Saturday, December 31, 2022

A wave is a wave.

A glowing article about Barnes and Noble and how well they're doing. Except...there are no stats, just the assertion. (They are privately owned.) They did open 30 stores, which is a sign of something, but maybe not what the article claimed.

Supposedly, new management has revived B & N. 

Maybe--but they couldn't do worse, right? 

But what I think is really happening is that Covid was, weirdly enough, very helpful to bookstores, at least ones that were open to receiving the benefits. People didn't spend money on movies, concerts, going out to dinner, etc. etc. But they could go into a bookstore (like I said, if they were "open") and buy a book. 

Never mistake a wave for your own efforts. We saw a wave of business that had nothing to do with management. 

We will probably revert back to normal over time. Fortunately for us, it gave us a chance to reinvent the store, make it more attractive to book buyers, and to really flesh out our inventory. We'll probably see a small decline over time, but I don't think we'll go back to pre-Covid levels.

We were down a little this Christmas--less than half as much as I expected and budgeted for. We managed to save the same amount of money, though, and to keep the inventory up.

My job right now is to not get in my own way. Continue to make incidental improvements, but keep the store functioning without disruption. Don't need to make major changes, though that's always an impulse of mine. 

Carry on...



Sunday, December 25, 2022

Stuff it, Sheriff of Nottingham.

We went to Toby's for Christmas on the Eve--he finally got his way and we opened our presents a day early! Now that Toby (and Danette) have a home base, they are becoming the center of celebrations because Toby insists on cooking fabulous meals. They also had a tree. And decorations. And spirit.

Linda and I? Not so much. We don't go in for a big display of spirit. A hangover from being retailers for 40+ years. It's a tad nerve-wracking every season because so much depends on those last ten days before Christmas and you can't know how you'll do until it's over. I usually managed to relax on Christmas Eve, pick some gifts from the store, and then let the week after be whatever it will be.

Todd is home with us and binging on shows he can't get at home. Watched the Glass Onion, which was fun. 

We're pretty good at picking books he likes: this year it was the entire Murderbot series. 

Walt and Freya and Loki had a howling session set off by Linda's flute, which I boosted by coming out of the bedroom from my nap and howling even louder. It was pretty funny. 

Having got Xmas out of the way on the Eve, we are going to do basically nothing today but eat cookies and leftovers. (I'm thinking about going into town and vacuuming the store which I haven't been able to do for weeks. It really, really needs it and it would be relaxing, ironically enough. I kind of like the empty store, just putzing about.)

The Sheriff of Nottingham wasn't able to cancel Christmas. We were down a bit, but this down from an extraordinary level last year, heights we will probably never see again. Budgeted properly so we made exactly the same profit as last year, so I'm pretty pleased. 

Things are going well for us, far beyond what I ever expected. 

Bless you all, and to all a good day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

My door is open to everyone.

Specialty bookstores are a bit of a mystery to me. 

Why limit your scope? Trust me, you're going to want as many customers as possible. There is no reason not to cater to as broad a scope of people as possible.

Here's the thing. You can still focus on one element of the store without dismissing the rest. 

I arrived at this conclusion through trial and error. Basically, the beginning core product of Pegasus Books--comics--could never generate enough business to pay the bills. So I was always forced to diversify. Pop culture toys and accoutrements, graphic novels, board games, card games, and so on. Not to mention products that we carried when they were hot--beanie babies, pogs, non-sports cards, etc. 

The trick was to add product lines without detracting from the existing product lines. It has always been music to my ears to hear customers of each category describe my store as that--comic people saying I'm a comic store, book people saying I'm a book store, etc. That means I've succeeded in broadening my scope without turning away the other possibilities. 

So to become a Science-fiction store, or Mystery store, or Horror store, a Children's store, the question becomes--are you going to attract more of the specific customer to cover the loss of every other possible customer!?

You don't have to go crazy. I've carved out every niche of fiction I can, even if it's just a shelf or two. I originally was going to skip non-fiction, but I manage to spring loose three bookcases and fill them with the best non-fiction I can find. It's enough. I've done this will a little over 1000 sq. ft., which is a modest size by any measure.

I cater to readers. That is,  I carry enough diversity that a reader is likely to find something they might like. I may not have a specific book they want--but I learned long ago that the chances of having an odd book are near zero, and would be even if I had ten times the inventory. (People seem to have no real concept of how many fricking books there are in the world!) 

But as long as I have a nice selection, there's a decent chance I can hook a reader. I see no reason not to have a nice selection in as many categories as I can do. 

My door is open to everyone.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Junk accumlates like dust bunnies under the bed.

The storage shed is going to be completed this weekend, which means I can start taking the boxes of used books out of the basement at the store. Apparently, the building's insurer expressed concerns about the amount of "paper" in the basement. They have no idea...

So I can at least ameliorate the problem. I doubt we can get fit all the boxes in the shed, but a hefty proportion of them. 

I cleared the basement of sports cards several years ago: just gave them away. Trust me, there was nothing valuable there. I sold off the 40,000 comics I had in the basement for pennies on the dollar. There was some value there, for anyone willing to put in the time and effort. 

Weirdly, the basement has refilled with comics, not only the 6000 comics I bought recently, but at least another 6000 or more that simply accumulated somehow, like dust bunnies under the bed. 

There is a lot of junk down there; old beatup toys, non-sports cards, used books, and comics. Broken or unused fixtures, the detritus of 40 years of putting it in the basement and forgetting about it. 

I'll probably make several trips to the dump with the worst of it, then have to make a decision about the rest of it. 

I had thought that I might start a used bookstore in Redmond, but that possibility seems to be receding. I certainly don't want to throw away the books I've accumulated, but I would be willing to sell someone the whole works for a very reasonable price: bookcases, fixtures, cash register, and used books, enough to get started. 

I guess I think someone some day will mention "wanting a bookstore" in my store and me ascertaining that it wouldn't be in Bend and making them a good deal. Someone could possibly earn a living off them for very little investment. The nucleus of a new life.

As far as I'm aware, there are no used bookstores in Redmond, Prineville, LaPine, Madras, or Burns. (There probably are, but I'm not aware.) It wouldn't be a lavish lifestyle, it may not be totally possible to do used books alone, but you'd be you're own boss.

I did it. I know it's possible, though not easy. I've never regretted it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Pardon me for preaching.

Jesus, the news is so depressing. We're going to lose, and the only thing we can do about it is try to protect ourselves. There may be a test ahead of us--do we stand up for what is right or stay silent? I'm tired of the outrage, the constant bad news, the murderers and liars and thieves. I cling to my idea of ethics even when I discover by talking to people that most them have no idea what I'm getting at. Bad behavior is celebrated while good behavior is mocked as naive. Villains are emboldened while the good are ignored. The rich and famous get away with everything they do while the poor and disenfranchised are ridiculed or punished. 

Was it ever so?

Probably. Not exactly a consolation. The dysfunction is now part of the system. Instead of laws and government alleviating the problems they seem to be slowly but surely used to enforce the dysfunction. Government doesn't work--and By God, we'll prove it!

Polarization is so deeply ingrained by now, re-enforced with every broadcast of right-wing media and protest of left-wing wingnuts, that there is no way to reach the other side. Instead we fall into the chasm of misunderstanding and hate.

The temptation is to withdraw. Obama can coax us not to give up, but the man has done his duty and is rich and famous enough not to really feel the sting of oppression. He's a good man, but he's preaching from a place of comfort and achievement. 

It is my fellow old white men who are the worse; followed closely by old white women. There seems to be no understanding or memory of when they were young and poor, or any realization that their struggle was nothing compared to those who aren't white or male. No understanding that no one is trying to minimize their efforts, but only to point out that others undeniably, indubitably, obviously have had it harder. No understanding that it isn't a zero sum game, that wealth could be distributed with kindness and generosity, instead of used only to taunt. I got mine, tough luck that you aren't as smart or hardworking or Godly as I. No understanding that if that were indeed true (it isn't) it is even more reason to help.

Can we pull ourselves away from the cliff? I don't think I'll live long enough to see it, but at this point, one of the tires is already spinning over the chasm, and the engine is racing. 

History continues, countries rise and fall, humans fail for the same old reasons, and succeed against all odds. It won't look the same, it may not be what we aspired to, but the struggle will continue forever.

Yes, this is a diatribe. Sorry, but it's how I'm feeling right now. Agree or disagree, it's totally up to you. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Sure...if the price is right.

After twenty-five years of not buying collections, something seems to have changed.

I spent the first fifteen years at Pegasus Books firmly in the collector mode. I'd buy and sell collections of comics, card, toys, whatever I could sell. I saw comics and cards more as a collectable than a form of entertainment. 

When both the card and comic markets collapsed within a couple years of each other in the mid 90s, I saw the error of my ways. Or, more exactly, I saw that comics readers, as opposed to collectors, were still customers after all the wreckage. It was a much smaller group, but just enough to keep the business alive. Card collectors, on the other hand, disappeared altogether. I even came up with a saying, "Collectors always quit, but readers keep reading." 

I upped my prices up to retail, maintaining keystone from that moment on. It was a tough decade, but I built the business back up on a new, firmer foundation. 

I also had a form of PTSD when it came to buying off the street. Every time I ventured even slightly into the collectors' world, I'd recoiled in alarm and disgust. My anger would instantly manifest. It wasn't healthy for me. 

So I simply said, No. No. No. No. No. 

I would try to stop the seller from proceeding with a firm, "I buy all my stuff from wholesalers and sell at retail."

The very persistence of some sellers only reinforced those feelings. Card collectors especially wouldn't take no for an answer. They'd persist, asking me what their collections are worth. Then get mad when I couldn't tell them. 

Notice I said couldn't tell them, not wouldn't tell them. See, here's the thing: if I'd not bought anything in years, decades even, how on earth would I know what things are worth on the collector market? It's like going into a car dealership and asking what your bike is worth. 

Understand then...I didn't buy anything, no matter what the seller told me. It was a firm no to everything. 

But something has changed. In the last few months I've bought a large collection of comics, a nice collection of paperback and pulp books, and recently a batch of LOTR's toys.

In all three cases, the price was right. The sellers came to me with realistic expectations of what their collections were worth. In a couple of cases, they told me what they wanted and it was reasonable. 

Turns out, I wasn't actually opposed to buying collections, I was opposed the the process of buying collections. But if my PTSD doesn't manifest, then I might buy. 

Maybe it just took twenty-five years to get over the trauma.  

Don't think I've opened to door to buying again, but... I have decided that I can at least ask the seller if they have a price they want and, in the rare cases where they are realistic, I might....might....maybe, if the sun and stars align, and you are a pleasant person, and the stuff personally interests me, and I think I can sell it over a reasonable period of time....I might go ahead and buy. 

I also suspect, the first bad experience will set me back to my former, much more contented mode of not buying at all.


Saturday, October 22, 2022

It's been a long time since I had a panic attack. So long that I'm forgetting what it felt like. I'm starting to minimize it, at least emotionally. Looking back, it seems like an over-reaction, something not quite real. There's the temptation to think I should have just buckled up and got over it.

Intellectually, I know this is wrong. I remember the incidents, if not the feelings. It was bloody awful and I became extremely agoraphobic for a few years. Over a period of probably 20 years, that agoraphobia started to fade, but it was always lurking in the background. And, in fact, it mostly dimmed and faded because I didn't actually "buckle up," but instead avoided most situations that caused the panic attacks. Basically I stumbled upon the fact that every time I forced the issue, made myself challenge the syndrome, it would only reinforce the panic. 

So, yeah, I slowly weaned myself off the panic attacks by avoiding "the marketplace." I picked my shots. I forced myself to go to writer's group because that was important. I forced myself to go into Pegasus Books the first few times, because that was important. I forced myself to go to movies, (show up late, leave early, spend as much time in the dark as possible), because that was important.

I learned ways to cope. I liken it the way an adult illiterate must cope--getting others to read the signs, pretending to be without my glasses, whatever. I always found clever ways to get the stuff done that needed to be done. I would send actual strangers to the bank with my deposits. (Banks, stores, and restaurants were the worse triggers.) I would pick slow times of days. At the beginning of the panic attacks, I would venture out very late at night to do my grocery shopping. I was a little bit of a vampire, I guess. 

The best solution to my inability to operate in public was to have the public come to me. My own space, where I was in control, where I felt safe. Pegasus Books. 

It's complicated, because the panic attacks at first came along with a deep depression while I was a senior in high school which continued on through most of my 20's. I came out of the depression, but I really do remember those feelings and if they ever reoccurred, I'd go for help right away. Thankfully, by the time I was thirty, I was pretty much over it.

But the agoraphobia remained. I remember finally diagnosing it when I read an article. It became very clear to me that that was what it was. It was a relief to finally know. In a way, it helped me realize I wasn't crazy, that it was situational. (I have some anxiety, but probably no worse than most people.)

So it took probably way too long to get over my agoraphobia. Especially since it is one of those rare conditions that can actually be cured. Really, the way I got over it was by marrying a kind, calm, grounded woman who never pushed me. It turned out that I could go most places as long as I was with Linda. Then I discovered that a small dose of tranquilizer prior to a challenging event would help me through. I used alcohol for a long time, but that was often counterproductive and not usable during the day. (I no longer drink at all.)

It turns out that that small dose, so low that I wonder if it isn't more of a placebo, will get me through just about anything. I remind myself that the event isn't about me, usually, and I can just be there. The more success I had at not have a panic attack, the more success I had.

I believe that there were some weird benefits to it all. Because I was restricted in what I was willing to do, I could concentrate on the things I could do. I focused on the store and my writing, and I was extremely productive. I didn't have as many distractions as most "normal" people. 

I do feel that I probably got left out of a lot of social events because of my agoraphobia, but when the agoraphobia faded I also realized that I really do like being by myself for long periods of time. I really am an introvert, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

Anyway, I'm not ready to pronounce myself cured. I doubt I ever will be. The little demon of panic is always lurking, somewhere under the surface. I'll never be a YOLO kind of kind. I recognize that my emotional equilibrium is vulnerable. 

I'm extremely self-protective and probably closed in. But...I think I also open myself up to people I trust, and that's enough.

Friday, October 21, 2022

"Everyone can see you don't want to quit."

I'm going to start getting Social Security next month. I held off until 70 because, well, I could and because my income was so dinky for most of my career that it wouldn't have amounted to much if I'd started collecting sooner. 

I was talking about my retirement in the store and a customer said, "Everyone can see you don't want to quit."

Well...sure. I want to be actively engaged in something outside the house. I'm still really enjoying what I'm doing, more so perhaps than I ever have. Making money and having fun.

My "loner" formula for socialization is 70% Linda, 20% the store, and 10% everything else. The store may only be 20% of what I need not to feel useless, but it does need to happen. For me, isolation breeds isolation.  

I have to say, most of what I see in retirement doesn't interest me. Linda is perfectly fine with it, and more power to her and everyone else who is able to relax, but I feel totally at loose ends. I could start writing again, but that doesn't really fulfill the socialization part and I pretty much did that already. I don't golf, or fish, or pickle ball. Even traveling has limited appeal to me--it's exhausting and complicated.

But I still want a challenge in the "real" world.

I made a promise to Sabrina to sell her the store and I will fulfill that promise. I'm hoping she will keep me on board to continue ordering books and putting them away, but it will be her store and her decision. I won't regret it and I'm not looking back. I have to admit it will be nice not to have the constant pressure to earn enough money to make the store work. But I expect that I'll be just as anxious that it work for Sabrina.

Sabrina has stuck with me for 14 years or so. She deserves her chance, and if necessary, I'll get out of her way. Can I keep my suggestions to myself and my mouth shut? Linda kind of doubts it...and, I admit, so do I. But I do sometimes learn. It remains to be seen.

But I do have a backup plan. 

When I removed the used books from my store, I put them down in the basement. I already had a batch of overflow books from Linda's used bookstore, though most of that is probably junk. Whenever I get the chance to buy used books at a good price, I can't resist. 

So basically, I have the fixings for a used bookstore. I have many of the bookcases, a cash register, a couple of cabinets, and the nucleus of an inventory. 

I finally broke down and bought a storage shed, though it has yet to be assembled. So that's where all the fixings are going to be stored. 

My backup plan is that if I get too bored, I will open a little used bookstore in Redmond. It would have limited hours, maybe 12:00 to 5:00 Tuesday through Saturday. I would try to find another retired person or two to work the days I don't want to. If possible, I'd like to work no more than two days a week and also have enough time to go on trips. 

It wouldn't have to make much money. But it couldn't lose money. 

That's the trick, because I'm dubious of used bookstores' future. I think new bookstores are coming back, but used bookstores are struggling. 

Also, when I first started thinking about this, I was figuring that rent in Redmond would be cheap. Well, it's not only not cheap, but I think it's way out of proportion to how much money a Redmond business can make when rents are close to Bend rates.

I can't believe it, but I'm finally considering going online with my used books. One of the reasons I haven't done that before now (besides the fact that my store takes up all my time, as it should), is because I didn't think I had anything special. But I just bought a pretty cool collection of pulp magazines and tawdry cover paperbacks. Many are worth something on the "collector" market.

So I may have to finally knuckle down and figure it all out. That would probably be the factor that would make my opening a used bookstore in Redmond actually work. After all, I'd need the space to organize these books. 

I love the idea of starting a small store and turning it into something...again. I'm proud of Pegasus Books, because Linda and I did it with few resources and not a lot of help. I liked that I never had to depend on other people--the store either worked or it didn't work. 

Pegasus Books has filled its space and its potential. It can still grow, there will still be challenges and downturns, but overall, it is a mature going business. It's fun, but I wouldn't mind starting a new enterprise. 

Hey, you don't stop living after you hit 70. Until you do, of course.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Well, I'm in for now.

I'm working four days in a row and I'm exhausted. It's not just that I'm older, but we're also doing three times the business we were doing back in the day when I worked every day of the week. A prime example of "watch out what you wish for..." Then again, a thriving business is what I was striving for and it's very gratifying. 

Linda and I have a thing where I will point out that she might have taken on too much. She tends to say "Yes" to everything until eventually she starts showing signs of being overwhelmed. Whereas I'm very protective of my time and energy (being a bit of a loner) and can say "No" fairly readily.

Well, I'm seeing my situation right now as being a bit overwhelming.

The advice I constantly give in this blog to new business owners is this: treat time, energy, and space the same way you do money. Time, energy, and space ARE money, for all intents and purposes. Ignore this fact and you'll burn yourself out and wonder why.

I recently bought a comic collection with the intention of overhauling our back issue collection. However, I'm finding that the mere monetary cost of the transaction is the least part of it. Supplies are turning out to be almost equal in cost to the product, but it's the time, energy, and space that are being spent profligately. Even though I gave myself until the first of next year to get it done, I'm starting to feel the pressure of getting it done and getting it done right. 

And it wasn't really necessary. Yeah, it will probably help the store a little in the long run, which will be nice for Sabrina, but will it be worth cost? 

Well, I'm in for it now.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

How much of our business is local and how much tourists?

I had to use a new Visa app over the weekend that required the zip codes of the customers. So I got to see whether people were local or from farther away.

I've been thinking a good half or more of my customers were tourists. But...I was also aware that that might be an exaggeration.

So most of the customers today were local--Bend, Redmond, LaPine, Madras, Prineville. Maybe 15% were from further away. 

We usually drop about 1/3rd from summer to fall, so that 35% or so can be attributed to tourists to a large extent. I'm now guessing that we have more local customers than I thought. They seem like tourists because I don't know them; they aren't regulars in the old-fashioned way of recognizing them or even knowing their names. Bend and the surrounding area has become so much more populated.

But that's encouraging in it's own way. It means that we've made inroads to the locals and we can build on that. Downtown Bend is a happening place and we've been around long enough to get a steady stream of people in the door.

I can't tell you the number of years where that result was anything but certain. Years when people simply didn't come in the door that much. Years where I had to really depend on a relative handful of customers to keep going. Fortunately, the slower business coincided with lower expenses. 

It's so much nicer to be able to do the job right, get the stuff people want in the door, and to feel the vibrancy of the downtown and the store. 


Monday, September 5, 2022

Falling off the charts.

Falling off the charts, which is what happens when you don't write for a couple of years. 

"Deadfall Ridge" still sells almost every day, but other than that. 

I've been organizing the used books in the garage that I've been accumulating for years with the expectation that I might want something to do in my retirement: perhaps a small used bookstore in Redmond? That only needs to pay for itself? With maybe another couple of retired folk ready to fill in when I don't want to work or want to travel?

I mean, it probably won't happen, but I have the fixin's: bookcases and books, a cash register, and various and sundry fixtures. 

Anyway, going through all the SF and Fantasy titles, it just makes me realize that there are no shortages of books; multiple series and books by authors I never heard of or don't remember. All, as far as I can tell, no longer writing.

Where did they all go?

I suspect most of them got tired of banging their heads against the wall. 

Something most non-writers don't realize: almost all books come and go without much notice. It has nothing to do with quality, really. Good books are overlooked, bad books are promoted, and vice versa. There was a meme posted yesterday that most books don't sell more than a dozen copies in a year. What this little nugget left out was that it included all books, including those I mentioned above: books past their selling date.  

Nevertheless, the truth is most books don't sell for long. It's just a fact. It isn't sour grapes to point it out. It's the way of the world.

I very much enjoyed writing my books and I think some of them are pretty good. That may sound self-aggrandizing, but really, it's hard for me to give myself credit so in a way I'm trying to get past that imposter syndrome. Yea, I conclude. Some of the books are pretty good if you're into my mindset...

I'll probably start writing again when I retire and who knows?

No one knows, not even the Shadow. heh.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Too many board games?

I have to believe that board games will soon be facing a reckoning. 

There are far too many games being released for the number of games we actually sell. Every day I get someone in asking for a game I've never heard of--and it is never the same game. Many are Kickstarters, even more are exclusive to some distributor or website or another. Far too many aren't available when we try to get them.

Meanwhile, the games that originally enticed us into the market, games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne, are being offered in every big chain store, thus no longer unique to us. 

Thing is: even the old standbys weren't a sure thing. They'd sell in waves, but many sold for a short time and then stopped. Some never sold. 

The old rule of thumb is that 20% of your product will make 80% of your profits. When you are no longer selling as many of the twenty-%ers, it's nearly impossible to make up for it in increasing variety. You'll be told that "You should carry the stuff that Target doesn't," which begs the question: "Why aren't they carrying it?" Well, because they can't make money off it and neither can we.

My experience in the past is that this is a no-win situation.

The only bright? side is that it is also unsustainable. Too many people jumped into the pool at the same time and there needs to be some clearance. Either that or it will become an online thing. Or perhaps, like sports cards, it will take 30 years to make a comeback.

I'm carrying the old standbys and whatever I can get of the rarer games that actually sell. But I'm not going to chase after every new game in hopes that I can sell one copy. I'll maintain my inventory and wait and hope that things change. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the store is booming.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Interesting news day.

Barnes and Noble has announced that they are cutting back on new hardcover books. Instead, they will concentrate on "frontlist with proven track records."

Excuse me. Isn't that just an Orwellian way to say "backlist?"
So the publishers are all concerned about Amazon and Barnes & Noble cutting back. Karma's a bitch, ain't it?  "The cuts highlight the importance of independent bookstores as showcases for new books of all kinds." (Shelf Awareness). Well,duh.
"If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem." (J. Paul Getty). Kind of a problem with near monopolies, innut?
Amazon "began cutting back buying in the past several months, and in at least one case is negative for August." Which means, I guess, they sent back more books than they bought. 
Actually, I'm not surprised. I've always gone with the books with "proven track records." It just made sense instead of gambling with each new hardcover book that came out. I can afford to wait for books to make an impact, except for the top of the tippimost books.  

Meanwhile, in his column for "The Beat," prominent comic retailer Brian Hibbs talks about the constant lowering of discount for comics from our wholesalers. It's making it very hard to earn an income from comics alone. Weirdly enough, we may have had an advantage early on because I never could make enough money from comics alone and therefore always had to try other things. 

We transitioned to a pop culture bookstore a few years back. We still carry comics, but all I could see in the future was a continual uphill battle. We’re in a heavily touristy downtown core and we’re currently making 5 times more on books than comics. I'm actually kind of shocked by that. The turn in the market toward, as Hibbs put it, a "strong lean-in to “collectibles”, the variant cover and other stunts where they can increase margin in that fashion" was a major factor in my decision. Been down that road before and it didn't end well.
All I could see was heavy lifting. Transitioning to a bookstore relieved the pressure, ironically, so that we can still do the job with comics. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The final piece of the store.

It's weird how I continue to improve the store when all I'm going to do at the end is sell it to Sabrina. But I can't help it. The store is a work of art, as far as I'm concerned. 

In some ways, the lack of space has required that I be very ingenious about how and where I display things. One of the reasons I never even considered trying to be a full bookstore until--well, at least until I was already almost there--was because of space. But I kept squeezing an inch here and an inch there, adding elements slowly, and one day I looked around and realized I'd done it. Frankly, it was the reaction of new customers and tourists that clued me to the fact that Pegasus was, indeed, a bookstore. Selective, to be sure, but it has all the pieces. 

So as all the parts fall into place, I have time to turn my attention to things I've let slide. Most of it is done. I feel like the selection of books can always be slowly improved, I'm trying to keep up on card games, specializing in variety, I'm trying to keep the inventory graphic novels up to snuff. Over the last year, I've concentrated on increasing the quantity and quality of our toys. Games, I'm trying to maintain at current levels--frankly, waiting for the the market to settle down.

So, in some ways, the last thing that needs to be done is back-issue comics. I saved this for last because, though it can generate revenue, the lack of cost-effectiveness, the amount of work needed to be done, has always been a little intimidating.  

I was never been opposed to the general idea of buying collections, but I hated the process so much (sports card collectors were rather aggressive at the end), that I simply quit doing it. This current collection came because I knew the owner and what he collected, the price had already been established that was more than reasonable, and...most important of all...I finally have the time and energy to deal with it. 

The final piece. 

I'd forgotten how much time and effort goes into organizing comics. It used to be, I'd never have enough of the essentials to do the job right: I'd either be short of boxes, or bags, or boards, or price tags, or tape, or something that would stop me half way through the process. 

Once again, space is at a premium, but my brain is working on solutions as I bag and board. If nothing else, I'll have premium material for sale at the end. It'll be clean and nice looking and complete. 

Weirdly, I'm enjoying it. I like the challenge, the game of trying to figure out what comics will sell, in what format, at what price. It used to be, we had price guides. There are way too many titles and comics overall for anyone to be able to put together a usable, up-to-date price guide, so basically pricing is up to me. I can look online for prices to sets, but the average comic is going to have an average price. If there are "key" issues in the run, well...I'm pretty clueless about which ones they might be. 

Some comic dealers are very up to date on which comics are currently hot--first appearances, major changes, etc. But my eyes glaze over when I start reading how such and such a comic is suddenly "hot" because some character got a new costume or something equally inane. So I'm well aware that the back issues will probably be cherry picked. Thus, the average comic will need to be priced at least at cover price, an probably more often a dollar or two more. The first five issues of every series are going to priced so that they cover the cost of the next twenty or so issues. Seems fair to me. It will be up to the collector to decide if that is worth it. I'm in no hurry to sell. I'm creating art here. Heh.

Every Stars Wars, Alien and Predator comic from the 1980s on.

Working my way through the 8000 comics I bought. There is every Alien and Predator and Star Wars comic from 1985 on. Boy, howdy. I had no idea there were so many series, so many comics over all. I'm starting to realize that bagging and boarding every comic is going to take up considerably more room than I got.

I keep reminding myself that the price was right.

I would love to be able to put them all out, but I'm probably going to only have room for a couple of the Star Wars series--at least until they are winnowed down. Same with most of the rest. I originally wasn't going to try to do any sets, but the only way I can really put out a significant number of books is to have places in the store to sell sets. These are primo sets, too.

I've decided to organize the Marvel and DC comics under family groups: Batman/Superman Titles; Avengers Titles; X-Men Titles: Spider-man Titles. This will allow me to put all the best selling titles in places were people can easily find them, rather than, for instance, having the X-Men and Wolverine way down below and at the end of the alphabet.

Even without trying, comics proliferate. I recently sold 40,000 comics from the basement, leaving roughly 8000 comics upstairs. Even without this new collection, I'd already doubled the number of back issues since then.

I'm giving myself four months to completely finish the comics. I originally was going to finish off organizing all the comics before putting them out, but now that I'm making sets, I can put them out first. 

If you're looking for early Star Wars, Aliens, and Predator sets, I'm going to start putting them out today.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Life is what happens while you're organizing.

I'm working through the 8000 comic collection I just purchased.

I forgot how addicting organizing things can be. You want it all in order, nicely bagged and boarded, in fresh clean boxes, priced and ready to go. 

But I spent years doing that, and at the end, I didn't feel like most of it was worth it. I had an epiphany one day as I was carefully organizing my sports cards. No one really cared. They only wanted the superstars, the rest was useless. 

I had the image of my kids finding me slumped over the table, sport cards in hand. Of them hauling me off to the mortuary and all the sports cards and comics I'd carefully organized off to the dump.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. 

And I am.

Friday, August 12, 2022

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..."

I spent the first half of my career, about 20 years, buying and trading product. It's what a store like mine was supposed to do. 

But in the end, it was such a miserable experience that I decided I had to quit--either that, or give up all together. I won't go into the particulars, just that I became so stressed by the process that I got a bit of PTSD out of it. (Not to minimize the real PTSD that people feel, but my feelings are so strong that it's got to be some minor form of it.)

So I took a chance and stopped buying and trading product off the street.

I was immediately less stressed and I found ways to make the store work without it. I had about forty thousands comics in the basement for years and never had the energy or the urge to really deal with them. In the end, I sold them all to another dealer for pennies on the dollar. My sports cards I simply gave away to another dealer.

I've spent most of the last 20 years buying only from wholesalers. Without meaning to, I indoctrinated Sabrina about it, too, even though I've often told her that trading and buying from collectors can be a very profitable business--IF you can stand to do it. I can't stand to do it, but she'd have a fresh slate. 

Ironically, over the last few years, people have flat out given us boxes of comics, among other things. 

Recently, someone gave us a couple of long boxes of comics which I just plopped downstairs and didn't think anything more of it. But I had a guy ask about a title and I remember seeing it in those boxes, so I let him go downstairs and rummage through them.

To my surprise, he came upstairs with some pretty damn good titles. I charged him far below what they worth, but decided I wouldn't let anyone else get in there before I checked them out myself. 

In the end, I spent a few minutes pulling out some old series and as an experiment, put them out for sale. Bamm! They sold right away.

Hmmmm...I thought.

Here's the thing. I know I still can't do the process of dealing with collectors without getting upset. So I again mentioned to Sabrina that she might want to develop a process to trade and buy material from collectors when it came time to her taking over the store. 

All of this is a long prologue to my buying a rather large collection of comics last night. 

"Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Ralph Waldo Emerson.

About 9:00 last night I saw a posting on Facebook from a longterm customer. This is a fellow I also consider to be a good friend. To my great surprise, he was planning to sell his collection at a weekend garage sale. Based on the picture, it looked to be about 5000 comics.

Something about that idea hurt my heart. I hated the idea of that magnificent collection being ransacked. I knew that my friend had good taste and that there were some great titles in that collection. The price he was quoting was more than fair.

I called him up, I offered to buy the entire collection for the price he was asking and he immediately agreed. No fuss, no muss. None of the dickering that I so hate.

So now I have 5000 comics to deal with.

I'm thinking it will be fun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Sorry I haven't posted anything lately. I do write a lot, but I keep it private sort of as a diary.

I'm continuing to take a break from writing. I mostly fulfilled my ambitions there: more successfully than I expected, less than I'd hoped. It is a very overstuffed market, to say the least. Hard to make any headway, especially with all the preconditions I set for myself: 1.) That I wouldn't do any promotions that were stressful, thus eliminating most promotions, and 2.) That I wouldn't do any promotions that were demeaning, thus eliminating what few promotional efforts were left. 

I kept writing as long as opportunities presented themselves. It seemed like doors kept opening, if only a few inches--but I'm pretty good at sliding through those narrow cracks. But eventually, the efforts began to stall. There were a few setbacks--mostly from my publishers not following through at opportune times, but that's the nature of the beast. 

Meanwhile, the store is doing fantastic. 

I decided to dedicate the last two years of my ownership of Pegasus Books to minding the store. I've concentrated on buying books for the store over the last couple years: Identifying, Ordering, Stocking, breaking down boxes and packing material. It has turned almost into a full time job. But every time UPS brings in 20 big boxes of books, I remind myself--that is how many books we're selling.

I originally hoped to maybe gross a grand a month in books--instead, books now account for 60% of our total sales. If I take books out of the equation, we'd be doing about the same business we were doing in 2019. You do the math. 

We are on pace for an all-time record month in July, beating last Christmas.  Five very hot days ahead of us, so we may not quite make it, but WOW.

I'm pretty good at identifying books. This isn't bragging--it's just how my brain works. I seem to be able to ferret out perennial bestsellers and then keep them in stock. 

Doesn't hurt that Magic and Pokemon are selling like crazy, that I've been able to stock the store with more toys than ever, that comics leveled off about a year ago and have been slowly going up again. Everything seems to be firing on all cylinders. 

It's late in the game, but it's also very fun and gratifying.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Busiest I've ever seen it.

At least people-wise. Our sales are about equal to last year, but I swear we're getting more people in. Went into the store yesterday to file books, and check inventory. I got the first half done, but threw up my hands on getting the second part done. Everywhere I turned, there were people standing there. 

Kind of threw Ashley to the wolves there. She worked Monday and Tuesday and had to deal with the hordes. I dealt with the hordes on Sunday. I'll be going in most of the rest of the week just to deal with the volume of product and to help out a bit.

Can it get too busy? What a thing to complain about!

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Why go backward?

Maybe it's just me, maybe it's my age, but I'm finding that almost no book or movie holds up on second viewing. 

While watching "The Offer," which tells the making of "The Godfather," it became clear to me that Linda had never seen the the movie. So we sat down last night to watch it.

It's a fine movie, good. But my memory of watching it when it first came out is so big in my mind that it just didn't match my expectations. I've had the same experience with "The Wild Bunch" and "The French Connection," not to mention "Star Wars."  My favorite movie memories. 

I'm having trouble reading my favorite books. Andre Norton, Fred Saberhagen, and most of the Golden Age SF authors are unreadable to me now. 

Even a later (2001) reading of "Lord of the Rings," didn't live up to memory. 

These books had a time and place, a context that can't be recaptured for me. I don't tend to rewatch or reread things anyway, but this has just reinforced that tendency. So much to read and and watch. Why go backward?

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Street closures...again.

So the street closure last weekend kind of hurt us. It was one of the stupider things they've done--closing the street without anything happening near us. But it's only stupider in scale. Most street closures hurt us.

We were down about 40% from last year. Tom Bean at Dudley's also mentioned it hurt him.

In Sunday's paper the owners of Zydeco were mentioning that all the events were hurting their business. 

There's always been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with street closures among some downtown business owners. Most don't say anything so as not to rock the boat. Others have bought into the idea that these promotional events help business in the long run. (I disagree with this assessment, and have never seen any evidence it is true. Besides...downtown is already booming. I'm not sure we need to keep stepping on the accelerator.)

I guess my stance is--only close the streets for the most important of reasons. The 4th of July pet parade is a great reason. The Christmas Parade. 

Also, try not to close the streets on the peak weekends of summer when we already have hordes of tourists spending money in our stores--try not to distract them, or point them in another direction!

Anyway, I wish someone could take the bull by the horns and write a nice, reasoned open letter to the Powers-That-Be who decides these things, and get what downtowners agree with it to sign it. 

I'm not the right person to spearhead this effort. 

It used to be that I couldn't get anyone to express their opinion on the matter, and at least now I'm hearing some other business owners express disagreement with the constant events and street closures, so maybe it will happen. 


Sunday, June 19, 2022

Feeling very thankful right now.

It has been sinking in what a gift it was to be able to go home and write for 8 straight years and still earn a subsistence income from the store. As I near retirement, I realize that I could have earned a lot more during those years, but our finances are still fine. Our nice house is paid for, we have no debts, and we have enough saved up to actually take home more money during retirement than we currently are taking home.

Sometimes it seems like I push everything into the future, but this is one time where I prioritized my own wants and needs. I got to do something I always wanted while being able to continue another thing I always wanted. Being a writer and owning a bookstore were the two things I wanted to do, and I got to do them.

So whenever I feel like I haven't really done a lot of extracurricular things, or traveled much, or bought a bunch of cool things, I need to remind myself that I gave myself the biggest gift of all: Time. 

Linda supported me in all this without the slightest qualm. I was lucky to have Sabrina run the store; she's a woman of integrity and talent. She'll be buying the store and she deserves to have it. 

I stopped writing a couple of years ago, but that's fine too. I got it out of my system, more or less. The books turned out pretty well, I think.

The store is booming. It's just a confluence of events, I think. Downtown booming, books are booming, I'm paying 100% attention to the store and that is having a huge effect. So I'm enjoying this turn as well. 

The world at large seems pretty uncertain right now, but when hasn't that been true?

Feeling very thankful right now. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

It only took 40 years to get here.

I can, of course, tell how well we're doing by looking at our sales totals. I can see it everyday in the steady stream of people coming in. But what really nails it is the boxes I have to deal with. Stacks of boxes come in every few days, the contents of which have to be accounted for and then stocked.

It's been a huge surprise how big of deal this has become. I have to deal with a huge amount of packing material--popping the plastic bubbles, neatly folding the crumbled paper rolls. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it takes time. It fills the bins. Sometimes they overflow. Then I have to break apart the boxes and find a place to put them. Finally, I have to haul them to the alley a block away and hope there is room in the bins. 

When you get 20 large boxes every few days, it really comes home how much material we're selling. Each of those boxes represent material we've already sold. I say already because the store doesn't have room to display anything new unless something already in stock has sold. 

Obviously, I'm not complaining. I'm rather wowed by it. I have seen downtown go from being so slow and empty that you could shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anyone to the swarms of people that fill the sidewalks on an average day. Over the years downtown has had its ups and downs, but it has been a pretty steady trend upward. It was noticeable to me enough for me to agree the rent increases as they came along. 

The special events--which again seem to be accelerating--are unnecessary now, but unfortunately unavoidable. I just have to grin and bear it. Street closures don't kill us like they used to because I've succeeded in mainstreaming the store to the point where the average person can find something they're interested in. 

This week we had a missing box. It took the full week to finally track it down and deliver it to the store. I could tell that it stressed Sabrina a bit. Which brought home the bad old days when such occurrences were common. Back then, if we missed a shipment it really hurt. We depended on timely sales, and we didn't have a lot of margin for error. 

Again, I've tried to diversify and mainstream the store so that we aren't so dependent on any one particular product to keep us going. 

It's nice. It only took 40 years to get here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022


Boring subject, but it's interesting to me.

We've always been pretty much a JIT (Just in Time Shipping) store when it come to books...and most other things.. At first it was because I could really only afford one SKU (stock keeping unit) at a time, then it was because of the limited space.

Over the last few years, I've assembled a bunch of books that I call "perennials." Books that sell again and again and again. 

Now I'm just two days away from getting restocks of those books from Ingram Distributors, but of course I don't order every day, so it's more like a week for some books. I get a better discount from Penguin Random House, but the books take longer to arrive--up to two weeks. So if I sell a perennial bestseller, I often don't have it in stock for anywhere from one week to three weeks. 

But my reasoning has always been that every "extra" copy of a book in stock is a different book I didn't order. I've always wanted to have as wide a selection as possible. I'm also less of a "go-to" store for new bestsellers and more of an "impulse" buy store. So the more good backlist titles I can carry, the better.

I've noticed that other bookstores will often order many multiples of some books. Ironically, it's probably for much the same reason as I order just one copy--they have limited space. These bookstore will stack books on tables, which means that five or six copies take up no more space than one copy. Since they can return unsold copies it isn't a huge risk.

I don't have tables, nor do I return books. The vast majority of my books are spine out on bookshelves. Not the best way to display books, but again--it gives me the ability to carry vastly more titles. Basically, every book that is face-out is taking the same space that I can stock 5 or 6 books spine out.

I made an adjustment over the last few years of trying to have two copies of some perennials, but it's not consistent.

Anyway, when I put in my new book displays in the windows, suddenly I had room to show off 40 or 50 of my best books. I decided to make sure I had a couple copies of each of these perennials, one in the window and one out for sale, with the idea that I would grab the copy from the window to replace any that I sold.

Unexpectedly, these perennials suddenly started selling faster. I'm still having to wait a week to three weeks for replacements, which is what happens if you sell one copy of a perennial and then instantly sell the other copy. 

I probably wouldn't have known this if the window display hadn't caused me to order so many extra copies. 

Lesson learned: I will be ordering two or three or even four copies of these perennials and keep the Just In Time reordering for replacements. 

Even though my store is packed, there is always room for incremental improvements.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

A blessing in disguise.

Nothing worse than popping up on another person's website and pointing out how much better you're doing than they are. So I'm going to comment here and hope it doesn't seem out of line.

I just read a long column from a major comic retailer about the costs of doing comic books and how it is becoming unprofitable. In my own case, this isn't hurting me nearly as much. For a very odd reason, which I'll get to later.

First, a little background. Ever since the comic market collapsed in the middle of the 90s, putting about 3/4th of the retailers out of business, the surviving comic shops have been serviced by a single distributor. Diamond has had a monopoly, but their discounts were good enough for most comic shops to do well. The biggest drawback was shipping costs; bad enough that we had to pay for shipping at all (when most other distributors have free shipping above a certain volume), but it appeared to most of us that Diamond was charging more than they needed to for shipping. My suspicion was that the high discounts from Diamond were compensated by extra shipping costs.

There was a lot of grousing about Diamond for other reasons, most of which to me seemed unavoidable. 

Well, the complainers finally got their way, and both DC and Marvel have found new distributors. DC went with a new distributor, Lunar, who is basically the largest online vendor of new comics--in other words, our largest online competitor and a discounter at that. Not something to cheer.

Meanwhile, Marvel went with Penguin Random House, (PRH), the biggest book publisher in the US.

You should know that DC and Marvel account for something like 70% to 80% of the comic market. The unavoidable problems have only gotten worse, in my opinion, but the biggest change are the discount levels. 

Most shops discount levels got lowered. In compensation, we now had the option of getting free shipping for Marvel, and lower cost shipping for DC. 

In my particular case, it was a wash. The free shipping for Marvel covered the discount lost almost exactly. I'm getting the same discount for DC, slightly lower shipping costs.

Meanwhile, Diamond's shipping costs seems to have skyrocketed. The availability of graphic novels is confusingly spread over many different distributors and also suddenly more difficult to find in stock. We can't drop Diamond because they are still the distributor for most comic shops for everything other than Marvel and DC.

The drawback for me was that ordering from PRH is a very complicated and confusing procedure. It seems almost impossible for me to keep track of what, when, and how much I am ordering without spending hours pouring over the accounts. When I did the math, it turned out I was only going to save a couple hundred bucks by going with PRH for our Marvel comics. Frankly, my time and peace of mind were more important to me than that. If there is one thing I've learned in business, it is to keep strict accounting of my costs, both financially and in the way of time and effort.

I decided to continue to order my Marvel comics from Diamond at a much lower discount level. Still not sure that was the right decision, especially if Diamond is unable to survive. But in the meantime, I know exactly what I'm paying and when I need to pay it. So far, it's been worth it. 

Now we're being informed that our discount might even become lower. That will, indeed, force me to order Marvel from PRH.

So we now face a situation where our discounts are less, our shipping from Diamond is even higher than before, and the amount of time and effort required to keep accurate records has skyrocketed. 

Here's the thing. It isn't really hurting me that badly. This is for a strange reason.

See, I've never been able to make a living on comics alone. Bend had never given me sufficient volume of comics sales to keep my business open. From the beginning, I've been forced to diversify in order to survive.

Meanwhile, in bigger cities, comic shops were able to specialize in comics and do well.

The more I diversified, the better the shop did. Now sales are spread over new books, toys, boardgames, card games, comics, and graphic novels. 

New comics are only 10% of my total business right now. I'm not willing to give up on them, even though they take up probably 1/3rd of our space. For one thing, graphic novels sell better because of our comics, though I could probably still sell graphic novels if I was strictly a bookstore.

So my advice to all those comic shops that are currently dealing with the onerous discount levels and shipping and handling costs of comics is to diversify. It'll be hard for many of those shops, especially if they aren't in shopping areas with foot traffic, but it's the safer way to proceed.

I worry for the industry as a whole. I hope it isn't too late.

But Pegasus Books of Bend will do fine; better than fine, our sales are way better than they were only a few years ago. Diversification, especially into new books, has brought in enough money for me to diversify even more; a virtuous cycle that is still paying dividends.

All because I've never had the luxury of being strictly a comic shop. A blessing in disguise.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Either you are or you ain't.

I've run into these sort of Facebook posts a lot lately.

Such as "when" I'm depressed, such and such happens. Or the idea that they swing in and out of depression.

This is not the kind of depression I experienced. 

I don't understand this "when" I'm depressed, or the idea that you can come in and out of depression. With my depression, it was full time, all the time. And when I came out of it, it was very, very slowly. I mean, it took years and there never was a moment when I could say, this is "when."

Is this a case of diagnosed clinical depression?  Or just someone feeling sad? 

Or maybe I'm wrong and there is a type of depression that comes and goes. I get that there is bipolar--I suppose that could be it. But the way these people talk about depression it seems like they come in and out of it daily.

But, yeah, depression wasn't just a mood I was in. It was a sickness, a chemical imbalance. I can't say it didn't happen because of some choices I made, because I eventually came out of it at least partly from some choices I made. But it was complete and total when I was in it.

I don't wish to dismiss people's feelings of depression, but I wonder if this kind of "depression" isn't just mood changes and not the deeper, more complex total depression. Because clinical depression is damn severe and not something that comes and goes. At least, that was my experience. 

It worries me that people might think that people can just choose to not to be depressed. In a way, it diminishes the real problem

Instinct versus the tale of the tape.

This is one of those times when I trust my intuitive instincts more than the actual numbers. 

The tale of the tape is actually rather encouraging. Up significantly in January and February, down 3% in March (the previous year had been stupendous), up by 5% in April, and so far this month up by 8%.

But that isn't how it feels. It feels like it is slowing down. 

Things to take into account: the stock market has dropped by 20%; gas prices are over $5 a gallon; the world seems even more uncertain than usual. 

You'd think these circumstances might have an effect.

At the same time, though, I think people will come to Bend despite all that. The type of tourists who shop in downtown Bend aren't discouraged by a bit of a downturn. 

However, I think they are likely to spend less money. 

The other circumstance that I need to take into account is that the store is absolutely packed with saleable merchandise. For probably the only time in our history, I've been able to order everything I wanted, even side products like jigsaw puzzles, enamel pins, and standups. We have significantly more product than last year, especially toys, but also more of just about everything. It's been a virtuous cycle: the more I make, the more I can spend; the more I can spend, the more I can make.

So the feeling of slowdown has to be contrasted to the fact that I have more merchandise to sell. So far these two factors are cancelling each other out. 

I'll just have to play it by ear.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Sisyphean futility of stocking a store.

Here's the thing, Dunc. You can't both save money and spend it. The store is an unending need. You have to pick a level of shortages that is acceptable, that doesn't really affect the sales level. You've long ago passed that level. I could probably run down the inventory by 25% and it wouldn't affect sales.

Instead, I look at my stock (this week) for authors like Robert Crais, Daniel Silva, Alan Furst, and I see three or four copies, and I'd like to have more like ten or twelve, and so I order more. They are stackable and they fit. 

(It's pretty weird when you order what you can fit in, instead of what you may need.) 

Last week I got a huge order of toys. I spent two days trying to arrange room for them. In the end, I had one small 4' Japanese figure that I couldn't find a place for. I wandered around for an hour trying to figure out a place for that one figure. If anything symbolizes the Sisyphean futility of stocking a store, it's that. (The next morning, I found spot instantly by moving my other Japanese figures slightly closer together.) 

So what did I do the next week? Ordered another huge order of toys. 

I can rationalize this because we spent two Covid years without much access to toys. Stuff I ordered last summer still hasn't arrived and probably won't. Stock while you can! my brain insists.

But it's unending and never quite done. It never will be. I shall have to live with my inadequacies forever, unless I intend to buy every building in downtown Bend and fill them with every book and toy in existence, and even then...

Saturday, May 14, 2022

It's my world, and you are my guests.

So I'm working 9 or 10 days in a row. Both Sabrina and Ashley have come down with Covid. They seem to be fine, but...

I hadn't been in contact with either one of them for more than a week, so I've been OK. But 9 days in a row is the longest stretch I've done in a long time. It's turning out fine. It got slow just at the right time.

We're still ahead of last year, which was a banner year, so things are really humming right along. I probably spent too much money stocking up too early for summer, but that should all come back when summer gets going.

It feels slower, but I think that is being equalized by the fact that two record-breaking years in a row has given me the resources to completely and totally stock the store, so sales may not be as fast but they are steady. I think we did a lot of business last year because of my assiduousness in tracking down hard-to-get material. Now that Manga and Pokemon is more readily available, they've slowed down a bit. On the other hand, we really are super-stocked, so I think that makes up some of the lost ground.

Working every day, I can get more into the swing of things. I'm actually quite charming, most of the time. I mean, I've always been socially awkward, but this is my place, and anything you do long enough, you learn to do well. I've learned to turn the awkwardness in humor.  I sometimes have situations where I charmed some folk and they come back and I don't remember them nor am I in quite as expansive a mood, but mostly...with the money problems gone away, it's easier to be comfortable with people. 

It's my world, and everyone is a guest to my place. I like that.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Envy

People find it odd to see two bookstores on the same street only five stores away from each other. It doesn't seem to affect us, and I doubt it affects Dudley's. I suspect we're both doing well. 

I probably make less sales to locals than he does; most of my business is drop-ins. As a result, I often see people coming in my store that have already purchased from Dudley's. Again, that is fine: I'm sure the same thing happens to them.

I'm always curious about what the customers are buying. I try to sneak a look. Sometimes I even ask to see. Usually, in a selection of, say, five books, I'll also carry at least one or two.

I drop into Dudley's occasionally, take a look around.

I'm itching to ask Tom, the owner, in Jack Nicholson's Joker voice, "Where do you get all these marvelous books?"

So, for context, most bookstores get the same bestsellers. Not to put them down, but they seem the same. Of course, there are always variations.

We're a bit different in that I concentrate on backlist books. I've tried to have a unique store and I think I've succeeded in that. 

Dudley's has a selection of books that has the new bestsellers but also a bunch of books that, for want of a better word, are "tasteful." I immediately have an attraction to them.

Thing is, until I see them at Dudley's, I didn't know where those books came from. I have a number of lists I check each week, but I somehow miss a lot of the books that Dudley's have. It's different from the book envy I have of Barnes and Noble. They simply overwhelm me with their selection: to the point where going into B & N feels uncomfortable to me. 

Anyway, Tom obviously has lists that he's going through that I'm not seeing.

Big confession here. Because I concentrate on constantly reordering backlist, buying new releases has been more of a hit or miss proposition. Over the last two years I've made a conscious effort to have a good selection of new bestsellers. I pay attention to the "New Next Week" lists from Ingrams and, of course, the NYT's bestseller lists.

Frankly, my space is so limited that a new book outside of those lists has to somehow call attention to itself. When I look at the catalogs, the number of books I want far outstrip my budget. Nevertheless, it's probably time to pay more attention to them.

My biggest trick is to order books that people ask for, even if I haven't heard of them, on the supposition that if one customer goes so far at to request a book, there will be others who want them. I have to be careful to check to see if are viable and not some harebrained request for a book no one will ever want. It takes some overall knowledge and intuition to suss that out.

But in the meantime, I'm always looking for that book that really pops out with attraction.

So Tom Bean, if you're reading this, tell me your secrets!

Monday, May 9, 2022


Unlike most bookstores, I don't do returns. At first it was because my volume of new book sales were low and I was being very careful. It was the way I was forced to do it with everything else I sell, so why not books?

But as the volume of orders for new books increased to being the largest part of my store, I started to think I was missing a bet.

So I started to set up a system for book returns. I would need to keep track of the invoices, store the books I intend to return when the paperback version shows up, figure out the procedure, pack up the books and send them off.

When I assembled my first batch of returns, the total credit ran something like 1.2% of monthly sales, but represented at least half a year of orders.

Even if I increase the number of preorders dramatically, which is the main reason I'm even considering doing returns, the credit I'd get would probably never exceed 1% of sales.

So, frankly, it isn't even worth the effort. 

I can keep the books in stock, most of which will be First Editions after all, and if I can sell even a few of them, it would compensate for keeping them. Space is always a problem, but it's a separate problem and one I'm accustomed to dealing with. At worse, I can create a half-off shelf, but I probably don't even have to do that. I simply need to offer a discount to any customer who shows interest in a hardcover book that has a paperback version.

It means being careful. It means doing "Just in Time" ordering. I probably means ordering mostly from Ingrams with two day shipping instead of Penguin Random House with one to two week shipping, even though Ingrams offers 10% less discount. This is more significant a loss than the 1% I lose by not returning books, but is something I pretty much have to do anyway if I want books on a timely basis.

Basically, it means sticking with what is working.

I'm well accustomed to ordering on a non-return basis. In some ways, it keeps me in check. Knowing that anything I order is going to stick keeps me a little more cautious than I otherwise would. As the saying goes, no one ever lost money selling out.

It's probably even more work to constantly monitor sales on a Just in Time basis, but again, it's what I'm used to and I even kind of enjoy it. Versus the hassle of boxing and shipping and accounting that is the return process and which bores me to tears. 

So for now, I'm sticking with what is working. If any of you would like a hardback version of last year's big sellers, there'll be a chance I have one in stock...

Friday, April 29, 2022

Violently racist.

I never had the heart to read the ghostwritten novel I sold to a mainstream publisher. It was either going to be worse, in which case I'd feel bad, or better, in which case I might feel even worse. 

Apparently, my sister, Sue, did buy the book. She said:

"The writing was fine, but the main character had violently racist thoughts. It was the kind of book that would appeal to the Jan. 6 traitors. I thought to myself, 'My dear brother wouldn't write this.' I couldn't get through 20 pages."


But I suspected as much. Between the time I sold the book (for good money) and the time I was asked to rewrite, I'd found out that the "author" was known for his right-wing screeds, essentially what I call "gun porn." 

Too bad. I think is was a pretty good book, expansive and relevant, with a lot of research. I tried to get it back, but when I couldn't, I informed the publisher I wasn't interested in writing a book with a political stance. 

So I never got the second advance. It actually hit the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for a short time, but hopefully the book will quickly fade into obscurity...

Saturday, April 23, 2022

A second career of writing anything but fantasy? I never would have thought it.

One of the strangest things that has happened in this my latter day attempt at writing is how little heroic fantasy I ended up writing. In fact, only in the last book I wrote was there a conventional fantasy narrative, and it was more science/fantasy than straight-out Tolkienish fantasy.

Strange because, forty years ago, Tolkienish fantasy was the everything to me in my first attempt at writing. I couldn't really imagine writing anything else at the time.

Something that most younger folk don't understand (and every day that goes by, the more younger people there are) is that there was a brief moment when modern fantasy was in an incubation phase but not yet birthed. LOTR's and the Hobbit hit the USA in paperback form in the early 60's. I think I read them in about 1965 or so.

I went searching for more of that. I know I'll get arguments about this, but at least in my estimation, there wasn't anything else out there. Some SF had great fantasy elements: Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny helped scratch the itch for awhile.

Around 1968 I found Robert E. Howard and the Moorcock, and that also scratched the itch. But sword and sorcery still wasn't heroic fantasy.

But it wasn't really until around 1970 that I started seeing real Tolkienish fantasy hit the market, in dribs and drabs at first, then it started accelerating and then it exploded. 

But before that had happened, I'd already had my plot completely outlined for Star Axe. This was sometime around 1972 or 1973 (before I'd ever heard of Star Wars--thus the Star Axe title.) I tried to write something like Tolkien, without using any of the creatures or terrain. Same thing with Snowcastles and with Icetowers.

When Sword of Shannara came out, I was dumbfounded. "You mean, I can use dwarves and elves? You mean I can actually shamelessly copy Tolkien?"

Seems incredibly naive to me now. Basically, everyone copied Tolkien, with no effort to be different. 

Nevertheless, I read every fantasy that came out for a few years and then I hit a wall. It all started seeming the same--and when it wasn't the same, it was some outrageous switch that usually seemed gratuitous and unconvincing. (Lord Foul's Bane, anyone?)

I know people love these fantasies, but none of them truly impressed me. 

And so in my long hiatus from writing, I drifted away from reading modern fantasy. SF? has very wide perimeters. Urban Fantasy? a little. Steampunk? Always seemed like an interesting idea. 

Instead, I started reading lots of mysteries and thrillers, mixed with literary fiction and non-fiction. 

Nevertheless, people constantly recommended new fantasy authors as different. They never were. Some were better than others, but none really knocked my socks off. Usually I read the first book and stopped. Again, I'm talking about heroic fantasy, not the many spinoffs, which at least were different.

It wasn't until I was much older that I decided that heroic fantasy was bound by its conventions, and that no one was ever going to match Tolkien within those conventions. Some fantasy could be really well done: The Curse of Chalion by Bujold; Game of Thrones by Martin; Name of the Wind, by Rothfuss, but completely new? Probably not possible.

Nevertheless, I always thought if I ever went back to writing, that fantasy would be my main focus. And indeed, my first two failed attempts were that. But then, I just had the urge to write a vampire story, even when I knew the genre was played out. After that, I wrote a story idea that I'd been thinking about for years: what if the Donner Party had included werewolves? Immediately following that, books about super-intelligent pigs out to destroy humanity? And so it went...

The horror community seemed very welcoming, and I realized that unlike most genres, horror was open to every style and idea. It seems to me to be the genre least restricted by formulas. So I went with the flow.

I still have a hankering to write my grand trilogy in the Tolkien tradition, even though I'm not sure the world needs it. 

It surprises the hell out of me that I wrote so many books without doing a fantasy, though. At least, not one I completed.

But you know what? I wrote the books I wanted, the way I wanted. I don't think any of them consciously followed a formula. I thought of many of them as written in the style of old-fashioned disaster movies: a cast of characters facing an expected and steadily increasing danger. 

All I know is that they were written without regard to convention. They probably are mostly conventional, because I'm pretty conventional by nature. But none of it was cynical, and in all of it I was following my own muse and I was simply trying to be entertaining, if to no one else, to myself.

In that sense, I feel they are "original," whether the end result appealed to people that way or not. 

At the end of the day, I still have a strong urge. I just don't know if I have the time or the grand idea that will hold it all together. If I live long enough, though...

Saturday, April 16, 2022

B & N is not our friend or ally. 

I'm sorry, I don't buy into this at all. Barnes and Noble is not the independent bookstore's friend or ally. It tried to be what Amazon is and failed. I don't give them the slightest bit of credit. 

I was here when Barnes and Noble came to Bend and put 3 indie bookstores out of business within a very short period of time. The next two indies didn't quite make it. We have a healthy number of indies in Bend now, but no thanks to Barnes and Noble. In fact, the very weakness of B & N may have helped. 

Does anyone not realized that the increase in indie bookstores is probably partly due to the collapse of Borders and the weakening of B & N? Does anyone not think that indie bookstores wouldn't pop up like mushrooms if B & N disappeared? 

I came into bookselling full time after the arrival of Amazon, but I did face the megastores in most of my other products: toys, games, and especially cards. They are no friend.

Sabrina said an interesting thing yesterday. "People think that Amazon and B & N are of a kind, but they are two different things. On the other hand, indie bookstores and Barnes and Noble ARE of a kind."

Amazon has always been a little out of sight and mind for me. I know it's there, I know it's taking the lion's share of the business, but...there's not a damn thing I can do about it. However, if someone is looking to go shopping, Amazon is not my competition. B & N is my competition. 

I've always been very dubious of the American Booksellers Association's opinion about things. It seems to me that they hype strategies that don't work and spend most of their time trying to promote, promote, promote, without much in the way of useful advice. 

No, you don't have to have endless signings and book clubs and coffee and millions of knick-knacks.

What you do need are books. Everything else is a distraction, and if you add up the time, space, and money most bookstores spend on these distractions, I'd be willing to bet that they don't pay off the way most bookstores think they do. 

But hey, what's time and space? Well, to answer my own stupid question, it's MONEY. 

Weirdly, this article says that part of the reason that B & N is doing better is that they are focusing on books instead of knick-knacks. Well, duh. DUH! I say.

So why does the ABA go from suing the publishers over their relationship with B & N, to calling them our friend? I believe the ABA is in thrall of the publishers as much or more than they are of their so-called constituents.

Because the publishers made some stupid decisions, pulled the rug out from under indie bookstores in a greedy and short-sighted alliance with the Big Business and now sees their doom on the horizon.

I believe indie bookstores can weather that storm. When the publishers struggle to survive without B & N, they'll either realize that they need to bolster indie bookstores or become wholly owned subsidiaries of Amazon. 

Indie bookstores can buy from smaller, more adept publishers--even, GASP!, from the authors themselves. Instead of being disdained by the bookstores, self-published authors might even find themselves in demand.

I do know this: B & N is not our friend. If they could take Amazon's place, they'd do it in an instant. 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

I wonder how many stores in the world are half comic book store and half regular bookstore, with games and toys as sidelines?

It may not seem all the odd to the casual observer, but having been the owner of both types of stores, I suspect it is very rare to have it split so neatly down the middle. (We are tipping into the bookstore category more and more, but that doesn't mean I'm neglecting comics.) 

I used to think the same thing about cards/comics, and I think that was equally rare.

I used to ask the card people what kind of store I was, and they'd invariably say, "A card shop." If I asked the comic people, they'd say I was "A comic shop." I considered this a great success.  

It's not quite the same with books/comics. It's more "old" customers versus "new" customers. Old customers, or even just residents who have never shopped with me, consider us a comic shop. But tourists and newcomers to town come into the store, see all the books, and think we're a bookstore. I don't believe there is anything I can do to change the impression of "old" customers and I don't try anymore. No amount of correction or advertising or whatever will change their basic opinion once formed. 

But back to my original point. Why aren't there more such hybrids? (Again, I'm not talking about carrying a few items from a different store, but trying to do the full job on both types of stores.) That I think is very unusual.

Why? Because I doubt any full-on bookstore would turn half their space over to comics. Graphic novels? Sure, they'd bring them in. They're hot right now, especially YA graphic novels. But hell, half the bookstores I visit into pay very little attention to even the genre books, especially fantasy and SF, but also romance and to a lessor extent, mysteries. (Mysteries have managed to get a foothold in the "literary" world, so it seems respectable.)

What I'm saying is, I'm pretty sure most bookstores would feel it beneath them to do comics fulltime. Or, to be fair, they may not feel they have the time, space, and expertise.

Meanwhile, comic shops wouldn't feel that way. Not because they are broader minded--though they probably are--but because it would never occur to them that books would be a direction to go. They might carry a few books that are crossovers with movies and comics, maybe some pop culture books, probably a few SF books, but I doubt they'd go into full literary mode. 

In fact, in most cases both bookstore owners and comic owners are probably right to stick with what they are doing. 

Our advantage is that we're in a busy downtown corridor, with lots of foot traffic, and plenty of tourists. We can have our cake and eat it too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Are graphic novels real books?


Of course they are.  

I'm only asking because I have a bookkeeping dilemma. I've always had separate keys on my register for graphic novels and books. But they are getting harder and harder to separate. 

I've noticed, for instance, that when Sabrina works, more graphic novels and less books are sold, and when I'm working, it's the opposite. While this is probably somewhat true, I suspect the main reason for the discrepancy is that, when in doubt, she presses the "graphic novel" button and I press the "book" button. 

For me, the decision is often decided on the basis of where I ordered the book. Since I'm ordering more and more titles from my book distributors, this gives the advantage to the book category. 

We also have a lot of "pop culture" art and reference books, which bridge the gap between the two categories.

I suppose it doesn't really matter which button is pushed anymore. They are, indeed, all "books."

The second part of the question is a matter of description to the customers. I often tell nervous parents that graphic novels are a good choice because they are what their kids want to read. My feeling is that it's important to get the idea of books as entertainment across. They'll bridge the divide on their own.

I have no evidence of this, but a very strong feeling. 

I cringe sometimes when I see parents either refuse to buy their kids a book and/or make it some kind of chore.

But more to the original point--even saying the graphic novels will help kids transition to prose novels is somehow qualitatively separating the two.

I'm currently reading a nice thriller. Fun to read. But I'll tell you this--it has far less content than, say, a "Sandman" graphic novel, or a thousand other graphic novels.

Form does not dictate content. Art and words together can, in my opinion, have more of intellectual stretch to them than your average "guilty" pleasure read. (Not that I believe any book is a guilty pleasure.)

If I really wanted to know what I was selling, I'd probably do 4 or 5 categories: young adult, regular fiction, genre fiction, (as if I could ever figure out the difference....), pop culture, and art books. But I know that me and Sabrina are so habituated to the categories that we have that it would be very difficult to do that. 

I suppose I'll continue to separate the two categories if for no other reason than to keep track of what I'm ordering, but the truth is--it doesn't really matter. A book is a book.

Swarmed at the store both Sunday and Monday.

It still amazes me how many of my neighbors are closed on those days, especially on holidays and summer. I don't know how many people mentioned specific stores they had came down to visit that weren't open. Instead, they spent money in my store.

It's not like the old days when there was doubt that we'd see foot traffic on Sundays, much less Mondays. Foot traffic is now constant.

Why would you forgo that business? I mean, it's not just a trickle of business that will barely pay an employee. In fact, I do more business per hour average on Sundays that I do the rest of the week! I only have to be open 4 hours on Sunday to get to my daily average.

No amount of promotions and advertising can take the place of being consistently open. I mean, that's the very basics of the job. 

And while I'm at it. We have a downtown association, 

Here's a simple request. Find a way to have open restrooms downtown. Do this before you do anything else. Make this a priority! Sheesh.

Friday, March 11, 2022


 I have a sort of weird, low-key, bias against gambling and the promoting of gambling. 

A new "social club" for poker is opening in the old Pilot Butte Drive-in location, at least in the evenings. Personally, I think this is a bad idea. First of all, I don't think these sorts of things usually work. Inevitably, one crowd drives out another crowd. It's not like an "exclusive" club, which gets its money upfront. (I have other objections to that kind of thing...along the lines of Groucho Marx.) 

I don't think I had any objections to gambling when I was younger. I probably bought into the idea that it was a "victimless crime." 

Nowadays it's neither a crime, nor I submit, victimless. 

This bias comes from my experiences with speculation. I saw divorces, friends becoming enemies, businesses going bankrupt, and otherwise ethical people doing ethically dubious things.

I hadn't been in business long before I realized that selling things had a lot of grey areas. There were lots of decisions that had nothing to do with "legal," but did have aspects of right and wrong. 

I'm going to outright say something that some of you may not agree with: The price of something, the profit margin there-in, is not an ethical situation for one simple reason--the buyer has a choice. He can choose not to buy. 

Of course, going back to grey, there are a million variations, some of which are more right than others. I've never been able to go to the killer price, even when I could have, because it didn't feel right. But other times, I've had to go to much higher prices because of the situation. Like I said, it's complicated. 

Speculation is a bit different. This is where you try to buy something early at a low price in hopes that it will increase in price, hold onto it, sell it later, thereby giving you a higher profit. It's very exciting when that happens. It's a "win," with all the feelings that entails. It's the exact same feeling you get when you win a game, or...a poker hand. 

Except sometimes it doesn't happen.

Nothing wrong with trying to buy at a lower price so that you have the product in stock when it increases in price if your goal is to have inventory to sell. But if your goal is to make a killer profit, that becomes something different. 

It's addicting. Simple as that. That winning feeling is something you want to recreate, over and over again. You see that reaction on the Antiques Roadshow. People whoop and holler and break into tears.

My guess is those same people probably start haunting antique shops. One of the favorite things I say at the store is "Antiques Roadshow has a lot to answer for..." 

I struggled with the speculators for years. In the eyes of the speculators I was the good guy, then the bad guy, then the good guy, and then the bad guy. 

Finally, I opted out. I decided that I would only buy at wholesale prices and sell at retail prices. I would only buy from distributors and wholesalers. I stopped buying off the street. If I sold out and could no longer get the product at wholesale, so be it. I eliminated sports cards altogether.

I moved away from selling product for its "speculator" value and oriented toward selling things that had their own intrinsic value. I sold books and comics for the purposes of reading entertainment, Magic and Pokemon cards for the purposes of playing the game, toys for the purposes of playing.

Even so, I couldn't get completely away from speculations. Comics and game cards and most everything else I sell have "collector" status, which is one step away from speculation. However, ever since the speculative markets for cards and comics collapsed in the 1990s, it hasn't been much of a problem.

I did allow myself to raise prices on comics and cards if there was a supply and demand issue, but I would warn people to watch out, and I stayed at normal retail in 95% of the time. Sometimes the market simply demands that I carry something, and I simply can't carry that something without charging a little more. The general idea is to go to a high enough price to discourage the speculators, but low enough that the true fan can still afford it.

But even when I did have to make those decisions, I tried to do it in the most ethical way possible. For instance, if there was a rare "Spider-man" comic, I would usually sell it for the lowest possible price to the customer who bought lots of Spider-man comics already. 

If something shot up in price, I'd usually choose to sell it for half the going price. I wasn't out to make a killing, I was trying to find the best way to reward my best customers. 

All that has changed in the last couple years. To my great surprise, rampant speculation is back. For the most part, we have ignored it. I so ingrained my distaste for speculation in comics into Sabrina that she has taken it to heart. Yet we are constantly confronted with dilemmas, comics that are rare that are going for huge prices elsewhere. Do will sell that comic to a stranger so he can sell it for 10 times that much online? Arrggghhh. 

This week, we received a comic that was drastically rationed to the market. It's currently selling for $195 online. The retail price is $25. What do we do?

I'm thinking we might do a raffle and donate the proceeds to charity. But that would require a whole lot of set-up and could go terribly wrong. 

What do we do?

I hate that we even have to make a decision. The people who created that comic could have easily allowed us to order what the market allowed. It's gambling, that's all it is, and no one wins in the end.