Saturday, August 21, 2021

The supply chain handicap.

One thing I think people underestimate is how much small business's are handicapped by the supply chain. 

It isn't so much that we can't sell the same product for the same or lower prices, as that often we aren't really allowed to sell the same product at all. That is, the hottest product is often not available to us when we need it. 

There are the obvious volume discounts that the big stores get. There are the exclusives they are given. But most harmful is the priority the big stores get in shipping. Either they get it first--sometimes weeks to months before we do. Or they get it when it isn't even available to us. 

I don't think the big boys are more efficient than we are--in fact, I'd make the case that we are tons more efficient than they are. We have to be--plus, we're small enough to pay attention to every detail. The big boys don't need that--they just let their overwhelming size and numbers do the work.

A small example. There was a glowing article on an online news site about a boardgame that is "changing" the world of gaming: Wingspan.

Here's the thing. We've never been able to get that game. Not once. We try every week. 

So here's a game that is so important, according to this article, that is is changing the entire environment of gaming--and we can't get it. 

This is the normal course of events. There were a couple of recent Christmas's where Target and Walmart had completely bought out the complete run of a game. 

Forget trying to get toys if there is shortage. We either never get them or don't get them until the season is long over. Another example is how numbers work in the big boys favor is that when they get cases of toys. In every case, there are the hot toys and the cold toys. Obviously, the hot ones sell first--just like what happens to us. But in their case, they get a rebate for the unsold toys. We get a full wall of unsaleable toys. We aren't stupid--we'd order Boba Fett and Darth Vader and the other hot characters if we could, instead of a bunch of background robots no one wants, but they only put a few of those in every case. 

Another example are graphic novels when a movie is made. To be clear, Sin City sold only in comic shops for year and years. To the extent that anyone even knew what Sin City was, it was because of us. When the movie came out, not a single copy was available the the comic stores for the entire season. 

So the next time you go into a small store and they don't have what you want, please remember it isn't because we're stupid or inefficient, it's because the system is designed to serve the big boys first. 

We are an afterthought. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Bestsellers are preordained.

I've been actively ordering new bestsellers weekly for about a year now. Most of them sell at least once, some sell many times. The trick is to know when to back off. 

But one thing has become completely clear to me during the process: bestsellers are preordained. 

They are selected in advance by The Powers That Be, and then propagated by lists from organizations like the American Booksellers Association, the book buyers from the big chains, and the recommendations from the media, especially NPR and the N.Y. Times. 

This bestseller status is cemented by how many copies are actually available to buy: even on the advance lists, some books are bulked up and others are pretty skimpy. This becomes even more transparent as the sales results come in. If a book doesn't take off right away, the quantities available shrink also. 

I suppose there are some out-of-left-field winners, but I haven't seen any so far. I believe even such outliers as "The Martian" become preordained as soon as they gain a little ground; that is, the Big Boys pick them up and add them to the "preordained" list. 

How do you become a bestselling author? By paying your dues or having an interesting background story or having credentials that make you part of the "club." The intellectual elite, if you will. I assume that powerful agents and editors are really the ones who decide. As I say, Preordained

I'm not saying this as sour grapes. It's frankly hard to see how it could work any other way. Back in the days when the market depended on small independent bookstores, I believe there was a wider range of "midlist" books that sold well enough to pay off the advance and give the writer a possible career.

But midlist books are vanishing. The bets are on bestsellers each week, which pay for everything else. There is probably much less independent ordering of books nowadays.

I'm influenced as much as anyone else, though I do tend to take a slightly more wait and see attitude to bestsellers. If a book is an obvious bestseller, it will still sell after it becomes obvious--sometimes for a full year or more.

I also tend to order a lot more "backlist" books than most bookstores. I think this because I created my bookstore out of backlist books from the beginning (books that have a solid history of interest) and only later added the gamble of new bestsellers.

Because that's what it is: a weekly gamble, no matter how preordained the books are by The Powers That Be. Not all bestsellers actually become bestsellers, though they have a much higher chance of being so once selected for that spot. I believe that most bookstores on are this rollercoaster, depending on those new bestsellers to raise enough cash to buy the next way of bestsellers.

I mean, this is somewhat obvious, but the full extent of it is a bit of a surprise to me. 

And so it goes.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

"Ready Player Two" is a silly book.

"Ready Player Two" is a supremely silly book. 

I advance that opinion with some hesitation because "silly" is what people said to me about my interests growing up. I think there is a whole range of quality and depth in pop culture.

But there does seem to be some distance between me and other people involved in the pop culture trade. For instance, I decided early on that I wouldn't surround myself with the trappings of pop culture at home when I was inundated with it all day at the store. From my observation, this isn't true of most writers or book, game, or comic store owners. They seem to surround themselves with pop culture wherever they are. 

I was talking to Sabrina yesterday about this and told her that I have always been somewhat "middle-brow." My taste seem to be solidly in the middle between high-brow and low-brow material and I venture into both realms at random. 

I wouldn't say I matured past fantasy--what happened to me was the I realized that I'd fully absorbed most of the tropes and memes of the genre and it was becoming too damn predictable. So I started reading mysteries and thrillers more often, with the occasional "literary" or non-fiction book thrown in.

I also realized that so much of pop culture is "nerd triumphant," which is wish fulfillment, and if you buy into that too much, it is pretty silly. 

At the same time, I've become somewhat allergic to literary tropes. Slow-moving character studies about abuse or drugs or alcoholism or careerism or the holocaust or any number of social problems. Pedestrian writing, lots of telling and introspection, and a seeming allergy to action or movement. Yes, I suppose that makes you a "serious" book when you deal with those subjects, but it doesn't necessarily make you a good writer. 

"Ready Player One" was a nice breezy book and I didn't think about it too much as I was reading it. "Ready Player Two" ups the ante on all the dubious aspects of nerdism and made me squirm a little. I pushed through to the end feeling like it wasn't the triumph the writer seemed to think it was, but a little scary. It made me think if nerds really did run the world, we'd be in big trouble.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

FCBD and masks.

I have no idea what to expect today. We cancelled Free Comic Book Day, but there are probably going to be dozens of customers who didn't get the word. We always have a big turnout even though we don't advertise the event.

I'll need to keep my patience--that plus the mask requirement will probably be a challenge. I'm going to the store to be moral support for Sabrina. I'll wander around straightening and helping wherever I can and given her a full hour off for lunch. If it looks manageable later in the afternoon, I may go home.

Meanwhile, I'm at my lowest weight in a long time--178. Usually, even though I say I'm at 180, the truth is I waver between 180 and 183. Now I'm wavering between 178 and 181. Thing is, I haven't been dieting. I haven't been doing anything different except cutting out sugar. I'm also drinking water instead of calorie free lemonade because the doctor said the body can be fooled into thinking its getting sugar when it gets sweets. 

My last bloodtests said I was borderline A1C, so I quit sugars the day I got that report. The doctor just gave me a strange look and said, "How did you do that?"

 I shrugged and said, "I was only eating sugary stuff because I thought I was immune. If I'm not, I'm not that addicted to it. Now if it was potato chips...."

Anyway, this seems like real weight loss so I'm going to try to build on it and maybe finally get down to the 173 or so that I need to open a whole wardrobe of winter clothing.


I've decided that I'm going to continue writing, but I want a good solid premise before I start the next book. One that I know will be good.

It's funny--I've cut way back on writing for the last couple of years but there was enough in the pipeline that it's all still coming out. I have a new novel coming Sept. 13. I have two short stories included in anthologies. "The Dead Spend No Gold" has just been released in Audible. 

And my ghostwritten book is coming out in a couple of weeks and will probably spend a little time in the Top Ten bestseller list for mass market paperbacks. (But I won't be able to brag about it, except in such general terms that it's meaningless.) I don't know how much they changed the story--but I do know they changed it in ways I won't like. Therefore, I won't read it. I'm going to need to ignore it.  

I'll report on FCBD later...

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

It seems like I spend half my time breaking down boxes, which is onerous until I remember that each of those empty boxes were once filled with books that we've sold. The only thing keeping us from selling even more books is the lack of space. 

Today I added a small endcap fixture, which didn't prove to be as useful as I'd hoped because almost none of the young adult books I hoped to fill it with would fit. (The fixture had been designed for paperbacks, and almost all YA digest are like a centimeter too tall. Arrggh.)


I have to go back tomorrow to finish stocking the books. It seems like I have more or less a four day work week most weeks now. 


The store really, really needs a vacuuming. What's weird is that I'm totally willing to go in and work 4 hours, but going in to spend 1 hour on vacuuming when the store isn't open seems terribly imposing. What's the difference? I have no idea. The hour after work seems extra, but really isn't. All I have to do is go in an hour later in the day. 


Had a guy in who works for an online comic site and he said, "I visit comic shops all over America and this is the best comic shop I've ever seen." 

Thing is, we get this quite a lot. But no one locally seems to know how unusual my shop is. I know my shop is unique in it's approach and presentation, so that really attracts some people. Other people are "eh...where are the back issues?" Or "eh, why don't you have"...some kind of nerdy thing. 

But if you are a pop culture kind of person, I do think Pegasus has a lot to offer. I'm proud of it, at least.

We are still on goal for earnings this summer. It's starting to cool off a little, but that is all relative--it's still sales I would have killed for a decade ago. But it's all relative to how much I spend, and I'm spending at the previous high levels which is making things tight. I'm trying to adjust. 


More or less 3 weeks left of summer. Just need to keep focused on getting through them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Such a problem.

I tried quantifying how much extra work book sales are requiring right now. I think it's roughly about 8 hours of ordering, 8 hours of stocking, and an hour of breaking down and recycling boxes. 

Fortunately, I'm available to do that. Plus I kind of enjoy it. 

I'd already decided that as long as this surge lasts, I'll dedicate the time to it. Books and graphic novels now account for 2/3rds the total sales at Pegasus Books. We've more or less turned into a bookstore with comics, cards, games, and toys available.

Who'd have thunk it?

I finally got my step tracker back on, and it appears that I take about 9K steps per day when I'm working at the store. I remember back five years or so when it was half that much. But we're so busy I never sit down. If nothing else, I need to constantly put the store back into order after the waves of customers pass through. 

I keep thinking I'll vacuum the store from top to bottom, but there is never time--and the minute I turn the vacuum on, the store fills up with customers. 

Such a problem.

Basically, I'll need to dedicate a couple of hours a week to store chores while the door is locked. 

I'm very grateful that this has worked out. When I first came back to work and decided to go all in on books, I expected a slight increase, not this deluge. I never even considered that it would entail a lot more work. 

Oh, well. As I say, such a problem.