefer to deal directly with publishers because “it’s a more personal experience.” She adds that they try to avoid stocking books that are also available via Amazon because the online retailer’s prices are so low, the store can’t compete.

Instead, they carry photo books that were originally made as books—more like objects of art than exhibition catalogues. “We carry books by artists who are well known as well as some who are under the radar,” Catanese says. “We look for work that is openended and that shares some loose thematic similarities with our inventory.”

They’ve also launched an imprint to publish their own and other photographers’ work. Catanese says, “Because books are everywhere and photo books are available online so easily, I think it was a really important step for us to start making and distributing our own books.”

Occasionally photographers will ask Spaces Corners to stock their self-published books, or publish their work as a book. Catanese prefers that photographers take the time to browse the store before pitching her. “Part of making your book attractive and appealing to customers is doing your research and making sure you fit in to where you want your book promoted.”

In the short time they’ve been open, the books that have sold well at Spaces Corners have “appealed to both photographers and specialists and collectors, but also have this crossover appeal for people who don’t normally collect photo books,” she says. Those books include Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood (MACK), Panar’s Animals That Saw Me and Charlotte Dumas’s Retrieved (both published by The Ice Plant). Newer additions to the store’s inventory include Dumas’s recently self-published book, Anima, and A Partial Eclipse by Martin Boyce (MACK).

Typically the store will buy three copies of a book. When they sell out, they don’t necessarily restock. Catanese adds that she occasionally feels “sad” when they sell out of a book “because we do carefully select them and we take pride in picking them out,” and because they spend time photographing every book before posting it on the Spaces Corners website and promoting it on social media. In the future, they plan to make videos that show someone flipping through a book to post on the store’s site.

An online presence has been important for the Spaces Corners business. Though they have a small, devoted customer base in Pittsburgh, more of their sales are made through their online store. Additionally, it’s been important to stay in touch with their followers (they’ve already moved once since opening in 2011, and plan to move again at the end of this summer; they’ve also had pop-up shops at events). “Part of it is being mobile and experimenting and utilizing the space available, and maintaining a strong online presence and following, which is important to have in order to resonate with a broad audience,” she notes.

Related Articles:
What Bookstores Buy: St. Mark's Bookshop in New York City
What Bookstores Buy: Arcana in Culver City
What Bookstores Buy: Tattered Cover in Denver
What Bookstores Buy: Ampersand in Portland

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