Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Old Favorites.

I'm really enjoying today, a day off at home. Linda is off doing errands, so it's Buddy Jasper and me. It feels good, peaceful.

I was thinking about the "back list," because of another article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch about how mainstream publishers are neglecting those titles. Of course, I often make the same contention about most bookstores.

But "back list" isn't descriptive or singular enough to define the phenomenon. After all, any book that has been published is a back list book, eventually. 

So this morning, I came up with the phrase, "old favorites." I mean, I could say perennial or evergreen titles, but that's vague. Classics is a subcategory, so are quirky, or even "cult" books. 

Old favorites it is.

I often get requests for a back list book. Now usually I can tell if the book I'm being asked for is something that maybe only the person asking wants--or whether it has a wider appeal. (If nothing else, I can look at the publishing date, how many copies are in stock, and the selling number on Amazon.)

On the assumption that someone's favorite is somebody's else favorite, I usually order such titles for the store. Only rarely do they not sell, and I'm never sure if it is the person who requested it. I absolutely love it when it becomes one of the old favorites.

In a sense, my job as a bookseller has been to ascertain which books have a continued following. Each book I add that is an evergreen seller adds to the base sales. 

Bestsellers are something different. "Front List" is the terminology for those, and most of the action is the first week or two. Now, for almost a decade I ignored these books. First of all, they were hardcovers, which is a harder sell (--or so I thought.) Secondly, they were always a guess. They may be bestsellers elsewhere but not in my store.

But in 2018, as I came back to work, I decided to take the plunge. I quickly ascertained which bestsellers I can sell and which I can't.  But even the ones I sell, I usually only sell one or two, sometimes more. So I'm now refining the process to those that sell within a week or a month, which keep selling, and when I should stop ordering them and wait for the paperback. 

I'd say only a small percentage of these bestsellers become "old favorites," though they remain familiar with customers for a few years and still have a chance of selling to someone who missed the original wave. 

Oh, and by the way, I don't return books. I get a higher discount, and besides I can usually unload a book at a large discount to a customer if I really want to get rid of it. They were bestsellers at some point, so they become back list, if not old favorites. 

I will admit--books sell better when I carry bestsellers. It adds an aura to my store. 

But I believe a good back list is what distinguishes my store. The more books readers recognize, the more they think my store is the kind of store they like. I'm sure that mainstream stores dazzle their customers with new bestsellers, but they seem to always be using their budget to move onto the next thing, and then the next. After all, that's the model that movies, games, TV shows, and music takes.

But, then again, Netflix also gets a ton of business from backlist. 

In fact, if you want to know what to carry in your bookstore, you could do worse then paying attention to what the streaming services are doing. 

Mainstream publishers and bookstores? Sometimes I think they are clueless.

A few years ago, after I sold a ghostwritten book to a major publisher, I was given a reference to a big-time agent.

"What sort of books do you write?"

"Mostly horror, but..." 

"Horror doesn't sell," he said, closing the door.

Only later did I think, "Hey, tell Netflix horror doesn't sell! I don't think they've gotten the message!"

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Congrats, Mike.

Once upon a time (1980) I walked into a tiny little store on Greenwood Ave, Bend, Oregon, and met the very tall owner, Mike Richardson. I'd just published my first book, and we spent a lot of time arguing about SF. Because I had free hours, I started working for him.
A few years later, he moved to Portland, started a comic company called Dark Horse comics. I bought the Bend store from him.

Congrats, Mike. You did it.…





Curse you, Santa!

I was doing great guns business yesterday when around 4:00 it just seemed to shut down. 

Dead quiet.

Turns out, Santa was putting on a free show at the Tower Theater.

Curse you, Santa!!

Yes, you heard me. I've gone against Santa. But, hell. He ain't no less commercial than I am, right? And while I'm at it, Screw you other reindeer! Who wants to be part of your reindeer games anyway?

So of course I'm kidding. (not). I mean, at least I'm aware of the Grinchiness of such a statement and am vaguely ashamed of myself.


Saturday, December 18, 2021

I'm a storekeeper. That's my job.

Customers often ask if I sell online or do mail order. When I say no, I can see in their eyes that they think I'm missing out on sales.

Here's the thing, if I have time away from the store to do those things, then it means I've not created enough person-to-person business in my store. To me, if I'm doing my job correctly, my work shift will be filled with selling product already in my store to customers who are already in my store. 

I'll admit, there have been days, weeks, even months and years, where that wasn't happening. But it seemed to me that any time I took away from trying to create business outside the store was just making it harder to get there. 

I admit, if things had ever gotten bad enough, I would have gone online. But the store has been doing relatively well as long as "online" has existed. So I've concentrated on making the in-store even busier. Create the atmosphere, get the inventory, reorder what sells, display them properly, keep the store clean and organized. Be knowledgeable about my product.

If there isn't someone in the store, then it gives me time to straighten, to order, to clean, to rearrange more attractive displays. Do the basics and do them well and the day will go by fast. Concentrate on my job INSIDE the store and make it work. 

If I'm successful, I don't have the time or energy to spend looking for business outside the store. To me it's a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more time I spend looking for business outside the store, the less time I have to make the store itself works--which then forces me to spend even more time outside the store, and on and on. 

But the opposite is also true. The more time I spend trying to make the store work, the less time I have to spend online or elsewhere.

Does that make sense?

As I've always tried to point out, it's my opinion that as many stores go out of business because of burn-out as because they don't make enough money. The entrepreneurs are given the myth that they should work 80 hour weeks, that they should do everything the customer wants. That not only should they run their store--which as I'm trying to make the case, should be a full-time job all by itself--but do the extra things. Hold promotional events, go to conventions, open early and stay open late, have constant sales, sell online and through the mail. But all those things are distractions from doing your basic job better.

The weird part is that, given time, concentrating on the basics should in the end create as much business as one person can handle. And that's all I'm looking for. I'm not interested in being a manager, of taking all the work home. I'm interested in a full eight hour day: doing all the things that make the in-store work. 

I'm a store keeper. That's my job.

I suppose the road to success is relative. But I know that the road to personal satisfaction came in keeping things to basics, refining them constantly, and just making it all work.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Nimbyism for everyone.

Interesting how not just homeless camps in Bend are being opposed these days, but just about any new subdivision seems to have opposition. Nimbyism for everyone. But I wonder how these people think Bend got the way it is.

Pretty constant question at the store is how I feel about all the changes. Well, the short answer? I moved the Redmond. heh.

So, the traffic is a little much, I admit. The elitism is offputting to me: membership clubs downtown and gated communities, but overall, I think that Bend becoming a bit more cosmopolitan and diverse is a good thing. Though we will need to get a handle on the homelessness problem.

The truth is, we just aren't a small town anymore. 

I was talking to another downtown merchant a couple of days ago. She thought we'd been around about the same length of time, though I'm pretty sure I was here at least a decade before her. I didn't disabuse her of the notion. We talked about how downtown has changed, and I said, "I've gone from stocking the cheapest version of a book to the nicest version of a book."

"That's it exactly," she said. 

I suppose the downside of that is that people perceive downtown as too expensive, but the truth is--they thought that way long ago, long before the biggest changes happened. In other words, the impression was there before the reality. So there wasn't really as much of downside to going upscale as people think.

Of course, I'm still of the opinion that a bookstore needs to appeal to everyone, and having the "nicest" book I can get appeals to everyone. People don't come downtown for commodities--they come downtown for something different, something unique.  

We were never really a mass market paperback kind of bookstore, but we staked a ground in the middle, with trade paperbacks. But, as I said, I now find myself asking if the hardcover version might not be a better choice. For me, it's about the limited space and how to get the biggest bang for the footage. 

So yeah, Bend has changed. Anyone who wanted to live in a town like we were in 1990 in going to be disgruntled. But that was 30 years ago. The changes are kind of peaking right now.

A word of warning. My impression has always been that when things strike me as overheated, it is often just before a retrenchment. Vice versa, when things seem the most down, it is a prelude to an upturn. 

It seems to me that we're a little overheated right now. People have been saying that for years, but I always thought that Bend was growing because people want to live here, not because of any bubble. 

Only recently has it seemed like it might be getting a little over the top. 

But here is where I must paraphrase my favorite all-time quote (from John Maynard Keynes) about business: "(Things)... can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” 

I've always interpreted this to mean that things aren't always imminent, but they are usually inevitable in hindsight.  

Thursday, December 9, 2021

A majority of one.

Just saw a picture of a "bookstore" and I can't spot a single book in the layout. Nothing but "gifts."

It seems to me that this is the direction most bookstores are going and I don't get it. In my bookstore, the more books I buy, the more I sell. 

Gifts are iffy. They may or may not sell. You usually have to buy them in bulk, at least a dozen of each. Some within that dozen will sell, some won't. That's why I stopped buying most cases of toys a few years ago and look for toys I can buy singly. 

What's more, with gifts you have to have more than a few to sell a few. For instance, our jigsaw puzzles had stopped selling before Christmas. I bought fifty more and they started selling a little. 

If you buy a dozen of any gift item, they start to look really lonely and abandoned somewhere around half of them gone, which in essence forces you to buy another case to fill in the gaps. This is a constant process. 

So if you sell half and buy more and then sell two thirds of that and then sell through an entire batch, you might make money. But more likely that 30 to 50% gap will never get paid for.

Opposed to individual book titles which, if they sell, you can order another single unit, and then another and then another. Same principle, just much less gamble. And books never look lonely, because there are always other books. 

Gifts have a limited shelf-life before they get shopworn. Books have unlimited shelf-life unless a customer actively damages one. Dust and sun and manhandling will make most gifts look less than pristine very quickly. 

So, yeah, give me a choice--as a bookstore, mind you--and I'll pick books every time.  

Opinions? I have more than ever but I'm spouting them less than ever. I'm laying low. But I still think I'm right. I'm a majority of one.