Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Going whole bookhog.

Once again, I find myself going in the opposite direction as everyone else. I can't tell you the number of times this has happened. I'm gearing up, just as everyone else is gearing down; or I'm gearing down, just as everyone is gearing up.

I'm not totally sure why myself. Perhaps it's arrogance and hubris. "Pride goeth before the fall."

But what better time to proclaim yourself as healthy and raring to go? Let others cut back on their offering, I will actually increase mine.

I just ordered near 6000.00 worth of novels, in retail.

I'll try to explain why.

1.) My budget can handle it.

I've ordered everything in all the other categories of the store, and feel well stocked. I saved books for last. When I added all my finances up, I had a surprising surplus; if I continue thru the rest of the month at even 10% less than I've done up to this point, I'll be able to pay for 2/3rds of these books.

2.) I'm feeling more secure about my lease.

And my longterm occupancy in this space. My landlord (I refer to the property manager here, really, not the owner) was actually complimentary about my business; saying she thought my business would prosper in the coming times more than most.

Yeah, yeah, I know...buttering me up so I won't object to my rent, but I could also see she meant it.

3.) Sales haven't been as bad as I expected.

After the drop in fall of 2007, we had another big drop in the fall of 2008, but it seemed to stabilize at that rate and didn't fall any further. Sales have stayed consistent enough for me to make predictions. I'm at the higher of my three scenario's; which were admittedly very, very conservative.

4.) I've lowered my overhead so much...

I actually have more money to spend on product. I am debt free. I still have my reserve funds. I was so concerned going into Christmas, that I really cut back leaving me with more wiggle room to maneuver than I expected.

5.) Books are doing well.

They are currently my second best category, not bad for an inventory I've done very little to replenish over the last three months. My wife's store is doing so well. I just want some of that book goodness.

6.) I'm interested and engaged, and that's really important.

I've always been a huge reader, and for some reason titles and authors really stick in my head, which is a handy talent for a bookdealer.

I attribute success to motivation as much as anything. If I turn my focus to something, it tends to do well, at least while my focus is there -- and I'll be sure to stay on this until those books are paid off.

7.) The last year or so has almost been a trial run to being a bookstore.

I learned that best-sellers and newer books don't actually do all that well for me. I've learned that liquidated books, no matter how cheap or how well known I thought the authors or titles were, don't. I learned that mass market paperbacks don't sell as well as trade paperbacks, and neither do hardcovers.

I experimented with non-fiction; I tried carrying popular fiction.

What I have found works best for my store are classics, cult books, the 'hip' authors, and my own favorite books.

A stop gap measure, at first.

At first I carried new books because I got tired of people asking for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, for instance, and never having it in the used section. Finally, I got the bright idea of carrying it new, and low and behold, people bought it.

It was easy to come up with the first 50 books; and then another 50 books; and then another. This last order was exactly 400 books -- all the books on my 'want' list; the books and authors I've either sold already, sometimes more than once, or books and authors I have a pretty good feeling I will sell.

You sell what sells.

Because, when you get right down to it, my job is to sell things. This isn't always easy. I mean, I often don't know in toys, games, cards, and comics what will sell and what won't. I identify best-sellers whenever possible, and keep them in stock and call them 'evergreens'. But mostly, I've already done that, pursued that course in graphic novels and board games which are the only real 'evergreen' categories I have, toys and cards card games being much more time sensitive.

I get the advantage of constantly new stuff in comics and cards and games, already. Books give me a more stable platform under that activity.

Classics are never dated.

With books, I'm still finding new old books that will sell. There really isn't too much guesswork in thinking that Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck will sell. These books and many more have already stood the test of time. There isn't actually much guesswork in thinking that GONE WITH THE WIND, or SHOGUN, or THE LITTLE PRINCE will sell.

Just keep following the veins of gold.

This order kept expanding because I was following a -- to me -- logical strategy of adding similar books to those that sell. For instance, if I find that 2 out of 3 Shel Silverstein books keep selling, then order a 4th.

I maybe got a little carried away. I've been carrying about 15 Philip K. Dick books, for instance, and I had sold half of them, and I decided to carry them all. Turns out, that was 40 books. But even that is a statement. A stack of 40 cult books is a form of advertising; it says, wow, this store is different.

Carry only the best.

Similarly, when it came to carrying S.F. for instance, I made a stab at carrying the cutting edge authors, such as China Mieville and Neal Asher. But, I also made a point of carrying lots of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein.

In mysteries, I made a point of carrying all the Raymond Chandlers and Dasheill Hammetts.

Limited space.

I have enough space to carry a very good selection of fiction novels. But I do have to be selective. What I discovered was, since a mass paperback books of DUNE costs 7.99 and a trade paperback copy sells for 15.00, and they take about the same amount of space, that if I carry the bigger book a customer will still tend to buy it.

Because it's a good and or classic book.

Class sells.

Similarly, I've found that if you have a choice, pick the classiest version of that book. I can buy a nice generic copy of DRACULA, for instance, a solid color cover with only the title and author. Or I can buy a nice 'prestige' publisher version of the same book, sometimes for twice as much.

I'm not sure people are aware that they are buying the Simon and Shuster, the Random House, or the Penguin versions, but they gravitate toward them.

Hardcovers are sometimes the answer for the same reason. An ANNOTATED ALICE IN WONDERLAND, seems to be preferred over a cheap paperback version. When I looked to carry Walt Whitman's LEAVES OF GRASS, I settled on a 22.00 Random House hardcover rather than one of the myriad of cheap versions.

Because, if you are a customer buying a classic or cult book, you won't mind -- you may actually prefer -- to buy the nicer version.

I am pretty confident in all 400 books I just ordered. At a guess, I'm betting there are another 1000 or 2000 books that would fit my criteria.

And I have yet to look at a single best-seller list.


Olde Dame Penniwig said...

I think you are going to do well this year, and I hope the people of Bend appreciate their bookseller and his store. Kudos for carrying all of Philip K. Dick's works.

Something I saw work really well at another bookstore was a little table that had books on it that were all later made into movies -- Gone with the Wind, as you mentioned, but A Town Like Alice, Anne Frank - the diary of a young girl, and of course many others. People who wouldn't ordinarily read fiction were buzzing around it and the store owner told me it was always good for boosting sales...just a thought...now off to see the Bush Family Welcome Home!!! Probably won't be able to get anywhere near it...

Jeff said...

Great post, Duncan. Interesting to hear your strategy, not that it has anything to do with me, other than curiousity to understand another man's trade.

tim said...

That makes sense. I've ordered a bunch of PKD from Amazon because B&N only has a smattering (and, of course, because Amazon is so much cheaper).

I was always pissed that Bookmark and the other used place across the street don't have them used (at least not the ones I haven't read). You can find almost all of them easily in Eugene & Portland.

Duncan McGeary said...

We can only get what books people bring in, Tim. We don't turn them away.

If I sell enough new ones in my store, maybe they'll start showing up.

We are still a bit of a backwater.

tim said...

>>We can only get what books people bring in, Tim.

Yeah, I know. Big problem with books when you're small and don't have a college.