Tuesday, July 7, 2020

God, I love books.

Books are selling like crazy at Pegasus Books. Basically at double the pace of last year. Which is a good thing since Marvel and DC are rolling out comics out a slowly, especially for this time of the season.

Anyway, I'm very busy trying to reorder books each week from four different sources. It's a lot more work than ordering from just Ingrams, especially since I have to cross-reference availability, make sure I'm getting the best discount, and weigh that against the postage and how long it will take to show up.

Not sure if this is going to be feasible if it's going to take hours and hours to do every week. But I'm hoping that I'll be able to make the process routine eventually. Right now, it's trial and error.

On the other hand, book nerd that I am, I hugely enjoy ordering books. Sabrina has been ordering games and comics for years now, so I haven't had that challenge. Until recently, book ordering for me has been more of an off-hand affair, when I finally decided to take it seriously. I don't think the doubling of sales is any accident, but simply a matter of paying real attention. Even more encouraging, there is no micro factors that are probably going to affect this trajectory. (Macro factors--well, that's a minefield of danger...)

A lifetime of heavy reading, and beyond that, a curiosity about books whether I've read them or not, is paying off. (Much as the miscellaneous but voluminous superficial knowledge I've gained has helped in my writing.)

No shortage of tourists. This was my instinct, despite what all the "experts" on TV were saying. I think yesterday was maybe a little slower than it could have been because every other store but one on my block was closed. This is inexplicable to me, because a few of them have mentioned that times are tough, nevertheless they remain closed on Sundays and Mondays--in the summer. All I can do is shake my head.

And then there is this morning's headline in the Bulletin that Gov. Brown is threatening to close us down again.

Anyway, I'm enjoying being at work, and selling books, and talking to people and being engaged. I don't regret the seven years I spent with my head in my writing, but this is a refreshing change.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What looks like a surge is really just the pinnacle.

Over the years there have been many times when I've let myself think that Pegasus Books might be on the verge of turning a real profit. Not just paying the bills (including a modest wage for me, which the IRS counts as profit), but actually some cash left over.

***Warning--this is totally in the business weeds.

Every...damn... time, that possibility has receded before my disbelieving eyes.

No more. I've come to recognize that there is a inevitable pattern to it. Whenever I reach that point where it appears a profit is possible, it is actually a sign that things have probably reached a peak and the downhill slope is imminent.

The danger is that you spend too much at the peak, which means you get a high flow of material coming in after sales have already begun to drop. I've never figured out why this happens--perhaps the surge creates competition, or people are most eager just before they stop, or expenses like rent and utilities rise. All I know is that it is a consistent pattern.

The only real way to make extra money is to siphon it off on the way up--but the drawback to that is that you inevitably slow the growth. Whatever is fueling the growth will usually soak up all the cash, unless you are willing to forego the growth, which I have never been willing to do.

In hindsight, this has kept me in business, but has kept me from being terribly profitable. So if longevity is my goal, then supporting the growth curve is a good idea. I've learned that you can only survive a steep drop in business if you are operating at a significant level above survival.

That is, say you need to earn $XXX to stay in business, (breakeven point) and you spend all your cash on pushing it to $XXX times 1.5. What this does is gives you a cushion for a drop of a third. However, you haven't set any money aside for reserves. This sounds bad, but if you budget correctly, you can weather it.

On the other hand, let's say I need to do $XXX to stay in business, and I gently push it to $XXX times 1.25. Meanwhile, I take profits by not growing as fast and high as I could. But the problem is, if there is a drop in sales of a third or more, I'm in the hole with no real way to get out of it. The breakeven point isn't achievable, except by drastic cutting.

What about the cash? By my calculations, the cash profit--if you managed to hold onto it and not spend it on something else--will never be enough to cover the shortfall.

So the trick is to recognize when you are peaking and start looking for the inevitable falter.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Makes life interesting....as if.

In my second week of ordering from PRH. (Penguin/Random House).

It's a pain in the ass, seems to take inordinate time, the search engine sucks, I don't know if what I'm ordering is in stock, I don't know when and how it will ship or how long it takes. I don't know if the split shipments are going to cost.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen or heard anything from Scholastic Press. I tried setting up an account online, but got no response. I'll try again in a few days, but I'm starting to suspect that this will be more of a 2 or 3 time a year order, and that I'll do it with the rep.

As you all know, I've always maintained that time and effort = money. So I have to figure out if all this extra time and effort is worth the extra discount. Right now, I'd say no. But I'm hoping this will settle down, that I'll figure it out, and it will become routine.

One thing's for sure--books are selling. We are a full-on bookstore at this point, even carrying non-fiction. The non-fiction section is in the beginning stages, but I can see it expanding. Once that happens, well--that makes me a full bookstore.

After all, every bookstore has to make selections. The fact that my selections are quirky, well that just makes the store interesting to people. (I get a ton of compliments...)

I was in one of the local ABA model stores, and I was told that the ABA newsletter is going to stop coming out in physical form. Opening the pamphlet, and it's clear to me why all ABA model bookstores look the same. They're all ordering the same recommended material.

In a sense, my bookstore is a backstock store. That is, I concentrate on books that have already come out and have a history. Seems much safer to me.

Then again, a local bookseller told me how many of the new John Bolton books he ordered and it sort of floored me. (Not that he actually got the books...that seems to be a big problem with new bestsellers. They aren't always readily available, which is weird. Obviously, the big boys are getting them first.)

Though I've been carrying new books for a decade now, in some ways I'm only beginning. I mean, I was pretty lackadaisical for a long time, just getting the low-hanging easy stuff. Now I'm challenging myself to fill out the store with material that people see as bookstore-ish. ("fill-out" is a bit of a joke--I'm already packed.)

Still, it makes life interesting. Because, you know, not enough stuff is going on....

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"In the Midst of Chaos, there is Opportunity." Sun Tzu

Our book sales are nearly double last year this month.

When I first started doing new books about fifteen years ago, I was ordering the low-hanging fruit. Favorites, cult books, classics, tangential to comics, requests. My new book ordering was at first meant to be a supplement to my used books. I had gotten tired of never having the titles come in used that people were asking for.

Within a few years, new books were outselling used books 5 to 1.

I removed the used books completely a couple years ago, making more room for new books and graphic novels.

I've always treated books in my store as more or less a continuum. Hardcovers or softcovers, comics or graphic novels, trade paperback or mass market paperbacks, art books, children's books, fiction, non-fiction if interesting. I tried to blend them all together. Stories--some with lots of words, some with lots of art, but all stories.

For about 5 years, I was bringing books in kind of from a distance. That is, I was home writing most of the time and would lift my head to order books here and there, whenever convenient. I kept expanding the bookshelves wherever possible. I wasn't really bearing down, but nevertheless, book sales continued to increase.

What I've found is this: Good books sell and keep selling. So every time I find an evergreen book, one that will sell every time I order it, it adds to the overall effect. One by one, I've been adding books that seem to have constant demand. All of this works because of the foot-traffic in downtown Bend, especially the tourists.

Because of the popularity of young adult graphic novels, I've been paying particular attention to young adult and kids books of all kinds. 

In the last year I finally decided to pay more attention to brand new books and bestsellers. I'm still a little careful there--I will order two or three of a bestseller that fits my brand (i.e. the new Hunger Games prequel), and maybe just one of other hardcover books. I'm still not trying to carry every new bestseller that comes out, but I try to have a good sampling.

Since I started working two days a week last fall, I accelerated the process, paid much more attention to what I was doing. This meant also coming in at least one more day a week to put books away. Book sales started to increase under the attention.

When we closed in April to put down new flooring, I shifted things slightly to make a little more room for new books. What's more or less happened is that the increase in new book sales have more than compensated for the decrease, due to disruptions and/or competition, in sales on other product.

In the chaos, I've had time to rethink how I'm doing things.

In the last month, DC comics has decided to distribute their comics under new distributors. This has more or less thrown the entire market into chaos. It forced me to take a closer look at what I was doing.

For one thing, I've been ordering all my new books from a distributor, both for convenience and speed. However, I can get a 10% better margin by ordering directly from the publishers. Over the last week, I've been transitioning--ordering books as usual from the regular distributor, but whenever possible going direct with the publishers. So far, I've set up accounts with two publishers--who probably account for a good 40% of my overall book sales.

If this works, I'll set up accounts with a couple more of the Big Five publishers--who between them own the lion's share of new books.

It's been a time-consuming process, and frankly, I probably wouldn't have done it if DC comics hadn't pulled the rug out from under us. I'll actually save money buying DC graphic novels from my new accounts, and while that is happening, I'll save money on a goodly percentage of my other books too.

So thanks, DC, for throwing things into chaos. I doubt you'll like the results, but it's going to be good for my store.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A business owner will expand to his level of incompetence.

There's an article in today's Bulletin about a gardening business in an out of the way location that has had great success. So the guy is going from one employee to four and moving to the Old Mill District.

Part of me wants to shout: "Don't do it!"

But NOT growing is heresy in America. (Of course, he may succeed, and it may be exactly what he wants--but that wasn't my experience.)

I've been enjoying my store lately. My one store. I've had four stores, five if you count the Bookmark, and it wasn't always an enjoyable experience. It often wasn't even a profitable experience.

I have my own variation of the Peter Principle: A business owner will expand to his level of incompetence.

I was sort of reminded of this with this new street closure proposal. "You'll be able to move stuff to sell onto the street," they told me.

I'm sorry--I have a store that is functioning very well right now, Thank You Very Much. A store that is designed for one person to maximize the space and time. It's been finessed down to the smallest details. It's still manageable, but even more importantly, it's still enjoyable.

Whatever makes you think I want to expand into the street? How would I keep track of that? What would I do, move stuff in and out each night? Would I have to leave my post at the store and go out to help people? To clean and straighten, and...?

...well, like I said, the store is designed for exactly what it does. Designed by decades of experience.

So you open a store and you talk to your customers and they appreciate your knowledge and experience and reward you with business. What do you do? You expand and become a manager of multiple employees, who no matter how good almost never match your dedication and experience.

It took me 30 years to find Sabrina, who took responsibility for the store and who managed it with dedication and honesty and knowledge. Before that, it was a constant turnover (which was my own fault in many ways--management is not what I wanted to do.)

Two stores isn't just twice the work, it's three times the work. Three and four stores are even worse--unless you are very skilled at management and technology and that's what you WANT to do.

If what you want is your own business, somewhere fun and yours--then expanding isn't always the best idea.

Unfortunately, most people only learn this by doing it.

If I had one piece of advice for beginning small business owners it's this--beware burnout. Be careful how much you take on. Keep doing the things you enjoy, even if you can make more money doing what you don't enjoy. Keep it fresh and manageable.

Then you'll be there for the long haul. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

It's a cra-cra world.

Again, plenty of things to talk about, almost all of it better kept to myself.

It's a cra-cra world right now. People are lining up like lemmings for the Tulsa rally. Some kind of deathwish cult.

I personally think anyone who denies scientific reality should be forced to live without any of the benefits of science. No machines and no medicines. After all, they don't believe in science.

Instant karma?

The difference between this and the mass gathering for protests is one small but major thing: Wear a Fucking Mask!

And just so you know this ain't all tilted politically, I'm pissed at the health experts who at first said masks didn't work. I think they suspected masks worked and said it anyway. By the time they reversed course, it had become politicized.

And if they were worried about people taking all the masks away from health workers, they could have fucking said so--wear a bandana, or a cloth mask, and we would have understood it.

All in all, the 38% who still think Trump is great proves what I've always thought but could never quite quantify. A third of all people are either crazy or stupid.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Do writers have big egos?

Maybe...just a little.

It kills me that Hollywood has thrown tens of millions of dollars around for supernatural Donner Party movies that either suck or were never made or disguised as something else, when there was a book out there that I think would have been perfect as a movie. Ready made, if you will.

"Led to the Slaughter: The Donner Party Werewolves," by Duncan McGeary.

I also think "Tuskers" could be a fun "Tremors" kind of movie.

"Snaked" would make a great creature/disaster movie.

You know, in my humble opinion.

I'm not sure about the cinematic possibilities of my other stories, but these three are pretty straightforward plots that wouldn't have to be trimmed down all the much.

I guess I need to be playing the lottery a lot more, because that's the only way these movies would ever be made.

So yeah, writers have egos. (But are also fragile and you could easily puncture my pretension with a harsh word...so please refrain.)