Saturday, March 31, 2007

Well stop my complainin'. Two good days in a row have made up for the slow start to the week. Lots of folk from the valley, Salem, Eugene, Portland. Next week is the California Spring Break, I think, and I'm don't think we've seen the Washingtonians either.

I've now stuck to my 'final' budget, (1 and 1/2 months after my other 'final' budget, which was supposed to start on the Jan. 1; and 7 and 1/2 months after my original 'final' budget that was supposed to start on July 1, 2006), for six weeks, now. And I haven't seen an inch of blue sky yet. I figure that there is a couple months worth of slack in the budget rope, and then another month before the figures will come in showing a profit. At least in theory. Six weeks is pretty good, especially since I don't detect any underlying desire to break the budget in the near future.

Seems like all the categories in the store are performing up to standards, and that the reorder budget is more than enough to keep them all up to form. I think, in a sense, that I've waited until the last possible moment to do the job right, and that the urgency is such that I'll follow through. It's the weekend before finals, so to speak, and I'm finally studying up.

Finally, as to why kids don't read comics; video games.

I know, I know.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Rdc asked the question, in yesterday's comment, where will the next generation of readers come from?

I suppose, if there is a bright side of being such a dinky part of the demographic, that we have no where to go but up! My guess is that somewhere around 1% of the population is actively interested in comics. That gives us 99% of the world to conquer!

There is probably 5 - 10% of the population floating around that have read comics in the past, so they are our best bet. Then there is an exceeding small group of adults who are willing to try something new, and who haven't closed their minds to the possibilities of graphic storytelling.

I'm always being asked if the new Spider-man movie has helped sales, or the new Hellboy, or the new Transformers, or whatever movie is in the pipeline (and there seems to be a new movie every month or so.) The answer is -- non-superhero movies help sales in the specific franchise. That is, the 300 helps sales in the 300, and also in Frank Miller's other works, like of the Ronin, Return of the Darknight.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, sold lots of LOEG novels, and some of the other Alan Moore material, Watchmen, From Hell. And so on. Helpful that month, but usually short term.

Superhero movies? Not so much. Hardly at all, in fact. I always point out that if even 1/2 of 1% of the people who went to see the X-Men 2 movie on opening weekend had then bought an X-Men comic of the next month, sales would've doubled in that title. That didn't happen.

So, as has always been the case with comics except during the early 90's bubble years, we get one new customer at a time. If I get one new regular out of the Spider-man movie, and one new customer out of the X-Men movie, and one new customer out of the Daredevil movie, I've increased my subscription base by 3%! See what I mean -- we have no where to go but up!

But that isn't the whole answer, because of course the added credibility of the movies does help our overall business, I think. (Though, I will have more of the public look at the book, "The Art of the 300", which is basically stills and sketches from the movie than will pick up the actual graphic novel with the actual art. So credibility still has a looooonnnnngggg way to go.)

The analogy I'm using is this: If we think of fan interest as the hands of a clock, with 6:00 being zero interest, and 12:00 being buying level interest, we've always hovered at about the 8:00 level. Each customer brings his own level of interest to the store; so most customers may be at 6:00; which would take a miracle to get them to buy, but other customers being at 10:00 and maybe a small push will get them to buy.

Every good comic book movie pushes the clock closer to 12:00. For those that started at 6:00, some of them have moved to 7:00, which means that there is the slightest awareness of graphic novels. And a very few have been pushed from 10:00 or 11:00 all the way to buying. So good comic book movies can't hurt. (Bad movies or T.V. shows can -- I've always thought the Batman T.V. show set the comic credibility clock back to 6:00 for most of the world.)

So I'm hopeful our next generation of readers will come out of the huge pool of 99% of the world that isn't currently reading comics. It's a better bet than believing that kids will suddenly drop their I-pod's and head for the comic store.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Comment from two teenage girls after sitting on my floor and reading manga for an hour. "Let's go see if we can find it cheaper on the Internet."

Circuit City is firing 3400 workers so they can hire cheaper workers.

The store got so clogged a couple of times yesterday, that sales just stopped. I've heard it said that customer counts are the true sign of health, not sales. But it's hard to pay bills with customer counts.

Fortunately, until this week we were having yet another record month. (All of but 2 of last year's months were records, and all three of this years....)

Local kids are out of school, and sales have dropped. Did 40% of normal on Saturday, and 60% of normal on Wednesday. (Wednesday is usually my biggest day, because we get our weekly shipment of comics.) Did good on Tuesday because I spent a couple of hours with a sport card customer as he broke 490.00 worth of boxes. Without him, sales would have been 40% of normal. Average sales on Monday, at least. Same thing happened last year, so I was braced for it. Hope to get some out of town tourists later in the week to make up for the downturn.

Saturdays used to be my best day, because the kids are out of school. Now, it's my 3rd worst day, because the kids are out of school.... I'm still surprised by this, even though the changeover happened about 10 years ago.

I have 40 linear feet of comics for kids. I have hundreds and hundreds of linear feet of comics for everyone else. I'm thinking 40 feet is too much. It's a little bit like the chicken and the egg. If there are no comics for kids, there are no kids for comics. But I've kept the faith for years -- I've devoted the whole front of my store on the west side to kids product. And it's gathering dust.

I'm thinking very seriously of taking the bottom half of the children's section and turning it over other product. I could still keep the top half for kids. I could keep Asterix and TinTin and Bone and Disney and the best of the rest.

What do kids do these days?

Do you catch my frustration? How can a 12 year old boy come in my store and not see anything?

I'm trying not to take it to heart. I've realized that my store will do just as well if kids never came in, maybe even better. But it's kinda sad. For the kids.

The future is looking very bright for my store with customers (kids) between the ages of 20 and 50. I'm selling the hell out of Preacher and Sandman and Y - the Last Man, and Fables, and Sin City, and Watchmen, and so on. All written for people like me. My store, in a sense, has been liberated to be created the way I want it -- for people like me. And the more I morph in that direction, the better the store seems to do.

My wife says that kids buy books at her store, and I'm glad for that. But I'm beginning to despair that we'll ever get the kids back to reading comics.

So be it. I'll be open to the possibilities, but get on with creating a store that works for people who want it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Red Flag Stores

As a small business owner, I usually notice right away if a new business has opened. So I pay attention to it, watching it, trying to gauge it. Does it make sense? Does it look like they know what they're doing? Is it appropriate for Bend? Have they spent a fortune on opening the store? Are they working it themselves, or do they immediately plug in a manager?

If the store is on my normal routes, I'll check it out every time I pass. And some of these stores get a Red Flag in my mind. The distinguishing characteristic is very simple -- do I see people in the stores on a regular basis? In Red Flag stores, I rarely, if ever, see anyone inside shopping. I rarely, if ever, see anyone going in or coming out of the store. I rarely, if ever, see shopping bags in the hands of customers.

Once or twice, no big deal. Weeks go by, and it becomes alarming. A month or two? They are Red Flagged.

I have never seen a business I've Red Flagged come back and succeed. They can last -- mysteriously -- for a year or two, but they always go out of business. A newer business in the same location has a fresh start.

A couple of examples. There is a small restaurant location on the corner of 4th and Greenwood. Three or four different restaurants went into that space and failed. I would drive by every day, and there would never be anyone in there. For whatever reasons, the current tenant, The Breakfast Club, does seem to have customers and has never been on the Red Flag list, because it actually seems to be doing business. Same thing with Toomies Restaurant, a few doors down from my store, which had four or five tenants before Toomies made that location a success. Not sure why some businesses succeed, and some fail, but not seeing live bodies inside the stores seems to be the telling point.

The alarming thing to me, is that there are no less than 8 or 10 Red Flag businesses within a block of my store right now. I'll be honest and tell you that most of them are high end dress boutique shops. And most are less than 2 years old. I NEVER see anyone in them. After a year or two of paying attention. Worse, almost all of them have managers, a dead giveaway in my opinion that they are money-losers. (The combination of no customers, and having to pay for the person watching the store.) But there are a couple of other types of business that seem to be pretty damn empty. It's possible that they are doing gangbusters business online, or something, but not likely.

Doesn't bode well for downtown. None of the long term neighbors, The Book Barn, Trivial Antiques, Toomies, Kitchen Complements, etc. are Red Flagged. They all have customers, as far as I can see. All the Red Flagged business are new and all are high-end. All have spent a great deal of money on their stores, and all seem to have management. (I maintain that most Mom and Pop businesses have to have owners working at least part of the time to manage costs -- like The Book Barn, Kitchen Complements,...and Pegasus Books, for that matter.... etc.) This appears to be the future of downtown, and the landlords don't seem concerned because there always seems to be another client with more money than sense waiting in line to open downtown.

It happens slowly enough, that most citizens don't really notice that there is nearly a 100% turnover in newer businesses downtown, with the older businesses closing less often but at a steady and alarming rate.

I doubt very much we'll have too many vacancies anytime soon. But I can't help but feel that Downtown Bend would be healthier with real world businesses, with involved owners, rather than some one's pipe dream.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An e-mail from a friend has prompted me to remind everyone that I am not anti-growth, per se. I am anti irrational and unsustainable growth. It is the gray area between the two that I'm trying to explore.

I grew up in Bend. It was a nice small town, and always had a sense of vibrancy that I didn't feel in other small towns. But the town I grew up in wouldn't have supported my store. It didn't have bookstore at all, and only one theater. It was conservative and slow to change.

I also have a memory of a time when Bend was struggling, when it was hard to sell a house, or create a business, when downtown was 40% vacant and the malls could never seem to really
ever get going. And I have the unique experience of going through 7 or 8 bubbles in my business; baseball cards, comics, pogs, beanie babies, pokemon, etc. and knowing how destructive bubbles can be.

So growth is fine, as long as it is grounded in reality. What I'm trying to narrow is the gap between the perception of what Bend is and what it will support, and the reality of what Bend is and what it will support. I want my rent to reflect the true level of sales, I would prefer to face competition that is based on a true level of customers. I would like to cut through the B.S. that the Chamber of Commerce and the promotional side of Bend (real estate, financials, developers, insurance agents, etc.) tend to spin.

It has got me thinking about what I truly think is going to happen in Bend.

I don't expect a collapse. Mostly, because I think big money has been invested in Bend, and big money isn't going to pull out without losing their investment. My sense is that there is too much momentum. Bend has gotten big enough that it would probably take a perfect storm to bring it down to an early 80's level downturn. (Sure, if the economy falls into recession, the housing bubble bursts, their is a major terrorist strike, etc. it could happen.) But if that happens, we're all in trouble, and there isn't much you can do to avoid it.

Sure, we could be economic survivalists, and hole up waiting for a disaster. I have a friend who has maintained for a couple of decades now that the economy is going down the drain. He'll be right, one of these days. And there are probably still survivalists holed up in cabins in the mountains waiting for the U.S.S.R. to rain nuclear missiles down on our heads. Thing is, in both cases, holing up would only delay the inevitable.

There is something very satisfying in predicting doom, and watching it happen. Years ago, my sports card distributors talked about how we needed a nice solid slowdown to weed out the bad businesses. I bought into that notion. But I was wrong. Any downturn bad enough to weed out the bad businesses, will inevitably bring down good businesses, and hurt the survivors. On the other hand, excesses do need to be wrung out of the economy before they get so big they bring us all down.

I do think there are some unreasonable levels of retail in Bend. I think there are unreasonable expectations of growth and prices. There has been a housing bubble. I suspect there are some financial shenanigans going on. I don't think millionaires are going to buy all the condo's downtown, I don't believe the Old Mill District is truly profitable, I believe we have overbuilt motels and that a lot of developments are going to fall flat. I believe we are in danger of driving out viable businesses through rent increases, and being replaced by vanity businesses.

Right now, the gray areas is a little too wide for comfort. But reality will eventually reassert itself. I'm just hoping it will be about the time I'm negotiating for a new lease, and that I've managed to bring down my debt, and even have some cash in the bank. I'm hoping that my businesses will be solid enough to withstand a downturn, and that the froth of irrational and unsustainable growth doesn't drown my more reasonable ambitions.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I'm doing my monthly comic orders, again.

Marvel has me backed into a corner. When I finished my orders, the numbers come in as nearly double what I ordered last year.

Why is this a problem?

Go back to the comic bubble of the mid-1990's. March, 1995. I finish my orders and realize that my orders are twice what they were the year previous. Actually higher in cost that the total amount of sales the year before. There is a huge crossover between the two hottest emergent companies, Image and Valient. I'm selling over 100 Spawn comics every month, and probably 50 of the best selling Valiant titles. All the Image titles and Valient titles are selling well. I go with 200 copies of each of the crossovers.

Similar dynamics are working for DC and Marvel and Dark Horse. Everything is selling.

Still, I'm concerned. For the first and only time, I call up my distributer and reach the highest management I can reach, and I say, "Listen, my orders are coming in at more than twice as much as last year. What if there is a slowdown? "

And the guy from Diamond said, "What are you worried about? Everyone else is happy."

So I sent my orders off.

Three months go by, and sales have started to fall of the cliffs. Now, if the majority of my March orders had arrived in June like they were supposed to, and majority of the April orders had arrived in July, and the majority of the May orders arrived in August, I probably would have been O.K.

Instead, they arrived in Oct and Nov, two of my slowest months, and months after the boom was over.

This event wiped out over 2/3 of the comic shops in America. All the distributers but one. Marvel went Chapter 11. Dire times. I spent the next 2 years paying off my debt to my wholesaler.

Flash forward to 2007. We've had six good years of steady growth. But Marvel has a hit on their hands, a huge crossover event called Civil War. As they fall behind in their schedule, they throw out one-shot fill-ins and they sell! They add new titles and they sell! They kill Captain America, and it's a huge publicity bonanza!

This month they have hit me with the equivilent of 6 Civil War titles in one month, along with dozens of crossovers. Only they are tie-ins, not the actual Civil War. And I have no idea what to do. If I order every Civil War tie in at Civil War numbers, or as if they may have another Death of Capt. America event, my budget is blown into massive numbers.

Problem is, I have no idea what the content is, how my customers will react, whether the titles will be on time. If I come up short, and disappoint my customers, will they stick with me or start looking online? How much risk can I take?

The last big crossover event Marvel did was called House of M. It sold pretty good -- not Civil War numbers, but close. At the end, they threw out post House of M titles -- Son of M and Generation M. I made a guess, ordered one third as many ( which was still alot).

I ate them. They didn't sell at all.

So now, Marvel has tossed out not one or two post Civil War titles, but dozens. They all look important, they are all hyped.

But in the end, they aren't really creating that many new customers. I'm selling them to my base subscribers, and I'm asking them, in effect, to buy twice as much.

A very dangerous game.

These are enough like Civil War that if they turn out to be hits, my customers can ask, why didn't they get them? If they are not hits, my customers can hand them back and say, I didn't ask for them.

Even though I beg and plead with my subscribers to tell me what they want, they generally seem to believe that I can read their minds. "Of course! I wanted that!" they exclaim in surprise. Or they frown, and say, "Of course! I didn't want that!"

The middle ground is to order about 2/3rds of the original Civil War numbers, but not put them on shelves unless specifically asked. If I come up short, it will be to those customers who took their own sweet time about getting into the store. I can always try to get reorders.

After it's all over, it will seem obvious what I should have done. But right now, I'm totally guessing. And even hedging my bets, I'm still at nearly twice last years budget.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bend Bulletin has posted some more graphs: lagging indicators. We won't really know what's going on until summer, at best.

Still, the one graph that leaped out at me, is the one that everyone else is ignoring. I'll let the BendBubble2 blog and the New Bend Economy Bulletin Board talk about housing and real estate.
They've got that section pretty much cornered.

What really interested me is the number of new businesses created: 468 in 2006 alone. That is a crazy number, folks.

Look, I figure I need a minimum of 300 to 500 people who I would call 'regulars.' People who are faithful, and come in at least every few months or so, and a 100 to 200 people who come in on a weekly basis. And I have a very modest business.

Think about it. If at the peak of growth, we were getting 5000 people a year into Bend, that means a business opened for every 10 people or so. Even with crossover between businesses, that's a nutty number.

It confirms what I've always thought. During the time that the population was going up by a third to double, the businesses were going up by 10 times! Especially look at that graph from 2004 to 2006, and it looks like it more than doubled in 2 years.

Explains all these crazy businesses I've been moaning about. This is really going to hurt. The housing bubble probably created this surge, and it's popping is going to probably going to bring these businesses back down to earth.

This isn't good for business, folks. People are very sensitive to struggling businesses -- they tend to stay away in droves. If we start having vacancies downtown, it's going to drag the rest down with them. I can't see how all the equity disappearing isn't going to really impact on businesses that looked iffy at the best of times, mostly it appeared to me, vanity businesses, or businesses created because the owners couldn't find a local job commiserate with their skills and experience.

Has reinforced my impulse to start being a bit more conservative, despite my business having a very good year so far.

The only question I have: I didn't know you even had to file for a business in Deschutes county. What does it mean? How many business don't file? Am I completely off on this?

Later: Thinking about this further, the 'assumed business name' are listed by county, so that is probably what these are. Some would be home businesses, etc.

But it is still a crazy number of businesses.....

Saturday, March 24, 2007

For some reason, Linda and I started keeping our ticket stubs to the movies about 6 years ago. I haven't been 100% consistent about it, but Linda has been, or so she says.. . The other day, Linda was cleaning out her closets, and bequeathed me all her tickets. So I put them together and counted.

We have 570 stubs. Now, I know that there are at least a couple dozen doubles more I didn't keep, but even these numbers are interesting. Since we went to the movies together, most of the time, that represents about 48 movies a year.

I know we have slowed way down the last couple of years....

To be fair, Linda worked at the theater for a few years (another word for assistant manager is slave), but that also means we probably went to even more movies than is represented by the tickets.

Linda says we went to more movies before she started working at the theater, and it's true it was hard to start paying full price after getting them for free.

At 6.00 a pop, that represents about $570.00 a year.

Linda also gave me all her loose keys, which sparked me to start writing a story on my other blog, (A Daily novel; the Time Travel Shop) called KEYS, about a kid who is obsessive/compulsive about numbers.

But I'm sure that is just a coincidence.

Friday, March 23, 2007

2nd post today. Instead of running out of things to say, I seem to be accelerating. Anyone who knows me, knows I love to spin out theories.

Over the last 5 years, as soon as I realized that game sales were on the decline (I usually tell my customers that sales are heading into a 'valley' from a very high 'peak'; sounds much more innocous) I've talked to hundreds of game customers, not one who thought that games were on any kind of decline.

See, human psychology being what it is, the customers think that because they are still interested, it must be that everyone else is too. (It also works in reverse -- former customers will come in and say, "People still buy that?" And I always want to answer, "Yeah, imagine that. They dared to go on without you....")

I usually don't argue with them. I just know that asking your customers how a product line is selling is useless, just like it's useless -- usually -- to ask a seller if something is selling well. Anecdotal evidence is all but pointless.

One of the reasons it's so hard to get a reading on things like the real estate market, for instance, is that both the sellers and the buyers are very unreliable indicators, on an anecdotal basis.

Back to games: Game customers are certain that I must be selling tons of games, even though their local game store has closed, it was because the owner wanted to play poker, or something. The evidence is right there in front of them, but they refuse to see it.

The latest Comics and Games Retailer Trade Magazine, had the following statement:

"We lost anywhere up to 2/3 of our fellow retailers, several distributors, and more publishers than you could shake a stick at (yes, even you can't hold that many grudges), and all too many consumers. And most of you who are still here can look around your store today and barely recognize.

Pretty damning evidence. I still ask my customers from other towns how their local store is doing, even though I know that it's competely useless information. I try to glean from it what I can.

If I was a stockbroker, or a real estate agent, I'd be watching the old hands. The ones who have been through the cycle before. The ones who I know think for themselves. I'd assemble a group of half a dozen or so, because one or two could be wrong, and I watch what they were doing. I might not watch them on the way up, but if I had the slightest doubts, I'd be watching them on the way down. And I would listen to my own instincts, no matter how much everyone else was gung ho. Same thing, if I ran a company that produced product: I'd have a council of a dozen retailers, who I thought were independent minded, and I'd LISTEN to them.

The reality gap can sometimes become ridiculous. When the sports card market fell into a death spiral, (and I don't mean a decline, I mean screaming off a cliff) the card customers stayed arrogant and demanding for years. I basically wrote them off, and went on to other things. The consequence is, ironically, that most card customers now OVERESTIMATE the decline in cards. The industry still exists, after all, It just won't ever be at those Mt. Everest proportions again.

Just by way of saying how hard it is to get accurate information. I usually find that if I have a slowdown, no one, and I mean NO ONE will admit they are suffering the same, but that 6 months later it will turn out that I was not the only one. I trust what is actually happening to my store; not what I hear elsewhere.

I should probably add: my store is doing very well. I'd tell you if it wasn't, or at least wouldn't tell you that it was doing great. The downtown activity has really helped my foot traffic, as much as I hate to admit it.

That didn't take long. I've been writing about independent bookstores for the last few days. I've been saying that Barnes & Noble and Borders were little more than ponzi schemes, based on a consignment system that puts all the burden on the publishers.

It stands to reason. Book sales have been flat for almost a decade, the same decade that these chainstores have been opening store after store. These are public companies, with shareholders who demand ever increasing results.

But how can you create ever increasing sales when the market is flat.? Well, first you wipe out over half the independent bookstores. Done. The few surviving indys are the hardy weeds that they can't quite seem to poison. Now Amazon has come along to play their game even better than them. (Of course, with the same ridiculous strategy of trying to steal more and more market share from a stagnant pool by discounting. Never mind profits, look how we're growing!)

There isn't enough market share to steal from the indy's anymore, who represent less than 10% of the market. They've probably pushed the publishers about as far as they dare, or as far as the publishers can go without disappearing. You can't return every book!

Yesterday, it was announced that both Barnes & Noble and Borders had declining sales last year. Their stock took a hit. Borders hints about 'restructuring overseas' blah, blah, which means that they really want to unload their overseas outlets. They have separated from Amazon as their online outlet (which was a little bit like chickens hiring a fox to sell their eggs...)

Years into the internet, they are getting started in their own online venture. Good luck with that.

Borders is closing half of the remaining Waldenbooks, which pretty much confirms the cannibilizing of their own sales contention. It's a little bit like saying, we are going to eat our right arms so we'll be healthier in the future. And finally on the Borders side, , (who comes off as in worse shape than B & N) they want to expand their non-book and resturant business; right; can't sell books, so we'll sell latte. But wasn't the original purpose of the cafe's to bring people to books? Not a healthy sign when that is reversed.

Meanwhile B & N is saying that their 'discount; programs have hurt their profits.' No, duh.
Yet, I can't see them reversing course, not with Amazon crouching on the horizon.

There is talk of a merger, which would mean a company with more than half of all book sales, which pre-Reagan would have been the very definition of a monopoly, but would probably pass muster in our current laisse fair atmosphere. Still, the fundamental problem of flat sales remains.

And there is talk of taking the companies off the public stock -- which would probably be smart, because they might finally be able to concentrate on doing the things that would make the book industry healthier; looking at the long term instead of strictly marketshare. A great idea, EXCEPT Amazon is still lurking, and will pounce on any effort to change.

Finally, on the B & N front, they have the audacity to say that the next quarter will be bad because of the major discounting of the new Harry Potter book!

Heres a thought experiment for you:

Imagine if every outlet sold the new Harry Potter book for full price? How many fewer Harry Potter books would sell? My guess is -- they would sell just as well. My wife's guess was they would sell just as well. The first four people I asked in my store, said they would still buy it. The fifth person said they'd wait for the library or used -- there's always one joker....So, say 20% of the readers say they'll wait: right, and the line at the library would be months long, and the used books won't show up for months. I suspect half the holdouts would buy the damn book.

Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars of profits that would generated for the book industry.

Instead, if Borders tried such a thing, all the business would flow to B & N; and vice versa, and if both tried such a thing, Amazon would eat them alive, and they'd probably be accused of collusion.

So none of these three stores are going to make a dime on the book. It's a frakken loss leader.

To me, this is the very definition of 'suicidal competition.' Its a game of mutually assured destruction, where the three superpowers hold the power to destroy their enemies if any one of them tries to change.

So, as a hardy weed of an independent, I'm watching with great interest.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A couple of more observations about being a 'niche' business.

I used to think the animosity that some comic fans have for comic stores was unique. The "I hate my local comic shop because they never have what I want, I hate the owner, it's always messy and dirty and filled with stinky fan boys...(but I'm not a fan boy)..." statements.

Well, just as comic shops have the 'Comic Book Guy,' Indy record stores have their 'Jack Black clerks' and bookstores have they 'snooty snob guy.'

The same; "If they can't compete, they should just die. Who needs them, I can always get my stuff cheaper and more conveniently at the chains or online..." sentiment seems pretty widespread.

I think they are COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY wrong. Of course, I do.

But really, I think that independent stores are a crucial part of any healthy industry. And that this won't be recognized by most industry insiders until it is too late.

We are the guys who find that unique and obscure book, or record, or comic that needs to be supported, who tells people about it. We are the guys who have a space that you go where you can immerse yourself in the sensory atmosphere, and associate with like minded people. We are the kid in the playground who tells you how 'cool' something you've never heard of is. With all the enthusiasm and verve that face to face contact can bring.

Sure, you can get some of that on the Internet (though that seems like a faceless, almost soulless alternative in the long run.) Sure, the big chains have huge selection and wide aisles, but they also have a homogenized selection, and harried hassled clerks.

Fortunately for everyone, though, is that I've come to believe that there is an irreducible number of fools and madmen who are willing to give it a try. In sports cards, it has hit 1000 shops, but you know, between old retired school teachers and retired military and cops and firemen, there will always be a few shops around.

But think about it. There are only about 2500 people in a country of 300 million who own a bookstore. There are only about 2500 people who own a record store. 2500 who own a comic shop.

I bet if you asked people to make a list of the top 5 dream jobs they would want, that there would be millions who would list a bookstore, millions who would list a record store, and.....well, thousands who would list a comic shop!

I guess that makes me lucky....or stupid. Because there have to have been thousands or tens of thousands of people who have tried or looked into the possibility and decided it was impossible.

When I look at that 300 million figure and at the 2500 figure, I think that I should have, you know, 100's of thousands of customers by ratio. Instead, I may have 500 people who are regulars, and a couple of thousand more who come in frequently, and maybe (after 27 years) tens of thousands more who come in infrequently.

The inescapable conclusion is that the other hundreds of thousands of people shop at Barnes & Noble and Best Buy and Amazon.

So be it. I have to find the niche, the service, the odd product, the location, location, location, the personal touch, the blog, the presentation, the knowledge, the experience, the whatever it takes to survive.
I found my google search of independent bookstores to be very revealing. While I did know that bookstores were having trouble with the chains and Amazon, I admit I was surprised by how bad it was, and even more surprised that it was the old, established stores having the most trouble.

Last night, out of curiosity, I went looking at independent record stores, and found an interesting stat; there are roughly 2500 record shops left, almost the same exact number as comic shops and book stores. So I googled toy stores, and found that the main trade org. counts 1500 members. In the field of books, there are 1700 members of the ABA, and 800 non-member stores. If the same ratio holds true for toy stores, then they have roughly 2500. Game stores? Couldn't find a statistic, unfortunately. But wouldn't be surprised, based on my knowledge of numbers of comic vs game stores in most small towns, if it is also around 2500.) (P.S. Latest Game and Comic Retailer confirms 1500 - 2500 game stores.)

So, it got me to thinking about all the similiarities.

What has always fascinated me is how each industry remains tunnel-focused on their own business. As if making comparisons to other industries is somehow threatening. Never understood it, possibly because I've never been able to survive as a business being just one pure specialized store. I've always been a hybrid, and I'm more of a hybrid today than I've ever been. Eight different product categories, and with the intention of adding two more (music and movies.) Very few game oriented members of the Game Industry Forum ever visit the Comic Book Industy Alliance, and vice verse, whereas I visit both equally.

First ran into this blinkered thinking with sports cards. No one -- not game people, not comic people, not book people-- wants to admit that there is anything to learn from the sport card fiasco. Whereas, I almost think that there is everything to learn. I constantly look to my sport card experience, almost as a baseline of all the worst things that can go wrong.

So when I read interviews with record stores who talk about an 'age gap', I'm completely surprised by how similar that is to the comic store talk of an 'age gap.' Customers getting older; where will the new customers come from? If you replace the words comics, books, records, toys with the word "widget", the similarities between the industries is amazing.

Also, it seems to me that every single industry I look at seem to focus on the three mantra's of 'service' and 'niche' and 'internet.'

Great. Another way to describe niche product is; product that sells so poorly that the mass market can't be bothered. And oh, by the way, if you happen to succeed in making it a good selling product, the mass market will be glad to come along later and take it off your hands.

Service. Service is like the frosting on a cake. It helps sell the cake better, but it doesn't replace the cake. You still need customers for the cake.

Internet. Fine and good. But that is not being a brick and mortor retailer, is it?

So I've begun to come to some conclusions.

1.) All small retail is threatened by the twin ogres of mass market chains and the internet.

2.) There seems to be a small, irreducible number of shops that specialize in each industry; about 2500 in the ones I've looked at. Like weeds, they hang on.

3.) The middle range, full service shops are the most threatened. The industries that sell commodities are being hit the worst. Hardware and stationary and drug stores can only be so niche before they lose identity. So they are a vanishing breed. The other options are to stay small and specialized and agile. One or two person operations who make a modest living. Or skip the big, full service option and jump to a bigger chain of at least 4 or 5 stores, which mimic the chains stores in selection and price.

The only question I have left is; have we seen the worst? Have the hammer blows from the mass market and the internet been absorbed? Or as the younger generation comes into its own, will it become oh so worst? Has the tide of the mass market chains begun to recede as the internet impacts on them, and as they begine to canniblize their own sales? Can they continue to discount suicidally? Will Amazon ever really turn a real profit?

I guess that's a bunch of guestions, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My change of heart about independent bookstores continues; sort of -- you be the judge.

I think I got tired of all the 'happy, happy' blogs of young bookstore owners who have created oh, so cute stores followed by 'sad, sad' blogs about the store not making enough money to keep them in 'lattes' and vacations to the coast. An amazing amount of naivete, but then I have to remember that I too was once so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

I also got tired of the news stories about old, mainline bookstores with out-of-touch owners grumbling about how the world has changed. There was a lot of 'lord of the manner' sentiment expressed, along the lines of, "Gee, when I check in with my hordes of minion booksellers once a week there isn't a stack of money waiting for me."

Anyway, that was the way I read it.

On the other hand, all that is beside the point. Independent bookstores are facing a dysfunctional distribution system. Which I'm going to talk about today.

1.) Books returned rose from 28% in 1993 to 34% in 2003. I wish I had more up to date numbers, but we can assume those numbers have probably gone up from there. More than a third of all books are returned.

2.) The amount of time a book is given to sell has dropped from months, to a week or two.

3.) More and more books are being published and produced, while less and less books are actually selling.

4.) The industry has become dependent on the mega-seller, the Da Vinci Codes, to pay for everything. So ever more books are produced looking for a hit.

5.) Because of the massive return rate, book prices are going up, which causes less sales, which cause higher returns which cause prices to go up, which causes less sales, which cause higher returns.....slap. You get the picture.

Even the CEO's of the two giant chains are getting alarmed. The CEO of Borders is quoted as saying, being able to order all the books they want and return what they don't sell, "gives us too much confidence."

The CEO of Barnes & Noble wants to change the paradigm -- oh, not the massive printings and wasted books, he wants to be able to "discount the books in place." Not return them, just discount them to below cost in the store. And I think if you look at the bargain tables at B & N he has succeeded.

There ARE some solutions: that have absolutely ZERO chance of happening. The same solutions would work for toys, games, almost anything.

1.) No returnability. You buy, you keep. That would instill some sanity to the process.

2.) Everyone pays the same price. Period. No volume discounts, no kickbacks, no sweetheart deals.

2.) No exclusive product, no early shipments, no special treatment of any kind.

IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN! But I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A small change of heart since my earlier posting.

Actually, I do know what if feels like to have the industry completely change on you. And stay dysfunctional for years. Suicidally competitive. In 1990, our store was 85% sports cards, and then I was slammed by the Walmarts and the Shopko's of the world, as well as smaller shops. It wasn't possible to keep sports cards as a profitable line, no matter what I did.

I suppose I could say that I'm living proof that one can change the nature of a store -- but I'm not sure that -- knowing what I know now, about how long and hard a slog it turned out to be -- I would do it again.

And I was able to let go of sports cards, fairly easily, because it wasn't in my blood. (Turning the business around was hard, letting go of cards wasn't.) I suspect that anyone who owns a bookstore is a book person, and telling them that they can survive by selling -- oh, toys, or jigsaw puzzles, or whatever -- may not hold much attraction. I could wish for them that the publishers will come to their senses, but I doubt from my experiences with cards and comics and toys that that will happen.

I wish there was some assurance that at the end of the process, everyone will be better off. I doubt, very much, that the loss of local bookstores will be remembered as a good thing. But I also know the strategy of appealing to the consumers 'better' nature isn't going to work. Trying to make the customer feel guilty, or begging them, isn't going to help. I know, I tried.

I'm getting 10 copies of the new Harry Potter book, that will be sold at Barnes and Nobles and Costgo at cost, or even less (!) as a loss leader. I'll be curious if I sell any and how long it will take. I'm not certain I shouldn't just skip the whole thing, but I'm going to have to treat it as a test. It may be the first book I actually return.

Bookstores will have to find a way to make people want to buy from them.
I spent last night researching the state of independent bookstores. I enjoyed it -- a whole new world of info for an info junkie. I didn't realize, really, that the independent bookstores were in such trouble, and I was surprised by the conclusions I came up with.

The web is full of articles about the "death" of the independent bookstore. A hue and cry throughout the land. Much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes. Many and copious crocodile tears.

And there are an equal number of articles -- reporters love these -- about a plucky indy who is somehow surviving the onslaught of Amazon and Borders and Barnes & Noble because they work so hard, or because they are just so darn cute....or because....or....well, just because.

The following statistics are pretty rough. They were gleaned from over a 7 year expanse of time, and were often contradictory or confused. But I think I can round them down to something approximating the real world.

1). The number of bookstores that belong the the ABA (American Booksellers Association) has dropped from 5200 to 1700 over the last 10 to 15 years. Not all stores belong to the ABA, so a likely estimate is somewhere around 2500 indy bookstores still exist. Interestingly to me, that is about the same number of bookstores as there are comic stores. Who knew?

There is the same problem in defining an independent bookstore as there is counting comic stores, (which are often combo game and comic, or comics and cards) -- how do you count a hybrid.? A store like mine, for instance, which sells new books, but has a majority of business in other areas? There a quite a few stores that sell both new and used books, for instance.

But what is probably undeniable is that independent bookstores have declined by over half in the last couple of decades.

Interestingly, a huge number of articles about the 'plucky' bookstore were amended by postscripts that the same stores had given up the ghost.

Lastly, there was a flurry of articles over the last couple of years that, -- gosh,-- 90 new stores had opened, followed by 97 new stores, or....and they were even more plucky and hard working and independent than the stores that were leaving, you know. Or braver or smarter.

But if you actually read the articles, it is quite clear that many of the newer stores are smaller, opening on a wing and a prayer in small towns. And many of the stores that are closing are old, established institutions. Famous stores that Hemingway and Faulkner used to frequent. That kind of store.

On the surface, not a fair trade. But I'm not so sure. More about that in the conclusion.

Just in the last year alone, stores as venerable as Cody's; Murder, Inc.; Keplers; Micawber Books; A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books and many many others that have been around for 20, 30, even 40 years have closed. All of them blame the twin hammer blows of the mass chains opening in the 90's, followed by Amazon in the 00's.

2). The average profit for an indy is somewhere around 2%.

I hate statistics like this, which are disingenuous at best, misleading at worst.

What they are really saying is, 2% is what is left over after the owner has paid himself. So if a store grosses 200,000 and after cost of goods has 80,000 and has fixed expenses not counting the owner of 60,000 to me that means the owner profited 20,000, or 10%. Not a lot of money, to be sure, but not the 4000 profit that statistic would imply. Reporters buy this statistic hook, line and sinker because it sounds so pathetic, but it's bullpucky.

3). Independent stores in 1999 constituted 19% of booksales, and Borders and Barnes & Noble were over 50%. So, if anything, this has probably shifted even more in the direction of the mass market, and doesn't even include Amazon. The other 30%? I have to assume grocery stores, Walmart, newsstands, etc. I think I could safely say, however, that with the further decline of indys, the further expansion of the mass market, the addition of Amazon, and the further encroachment of stores like Costgo and Walmart, that the Indy's share has dropped even further. To pluck a figure out of the air....say, 10%? No wonder the publishers are choosing to ignore the independent bookstores. (New information; indy share is 15% these days....) (Newer information; a story from 2006 says 10%). (New newer info -- another article lands at 7%, up from 6%. I think I'll stick to my original 10% estimate....)

4.) The new book sales were 31.4 billion in 2001; 36.4 billion last year. Wow. I don't believe that has even kept up with inflation. Here's what's interesting about that statistic. If independent bookstores are such a small part of the business, how can it be that Borders and Barnes & Noble keep opening bookstores? Not even taking into account that Amazon has stomped into the market since 2001.

What is says to me -- every mass market store that opens has a smaller share of the market than the store before. That the mass market is cannibalizing itself. That it is, indeed, a ponzi scheme. Because book sales actually went DOWN last year! A Borders that opened in Bend wouldn't be taking business away from the local indys, because the local indy's sales aren't enough to make a difference. Bend is growing, sure, but if new stores are opening throughout the USA, but sales aren't increasing, than it stands to reason that new stores are poaching on existing stores. Overall, you can't keep opening outlets if sales are stagnant without becoming less and less cost effective.

5). Used bookstore sales are only 2.2 billion. Just 6% of new sales. That is an eye-opening stat.

In Bend, there are two used bookstores, both of which I believe are making a modest living. Just like I'm pretty sure the local independents are making a modest living. Even taking into account that the cost of goods for a used bookstore is probably half of what it is for a new bookstore, there is only one explanation that I can come up with: the local indy's share of the market is tiny. The mass market can't be stealing enough from the indy's share, because the indy share isn't big enough.

The following overall conclusions somewhat surprise me. I know I'm offended when people say the same thing about comic shops, that if we can't adapt we don't deserve to survive. But after reading all those interviews with independent new bookstores, I've lost a lot of my sympathy for them.

I pretty sure that the comic market is less than a billion, which is sliced up by 2500 shops. The new bookstore indy share has to be closer to 4 billion, also for 2500 shops, which means that either comic stores are subsisting on much less money, or that bookstores are much less efficient. I think it is a combo of both. (Because I sell comics and also new books, I know that the margins and the costs are similar.)

This going to sound cold, but after reading all the interviews with indy bookstore owners, I don't think that some of them deserve much pity. It sounds to me that many bookstores have become hidebound and inflexible and unwilling to accept real change. Those that are surviving are enamored with the promotional side of surviving; IE, book signings, outreach, all sorts of guerrilla marketing. (Which is a great phrase, because I always think of a guy in a gorilla suit with a sign jumping up and down on the sidewalk.) They never talk about how hard these outreach programs are to sustain, how costly in time and energy. And how it only obscures the bottom line problems.

To be blunt, I think that some bookstores have become spoiled; that they exude a sense of entitlement; that they believe they should be supported simply because they are independent, and because of their 'love' of books. They are spending a huge amount of time and effort trying to get the public to feel sorry for them, and what is going to happen is that the public will express sympathy, and then buy from Amazon anyway. These older stores are indeed going to be replaced by smaller bookstores, vanity stores some of them, but also hardscrabble stores that are willing to do the same job without all the pretensions. And some of the older bookstores do seem to 'get' it, and are making changes.

I know that my store has never been able to survive on comics alone, that I've had to make constant changes, to diversify, to look for ways to increase my margins, to accept less and compromise more than I'd like. And eventually I came up with a formula that seems to work. I don't get the sense that most old line bookstores are willing to make the same kinds of choices. They seem to be saying that, "We've always made this much money. We've had book signings and, Look! We have a web page... and it isn't making enough of a difference. We quit."

What I think is going to happen is that the mass market stores, because of their ponzi scheme nature, are going to start to have less and less impact, that Amazon has already put the hammer down, but any stores still surviving have found ways to co-exist. That smaller stores are going to pop up, without the preconceptions and hidebound ways, that the publishers will wake up in time to save the remnants of the independent market.

At least, that is what I hope.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I don't keep records of sales for individual books. Partly, because I'm low tech. Partly, because I keep most books in stock, so it doesn't really matter. If I sell a book, I reorder. If I'm selling it fast, I reorder multiple copies. Pretty simple system that works because, at least so far, there are a manageable number of graphic novels in print.

I'm guessing that I've probably sold about 30 to 40 copies of the graphic novel "300" in the last year or so.

For my little store, that's a bunch.

How many have I sold since the "300" became the number one movie in the country for 10 days straight? Since over a million tickets have been sold?


Actually, that isn't a surprise. Ever since the first Batman movies ages ago, I've learned that most books sell before a movie, in anticipation, rather than after a movie.

I have about 16 copies left in stock, and it may take me a year to sell them. That's all right, that isn't out of line for us.

The reason I'm writing this blog is to wonder........? How in the hell does the publishing industry survive with their book return policies?

See, last week all the "300" graphic novels in stock at my distributer (about 60,000 copies) went missing. My guess is that they were scooped up by the Barnes and Nobles, the Borders, the Amazon's of the world.

Dark Horse gets alarmed, and announces yet another massive (for the comic trade) printing of 80,000 copies, to arrive in a month or so.

This looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Because if the mass market sees the same slowdown in sales after the movie that my store does, alot of that initial 60,000 copies will get returned, and that means that 80,000 copies a month later is just going to slop all over the place.

I've started to google up stories about the publishing industry's self-destructive book return policies. So I'll probably be blogging about that for the next few days.

Now that I'm an independent bookstore and all. I don't intend to do any returns unless I get in trouble, because I'm just ordering one copy of every book, and I'm only ordering books that I think will have long-term worthiness. Still, I'm curious.

I can see how knowing that you could return a book if doesn't sell would make a bookstore somewhat cavalier toward overstock. Not something I'm used to, since the comic industry runs on a "You buy, you keep" basis. I don't intend to change the policy toward books, because I think that counting on returns could make a person awfully sloppy. Maybe someday, I'll weed out the real dogs, but that is in the future. Meanwhile, I'm going to research the whole thing.

But I've come to one large conclusion, based really on instinct. No one will probably agree with me, but there it is.

Sometime in my lifetime, the whole book industry is going to come crashing down. Amazon and Barnes and Nobles, and Borders look like ponzi schemes to me, based on opening new stores and riding the backs of the publishers. There won't be enough independent bookstores left to keep the system afloat. I only hope the comic industry is wise enough to see the dangers and not remove the base of support they currently have (the independent comic stores.)

Based on what has happened to the "300" graphic novel, it isn't looking too promising.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yet another trailer park to be replaced by a subdivision and condo's. Has anyone actually figured out how much population increase is necessary to fill all the existing housing, those currently being built, and those being planned? It seems crazy to me, but then 30 years ago when I came back to Bend from college, I was astounded by how much growth had happened -- all the way from 13,000 to 20,000.

Now Redmond is that size. Mind-boggling.

I've been trying to read a book called IMPERIAL SAN FRANCISCO, by Gray Brechin. (It's pretty dense....)

The basic theme of the book is that cities are vortexes, that suck in energy and material from the surrounding countryside (the "cantado" in Italian.)

"As a city grows, so does both its reach and its power to transform the nonhuman world on which its people depend."

The basic theme of the book, though, is that it is the economic forces of the landed elites who create and coax this growth.

"The city does nothing of its own accord, however; it is driven. The public knows little about the linked dynastic elites that, through their control of information, create the unifying beliefs and blindnesses that motivate truly imperial cities...

"...By controlling the flow of information to the populace and blacking out that which concerns itself, an urban aristocracy make both the city and contado collective tools to perpetuate and expand its wealth and power. However elites may disagree and vie among themselves..."
"...they can all agree that the city must grow -- and its land values rise -- to assure the continuation of their dominion."

Sound familiar?

Or as the Roman historian Tacitus ...."quotes a British chieftain as saying that the Roman legions 'make a desolation and call it peace....'"

"Cities are humanity's most complex artifacts. As they grow, their internal processes and external effects become so intricate that no human mind or computer can follow them."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I must take back what I said, earlier today. Oh, dear. Diamond Comic Distributers is sending me 17 copies of Captain America afterall. (They shorted me one -- outrage!). As of 3:00 it wasn't filled, but as of 6:00 p.m. it was, so I've learned something new.

Restores my faith in patience, and reminds me to be even MORE patient.
A bit of a test. Last week, because I blew my entire reorder budget the week before, I had to hold back. I made the minimum reorder from Diamond Comics. So I passed the first test. The clearance items have pretty much been the same for the last three weeks, so I did the right thing by ordering them when they first came online, rather than waiting. In order to take advantage of clearance deals, I'll sometimes need to go overbudget.

Meanwhile, I was completely screwed on the Death of Captain America issues. I actually put in reorders early in the week, BEFORE the big bruhaha, and then early on the day they arrived. Both were confirmed reorders (which 99% of the time means I'll get them.) I passed on reorders over the next two days, and didn't try to get them 'direct' (because I would have saved all of a day for extra postage.)

Well, everyone who made reorders on Thursday and Friday got theirs. I didn't. Even though I ordered EARLIER!

The system obviously broke down. Plus, I have a new rep again, who isn't very helpful. About every 3rd rep I get is useless. And every competent rep is promoted.

Sigh. I used to get angry. Now I'm just going to get on with life. I will call the higher management, and leave a message that their system broke down -- no way that orders made on a Monday, confirmed, should be superseded by orders 4 days later....

As I get older, I've come to realize that such snafu's are the normal order of things.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I'm gonna whine if you don't mind.

First of all, to make clear, we are running a full 20% better in sales for the first 3 months of the year, than last year, which is pretty dramatic growth for a mature business. Secondly, a fair portion of that growth is in comics, again a mature part of my business.


All the comic news sites are abuzz with all the 'sell-outs' in comics. Most shops were having to beat off speculators for the Captain America 25 with a stick. Buffy #1 comes out and its an instant sell-out. Record days, record weeks.

My store. Pretty darn average, if not a little below. I counted how many Buffy #1's I have left on my shelf to see how many I sold.

None. Not one. I had 3 people signed up, and that's it. I bought 25 copies even though the last Buffy series I carried sold less than 3 issues. This is Season 8 of the the T.V. series, as written by Joss Whedon (with an "unlimited special effects budget.")

So what's going on here?

Yet again, I'm reminded that we have a smaller, more isolated population. There isn't alot of tourism going on at the moment. The demographics have always been problematic.

But I also have to believe that Bend residents have a different mindset. I think we're just a bit more laidback around here, a little slower off the mark, a little more isolated and out of the loop.

Maybe I ought to be thankful for that.

Linda says this sounds condescending to Bendites. Well, no. I'm glad we aren't scurrying around trying to grab the next hottest thing, today, now, this minute. We got better things to do.

But as a business I have to be aware. In the old days, I used to get a hot comic in, and my locals would ignore it. Then the out-of-towners would hit the store on the weekends, wipe me out of stock. Then the locals would finally get word, come in and find it all gone. I've learned to reserve a number of copies whenever possible for the locals. (Though, sometimes, I wish when I point out a 'hot' comic they would believe me....)

I just have to ignore all the talk of record days -- of other retailers talking about selling not just dozens of Buffy's and Capt. Americas, but HUNDREDS and THOUSANDS.

I've always had a suspicion that any new business coming to Bend, especially any business that has existed in a different market, must go through a period of shock as they realize that what happened in Portland and Seattle and even Eugene or Salem wasn't going to happen here. Add in new businesses, who almost always think that shopkeeping is all about ringing up sales at the cash register and it must be somewhat disillusioning. This is the one of the reasons that many businesses sell or go out of business -- not because they aren't technically profitable, it just isn't as busy and exciting as they thought it would be.

I've just heard of another potential high end dress shop opening downtown. That would be the 7th dress shop within a hundred yards of my store. Pretty crazy.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Yesterday, had a young family come in while we were in the midst of putting away our weekly shipment. A mom, a grandmom, and two kids, about 6 and 3 year old girls.

The 3 year old grabs a graphic novel off the shelf by the cover, and starts to wander around the store. I wince, but ignore it. The three year old then drops the book to the ground, and I see that the cardboard cover has been bent in half. I could:

A.) Ignore it, and hope the kid doesn't do any further damage. This is the Walmart solution. Employees are fired if they dare question a customer. Of course, Walmart can return the damaged product for full credit. We Can't.

B.) Get angry, demand that the mother buy the damaged book.

C.) Gently remove the book from the child's hand, and remark to the grandmother, "Comics aren't that cheap anymore. This book costs 8.00."

The mother can then do:

A. Apologize and offer the buy the book.

B. Apologize and tell the child to "Look but not Touch."

C. Get huffy, accuse you of being child unfriendly.

Obviously, since I'm writing this, you can guess what path the parent took.

It isn't surprising. Over the years, we've noticed that the kids who are most out of control have parents who exercise no discipline.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The graphs in today's Bulletin are interesting to me in what they show -- and what they don't show.

1.) Inventory is 3 times last year in February. Can't be a good thing. But ;

2.) Builders are slowing down. What isn't shown is how many homes are likely to come on the market in the spring, which were held back over the winter because;

3.) Houses obviously don't sell all that well in the winter, even in the best of times. Sales in February weren't very good over the last 3 years, even during the boom times.

4.) Prices have dropped.

None of these graphs look as bad as they really are; if you take the rate of growth over the last 3 years, the drop from potential was much worse. And undoubtedly, there were builders and real estaters who were betting on that rate of growth.

However, it's pretty clear to me that we are going to have to wait until summer to see what has happened. 3 months, reflected in a new graph. It doesn't look good; with the inventory, and with the number of houses that are still being built. And the national numbers are pretty bad.

Interestingly, whenever the subject comes up in the store, not only do customers not agree that there is a slowdown, or even a potential slowdown, but they seem surprised that anyone would think so.

Oh, I don't know. Anyone who reads the news?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Went to see the 300 yesterday.....and, I was afraid of this, I had a bit of a problem with it.

It was visually stunning; I loved the scenes with the shipwrecks, the charging rhino, the more fantastical, the better. The battle scenes flowed better than any I've ever seen. The movie captured the dynamic art of the graphic novel, and Miller and Varley's beautifully textured colors.


I said a couple of days ago that I thought it was unfair to judge a movie based on its politics. But what I wasn't realizing was, that in order the truly enjoy, or engage, in the emotional core of the movie, I would have to buy into the whole jingoistic mystique.

Oh, I could overlook that fact that the Spartans were slave-holding bastards and the Persians were relatively benevolent rulers. I could over look the pure whiteness of the Spartans vs the swarthy outsiders.

I just couldn't join in on the gung-ho nature of the Spartans, and without joining in I could really partake of the emotional core of the movie.

I think I'm just too old and jaded to go along with that.

I'm glad I saw it, and I'll probably buy it, but there is always going to be part of me that thinks its wrong headed. Not the sacrifice, but the rah rah nature of it.

Read a bunch more comics. Welcome to Tranquility, a town with retired superheroes and villians, and their out of control grandkids, and a murder. Battler Britton, just the first two, I guess not every Garth Ennis is great, boring standard WWII fighter ace story. Red Menace, McCarthism going after superheroes. Zombie, a Marvel comic, where it seems to be the standard new ending that everyone dies. Zombies...a different comic, with a few survivors. Then for a change, Bite Club, a book about vampire gansters in Miami. And then, Impaler, yep, about blood-suckers who are taking over N.Y.

Monday, March 12, 2007

My pop-culture mojo is coming back, slowly.

Read some more comics this weekend; The Other Side, a dark Vietnam story; Samurai -- pirates, samurai, and gratuitous nudity, what more could a guy want?; Sandman Mystery Theater, unnecessarily complicated, gave up after the second issue; Casanova, just as complicated, but for a good reason, time-space travel type confusion that is intriguing; Midnighter, I love my Garth Ennis, he just seem to always be fun to read, outrageous sensibility, and great story telling; and Crossing Midnight, dark Japanese looking art and story. Criminal, a noir story that was pretty good, but I especially liked the essays in back where creators talked about their favorite noir movies; Out of the Past, Point Blank, and mentioned a bunch of times, one of my favorites, Charley Varrick.

This is the only way I'm going to review most comics, books, or movies by the way-- one liners. I'll let other folk put in all the deep thought.

Finished a Micheal Connelly novel, Echo Park. Reliably good Harry Bosch story.

Went to see Bridge to Teribethia, which made me tear up. The second fantasy movie in a row (after Pan's Labyrinth), that showed the strength of imagination and fantasy in dealing with the harshness of life.

Going to see the 300, this afternoon.

After telling us last week that there was plenty of the graphic novel in stock, supposedly 14,000 copies with 15,000 coming in this week, it was announced they were gone.

They let it happen again; I'll tell you exactly what happened; Borders ordered 15,000 and Barnes and Noble ordered the other 14,000. They'll have them over the next month, sell the hell out of them, and returned all the sticky coffee stained and crumb caked smeared copes for credit.

Luckily, I didn't trust them and have plenty of copies in stock. But the comic industry is really going to need to figure out a way to keep the mass market from wiping us out any time they feel like it. For heaven's sake, we are here buying this stuff week after week, not just the week the movie comes out!

Added: Forgot to mention, started watching a Japanese live action movie from1966; Tokyo Drifter last night, and instead of going to bed, watched to the end. Now I know where Tarentino got his ideas for Kill Bill. Very funky 60's music and colors. Not as dated as most movies from that era are. (Was highly disappointed by Superfly, for instance, which I remembered as amazing, but fell flat.) I'm almost afraid to watch movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, Clockwork Orange, and Point Blank, which rocked my teenage world...What if they aren't as good? I know that when I recently watched the Wild Bunch, it was still a great movie, but not the world shifting movie I remember. So far, I've avoided putting it the test.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Both stores are at a point of dilemma. There is probably a word for it; Hobson's Choice, Catch-22, Prisoner's dilemma; I don't know what it is.

1.) the more business we do, the more we need help. the more help we need, the more business we need to do.

Let's say, to pick a nice round number (that isn't the real number) we make 500.00 a day. At that level, I can get most of my work accomplished, I come home and have a small amount of energy left over. It's enough that I can have a half-time employee, and also get a few days off here and there.

Everything over 500.00 becomes a bit more than one person can accomplish. At 600.00, I come home exhausted every night.

A full-time employee is probably needed. A full time employee at 10.00 an hour would cost me 1600.00 a month, plus taxes. Let's say, 1800.00 a month.

At 40% profit margins, I need to make another 4500.00 a month.

Even if I just increase the hours of the employee I have, who started at 20 hours a week, and has worked up to 30 hours a week, to a full 40 hours, I'm needing to do about 2250.00 a month better just to pay for the extra help. He doesn't want to work 40 hours, so I'm probably going to need to get another half-time employee, which increases the risk, but gives me a bit more flexibility in work shifts.

So, once I go over 500.00 a day in sales, and I need to hire an employee, I need to do closer to 600.00 a day to just break even.

So I'm working harder, taking more risk, and making the same amount of money.

Linda's store is undergoing similar growing pains.

So I can put my nose to the grindstone, just figure I'm going to be exhausted all the time, but take the money. Or I can hire an employee, kick back a little, and not make any money. It seems to be an ongoing dilemma.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Quirkiest Book Organization of any bookstore in existence.

Oh, I have your normal books. When you come in, you'll see a book rack full of literary fiction and non-fiction, in the middle of the store, and just below that young adult novels, below that mysteries. On the other side of the book rack I have science fiction and fantasy.

The selection is somewhat quirky, but recognizable. I tend to be heavy on the 'beat' authors, (Kerouac, Burroughs), the 'hippy' authors, (Robbins and Hunter S. Thompson) the newer hip authors (who I refer to as the McSweeney crowd, because they all publish in that literary magazine; the Dave Eggers, the Chuck Paliniuks, the David Sedaris's.) But I also have the Kite Runners and the Memory Keeper's Daughters. Anything I consider good.

In my mysteries, I tend to focus on the classics, the Dashiel Hammetts, the Raymond Chandlers, the James Ellroy's, the Agatha Christies, but I also have the Janet Evanovich's, and the Sue Graftons.

In the science fiction and fantasy, I carry the Tolkiens, the Heinleins, etc. but I also go heavy on the Harlan Ellisons, the Philip K. Dicks, the H.P. Lovecrafts.

But still, within a normal range.

On the left, as you come in the door, it becomes a little more strange.

First Shelf: 'Real Life Graphics'. Graphic novels about Palestine, and Bosnia, and Iran, etc.

2). Pulp art and pulp fiction.

3 & 4). Faeryland. Gnomes, dwarves, fairies, etc.

5 & 6). Fantasy Art.

7). Hollywood and Noir.

8). Cartoon non-fiction. Cartoon Histories, or books illustrating Darwin or Einstein.

9). New Yorker type cartoonish. Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, Shel Silverstein, Jules Feiffer. etc.

10 & 11). Weird and surrealistic modern art, journals, note cards.

12). Pop Culture; Tiki art, Shag art, etc.

13.) Ninja's, Samurai, and Geisha.

14.) Robots and Westerns

15. Vampires and Werewolves

16 . Zombies

17. Pirates

18. Dragons and Dinosaurs

19). Books about Central Oregon and Bend.

In the back,

20-50) . Manga.

On the far right, as you come in the door, shelves and shelves of art books, a pop-up books shelf, a couple of shelves of Euro-art and graphics.

This doesn't count the whole other half of the store, which consists of used books in the front and comics and graphic novels in the back.

I'm starting to think of myself as a bookstore (no matter how quirky) that carries comics and graphic novels; rather than a comic store carrying books. But the differences are narrowing, as books like The 300, The History of Violence, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Road to Perdition, Ghostworld, Sin City, Preacher, Sandman (and Stardust), and many more move front and center in pop-culture.

It's kind of cool. I never thought it would happen.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The 300 looks like one of those movies that critics either love or hate. Sigh. Well it's not like I'm not going to see it. But the negative reviews seem to be more about the political or social message of the movie than the quality of the movie making. Pretty strange; if I like the movie, does that mean I agree with throwing deformed babies over cliffs? That I love war?

The one criticism I've seen that is inherent to the movie is that it is too perfect, almost sterile. O.K. I see how that might be a problem. But I'm not exactly going to see the 300 for the subtleness of the emotions, anymore than I went to see the Sin City. Its the style, baby. Maybe I'll come back from it hating it, but I suspect the visuals are enough to get me.

Interestingly, those critics who hated the movie went out of their way to praise Frank Miller's graphic novel, as if to say, they ain't snobs. But the message in the graphic novel is the same as the message in the movie, if maybe not quite so visceral.

Captain America is still dead. They're going to do an autopsy in the next issue. Eeeww.

There's outrage among my fellow retailers that we were caught off guard. And it is pretty useless not to have any copies for sale when we need them. But the flack wouldn't have happened if word had leaked out, and it was pure luck that it was a slow news day. Completely unpredictable. So my 15 copies went onto the shelves of people who pre-ordered it. None left over, and no decisions to make about who gets it. I'm just as glad; takes the decisions out of my hands. Some of it was my bad, because there was enough warning to take action. But Marvel has an unfortunate tendency to hype just about EVERY comic, so it's hard to weed through that.

Reorders are supposed to show up, though I'm confused about how that is going to happen. Marvel is telling me that I can make 'direct' reorders this 'evening' so that we'll have copies available next week when it might do us some good. But all those who put in regular reorders will have had almost 2 1/2 days to make regular reorders (that would show up in two weeks when the demand is probably gone.) What to do. What to do. I've already reordered 18 copies, and I'll make another 20 copies reorder tonight, but I suspect I'm going to eat some of these, or not get them.

My theory. Lots of readers were pissed off that the bad guys seemed to win. Tony Stark, authoritarian figure wins over champion of freedom, Captain America. But this could be a starting point to an interesting story. Captain America is not dead (duh.) and he will be leading the opposition (the insurgency, if you will.) I doubt Marvel has the guts to follow the political ramifications all the way through, but it could get interesting.....

Meanwhile, we also got our Dark Tower 2, gorgeous, gorgeous comic; and Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness, which sounds like a fun read.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

My employee, Patrick, doesn't read this blog. "Hey, I have to listen to you all day at the store!"

So I feel safe in saying, I don't mind paying more than minimum wage. Really, the big step is having an employee at all; after that, a dollar or two more per hour isn't THAT big a deal. I suspect most businesses pay as little as they can and still keep the employee on board. The mass market has a formula, I'm certain, where the minimum wage cog is plugged in to replace the last minimum wage cog. Interchangeable and always changing. Keep the job so simple any moron -- or untrained newbie -- can do it.

My store is way too complicated to have cogs. It takes three months minimum just to get an employee up to speed. So I'd rather keep my employee happy, if possible, so I don't have to constantly retrain. I'm lucky in that I have a store that lots of people would like to work at.

My problem in retaining employees isn't pay. It's that no matter what I do, a job at Pegasus is a transition job for younger people. I used to think I might be able to find a full-time , long-term employee. But I found that no matter how I configured the job, no matter the responsibilities and wages and benefits, no matter that the employee himself or herself wanted to take the job seriously, the family and friends would pressure to employee to get a "real" job or to "go to school." Young people in their twenties are in a transitional time in their lives.

So wages for me are an appropriate reward to work and responsibility. Not a way to retain employees and keep their loyalty. I've given up on that.

I don't buy into the notion that having to pay a higher minimum wage is onerous for employers.

I always vote for school funding. Period. I don't have any kids in schools, but so what? I was told for years that I would change my mind when I owned my own house and had to pay property taxes.

Well, no. I've owned a house for three years now, and I haven't changed my mind whatsoever. Not voting for public works is selfish. I've heard all the arguments about 'waste' -- yeah, well, that will never end. I don't want to get into a political argument about it with anyone. I'm just going to keep voting for the general good. The same way I'll keep buying from local owners, and pay the extra 'tax' of higher prices. It may hurt in the short run, but I'm convinced the the commonweal is better served by people who are willing to give back a little.

People tell me that can't afford to not buy from Wal-mart, they can't afford to pay property taxes, then they get in the gigantic S.U.V.'s; flip open their cell phone, and go out to dinner. Again, I call bullshit.

I don't see how we can have a culture of conspicuous consumption, and then complain about prices.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Topps has sold to Micheal Eisner, of Disney fame. A noted bastard and media hound. Hey, this might be good! The collectible card market is so moribund, that he almost can't make it any worse, and maybe his fame will help publicize it. The hedge fund operators who were trying to take over the company are objecting. Hard to pick a side there....

Meanwhile, Topps has announced a Hollywood Zombies card set, which sounds like fun. Might be the new Garbage Pail Kids, if they don't pull any punches. (Interestingly, the new Garbage Pail Kids seem just a little more P.C. than the old ones, when you contrast the two.)

I've created a Zombie shelf at my store. The next specialized shelf is going to be Pirates. I'm hoping to fit in a Robots and then a Dragons shelf, and perhaps a Ninja/Samurai shelf. Just for fun.

Captain America is dead. Or so they're saying. Getting Captain America #25 this afternoon. Of course, I didn't order many. Marvel announces that something "significant" is coming out, and to be sure and order a bunch, you get it in, and it's lame. I've become immune to the hype. So occasionally I get caught short; better than eating lots of issues. (As someone said, next thing you know they'll kill Superman! No....wait....)

300. It's looking really good. A added bonus is that the director, Zach Snyder wants to do Watchmen next. One of the greatest graphic novels ever created; no, hell, it IS THE greatest graphic novel. (It was #100 on the list of this centuries Greatest Novels; the only graphic novel to make the list.)

Saw Ghostrider. About what I expected; I mean, what can you do with an idea like that?

I was raving about my Snow Giants statue, then had one of my customers want it. So I sold it to him. Firm rule in my store -- customers get it first. I was able to reorder it, I think. Never know until it shows up.

I really must stop buying expensive Art Books. Not because they aren't cool, but I have no room to show them off. An art book spine out is like a painting with a drape over it.

I just realized, god help me, that I have access to music and movies through my distributor Baker and Taylor. So far, I haven't accessed it. I am going to order Arcade Fire and the Shins in my new effort to keep up with new music. Thinking about ordering a few classic S.F. films. like Blade Runner and Army of Darkness. Budget? What budget?

Another one bites the dust. The wine shop on Wall Street is gone, to be replaced by a restaurant. Because, you know, we don't have enough restaurants downtown.

Some of the shops I pass every day to and from my car, I've NEVER seen anyone in. The other day, I saw some middle-aged women coming out of a shop, and thought to myself, O.K. I can't say it about that shop anymore; then I heard one of the woman say to the other: "False Alarm; not our kind of stuff...."

My biggest invoice ever, today. I'm giving myself permission to take two days to get it put away, instead of one. I put way too much pressure on myself, sometimes. All I can see is that something can't sell if it isn't stocked; but it is nearly impossible to do in one day ordinarily. No way I can do it at this volume.

That it: Need to scare off the woodpickers who are wacking my house....

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The media seems to be full of bad economic news; meanwhile, Pegasus isn't feeling it much. Not sure it would in any case; comics shops often do well in bad economic times. My sales tend to go up or down due to trends in my particular and peculiar part of the world, rather than because of overall economic conditions. The major exception, of course, was the depression that Bend went through in the early 80's. Still, I think it's early in the cycle, especially for Bend. The pain signals haven't reached the brain yet.

My wife's store continues onward and upward. Makes me feel like we're much less dependent on how Pegasus does. Takes a bit of the load off. It's also reassuring in that the used book business just seems incredibly stable. I've decided that I have to back off sorting books at The Bookmark. I just have to let her and Kent and our friend Cameron take care of that. I've got my own store to sort. (I'll still bop by every day to see what came in, but resist putting books away.) I've been proud of myself for not interfering in her business decisions; though I can't seem to keep from hovering in a worried sort of way.

My major job, for the next few years, is to stick to budget. As boring as that. Stick to budget, and I succeed. Give in to my impulses and I fail.

Great example this week. I'd sent my reorders off early Monday. Then had three different people come in and buy Sin City books. Now, I'd thought 300 would sell, so I'm well stocked on that. I also got a nice consignment deal out of DC to put Frank Miller's Batman stuff out for sale. But I suddenly realized I was going to run out of Sin City books on 300's opening weekend, as well as not have any for a 'Frank Miller' display. So I ordered multiple copies, plus restocked on the super evergreens, Sandman, Preacher to reach minimum shipping. And, just like that, I've gone 250.00 over budget.

Good excuse, right? There's always a good excuse.

I've often wished I could have a CFO of some kind, who would issue me a check each week to spend. But it wouldn't work, unless I gave him legal control, and I'm not about to do that. I asked my wife to do it once, years ago, and she just laughed: "You can be very convincing...."she said. And it's true, I would weedle and conjole until I got my way. It comes back to me, and my own self-discipline.

So far, I went 100.00 over the first week; 100.00 over the second week; and it looks like this week, probably about 500.00 over. (I've yet to make my game order, so I knew I was going over by a couple of hundred, already.)

I just have to take it week to week. Try again next Monday.

All very mundane, but it's the most important issue in my business, right now.