Saturday, March 18, 2023

Human choices for human people.

I just discovered a application in one of supplier's websites that I didn't know existed and which will make things more efficient in the future.

I feel stupid when this happens. I stumbled upon this app, and it makes me aware that there are probably tons of apps that I don't yet know about, that I should know about, and that I could probably learn if I applied myself to that goal.

See, I'm still stuck in the mindset of trying to learn it all in my head. I come from a time when if you wanted info you had to go to the library or buy a book or go to school. A time when the media was newspapers and magazines that were tossed when you were done skimming them, plus a half hour news program once in the evening. When if you wanted to catch a movie, you had to go to the theater during its brief run or skim TV Guide listings for late night showings. 

So obviously there are lots of disadvantages to still being of that mindset. I tried a point-of-sale computer and hated it. I have been paying by check for years and only yesterday did I realize that I have only a couple of places I still send payments by mail. I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the future. 

And yet...

There is so much capacity for info out there that it is very easy to get overwhelmed and unfocused. I'm not sure that curating a bookstore isn't done better on a human level, one book at a time. Algorithms are pretty soulless, no matter how well designed. It seems to me that algorithms can only analyze what is, not what could be.

Making choices based on what's in my head by definition makes Pegasus Books more individual and eclectic. I believe human people still recognize and appreciate human choices. I think, in some ways, that's why small bookstores have made a comeback.

There is still a huge amount of groupthink in books. I don't know if the ABA is doing us all favors by recommending the same 25 books to every bookstore on their list. 

I suppose concepts like reading lounges and coffee shops are a way to bring the humanity back to the process, but even those are manifestations of groupthink. (Personally, I think time, space, and energy are wasted on these things.) 

My bookstore is stocked enough that I simply wait for a book to come to my attention rather than seeking out books. Sometimes I'll get a whim to find certain types of books, or I'll make an accidental discovery. A passing mention in an article, or a good review, or simply more than one person asking for a title.

Oh, I'm not above going to Tiktok books to see what's hot. (The response to these books have been rather amazing to me.) But I try not to be completely captured by them either. 

In other words, keeping the bookstore limited to the capacity of my own memory and tastes and guesses keeps to store interesting--to me and, hopefully, to my customers. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The meaning of "nerd."

After forty years of being King Nerd, I wonder where I fit in. After all, can anyone be more of a nerd than a comic shop operator? 

Thing is, I don't remember the term "nerd" from when I was a kid (which was probably when I was at my nerdiest.) I remember my constant reading of books and my black framed glasses as marking me as different. I remember that I was always aware that I could be singled out for bullying. Each school year, I would spend the first few weeks trying not to fall into that category. Most of the time, I succeeded. 

In hindsight, what was different about me was that I was a true loner. Usually, I had a "best" friend and probably a "backup" friend, but I was rarely part of a group outside of organized activities. My mother constantly encouraged me to join in organized groups, but really I was most happy just frittering about by myself or with a friend or two. 

I spent a huge amount of time daydreaming. I think I always wanted to be a writer, and as I got older, owning a bookstore seemed like the best job a person could have. 

The turning point into "nerd" probably happened when I read Lord of the Rings. Or rather, when I read LOTRs too many times to count. Followed by Robert E. Howard's Conan, and then any other fantasy I could find, and most science fiction I could find. 

I finally wrote a book, Star Axe, which reflected my love of fantasy. I went to my first and last science fiction convention. From the moment I walked into that convention I realized that I was not like other nerds. These nerds tended to delight in joining with other nerds, while I wandered the hall alone.

When I bought the store, I had the same experience. It seemed to me that most nerds loved to mingle, whereas I could barely stand to be in the same room for too long. Nothing against nerds, just that I was a loner and it wore me out. I had to actually try to be as nerdy as my customers, though it wasn't hard. In other words, I sort of envied their ability to fit in. I still felt like the odd man out.

I also started to notice that while I loved nerd material, my actual interests seemed to be all over the place. This has remained true to this day. Currently, I'm reading Camera Man, by Dana Stevens, a book about Buster Keaton and his milieu. What possible good does it do me to read about Buster Keaton? No reason. I just wanted to. I am always reading a mix of things, fiction, non-fiction, nerdy or otherwise

My appetite for fantasy waned, and I started reading more mystery books. But then, I always read a lot of mystery books...and everything else. Whereas most nerds seemed find a single subject most interesting, and don't stray far away.

To me, a nerd is someone who has odd interests, gets totally into those odd interests for a time without regard to whether anyone else is doing so. 

Maybe I'm a nerd among nerds, I don't know. 

I'm constantly asked at the store, "How do you keep up?"

"What makes you think I keep up?" 

They think I'm joking, but as time as gone on and nerd culture has more or less conquered the world, I've fallen steadily behind.

Then again, my inclinations haven't changed. I'm still a nerd among nerds.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

I'm never going to catch up and I'm never going to keep up.

When I bought Pegasus Books in April, 1984, I was behind on comic reading. I went on a spree of reading, and I read enough to understand the appeal of the X-Men and such. But I realized right away that I was never going to catch up nor was I ever going to keep up. 

I remember getting the trade magazine and simply being overwhelmed by the amount of information. The trick, as I learned, was to discover what was necessary to know, what was nice to know, and what was stuff I could safely ignore.

Back then, there weren't as many companies doing comics and there were fewer comics overall. Still, it was a daunting task to order material three months in advance with, if you were lucky, a paragraph of information. This was non-returnable material that had a short shelf life.

Later on, graphic novels came along and they had a longer shelf-life and I knew what I was getting. So a big improvement. 

But no matter how hard I tried, I could never quite make enough money on comics alone to survive, so began my odyssey of trying to find supplemental product to sell. Sports cards, beanie babies, pogs, Magic and Pokemon, toys, boardgames, and finally, books. 

I learned through all this that I didn't have to know everything, but I had to know enough to talk about it with my customers. Frankly, I also had to learn to fake it. (I never did play pogs, beanie babies were cute, but come on...) 

Thing is, this wasn't laziness or neglect on my part. I remember saying when someone asked me if I was going to carry electronic games, "My brain will explode if I have to learn one more thing."

So it's a constant triage of what's most important.

Currently, books and graphic novels are 2/3rds my business, comics about 20%, and toys, games, and misc is the last bit of percentage.

Sabrina takes care of ordering most of the comics and graphic novels and the games. I order most of the card games, toys, and, most importantly, the books.

I'm very much a generalist in knowledge. I know a little bit about a lot of pop culture. I think it has served me well. In every product category, I sort of have schematic in my head where everything slots in. 

With books, my schematic is pretty wide and detailed. I've always had a voracious appetite for knowledge about books and movies. So I'm in pretty good shape there. 

The interesting challenge to me now is the growing importance of anime, manga, and electronic games. They have gone from interesting sidelines to being a major part of the business. I may not carry electronic games, but I'm carrying a lot of books that are about them or inspired by them.

Manga has become so big that it has more or less changed the landscape of Young Adult books. A hefty percentage of the YA books I sell are graphic novels, and I think it was the success of manga that brought this about. 

The point being: I need to pay attention to Japanese, Chinese, and Korean culture: this includes DVDs, books, graphic novels, art books, and toys. 

I've been bringing in a lot of Japanese material, especially toys. Again, there is a vast array of material to choose from. I read somewhere that half of Japanese publishing is manga. Imagine that. Comics are tiny, tiny, tiny comparatively. (I'm not talking about the influence of comics, which has become huge. I'm talking about the actually reading of comics.) 

With manga, I have a pretty good idea of what is selling. I'm sort of like a restaurant who has to choose what types of meals to offer, because, believe you me, it would take a city block to try to carry every manga available.

Most of the Japanese figures I get are based on shows I've never seen. Here's the thing: these figures are relatively expensive. Hundreds of dollars for some of them, with minuscule profit margins. A relatively cheap figure might run $50. They sell "blind boxes" which have one small figure in them for anywhere from $5.99 to $19.99. 

The simple answer would be to only order toys from the well-known manga and anime. Demon Slayer, Jututsu Kaisen, Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titan, and so on. 

The problem is--I don't know who the major characters are in each of these shows; or, at least, the characters my customers would be most likely to get.

What I finally decided to do was to order only those figures that had a "cool" factor--to me, if to no one else. The figure had to be aesthetically pleasing, something I could see having displayed on my own desk. Most of these are probably a mystery as much to my customers as to me. So they don't sell often and they don't sell fast, but in the meantime, the store is full of cool stuff.

Almost everything in my store needs to have the "cool" factor, including books. I'm not above ordering bestselling material that doesn't appeal to me, but when in doubt, I always resort to ordering something that I like. 

If what I like doesn't match the customers', then eventually it will catch up to me. 

So far it hasn't.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

All the fixings of a used bookstore.

I'm just going to put this out there: I have all the makings of a used bookstore that someone could start with very little money. They might even be able to make a (very modest) living from it.  I've got about 18,000 books, 25 bookcases, a bunch of other fixtures, a cash register. And lots of free advice.

I keep wondering why Redmond or Burns or a lot of other Central and Eastern Oregon towns don't have a used bookstore.

All of this exists because it was my own backup plan for if I got bored while retired. I figured it wouldn't require more than 600 to 800 square feet, limited hours--12:00 to 5:00, Tuesday through Saturday. Very little downpayment, and in some of these smaller towns, the rent should be affordable. 

A knowledge and love of books would probably be necessary. I'd recommend buying books for a year or so off of liquidation sites to spruce up your beginning inventory, and I think if you're willing to buy good books, you could have a decent business. Nothing to make you rich, but someone just starting out might be able to turn it into something without a huge investment. Or someone older who doesn't want to sit at home. 

My own plan was to find another one or two retired folk who could watch the store if I wanted time off. 

I might still do this down the road a few years if no one appears or I can't get what I think the materials are worth. (Like I said, I think starting a used bookstore is probably the most achievable thing to do for someone with limited funds but lots of enthusiasm.)

If anyone is interested, you can just message me on Facebook or on this blog. I kind of wish I could do it myself, but my own store is doing fantastic so I'm sticking with that for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

That click-baity stuff wears thin.

I don't know if it's me or the internet, but I'm finding less and less interesting browsing material online. I'm fairly immune to click-bait these days. I find myself reading more headlines and less core material. It ain't hard to figure out what they're going to hit you with. 

We're in a weird non-news cycle, other than the usual fuckery. Which I'm thankful that really grabs me is usually in the catastrophic realm of things. 

I have a number if sites I go to for news, (liberal bias admitted): NY Times, Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Slate, Vox, and occasionally, USA Today. I've tried many other sites, but these somehow stuck.

I go to specialty sites about books, Shelf Awareness and Passive Voice.

Locally, I read the Bulletin in paper form and check out KTVZ online (avoid the comments! We're doomed!)

It seems like the quality of the content has declined, become even more superficial--or perhaps I've just lost patience with their puffery. 

For instance, Huffington Post has a section of columns written by non-professionals. I mean, I think these people believe they are professional writers, but most of them aren't half as interesting as they think they are. (Hey, I'm at least Half as interesting as I think I am.)

A lot of self-absorbed blather that strives to be profound and is usually just boring, over-written, and over-long. 

And so it goes. 

The only two social media sites I go to are Facebook and Reddit. 

I just check the main Reddit; I don't belong to any sub-reddits. It's OK to check out when nothing else is going on. 

Facebook. Oh, my. I'm not sure what's going on there. Facebook has decided on a group of "friends" that I'm going to see. I'm pretty sure it's because I've clicked on them--but then, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn't it? Because I clicked, I get more of them to click. A common denominator seems to be that these friends write original posts and not just copying something else.

Oh, and Facebook has also decided that I want Beatles stuff, more Beatles stuff, and oh, here you go...Beatles stuff.  

Anyway, I think I'm slowly but surely cutting down and drifting away, and that ain't all a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

I have mostly stopped writing fiction, but that hasn't stopped me from writing. What you see on this blog is only the tip of the iceberg. I probably write ten times more entries than I actually post. Mostly because I have learned, to my chagrin, that I can't be completely and totally candid on posted blogs. Most often not because I think what I have to say is wrong, but because I'm afraid of unnecessarily insulting or hurting someones feelings. I reserve that right to myself, I guess.

Plus who really wants to hear my daily blather? I'm letting myself post this today, because it's an example of why you should be thankful I don't do it everyday and clog up your Facebook.

Not that anything I say here isn't honest and candid, it's just that I censor myself. Lots of observations from an old man may not be suitable to the world these days. Some subjects just can't be touched, no matter how diplomatic I try to be. 

It's always scary to see someone torch their reputation in public. It's unnecessary. Frankly, if you have opinions that cause that much strife, you might want to rethink. If nothing else, you might consider that you could possibly be wrong. 

My blog posts--or more accurately, my diary posts to myself--are just me thinking aloud.  It helps me order my thoughts. I have a habit of asking myself, "How are you doing?" Often the answer is pretty much the same. Not sure anyone would want to listen to that for long. I ponder things, and if the question is thorny, I try to ask myself, "What is the right thing to do, here?" 

For years while working the store every day, I'd go to sleep at night and ask two questions:

1.) What I have done today that I shouldn't have done?

2.) What haven't I done today, that I should have?

These two questions almost always solicit answers, some of the unexpected. They also tend to resolve quandaries that I might have been wrestling with. Now that I'm at an age where things can go sideways at any moment, I'm trying to give myself a break. I've mostly succeeded in what I set out to do, at least to my satisfaction. 

But I'm still working at the store, at least part-time, because I'm not yet ready to completely retreat from the everyday world. There are still the challenges of small business and I more or less relish that. 

Letting go of stuff.

I bagged, boarded, and priced 400 comics yesterday. Took me most of the afternoon. My current estimate on how long it will take to fully install each long box of comics is about 5 hours. Since I'm going to do at least 20 boxes and probably more, we're talking about, at least, 100 hours. My estimate of how much I've done is about 1/3rd of the way.

I'm going to be busy all of February trying to get all this done. I'll do the final touches in March. Quite the chore I took on.

I also took on the job of emptying out the basement and have removed about 150 boxes of used books. I'm sort of alternating the two tasks.

Having a bad back for a month slowed things down, but I'm back on it. I'm trying to keep the momentum without over-doing it. 

But I'm sort of amazed it is getting done. For years I looked upon the piles of stuff and quailed at the thought of dealing with it. Not sure what finally impelled me to get going on it. Part of it was landlord wanting me to clear out some of the stuff. 

I was talking to one of my customers about it, and he mentioned that he was still "pissed" about me giving away all my sports cards. 

"Well, hell," I said. "I have a whole basement of stuff. You want to see it?"

He liked what he saw so we dickered for awhile and came up with a lump sum. I'm nothing if not an opportunist. 

He hauled away a bunch of stuff on Sunday: all the posters, old toys, and non-sports cards plus miscellany. He's coming back for more stuff, and I sweetened the deal by offering him 3000 comics. (Non-bagged, boarded, and priced, thank goodness.)

The older I get, the more willing I am to let go of stuff. I've never been a collector myself, but I always accumulated material for the store. 

This stuff might be worth a lot more than I sold it for, but it isn't liquid and at this point in my life, holding onto it doesn't make sense. I know in my heart that I would never had time to monetize the stuff; nor did I think Sabrina would ever want to take on the task.

I can take the money I'm making on the old stuff and buy new stuff that can sell upstairs. 

Once I actually started dealing with the stuff, it turned out not to be as impossible as I thought.