Monday, March 31, 2008

Had a young lady in the store last week, who has been a customer for years. She recently moved to the valley, and started reading books on her parents' bookshelf.

She finished a book called SNOWCASTLES, and realized it was autographed. Wait.....I know this guy! She went to her mother, is this the Duncan from Pegasus? Why didn't anyone tell me?

Anyway, she was very effusive in her compliments. (She's a very effusive person...) But I do think she genuinely liked it. She started asking me questions about characters and plot, and we both realized she knew more about the book than I did. It's been 30 years, after all. I can't read my own writing....all I see are all the flaws.

Anyway, it once again affirms my observation that every time I've run into someone who really, really liked one of my books, no bullshit, I can tell they really liked it, it was someone who hadn't met me yet.

One of those weird, author's voice, credibility issues. They know me, and it suddenly becomes less impressive somehow. I know I'm the same way.

I didn't talk much about my books for 20 years or so. I really don't want to hear if you don't like it, frankly, or have to embarrass someone into saying something like...."oh, it was interesting."

You know, it's not really a inferiority complex. I think my books for the right age and right person are right on. (My 17 year old self.) Just one of those things. So most people don't even know I did it.

Best of all is when someone finds it themselves, and reads it without any preconceptions and likes it.

Gives me a charge every time.
Built bookshelves for the BookMark all day yesterday. And excavated the piles of boxes of books that had accumulated in the back room. I love doing that. 80% of it is the same stuff we already have, but there is that 20% that are prizes, something new, something interesting. Something that probably very few bookstores currently have, even big ones like Powell's.

(Read this to Linda...her comment: "I built the bookcases." O.K. Well, I helped put the books away. err....the fun part.)

I think it's the unusual, the quirky books that gives a store its distinction. In a sense, even though the two stores have very different approaches and strategies, both the BookMark and Pegasus have ended up reflecting me and Linda's impulse to try to make them interesting. I'm absolutely delighted to find a book called Weather, for instance, that is....about weather zones. We call a lot of these books "wall books" because they don't fit any particular category and are displayed on the wall.

One thing that has absolutely amazed me, is the sheer number of titles that have been produced in the last 50 years in the U.S. The idea that most books never will come through the door, and a huge number will only come in once. Every box seems to have a couple of prizes. One of my little battles with Linda and Kent is to make them look beyond initial 'this is old and beat up' reaction, to look closer at the author and subject matter. For instance, to get a 1958 book on Navigation. Too cool. Or a beat up copy of a Pearl S. Buck book. The classics just keep on selling, the Hemingway's, Fitzgerald's, but also lesser known classics, like Stendhal or Thomas Hardy.

These are books that make a store unique, that make it worth visiting. It took time, but after 4.5 years we've got a nice selection of unusual books.

I've also been fascinated by the morphing of the categories. We started with some fairly loose categories, which seemed to work very well. Mysteries, S.F. and Fantasy, Romance, Westerns, and Horror -- these were fairly obvious.

Fiction was interesting. Linda didn't really like the old, beat up copies of fiction, she felt they made the newer fiction look tacky, too. I, on the other hand, thought they were important. We reached a compromised that turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. We have the newer fiction facing the door, and then on the back side we have what we call 'Vintage' fiction.

Over time, the Mystery section and the S.F. sections got bigger, the Fiction section got bigger. We separated out Poetry books and Literary Non-fiction. Memoirs got separated from Autobiography/ Biography (roughly speaking, autobiographies tend to be by famous people, and Memoirs are more thematic.) We separated out 'Historical' fiction. Christian fiction became a big seller.

Linda has insisted on a World Religion section that has been hard to fill, next to the Christian section which is always overflowing. She sometimes gets remarks like, why do you have this section? if only Christianity counts.

We eventually settled on a Planes, Trains, Boats and Automobiles bookcase.

We started with a Science bookcase, but we added a Philosophy category, and eventually a Sociology/Anthropology section. We eventually divided out an Environment section from our Camping, Hunting, and Outdoor section. And we have two whole shelves of 'Sex' books. (err....not porn.....)

We created a West section, as distinct from Westerns, and this includes local, Oregon, and frontier material.

Our Cold Weather (mountain climbing, arctic exploration) became an Adventure category.

We created a Foreign Language shelf.

There is a Sport category and a Political category.

There is the Arts and Entertainment division, the Reference, (just about anything informational), Gardening (a nice selection), Cooking (a nice selection), Humor, Education (home schooling), and Home Improvement and Decorating.

We have a never ending supply of books that tell you how to get magically thin and healthy (Diet and Health) , that tell you how the magically get rich (Business), or magically emotionally, mentally, or spiritually well adjusted (Psychology, Self-Help, and Metaphysical).

Since mankind has never been particularly Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise...these categories will always thrive.

We eventually gave Pregnancy and Baby books their own shelf.

History books are an important part of the store, and we are always looking for more good history books. Anyone reading this? Bring in History books.....(for credit of course....)

Travel books and Animal books. We have a final, kind of everything else bookcase -- crafts, antiques, Christmas, quilting, guides, etc. etc.

And of course the audio books. We have a 3.00 Bookclub books section, and a 1.00 Hdc and .50 pbk Knockabout books.

I think that is about every category. We try to fit everything into one of them, though it can sometimes be difficult to categorize a book.

Oh....and Children's and Young Adult!!! (Linda reminded me....) And coffee table books, and her orphan red-headed stepchildren books on a trolley. We sell a huge number of books off our New Books table. And a kind of Nostalgia section behind the counter of old books.

I tried to do a mental visit to the store, and I still missed stuff, so no doubt I still left a couple of categories out. Here I was going to brag about how we distilled books into a few categories, and then the list seems endless.

Anyway, if you haven't been into the BookMark lately, you might give us another visit. We're constantly getting new books, constantly increasing the variety, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A few days ago, I got my sport card industry trade publication, CARD TRADE. A pale, wispy shadow of its former steroidal self; all of 25 pages, thinner than a comic book. This thing used to be newspaper sized, a couple of hundred pages. All of them full of bullshit.

Around 1992, just as cards were reaching their 1.5 billion dollar peak, my own sales started going south. Everyone and their uncle were opening stores, and the mass market took a huge chunk of it away from me. Everyone seemed to be selling cards at cost or below. Everyone seemed to be selling tons of stars, but I couldn't figure out how they were getting them at a price that would allow them to sell so cheaply. Stupidly, I tried racing the competition to the bottom. I was bleeding red ink.

No one else would even admit there was something wrong. A couple of years later, when the market did start collapsing, I would open the CARD TRADE and it would be one booster article after another, one letter exhorting positive thinking after another. It was as if every letter was written by Norman Vincent Peale. No one thought there was problem, except a few negative fellows like me. Cards are great, this is just a small downturn, don't worry about it!

But what about the crooked dealers? I'd ask. How can this stuff be cheaper than cost? Why is the mass market getting it sooner, cheaper and better than us? Where is all this headed?

Silence. Nothing. Crickets chirping. And then the clamor would start up again. Every thing's great! We just need to stay positive!

But what about the ever increasing price of cards? The fact that we have to pay in advance for more cards than we really need, which results in the constant dumping at cards shows?

Silence. Tumbleweeds. And then the clamor would start up again. Wow, aren't we in a great industry? I just love doing this for the kids! Come and get them!

It was so strange that I just stood back and said to myself, I'm getting out of here.

I just went my own way, started getting out from under. I began charging full price, and sales fell off the table. But, strangely, I stopped losing money. I began diversifying, refocusing on comics.

The latest survey in the CARD TRADE has over half of the dealers (last report, under 1000 of them, from a peak of 15 thousand or so) reporting pessimistic views about the future of cards. Now, you have to understand, just about any retailer is on the optimistic side of things. For over half of the stores to be pessimistic, especially the not known for being analytical sports card dealers -- well, the industry is just pretty much finished.

They sold 230 million last year, so about one 5th of the peak. But that is extremely misleading. In 1992, probably 70% of the cards were being sold by card shops and 30% by the mass market. That has probably completely reversed.

In 1992, the average pack cost about 1.50 and had 12 cards.

Now the average pack costs about 5.00 and has 6 cards.

Interestingly, most of them haven't found the internet their savior. Shows have all but disappeared. Most of them are now buying from wholesalers, instead of direct. (I was the first full time dealer I know of to go this route.) Despite every one's idea of what cards are; even now, the majority of cards selling are THIS years; even now over 70% of cards sold by dealers are sold in a shop, not online.

I remember saying out loud to another dealer -- "Cards have no where to go but down, and they're never coming back." He laughed at me, but the last time I heard he was working at Walmart.

The thing I find most interesting -- the CARD TRADE has never really examined the effect of the mass market on sales. They are willing to point a finger at internet 'dumping'. One simple reason -- the manufacturers chose to pursue the mass market in favor of the small dealer; and guess who buys the advertising?

Imagine if you will, an industry that never had any thoughtful critics; never had any blogs like BB2 or the BEBB. Never had a contrary opinion that wasn't shouted down. Imagine if the real estate people were the only one's talking, and Cascade Business News was the only news outlet.

And then -- look at how that turned out. A dysfunctional, still not dealing with the root problems, lousy reputation, rock bottom industry.
I have been doing my monthly orders this weekend. Even cutting as close as I could, I still had an increase in Marvel orders. The editors at Marvel are geniuses at tying titles together, making me order material that is tangential to the stuff I really want. I think it's a dangerous strategy in the long term, tending to burn customers out. But then again, they've been doing it for years.

DC tries to do the same thing. I like the quality of DC comics a bit more, especially the Vertigo line, but they are really bad at tying their main titles together. It actually seems to hurt them in the short run.

I always had an incentive to order more DC than I actually needed because of their discount levels. Marvel had levels much higher, and I wouldn't even try. Then a few years ago, Marvel went to a rolling discount, taking into count the reorders over the course of a year. DC and the rest of the comic universe froze their discount levels, with the intention of doing the same thing. Years discount level has risen by 4% points with Marvel, which is now higher than my DC level. I have absolutely no incentive to order extra DC comics, because my discount stays the same.

Somehow, especially in Bend, Marvel just seems to have a way with creating Events that interest more people. This spring it is SECRET INVASION; it seems that the Skrulls (shape-shifting aliens) have been infiltrating the Marvel Universe for some time now. Who will turn out to be Skrulls? What happened to the original characters?

Even I'm kind of curious, and that probably means my Marvel Maniacs are going to be all over it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Trader Joes. No comment.

Pregnant Guy. No comment.

Roundabout Art. I kind of like the metal circle, 'Lodestar.'

Clinton coming to Bend High. I was there when Robert Kennedy visited. Even though my Mom was head of the McCarthy campaign (and 'Mothers For Peace') I got caught up in the excitement and shook his hand about 3 times. My friend Wes, who was for Nixon, and I stood on the front seats and shouted and raised Nixon and McCarthy signs and were annoying. (Wes isn't going to like me telling this -- but we were young enough to be 'for' whoever our parents were 'for'.) Felt almost sorry for Kennedy. Call it charisma, there was a mania around him all the time. He lost Oregon, by the way. And then went to California. .........(Gong of foreboding.........)

Nixon sent his two daughters, and we crashed the event at the Pine Tavern. When I came up to shake hands, Julie looked down at my tennis shoes where I had inked in a big "L" and a big "R" and thought that was pretty funny. Called her sister, (Tricia?), over and they had a big laugh, and I stood there, half embarrassed, half pleased, like a little dufus. Really deserved that. Can't believe I had that much gall back then.

Yesterday I had a real pang of nostalgia, because even with snow on the ground, I had an image of my Mom in her windbreaker racking the leaves away from the daffodil buds.

The location across from my wife's Bookmark is for sale. 7,000 sq. ft. I wish I had 2.35 Million to also is the 15th or 16th spot for sale or rent on Greenwood. Meanwhile, all the vacant spots on Minnesota are now filled. It took 3 months for the Wild Women location to be taken, which is about 3 months longer than normal, but still pretty quick.

J.C. Penny announces lower forecasts. I suspect we'll hear a bunch of this, with a couple of jokers who will (probably by manipulating stats) announce an unexpected increase. Stock goes up, insiders sell out. But I think most will dump all those bad debts and stuff into an acknowledged period of recession.

Not to worry. They're about the create a black hole at CERN in Geneva that will destroy us all.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Barnes and Nobles and Borders and Books-a-Million are all reporting lower sales. And, if you scratch under the surface just a little, the news is even worse. For instance, they all got a huge boost in sales (if not profits) from Harry Potter last year. No more of those coming....

I'm not the least surprised. I think the whole model of building more and more, bigger and bigger, and filling them with more and more books, had to reach a breaking point eventually. Yes, they have a ton of books -- BUT THEY ARE ALL THE SAME BOOKS! Books McDonald.

There are some systemic flaws that no one is talking about, but which are almost guaranteed to catch up to them.

The return system.

If you can just return unsold books, there is no real discipline in how many you order. This has been punishing the publishers for quite a while now. Magazines, especially, are built on a false premise that all these millions of slick pages are actually being read, if only to have coffee spilled all over them. A few magazines have been caught recently with inflating their sales; but they're desperate. The return percentages are astronomically higher than they used to be.

If advertisers ever catch on.

But the mega-bookstores are just having done to them by Amazon and the internet what they did to the independent bookstore. The big record stores are having similar problems, after doing in the independent record stores. Toy R Us has been crushed by Walmart, after doing in the independent toy stores. Card shops were doomed from the moment Target noticed cards, and so on and so on.

Comics have hung on because no one has figured out how to create a nationwide chain, and they never quite penetrated the chainstores. Graphic novels have made it much easier than comics for a Barnes and Nobles to carry the stuff; and this seems to be the fondest desire of the comic shop haters. (What! You don't have (the most obscure, out-of-date title imaginable) in stock? Worthless comic shop! I'll just get it online!)

So the news that Barnes and Nobles might purchase Borders sent these consumers into rapture. See, Borders has a more progressive policy toward graphic novels than B & N.

And then someone pointed out: what is more likely, that the bigger store will adopt the failing store's policies, or the other way around?

Oh. oops.

Meanwhile, I have a sneaking suspicion that the independents are on their way back. Any species that is stressed by the environment will end up with the hardiest survivors, who will then reproduce. I think we're at that stage -- even with the continued pressures of the mass market, even with continually increasing pressures of the internet. I believe that the survivors have figured out ways to get by.

There is the occasional extinct species; railroad and model hobby stores, sport cards shops, but others are starting to become hardy hybrids; record stores actually starts selling records again, sells dvd's; bookstores become more and more unique, instead of duking it out selling the latest best-seller.

Just a few years ago, there were 7500 different indy bookstores making independent decisions about what to stock. Then you had Barnes and Nobles and Borders who all carried the same thing, because they have corporate buyers. I do believe that diversity is the key to the survival of any species; and 7000 different buyers is healthier for publishers and consumers than two.

Don't get me wrong. It'll probably never get back to the way it used to be. It will take a very long time for independent to regain market share.

But I actually believe it's possible.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

We've made enough money to pay back the credit charges for this current month, plus the credit charges I didn't pay last month. (When I saw how bad January was, I made partial payments so I would have some cash. Fortunately, February was much better.) And it looks as though, with spring break this week, I might have a little beyond that.

But even more importantly to me, I've already made the first half of next month much more manageable, and hopefully set a precedent I can follow the rest of the spring.

I can now safely say that I've gone 3 weeks without reorders, except for special orders. This was hard for me, and I can't remember the last time I did it. It's in line with quitting smoking, or going on a strict diet.

My usual strategy in the spring is to allow myself to fall behind, to keep the flow of product even, to use the off season to establish new product lines. Then I spend most of summer catching back up. Ditto fall and Christmas.

I've decided that it is time, once and for all, to turn that around. To get a cushion ahead in Summer and Christmas, instead of catching up. Which requires that I spend the 'off' season not falling behind.

It's actually easier to do when there is a slowdown. When business is steadily increasing, risk is covered, mistakes are ameliorated. I tend to spend every dime, because at worse, I seem to break even. But when business is slowing, risk suddenly comes out of the bottom line, and mistakes sit there like big stinking turds. Therefore, I'm much more disciplined, and often actually make a little money.

I've never found a real plateau situation, where I could just maintain. It seems that my business at least is either growing, or ebbing, like the tides. Macro events, like recessions, and micros events like 'hot' product. I have to go with the flow. Trying to grow business in ebbing situations , is pushing the wet noodle.

It's not like I haven't done this strategy before. Those seven years I keep talking about while I was paying off my debt, I had zero backup funds and zero credit and could take zero risk. I more or less didn't reorder anything for those whole seven years. I got my fresh material every week, like a fresh white layer of snow, and would sell it off before it got dark and crusty, and then get the next layer.

Not an optimal way to grow business, but when every product you carry is having systemic problems, there isn't much else you can do. For instance, I might have a title that would sell 8 copies if I ordered 10. I would order 7 copies, and sell out 100% of the time. Zero risk -- but also zero chance that title can grow. But if I sell the 8th copy, and then just one more, my bet is covered.

I'm more than willing to take that bet when I perceive interest to be growing.

But I think I've gotten a bit spoiled over the last 5 years, indulgent even. I was not only ordering a bunch of material upfront, but was reordering just about everything that sold. I ordered stuff that caught my whim. I ordered stuff off of sale lists. I added new product lines, and then made sure that every product line was fully stocked all the time.

In a sense, I revved up every single category to the highest level I could. Over the last year I've been trying to gauge the cruising speed.

Around this time last year, I stopped adding new product lines. This wasn't so much discipline as facing the fact that I didn't have another inch to spare. Adding new books and board games required a lot of ingenuity to fit them in, but I managed.

Then early in the summer, I tried to disengage from my strategy of reordering just about everything that sold -- not entirely successfully, because I still wasn't all that worried, despite all my talk of housing busts and such.

Then, around August of last year, it seemed that the psychology began to change. In hindsight, I can see that I was due a small sales drop because I simply wasn't adding new product lines all the time, and then the credit crunch came along.

So, slowly, against my will, I've been trying to get leaner and meaner without subtracting from the store's appeal.

It's very hard for me to shift my thinking, like establishing a new habit. But once I do, it's equally hard the shift back. I've always thought the trick is to weather the downturns without losing money, indeed, using it as an opportunity to get cash ahead since more inventory isn't as useful, and then be primed and ready for the next upsurge; cash would be king, cash would be multiples of leverage.

It's really about the timing. It is better to be a little too early on the downside, and a little too late on the upside, when it comes to risk management.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm taking a bit more time off than usual, as some of you may have noticed. Thing is, I have a well-trained manager in place, who I'm paying I think a good wage, and to whom I made a commitment through the summer. I'm thinking he'll go to school in the fall. I'm not sure I can afford him at these rates forever, but....well, if he decided that's what he wanted to do. I'm not sure I would encourage him that way, though. He's young. He's smart. He probably ought to go to college.

Anyway, I'm paying him whether I'm there or not, so I figure I'll take advantage of the next six months or so and take some time off. So I'm a little slower getting there, a little faster leaving.

Meanwhile, after talking about writer's group last week, I didn't make it to the latest session myself. I guess Dave came, introduced himself as a 'blogger', so I wish I had gone. I hope he'll come back; selfishly, I'm writing a bit more nowadays, more or less without fanfare. I want to be a bit further along before I start reading, because no matter how well prepared I am for critique, even mild criticism can knock me off course. But if I'm far enough along, I can shake it off. I find that it really is a motivation to get something ready to read; it forces me to work a little harder knowing that someone is going to hear it, and once I get going, I like to keep it going.

Got a call from Lyle at Jake's telling me that my Dad was stranded. My and my wife usually take him to his coffee clatch twice a week, and my sister, Tina, usually picks him up. But Tina is visiting her daughter, Mattie, in Chicago this week and my Dad forgot to get a ride from one of the other Drs. Lyle even volunteered to drive him home, "I like your Dad," he said. That was really nice, but fortunately Linda was available and got him.

But we'll never hear to end of it. Every visit from now on will include an admonishment from Dad not to "forget."

Comments on News: The Bulletin seems to be moderating, just slightly, it's bonzo boosting of the news. Throw out the first and last paragraphs, and take all the quotes from the local real estate industry with a shaker of salt, and you get some news.

The Bulletin did what every other single news outlet I saw or heard yesterday did: take on face value that idea that downward prices had sold more houses last month. Whereas, I believe it was just a seasonal uptick; we're still down 29% from last year on the same month.

And about asking the businesses around Cooley Road to pitch in on the costs: you do realize, don't you, that you are going to enable the super Walmart to become your neighbor?

I read an article a couple of years ago where Walmart was talking about selling cars, or something like that, and they quoted an executive: "Why not?" he said, or something like that. "We can sell anything."

Just remember that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I think there is going to be so much dust kicked up in the air this spring that no one will really know what's going on. Sometime in mid-fall, the dust will settle.

I expect a surge, because it's spring, because prices are finally starting to moderate. But we need more than a spring buying surge, we need an all-encompassing wave, a re-inflation of the bubble, which isn't going to happen because of the credit markets.

Meanwhile, all the builders are rushing to finish projects while there is even a glimmer of hope. Because of the way these developments are financed, some will be mothballed, but others will be finished because the money has already been spent.

The real estate insiders have been given their marching orders. Let no 'negative' article go unchallenged, but are doing themselves and their industry a disservice. There is already a huge rumble of dissatisfaction in areas of the country like California where this happened, and people caught the falling knives.

Besides, as I've said before, it's really the credit market that will dictate what happens. And the national media will fill the local news vacuum.

Plus there are pesky blogs like Bendbubble2; Paul-doh got over 600 remarks with his last entry, even if half of them were about blowjobs. And the Source had 2400 views of it's last Wandering Eye column about the subject. Still, the majority of people who are going to feel strongly enough to show up for the COTV show are going to be real estate people -- who's job depends on it. Me? I'm just curious and bemused and trying to get my own business positioned correctly.

The Bulletin is being so tin-eared and hamfisted about the subject, that I think it's going to backfire. Even today, they are trying to paint some rosey lips on a pretty ugly hog. Housing sales ticked up 2% last month -- from January. But it was still down 29% on the West coast from last year.

That's the dust they're throwing in your eye, hoping you won't realize that no matter how bad it gets, there are still going to be some months better than other months. This spring will, indeed, have more activity. Without a doubt.

Unfortunately, it's like a restaurant with 100 seating, getting a surge of 10 diners instead of 5. Won't be enough.

The stock market? That is a whole nother world, as far as I'm concerned. An alien world, with gibberish language and unknowable logic.

Unfortunately, just as the big real estate promotional campaigns were gearing up, Bear Stearns fell apart, and that was a pretty big blow to consumer confidence. Job losses are going to be an even bigger blow. Job losses, and downsizing, have been happening for awhile now. What we're seeing now is the Jack Lalanne delusion part where padded clothing can no longer hide the dreadful muscle loss.

So in the biggest cliche I can offer you -- pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. In reality, all he has to offer you is some lame of hot air balloon that will take off without you.

But if you truly believe, click your heels together three times.

"The Best Time to Buy in 20 Years. The Best Time to Buy in 20Years. The Best Time to Buy in 20 Years."

If it works, let me know. I've got this idea for a development.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another couple of comic shop 'hating' articles online. I just don't have the heart to read them. What they say may even be true. Though I think there has to be just as many bad bookstores, record stores, shoe stores, whatever.

It smacks of self-loathing, somehow.

Comic shops are usually underfunded, run by aging fanboys, and sell product that attracts a certain type of clientele.

Meanwhile, one of the two writers absolutely falls over over himself to extol the virtues of an independent bookstore that carries....gasp!....50 graphic novels!

That I don't get. I carry something like 6000 graphic novels, but I suspect the writer still prefers the social status of the actual bookstore to any comic shop no matter what the reality.

Like I said, it smacks of self-loathing.

Actually, I think we're making slow progress toward cultural acceptance. Very, very slooooowwww progress.

I'm reading Road to Paradise by Max Allen Collins, which is the third book in a trilogy that started with Road to Perdition, then Road to Purgatory.

But I wonder how many people know that Road to Perdition was a graphic novel? Yes, the Tom Hanks movie was based on a comic.

There is a story that when the David Cronenberg filmed History of Violence, he wasn't aware until well into the process that it was a graphic novel. Supposedly, he said, "If I'd known that it was a comic book I never would've taken on the project."

Someday I'm going to take on the task of listing all the movies made from comics; especially the ones that no one suspects.

Some everyone knows, like Spider-man and Batman. Others most people know, like Sin City and 300. Still others, people can make a vague connection, like Hellboy or Mystery Men. Others, like Ghostworld and V for Vendetta, probably very few people know. There are dozens of minor movies that were comics first; The Fountain; Tank Girl; Constantine. Actually, it's a huge number of movies.

Want to get a movie made out of your book? Write a graphic novel instead, and your odds went up.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Stigma in falling behind on my credit cards for two months in 1997?

Not by a long shot.

I knuckled under and paid it back in full. When we went to Consumer Credit Counseling, they had these little 'brownie' point stickers all over the wall, telling us how much people had paid back.

Our debt -- my debt, because I incurred it to save my business -- was higher than anyone on the wall, by a magnitude.

But here's the thing. I did it for selfish reasons -- I wanted to keep the store. I needed, to save the store. Sure, I wanted to pay back the money I owed, but by the time I went to CCC, I'd already paid back so much interest and penalties that they'd probably got the original money, plus a bonus. But, whatever, I was determined to get out of debt.

I also did it, because by then I thought I knew enough about business that I could get Pegasus to become profitable enough to do it.

So, literally, 40% of my gross profit went to debt for 7 years; probably something like 60% of income. We cut everything, absolutely everything. Except basic cable, which we gave up for a couple of years, but finally brought back. I'd take the garbage from home to the store to save on that. No out to dinners, no vacations.

Linda got a job with the theater for much of that time, and that covered our health insurance and movie going for a few years. I bought the biggest piece of junk car you can imagine for 100 dollars -- yes, 100 dollars -- from an employee who was leaving town, and drove it two years before it gave up the ghost. ( I called it the invisible car, because people were constantly pulling out in front of me.) And I browned bagged it for lunch every day, gave up chips and soda and beer.

Linda says that I worked everyday but Christmas and Thanksgiving for 7 years, though it seems to me that I had an occasional day here and there.

But we paid it back. We got a small inheritance. We were debt free. Our credit was still good. Our income was just enough to buy a house. was the right thing to do.

But I don't feel the slightest stigma. If you have a problem that needs counseling and advice, then go get counseling and advice.

I don't feel virtuous. I'm not telling you this -- like a 'I walked 5 miles to school every day in the snow! -- kind of story. Given my fear of going out into the world, I clung to my Best Minimum Wage Job a Middle Aged Guy Ever Had. And I probably shouldn't have. I just didn't want to go work for Walmart. I was, as the women in the store said the other day, really STUPID!

After that experience, as you might imagine, I couldn't understand all the spending I was seeing around me. People who didn't appear to have any better jobs than me, living large, going out, buying big houses and SUV's. For instance, I figured out that in those first 12 years or so, by buying lunch everyday, soda pop to and from work, fast food, six packs of beer, I probably spent a minimum of 10 dollars a day that I shouldn't have. 4000.00 a year x twelve years.

And what I was seeing -- am seeing-- is people spending far beyond a measly 10.00 a day. All on credit, I'm thinking. That's why I'm skeptical. That's why ostentatious spending really bugs me.

I could easily make the case that I was stupid. Knowing what I know now, I could've probably gone bankrupt and made a quicker recovery than I did. My poor wife had to hang in there with me, just because I couldn't see working for someone else. That was the hardest part, how helpless she felt. I kept saying we'd be out of debt in 2 years, and two years would pass, and I'd say, we'll be out of debt in two years.

It's why I'm so skeptical of other businesses, because I believe every business hits this gut-check moment, and if you are a reasonable and rational person and you have options, you'll probably take the option. Most all these businesses are running on credit, of one kind or another, all are leveraging, and payback's a bitch. It's not just about earning a profit, it's about earning a profit and paying the credit and the original investment.

Credit is insidious, whether it's credit cards or 'equity' in the house.
One of my secret vices is that I play way too much Internet Solitaire. You know how it is, you're waiting for something to download, and the next thing you know, you're playing game after game.

I've gotten pretty good at it. Possibly because I allow myself way too many Mulligan's until I win, and then just keep playing and playing.

I've come up with a set of rules that, more often than not, work. I know this. I've put it to the test over and over again. For instance, it's almost always better to pull a card from the row of cards than from the general pile. Stuff like that.

And yet, I often stray from the righteous path because of a feeling, because....I'm not sure why.

Anyway, this reminds me of how I handle my business, unfortunately. I know, simply know how I should do something, but I let the whim of the moment knock me off course.

When I feel that there might be a problem, suddenly I become way more disciplined and focused. I make all the right moves. I make all the right decisions. Which is probably why I survived.

But when things are going well, I slack off and stop following the rules. Which is why I've probably never gotten very far ahead. I've mentioned before, emotion and personal quirks play a huge role in a small business.

If I would just do exactly what I'm doing now when things are flush, I'd probably start accumulating profits. Instead, I break the rules.

Mostly, I start buying too much.


I think the article at the bottom explains this better than anything else. Especially this excerpt:

We often think we deserve more. Leverage gets us more. With historically low interest rates, leverage is the easiest and quickest tool to get more stuff.

The problem is that too much leverage has a downside that is easy to overlook. When everyone else is using leverage so successfully to get more, do we wonder what will happen if interest rates go up? Not so much.

This is where the simple answer breaks down. So we turn to the more complicated answer: Blame our brains.


In my personal life, I seem to be able to avoid this. I rarely -- never?-- borrow money for short time satisfaction. But for my business? Leverage current sales to buy more product with the thought that I'll sell that product in the future? Irresistible. I can have my cake and eat it too. Buy the product, sell the product, pay for it later.

But, logically, if I do that every time I get ahead, and then cut back whenever I fall behind, I will NEVER get financially ahead. Oh, I'll have more inventory.

I notice this because, here it is in a slowdown, and because I'm more disciplined, I actually HAVE MORE CASH RESERVES IN THE BANK! Just weird.

One of these days, I'll get it right.

from the Washington Post (excerpt):

Why We Borrow Until It Hurts
Leveraging Lets Us Gain in the Short Term -- and That's When We Stop Thinking

The question worth asking now is: Why do we love leverage so much that it hurts?

The simple answer, according to personal finance experts, is that we want more -- more money, more house, more car, just more, more, more. We often think we deserve more. Leverage gets us more. With historically low interest rates, leverage is the easiest and quickest tool to get more stuff.

The problem is that too much leverage has a downside that is easy to overlook. When everyone else is using leverage so successfully to get more, do we wonder what will happen if interest rates go up? Not so much.

This is where the simple answer breaks down. So we turn to the more complicated answer: Blame our brains.

That's what Jason Zweig thinks. He's an investing guru and journalist, and as many people wonder how we all could have been so dim-witted these past few years, he provides one possible answer in a book called "Your Money and Your Brain: How the New Science of Neuroeconomics Can Help Make You Rich."

Zweig has studied several experiments examining people's brains when they make personal finance decisions. The results, he said, are surprising.

"You would expect logically that the borrowing and spending of money would be emotionally painful to people because having money is intrinsically a good thing, and having less money would have to be worse," he said. "Going from more money to less would be painful."

If only that were true.

"When people borrow and spend money, it's really the reward centers of the brain that become activated," Zweig said. "When you borrow money, you are thinking not about the long-term consequences but the short-term result: You have more cash in your pocket. The pain you are going to experience down the road of having to pay -- that's in the future, it's remote, it's abstract."

Now think about the housing boom, particularly about people borrowing way more than they could afford.

"If I borrow a million dollars to buy a house, the fact that I can't afford to borrow it is dwarfed by the fact that I'm getting a million dollars," Zweig said. "That's just really exciting. And the entire subprime industry acted as the credit card industry has acted: focusing people's attention on what money can do for you right now and taking your mind off having to pay a lot of money down the road."

It's all so easy and cheap. This may sound perplexing, but money is inexpensive. Inflation levels have declined sharply since the 1970s and '80s, pushing interest rates much lower. For example, Americans spent 10.8 percent of their after-tax money on servicing debt back in 1982, when the federal funds rate was 14.5 percent. But as interest rates declined, making money cheaper, our debt -- and the amount we pay to stay current -- shot up, peaking in 2006, when interest rates were at 5.3 percent.

"Like any other product, if its price falls, households will consume more of it," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's "Rates fall, so households take on more debt."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I was asked to describe my store circumstances by another comic retailer in Las Vegas, because I expressed amazement that he would turn down all subscribers who didn't do 10 titles or more. (I accept customers who want only one title....)

What do you think? Is it accurate?

We are 75k in Bend, 150k in metro area, (We were 20k in 1990). 200k tri-county, and sagebrush and pine in every direction for 100 miles beyond that. Wrong side (right side?) of the Cascades. Up until recently, we were 'poverty with a view.' Lately, we've become Aspen aspirations with a Walmart.

Tourist town, July, August and December. Big boom town over the last three years. (Most 'over-priced' housing according the National Bank and CNN/Money Magazine.) Second behind Las Vegas in 'over'-retailed footage, last survey I saw. (Admittedly, a few years back. But I think it may have gotten worse.) No industry to speak of. No four year college, really. No interstate.

Lots of retiree's. Not much urban hip. Now that Trader Joes is opening, I think we have just about everything except Toys R Us.

No competition. Even the 10 year game store, 15 year card shop, and 5 year anime store and 5 year toys store folded this last year. Tough, tough town. I think we're pretty different.

I am in the only walk-in traffic worthy area, 'old' downtown Bend which grew into the 'cool' part of town around me over the last 25 years.

Rents are nearing 3.00 a ft. plus triple net.

Out of control building and costs, and -- so it seems -- soon to be many out of work contractors and bankrupt developers.

I've always had to diversify, both by carrying lots of graphic novels and comics, but also by carrying lots of indy's and mainstream.

Half of my business is everything else -- books, games, toys, cards, etc.

I've emphasized new books and boardgames over the last year or so to take advantage of the new foot-traffic flow.
Two of the comic web news sites I go to, spend a lot of time on the Danish Cartoons controversy. It's a very big deal in Europe. Huge. And what does Osama Bin Ladin pop up to complain about ?-- the Danish cartoons.

Americans are just going.....what? What's the big deal?

The rest of the world takes the issue of cartoons and comics so much more seriously than Americans.

If you take cartoons seriously, like the Asians, and the Europeans and most especially the Islamic countries, then the content of those cartoons matter greatly.

If you don't take comics seriously, like most Americans, it all seems like a big deal about nothing.

Just another manifestation of American provincialism.

I'm just as guilty. I usually just pass over all the news stories about it.

But it was interesting to find out that it was the most important thing on Osama's mind.
End of Moratorium, obviously. But I'm going to try not to be so Armageddonish.

I'm more and more seeing this housing bust on two different planes, connected by an unbreakable thread.

On one plane, there is the glut of houses I first noticed, and what I first focused on a few years ago. An obvious bubble. Alongside the glut are the ridiculously high prices, especially on the westside. And a third element of glut, which as a retailer I always include, is the huge amount of commercial square footage that is going to hit the market over the next year.

The housing inventory and prices could -- conceivably -- be influenced -- marginally -- by positive media coverage. Though I doubt it.

(It would be an interesting survey to find out how many real estate agents bought the book "The Secret." Those of them that read, that is.)

The second plane is the credit market. When I started blogging, I knew nothing about this. I was surprised when I qualified for as nice a house as I got for my income, but didn't look a gift horse in the mouth. I was confident I could make the fixed 30 year mortgage rate, but was kind of bemused that the lender was so confident.

Anyway, this part of the market isn't going to be swayed by the 'media' in any fashion, and ultimately, I believe, is going to be the hurdle that no amount of "Best Time to Buy in Twenty Years" campaigns can overcome.

The 'positive' vibe people are so self-deluded that its become sad.
Dreamed about twittering and blogging last night.

Obviously, this is just too much. Too much narcissism. I know I have an ego, but really....

The dream was, I find 'secret' twitters who talk about how "Notice with Duncan, it's all about me, me, me."

The second part of the dream, I'm at a bar (which I never am) and I casually mention that my best friend is getting married while I'm sitting in a bar, and one of the barflies says, "What kind of asshole doesn't even go to his best friends wedding?" And it's somehow related to the blog in mood and tone.

There is a strange socialness to it all, that I'm not used to. Friendship means reciprocal and I've always been a selfish bastard.

But, ultimately, I like the creativeness of it all. I like the self-expression -- the me, me, me....

So I'm unlikely to just stop.

And that, my fine twittered friends, is a fair warning.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Twitter, twitter, twitter.

O.K. So Sally set me up with a twitter account. PegasusBooks. There won't be much, if anything there, till I figure out all the ins and outs, but there it is. Maybe I won't have to do 3 or 4 messages a day here to get my thoughts out....
To me, the following is the BIGGEST CENTRAL OREGON STORY OF THE YEAR!; covered by the Oregonian, of course.

This is a size 16 shoe dropping, caked in cement, and dropped from the roof. This is just a killer deal. (I'm starting to sound like Bilbo, but I do believe this is a revolting development for Bend.)

NOTE: After I wrote this, I realized they're not saying everyone has to have 20% down, just that the terms will be more onerous. So....not as bad as I thought, but bad enough.

Just another indication of how terms are tightening up.


Insurers flag Jackson, Deschutes counties
Friday, March 21, 2008

Raising the bar for obtaining mortgage insurance in central Oregon's Deschutes County likely won't affect many of the buyers at the region's proliferating destination resort developments because those buyers generally can put 20 percent down on their home purchases, said Tom Greene, principal broker at RE/MAX Equity Group in Bend and president of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors.

But, Greene said, the new rules could harm first-time homebuyers with little cash to put into a purchase. "It's going to be tough if that portion of the market goes away," he said.

But things are already tough in Bend's market. From 2006 to 2007, the median home price fell by nearly 2 percent in Bend, from $351,978 to $345,000, according to the Central Oregon Association of Realtors. This after Bend briefly led the country in home price increases.

The number of homes sold is down about a quarter, and time needed to sell houses has gone up more than that. The local real estate industry has responded by launching a "Best Buyers' Market in 20 Years," campaign. But the new restrictions aren't likely to help that effort.

The housing market has also soured in southern Oregon's Jackson County, which includes Medford and Ashland, another area flagged as a risky spot by some mortgage insurers.

The median price of homes in incorporated cities of Jackson County of $247,700 is down 8.2 percent from the same time last year, according to Roy Wright, a Medford appraiser.

Because of the declining market, lenders already don't offer 100 percent financing of homes, said William Gill, branch manager of America First Funding in Medford. One of his clients was approved for a loan of 100 percent of the value of the home, but Gill said he was only permitted to finance 95 percent.

"The same borrower buying a house in Medford versus Grants Pass now has to have $12,000 and change in cash," said Gill. That's had a disproportionate effect on first-time homebuyers."

Gill said he's having trouble keeping up with all the new restrictions the mortgage insurers are introducing. "It seems like they are tightening every day," he said.

-- Matthew Preusch

And the good news just keeps coming.

Bend is different. Bend house buyers can all afford 20% down.

In fact, I'm going to do an informal survey at my store. How many people bought their house with 20% or more down? I'll start with myself. We bought our house with 10% down; and we would never have bought a house at all with a larger downpayment, because by the time we would've saved it, we would have been priced out.
So you want to know how the 'rich' investors did in Bend Real Estate?

The following article in the Oregonian today, gives us some pretty firm figures. I've italicized all the pertinent Central Oregon sentences. Very revealing.

He is a crook. But he could just as easily been invested real money, and gotten the same results. Especially pertinent, is the owing 10 million on 8 million in assets. This result has nothing to do with original origin of the investment money. It implies, at the least, that the other 55% of Desertscape might be seeing similar results. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that many of the buyers in Bend are seeing similar results, but they just aren't being exposed in court documents:

Embezzler gets 3 years in Oregon banking scheme
As a fraud investigator for U.S. Bank, David A. Shelofsky took $1.5 million from people accused of bilking the bank
Friday, March 21, 2008
The Oregonian Staff

A developer and former U.S. Bank fraud investigator is heading for 37 months in federal prison for embezzling $1.5 million of the very money he recovered from other bank fraudsters.

Besides serving the sentence issued Thursday, David A. Shelofsky must fork over as much as $1 million of net proceeds from future sales of tony central Oregon and Portland-area properties that he purchased partly with stolen money.

Shelofsky, 39, pleaded guilty in October 2006 to pocketing $1.5 million of the money he recovered from people accused of defrauding U.S. Bank, Oregon's biggest bank. He had served as manager of the bank's asset forfeiture and recovery section based in Portland when he took the money between 2002 and 2005.

During that period, Shelofsky and several business associates sank more than $20 million into prime commercial and resort lands, mostly around Bend's booming real estate market. In early 2006, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. bought land for a store in Redmond from Shelofsky and his partners for $10 million.

In court, the one-time California city police officer turned and apologized to his former bank manager and family for betraying their trust.

"I had no excuses," Shelofsky then told U.S. District Judge Garr King. "I do not blame my addictions, my alcoholism or my childhood. . . . I blame this selfish man standing before you."

The West Linn resident was scheduled for sentencing in March 2007 for committing bank fraud, punishable by as much as 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. At the time, Shelofsky's attorney, Stephen Houze, maintained Shelofsky did not invest stolen money in his real estate.

King rejected a plea deal between the government and Shelofsky, suggesting a proposed sentence of a little more than three years was too lenient. He also voiced concern that neither U.S. Bank nor prosecutors had gauged whether Shelofsky profited from his ill-gotten investments. King ordered a more thorough accounting.

The financial review by Portland accountant Ron Hoevet traced $583,000 of embezzled money to properties that Shelofsky purchased. The holdings included a lot in upscale Pronghorn Estates golf resort outside Bend and a half share of an 18th-floor condo along Portland's South Waterfront.

But the recent decline in real estate values, particularly around Bend, led King to conclude Shelofsky might not profit from his investments.

A subsequent review by an accountant for DesertScape, a Bend development firm in which Shelofsky owns a 45 percent stake, calculated Shelofsky's assets at $8 million. But the review found liabilities of $10 million, including $5 million in outstanding mortgage balances, $3.4 million in debts to third parties and $1.2 million owed in taxes.

No windfall

During sentencing, King noted that he had imposed sentences of as much as eight years in past embezzlement cases involving similar amounts. But citing Shelofsky's unusual cooperation with prosecutors and the court, he said he would adopt the government's original recommended sentence of 37 months. He ordered Shelofsky to serve three years' probation upon release.

King also suggested an agreement aimed at ensuring Shelofsky doesn't reap any windfall from his investment of stolen money. The forfeiture agreement requires Shelofsky to use proceeds from the sale of properties or business interests to pay off debts and taxes. Shelofsky then would owe the government half of all remaining profits, up to $1 million.

King granted Shelofsky's request to serve his sentence at the medium-security federal prison in Sheridan starting June 2.

Shelofsky worked as a police officer in South San Francisco and Arcata, Calif., in the 1990s before joining U.S. Bank in Portland in 1997. He also volunteered for two years as a reserve police officer in Milwaukie.

His attorney, Houze, said Shelofsky had entered treatment for cocaine and alcohol abuse and recently had received a second-year "sobriety coin" from an Alcoholics Anonymous program.

Partners unaware

Houze said none of Shelofsky's DesertScape partners were aware of Shelofsky's crime before his confession in early 2006.

In an interview several hours after the sentencing, Shelofsky said ultimately the bank's discovery of his embezzlement spared him from losing his marriage and life to alcoholism. He said he spent much of the money he stole on cars, trips and "high living." He said a need to be accepted for his material possessions drove him to fraud.

"This is a chapter in my life that ultimately saved me and my family," he said. "It hurts. But I caused a lot of pain. I hurt people. I betrayed trust. . . . I am accountable."

He said he fully intends to sell his holdings, including courtside seats at Portland Trail Blazers games, and is considering a new career in counseling.

"I spent the last two years getting to know myself," he said, "and what I enjoy the most is helping other people."

Brent Hunsberger: 503-221-8359; brenthunsberger@;
Had a former mayor of Bend come in yesterday. I've known her since I was six years old and best friends with her son, Glenn. (Makes it sound like I know people, huh, but I've lived here for 55 years, so I know people, especially through my family just by being here).

She volunteers at the library, and was talking about something called "A graphic novel? A book called Persepolis? We picked it as Book of the Year." She sounded amazed. And then she said, "Do you have any graphic novels?"

Like I said, I know her, but I don't think she's been paying a whole lot of attention to what I've been doing.

"Uh, that's what I do, Ruth. That's what my store is about....and I have thousands of volumes of graphic novels...."

"Gee, I had never heard of them....." impression is, even when a graphic novel is picked as 'Book of the Year', graphic novels as a whole STILL make no impression.

I also couldn't help but ask her of what she thought of the current city doings. She shrugged her shoulders, "I can't figure out what they're doing."

I also met "Sally Heatherton" yesterday. I asked him if he had any idea of the impact 'her' adventure was going to make.

"I kind of thought it would," he said. "I had some neighbors who were like that. They've come down to earth since then."

"It was a real creative effort," I said. "Did you think of keeping it going?"

"No, I pretty much had the whole arc worked out in advance."

Sally wanted to help me do a web page, with my blog included, and a twitter attachment; Smart guy. I never turn down help, maybe soon.

Finally, I had a Culver farmer who's been a customer for years, and for the first time I started asking him about his work. I had written a blog a few days ago about how ranchers were the salt of the earth, and I wanted to know what he was doing and how he was going about it.

He confirmed that it has gotten a bit better over the last few years. He was real reticent about saying much.

Anyway, I find it interesting that someone like me who really does very little social activity, can still manage to learn all kinds of interesting things simply by standing in my store and asking questions. For an information gathering INTJ and #5 (personality types), it's perfect. I am also amazed that when I visit other stores, even bookstores and comic stores, they don't ask me a single question.

It seems to me that such curiosity is the hallmark of a survivor.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Darkness on the Edge of Town.

The longer I'm in business, the more I believe that if you just hang in there long enough, you'll come back in style.

There is what I call retail fadism. The following history is loose, and there was a lot of crossover, but you get the picture.

Huge, block-filling department stores came in around the turn of the century, putting all the little stores around them out of business.

Montgomery Ward and Sears innovated the catalog business, and then, when it came time to build stores, looked for cheap land on the edge of town.

As the decades passed, the outskirts became the inskirts, and along came the suburban malls.

Enclosed malls are all the rage, (again, being built on the cheap edges of towns) and Sears and J.C. Penny were quick to move there. Specialty niche stores, like the Gap, came in to fill the smaller spaces.

Then came the big discounters-- Walmart, Target, and huge category killers, Best Buy and Barnes and Nobles. Built on the edge of town. (getting the picture?)

Bigger and bigger, and a new term for developments, Big Box stores, Big Box Centers. With ironically homespun names like "The Village."

Enclosed malls fall out of favor. Some malls started facing outward, and called them "factory outlet" malls. But they quickly sold all the factory outlet material and just became....malls.

Meanwhile, some of the department stores survive and after many years their diversity starts to help them.

The big category killers and the little specialty niche stores start to have trouble, because the Big Box stores are even better at discounting than they are.

And along comes the ultimate "Edge of Town." The internet.

And so it goes.

The little mom and pop stores? Sorry, they don't even count. We are the fleas, persistent and itchy.
I've written a new screenplay.

I call it, "You've got Text-Messaging." It's about a specialty bookstore owner who meets the love of her life on her Blackberry. She finally meets the guy, and it turns out he's the CEO of Mega-Bookstore chain.

She breaks it off. "What a loser," she tells her friends. "I just couldn't stand the whiff of desperation. Besides, he looked like an old and fat Tom Hanks."

Final scene, CEO is turning out the lights of his boardroom, having just been bought out by the other big Mega-Store chain.

What do you think? Should I send it off?

Sad story for bookstore chains
Commentary: Retailers need updates and innovation to survive
By MarketWatch
Last update: 11:28 a.m. EDT March 20, 2008
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- The latest casualty of the economy: the humble book superstore.
In the wee hours of Thursday, Borders Group Inc. announced it hired financial advisers to help it "explore strategic alternatives" and managed to put together $42.5 million in financing with the help of major shareholder Pershing Square Capital Management. See full story.
The company said it had taken a look at its operations and the economic environment and realized that the tightened credit market had made some of its financing options "prohibitively expensive or entirely unavailable." Enter Pershing, which will lend it money and also has an option to buy some assets.
Shares tumbled more than 20% in morning trading ahead of the rescheduled conference call, and are down more than 70% for the year. Borders' quandary would have seemed less gloomy in 2006, or even a year ago, when private-equity firms were falling over each other to snap up specialty retailers.
Meanwhile, its top rival Barnes & Noble Inc. posted a 9% decline in quarterly profit and said it expects fiscal first-quarter same-store sales at its namesake stores to be "slightly negative." Its shares climbed, but it's looking at a loss of more than 20% of its market value for the year.
Many things led the bookstores to this gloomy place. A book is the ultimate retail commodity, so shoppers either go for the lowest price -- which leads to margin-killing price wars -- or the best shopping experience.
More people are buying their books online and memberships for Amazon Prime are on the rise, according to analysts at Stifel. They also pointed out that with gas prices soaring people are making fewer shopping trips, and it's just as easy to pick up your books at say, Costco rather than making a special trip to the bookstore.
There's also the threat of digital books on the horizon. Oh, and libraries? Free.
The situation is quite a turnaround from several years ago when the mega bookstore chains were running the little guys out of business, a phenomenon immortalized in the product-placement-laden film "You've Got Mail."
With their then-revolutionary perks such as large selection, comfy chairs, long hours, no pressure sales tactics and coffee bars, Borders (BGP:
Borders Group, Inc and Barnes & Noble tapped a need and their popularity soared. Despite some innovations, both of these companies remain rooted in their heyday.
There have been rumors afloat for months that Barnes & Noble was looking to buy Borders, but such a move wouldn't solve the systemic problems facing these chains.
-- Angela Moore, U.S. commentary editor End of Story
Dogs and fireplaces and walks along the river.

It never fails. Somebody arrives to town, buys ads on the local T.V., extolling his taste and class in front of a cheerful fireplace, with his dogs at his feet. Usually, there is a second commercial with him walking along the river with his dogs, to show what a humble, down to earth kind of guy he is. (kids, optional.)

Pure ego driven stuff.

And those people are bankrupt a few years later.

Hint: if the dogs are mutts, the curse is lifted.

On the other hand, cats in a store are a sure way to ingratiate yourself with the customers....

My wife bookstore has a Christian writer's meeting, after closing, and last week she took our cat.

"Cats are pagans," I protested. "Everyone knows that."

"Not our cat," my wife said firmly.

O.K., maybe not pagans. Some cats still believe in Egyptian gods, but most can't be bothered.

By the way, The Bookmark space also host the Farewell Bend Writer's Roundtable on the second and Fourth Tuesdays of every month, at 7:00. This group has been going since 1980; and everyone is welcome. In fact, I would encourage you to come.

This is a regular writer's group.

You can bring something to read, with 8 or 10 copies, and read for 20 minutes, more or less. Then we go in a circle with critique, which is meant to be helpful and constructive. I've always felt the majority of suggestions were good, though even helpful criticism can feel painful at first, if you're not prepared for it.

Like I said, I think the advice is helpful.

We could probably use a few new members. The lady who was doing all the organizing and sending out of notices and such, quit a year ago, so we've been running a bit on auto-pilot.

All types of writing is welcome, and you don't have to read. Indeed, many members read infrequently, but still give great advice. It's very down to earth and welcoming.

I have found it to be very motivational when I'm writing; both good writing and bad inspires me. I also think that exposure to others ideas and suggestions generally helps the writer. I've even spent a year or more reading a chapter per visit and finished an entire book. It seemed to really make me get ready for the next meeting.

If you have any questions, you can come in to Pegasus and talk to me, or go into the Bookmark and talk to either Kent or my wife, Linda.

Next meeting is next Tuesday, March 25, 7:00.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Was talking to William Nolan, the author of Logan's Run, in the store yesterday about the life of a writer.

The new movie of Logan's Run is about to be filmed, and the day they start shooting he's getting a nice little check. He's 80 years old, but he was really excited.

He's written over 80 books, but he and I talked about how hard it can be to live the life of the writer, the ups and downs. He's the first guy I've talked to when I explained why I chose the life of a businessman rather than a writer who truly understood what I was saying.

We were talking about debt. He fell deep into debt at one point, and had to sell his house. I talked about how in the late '90's I had to go to Consumer Credit Counseling to get my credit cards paid off. We were talking some big sums.

There was a couple of women standing at the counter during this, and the younger woman, said "Tell me about this Consumer Credit Counseling....I thought those things are scams."

"I think most of them are, " I said. "But CCC is run by the credit card industry itself, so if you have to do it, go there. But I warn you, it's like chemo therapy, they dose you within an inch of your life."

The older woman said, "You were xxx dollars in debt to your credit cards? How STUPID!"

The daughter tried to shush her, but I kind of laughed. What I should have said was, "You're right."

What I said was, "Well, in my defense, Congress changed to laws in 1997 and I suddenly got hit with huge interest increases and late fees and all the rest....

"But, besides, I used the credit cards to survive a huge downturn in sports cards. I can't really say it was the wrong decision, because I paid it off, kept my business, and we're doing fine today.

"But it was tough while it was happening...."

I could tell the older woman wasn't mollified. I was still an idiot.

I hope she watched FRONTLINE last night, because they repeated a show from a few years ago, detailing the absolute outrages of the credit card industry. (Including Congress giving them a blank check around the mid-90's.)

Nothing has changed.

During this episode, my wife wrote the following poem:

Free money! Free money!
Get it while it's hot!
Use it all, lose it all
whether it's 28% or not.
What a marvel of modern science
Even Einstein was amazed.
For the few to control the many
we make cash the impossible reliance.
"We only have them for emergencies"
We lie to ourselves, out of control,
we use them on every urgency.

Then panic begins to tighten
with an income change or loss
and the world begins to frighten
with it's minimum wage, high cost.
No full-time, long term security.
Only the American Way.

They're offering another credit card,
let's accept it with alacrity.
Ten is not enough.
Stuff our wallets and our purses
while we're at it folks.
Just pretend we're rich
Never thinking, paybacks a bitch!

Hide our heads in the sand,
don't answer the phone,
it might be another creditor,
another wage slave drone.

If you haven't been trained to plastic,
for your sake, don't start now.
Keep yourself free
of the American Way,
pay cash... and feel fantastic.

Linda McGeary
10/10/98 copyright.
What a load of jawboning in the Bulletin today. The city has it all under control; tourism rides to the rescue; the youth vote will pass the BAT.

Yeah, right.

Really, you get the sense that no one knows what going to happen, they are just starting to realize they better have some 'fall-back' positions in place in case it all goes to hell.

And they have the ninnies of Wall Street as examples. Stocks go up 400 points? Huh?

Anyway, it's time for me to take a step back and just look at my own situation without all the outside information. Usually the more info the better, but all this superficial blather is fogging up the mirror.

What I've come up with so far.

1.) the downturn in sales has almost everything to do with the economy, not the product. This is actually a bit of relief. Usually, big drops have everything to do with the product, not the economy. There is a floor, I believe, the the economy. With product, there sometimes is no floor.

So I don't believe that I'm looking at 50% or 60% or 100% drops like can happen when a fad busts, but more like 20% or 30%.

2.) there is still time to get my store in better shape; clear away bills, moderate costs, etc. All this jawboning may just be holding off the inevitable, (which may be it's purpose, while the insiders clear out, leaving the less wary holding the bag.) I've got to weather the next three months, try to get ahead of the curve for once. Summer will be better, probably, and then a short span until Christmas. Should be able to negotiate the pitfalls.

3.) this is a different situation than I've ever seen before. I bought the store at the bottom of the biggest recession of my career, in 1984, and I'm not really kidding that I think it's sometimes best to open or buy a business at the bottom -- you have no where to go but up (or out). It goes along with the idea of 'growing a business'; starting small and modest, taking your lumps with less on the line, and then growing.

The other two 'official' recessions, I barely noticed, either because I was in the throes of rapid growth or rapid decline, due to product fads.

4.) For once in my career, my store is fully stocked. I've managed to avoid even spot shortages so far. No one who knows what they're talking about can accuse my store of not 'having anything...' It's like having a huge reserve of fat.

5.) I'm on my own. I always am, but situations like this really bring it home. I have to trust my instincts, and ignore all the rapid building around me, the new stores, the new owners.

Had a couple of conversations with new or potential residents yesterday morning, and after they left I had a sense of wrongness. Then I figured it out; I had sounded like I was saying the old days, with all my pals, was great, but now I feel out of place.

B.S. Funny how the mind plays tricks. I never felt included. I've always been a loner. I've always felt as though downtowners have always looked askance at me and my business (though I readily admit this may only be in my head, and at least partly my fault for not trying to join in.) Indeed, if anything, I feel more accepted nowadays. So the town growing, well, it really hasn't matter all the much to me and my business. Not relating all that well to 150k residents ain't all that different than not relating all the well to 20k residents. I need to get off that kick.

So, this is pretty much new territory for me. If you read this blog, you know that I love analogies and parallels. But I'm not sure what to compare this with. So I fall back on my instincts, which are to be careful.

It is much, mush easier to gear back up to full speed if I'm wrong. It's twice as easy to just start buying again, than it is to try to start cutting after the fact. So far, I've managed to gauge it pretty well; each time, I thought I was overreacting, it seems to fit the circumstances almost exactly.

So nevermind the 'happy talk' news. Try to see things for the way they are.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Just dropped my 88 year old Dad at the Tuesday's retired Dr.'s coffee clatch at Jakes. It's the highlight of his week; the other doctors are very nice to him. Jake's seems to be hoppin', which is good to see.

My wife is at the bookstore waiting for a huge shipment of bookshelves. Staples had one of their half price sales which we jump all over. We simply couldn't buy the raw material for that price, much less the cutting and hammering and cluing. It really made our used bookstore look much nicer, white laminate just cleans up the books, somehow. I've slowly but surely made a transition at my own store, using these shelves whenever possible.

Last time we ordered a bunch of shelves, they only partially delivered. I'm sure we aren't what they had in mind when they put the sale together....

If we get the full complement, I'll be set to do 2/3rds of the changes I wanted to make at my store. I can do a switch with some of my wife's smaller shelves; the last 1/3rd of the changes will have to wait until Home Depot -- or someone else -- starts carrying the size I need.

This is the stage where I wish I could just wave my magic wand and have it all done. I love the planning, I love the results, but actually moving things is hard. Like that game where you stack wood blocks; I can't just take one out without risking the whole thing tumbling down. I used to kid myself it would be easy, and then I'd get halfway through the mess and remember....oh, this never works.

I'm less likely to make random changes. I plan much more. I try to have excess labor. I try to give myself time (this is hard, since I can't afford to close.)

I seem to have an inner timer, that I simply must make changes. It used to be every 3 or 4 months, then every 6 months, and over the last decade, I've pushed that into once every year or so. Every change I've made has been an improvement. This change should actually give me more display space, but look less cluttered, more clean and streamlined. I hope.

I think this time, I'm going to go and get the best conveyance I can find for the big shelves--something with lots of straps, and big fat wheels, that I can cart stuff up stairs.

I hadn't really planned to do anything until late May, thinking I could afford it then. But the Staples sale came along, and I couldn't pass it up.

So...a big breath, and some planning, and I'll be ready to move things around.


Monday, March 17, 2008

I'm calling a moratorium on the housing bust and national (international) economic news.

Unless, of course, momentous events overtake us.

But, really, what the hell can I do about it? I never set out to be an angry old perma-bear, cranky, end-of-the-world, everything is going to hell, you young whippersnappers just don't know what's coming.....sort of blog.

It shouldn't be ignored, it needs to be talked about -- just not always by me.

I decided during Linda and my drive to Prineville, by back roads, that I just like the openness and cleanliness of the high desert. Bend is sort of split down the middle, half pine forest, lakes and rivers, and the other half, juniper and sagebrush and wide-open spaces.

I live on the east side. The westside just seems to closed in and messy and claustrophobic to me.

Driving by all the old ranches out east of town, it occurred to me that growing up in Bend, there were basically two industries.....logging and ranching, and connected to both was the hunting and fishing. The tourism industry, outside of skiing, grew into the pearl it is today because there was a tough grain of sand, old westerners, who were already living the life-style, partly by necessity and partly by choice and partly by tradition.

It was almost a rite of passage to work clearing brush, or bucking hay, or working in the woods or in the mills.

It seems as though the ranching is still hanging on, maybe by a few bales of straw, but it's still out there.

I hope we never lose it.
Linda and I went on a long Sunday drive, and I came back with all kinds of thoughts about what we saw. More on that later.

When I got back, I bopped on over to the BB2; and ...what the hell?

it's the end of the world as we know it.

it's the end of the world as we know it.

it's the end of the world as we know it.

and i feel fine...

Suddenly, my little bit of news doesn't seem so important. Bear Stearns which was selling for 57 dollars a share on Thursday, was sold to J.P. Morgan for a measly 2 dollars a share, and only with Fed guarantees. The FED, meanwhile, apparently doesn't feel like it can even wait until it's regular meeting on Tuesday, and lowers the borrowing rate a quarter of a point, and says it will back 20 or so major banks with extra lending. Most analysts think the Fed will lower the rate another point.

Why does it worry me even more that all of this takes place on the Weekend? Tucked away while we all play. Why is there such a whiff of fear in the air? Heck, I was already alarmed earlier in the week when the mainstream pundits were suddenly more bearish than me.

I go to the mainstream news, and there's nothing. I go to U.S.A. Today, and they don't seem to be making much of it. So I think, whew, the BB2 bears are just roasting wienies.

But on a last second impulse, I go to CNBC, and they have the English morning financial shows on; and whoa.... the Asian markets took a tumble, and they're talking like this is real crisis.

I'm writing this the night before, and I'll be turning on the T.V. first thing in the morning. Chances are, it will be yet just another domino. There's even a good chance the stock market will go up; they always seem to respond to bail-out news, which any rational person would think was a negative, as something least for a day or two, while the ramifications sink in.

Or, I may turn on the T.V.; and it will be that REM song: it's the end of the world as we know it.

Thing is, I may have been very, very wrong about my predictions. I had presumed that Bend would have the worst of it; because we imbibed the koolaid more than anyone else, we built more and prices went up more here; because we were still in denial; because our commercial bubble is equally bad; because our industry became growth, instead of something we could fall back on. We just had farther to fall, I thought, with a lot less underneath to catch us. I believed it was ridiculous to think that Bend of all places would escape. But the rest of the world? Hey, it's a big place.

Frankly, I thought the national economy would, you know, have bit of downturn, harder in some places than others, but overall it would recover relatively swiftly, and eventually pull the bubble states like California and Florida and Arizona and parts of Oregon and Colorado, back up. We'd get hit later, and harder. But we'd get over it.

So I may have been wrong. The national economy seems poised on the edge of the crapper. And if that happens, all bets are off about Bend. We may really see the early '80's again. And believe me, we don't want to see the early '80's Bend again.

Sometimes I wish I would just listen to my bearish self, but I'm always thinking, yeah ....probably.... won't.... happen. And then it does.

On our drive, we passed a subdivision in Prineville called, Longhorn Ridge. About 5 miles south of town, up into the hills where there was still permafrost and patches of snow. Looked like about 315 lots in phase one and an equal number in phase two. And there was a lonely, single, empty house near the entrance, and then nothing else in sight.

We drive in, and go left, and find 3 other houses, all for sale. Every single one of them. And yet, here's the really, really strange thing, almost every empty lot was 'sold'. We go back and try the other major main road, and here we find another 12 houses or so.

Every single house, but two, were for sale.

Every single house, but two, were empty.

One occupied house was for sale.

One occupied house wasn't.

Almost every single empty lot was 'sold.' Supposedly. I figure, they keep a couple of lots for sale, and then tell the prospective buyer, well, we do have access to these 'other' lots.....

But what really amazed me, was the desolation. All the houses were surrounded by half-frozen mud that clung to my shoes like cement. None of them look as though anyone had been near them in ages. Empty, lonely, McMansions. In the middle of nowhere. No mountain views. No view of the Reservoir. No lawns, no landscaping. Wells? Nice houses, though.

One house with a "Needs to Sell!" headline was 2200 sq. ft, and cost 325,000.00. The next house over, only two hundred feet bigger, was for 649,00.00 (it was nicer, with a nicer view, but still....)

They looked abandoned, almost.

I think I've found the outer reaches of the bubble pond, where the frogs are already dying for lack of liquidity.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Just small asides today, responding to the Bulletin blog-fodder.

Retail sales graph almost looks like a mistake. Those December sales must have been truly horrible.

30 year fixed mortgage rates are rising. So much for liquidity for the little guys.

Another story about Redmond Airport; as other wags have mentioned, it may be the only feel good story left. Don't know what it signifies, exactly. But interesting that the motel occupancy rates don't seem to match.

The accompanying Redmond 'growth' story doesn't impress me much. I still think the commercial growth is just the tail-end lagging of the bubble, the froth. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Big screen T.V.'s just keep dropping on price. This was one of my first blog entries, a guess that there was no rush to buy on Christmas of 2006. Sure enough, they were even cheaper just a couple of months later. They look to be getting close to half the price of the first time I looked.

Park board 'finds' funds for Pine Nursery fields. I'm sorry, how do you 'find' funds? Damn I wish I could do that.

Ouch. I'm not sure I'd like to be tagged as a 'Greasy Spoon.' A 'diner', sure, but if your name is Galloping Gerties, being called greasy just raises unpleasant connotations.....

I asked for a comparison on the BAT with other systems, and low and behold, we get an analysis in today's paper. But I don't know if it's exactly on the up and up. They just sort of do this magic trick of removing the maintenance costs of the six large used buses that are kaput.

Again, I wish I could do that! Hey, if you take out all those loses from that pesky money losing thing, I did really well.
What we essentially are using are some vans that were already in use before they started the BAT. So, yeah, if you do that.

Even there, is a guote from Heather Ornelas, Bend's transit manager, "Our fleet is older, true,but cheaper to run and maintain." Sort of like buying a brand new vacuum cleaner which totally fails, and resorting to your old vacuum cleaner in the back of your closet, and claiming that it saved you money.

Seems to me, you still are on the line for a new vacuum cleaner.

The other conclusion I can reach, is all transit systems are basically boondoogles. Bend's BAT cost 3.81 for each ride. But, I'm pretty sure, they leave out the "capital costs, like the buses themselves, or the buildings." Hell, last time they left out the 'fuel' costs, which is truly ridiculous. Interesting how they seem to fudge those figures.

So, comparing like to like, Bend has the highest costs per ride, even now. Klamath Falls is higher, but there a little postscript saying, "Includes on-demand service costs, which are higher than fixed-route costs." (No kidding, up to 20.00 locally, which makes K Falls a meaningless comparison.)

Wenatchee, Wash. is way higher, true, but if you read the article, they throw in this telling detail.
" serves a number of small towns miles from Wenatchee." So to be comparable, we would need to have routes to Redmond, LaPine and Sisters, etc.? Again, not a true comparison.

The maintenance cost appear to be in line, as long as you forget the nightmare of 6 very big very lemony buses that are completely UNUSED!

Always a good trick, eliminate for the sake of statistics the unforgiving facts. Kind of like encouraging the slower kids not to take the SAT's to keep your district stats up.

So I'm guessing, by the time we increase the routes, buy new buses, firm up the infrastructure, including those pesky 'fixed' costs that they've managed to leave out, that it would still be cheaper and greener to just give every one vouchers for a taxi ride.

I didn't set out to become such a critic of BAT. I hate to be so hard on them. But they are probably the most egregious about fudging the real situation, which I can't stand.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I don't know Eric King. But here's my advice to the Bend City Council. Just hire the guy. Save all that money on the job search. All your vaunted searches have only succeeded in hiring someone from outside who take months, if not years, to get up the speed, who realizes to his horror what a mess he got into. Eric King is at least aware of the problems. Can't see how the choice for City Manager can be improved by your interview process. You've had a chance to see the guy work, and obviously, he's competent or he wouldn't still be there. Just hire the guy.
Since the Bulletin was kind enough to list me in their 'Book Blogs', it behooves me to speak of books.

Stephen King was on NPR the other day, talking about the second series of "Dark Tower" comics; and he was asked about other titles. He mentioned, "Y-The Last Man", and fifteen minutes later, it was bought.

We creep, ever so slowly, to validation.

There's a movie coming next year, and I believe the drumbeat will be strong, called the "Watchmen." When Time Magazine assembled it's Best 100 Books, low and behold, there was the "Watchmen" at #100. Which is kind of funny, in a throw a dog a bone way, but also...well, at least they noticed.

"Watchmen", by Alan Moore, is usually counted, along with "Maus" by Art Speigleman, which won the Pulitzer, as one of the best graphic novels ever created. It's actually a 'deconstruction' of the superhero mythology.

In my novels section, I've decided that as long as I'm going to carry classics, I may as well carry the Penguin Classics Deluxe, which have covers illustrated by the best graphic artists in the field.

I just keep purposely blurring the lines between literature and entertainment, art and illustration, books with lots of words, and books with no words but lots of pictures; blurring the lines between children's and mainstream.

And everything in-between.

To me, it's all story. Either told well or told badly, but the fact that it's fiction or non-fiction, illustrated or not illustrated doesn't decide whether its told well or told badly.

The quality of the content is what counts, not the form.

I never talk about writers or artists who have passed away; which is happening with great frequency now that the 'golden age' of cartoons and illustration and comics recedes into the past.
But I was sad to hear of the passing of Dave Stevens, who was probably one of my favorite all-time artists, who wrote and drew the Rocketeer comic.

There were probably only a dozen short stories altogether. But they were exquisite -- and maddeningly, currently unavailable. He also did lots of covers, which I wish someone would assemble in a book.

A bit of a funny story, at least to me and Linda. I'm reading this comic set in the 1940's, starring a young guy who finds a rocket pack, and who is being chased by mobsters, and fighting Nazi spies, and he has a girlfriend, named Betty.

Betty is a gorgeous creature -- Dave Stevens could do pin-up's like no one's business -- and she's in danger of being led astray, posing in little or no clothes, for nefarious photographers.

I just about fell in love with Bettie. I told Linda, "This is the only woman in the entire world that I would leave you for." When they went to make a movie with a young and beautiful Jennifer Connolly, they chose in their Hollywood wisdom, to call her something else and to not give her the classic Bettie haircut. I thought the movie was pretty good, but it wasn't a hit.

So a year or so passes, and along comes a pin-up artbook by Olivia, and there's Bettie in all her Glory. And I'm talking to a customer about it and he says, "Oh, didn't you know? Bettie Page was a real person!"

Of course, I went and tracked down the magazine that was devoted to her, The Bettie Pages, and everything else I could find. For those few of you who don't know history, Bettie was the premier pin-up model of the 50's, she had an astoundingly long career (of a few years, but most models wore out in a few months) which went from the heights of the second Playboy Pin-up (or cover?) and went down the scale to some tawdry and rather silly bondage movies which wouldn't offend anyone these days.

Then she disappeared. To become a bit of a myth. And a free lunch, since no one had to pay her to use her images.

She popped up a few years back, didn't let anyone take pictures of her, and it turns out she'd had a bit of a hard life. They even made a movie out of her life.

Anyway, I went home and told Linda. "Bad news is....Bettie Page exists. Good news....she's exactly my mother's age."

My wife tolerates my Bettie obsession, even letting my put her cut-out magnet dress (in her case, undress) set on the fridge for a few years. I still get the Bettie Calendar every year, and other assorted Bettie stuff.

All thanks to the Rocketeer.

R.I.P Dave Stevens.
Geez. What happens when the mainstream media gets more downbeat than me? I've been a contented little bear over the last couple of years, thinking I knew the scoop. And then one evening, I'm watching THE NEWS HOUR WITH JIM LEHRER.... and, damn if they don't sound scarier than me!

An interview last night with JANE BRYANT QUINN, columnist for Newsweek,(admittedly, I'm editing to give you the most frightening comments....)

"I think right now..." the consumer is... "taking away the message that things are bad and they're going to get worse....

"So far, I would say it's been mostly jaw-boning to try to deal with the most significant financial crisis we've had since the 1930s....

"I am looking for, I'm afraid, not a very comfortable time for consumers....

"And, you know, Judy, over the long run -- if you look at where America is in the world, relatively speaking, we are getting poorer...

"This is going to be a hard thing for Americans to face."

And this comment from David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal,

"You know, the risk here is that we have a downward spiral...."

There was pretty much more of the same. Judy Woodruff had that classic sort of kiss off at the end, like she couldn't believe these subjects were so downbeat....a little shake of the head, like, oh never mind...silly economists. I recognize the signs. It's still not penetrating...

A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes did a show on Stockton, California which was also pretty scary. But the rest of us normal American citizens can always shake our heads, and say, 'oh, 60 Minutes, you muckrakers, you!' And most of us can always laugh and say, 'oh, those nutty Californians!'

And every day, I check The Housing Bubble Blog, by Ben Jones, who simply gathers news stories from local media around the country about the housing market. But up to now, it's just been lots and lots of separate news stories. Many of them are actually scarier than the interview I mention above. Sometimes, these stories are highlighted by nutjobs like me and Paul-doh and Bilbobuster. (Wouldn't it be a kick to the head to find out that Bilbo's worst nightmare is reality?) But mostly it's disconnected, and easily dismissed.

So when will we have the Walter Cronkite moment, when some respected newsman give us the real scoop? (We've been lied to about Vietnam).

Or do we have anybody left with enough credibility and integrity to do that?

Our "At long last, Senator, have you no shame?" moment.?

Sometime back, one of the local bloggers (I'm sorry, I don't remember who) suggested that at some point the negatives of the real estate market would just become too irresistible for the media not to cover, even if it makes the advertisers unhappy. The media loves blood in the water, the "Is the head dead yet?" moments.

I think we may have crossed that point with the national media, and it's moving down the ladder. Soon, any self respecting news outlet that tries to sugarcoat the news in this kind of atmosphere is just going to succeed in making themselves look foolish.

Because this is the real deal.

I still think, chances are we'll muddle through. If good old Murphy and his damn Law will just butt out. I'm not yet ready to buy gold and bury it in the backyard. But, Geez!