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. 

Someday. 

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

JIT SKU's

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

Non-returnable.

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."

Ouch.

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? yes...it 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.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/15/arts/barnes-noble-bookstores.html 

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?

CLICKBAIT!!!!

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

Gambling?

 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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

I'm reading "Depths of Glory," by Irving Stone about Camille Pissarro, and I'm being introduced to a gallery of 19th century Paris artists. One of those periods in history when a remarkable group of characters coalesced in one place.

In another life, I wouldn't have objected to a career as an art historian.

What a luxury to be able to Google each artist, look at their work, and then move on to the next! My parents had a pretty strong collection of art books when I was growing up--sadly, mostly black and white because color was so expensive back then, but I used to pour over them. (I also read Stone's books about Van Gogh and Michelangelo back then).

The Pissarro book itself is somewhat superficial and old-fashioned, if filled with entirely too much geographical Paris, which means nothing to me. You can tell Stone is basically putting words in the mouths of the artists from their letters. But...fair enough. I am but a student and learning.

I recently finished a biography of Raymond Chandler; and it really puts into perspective the publishing industry in the mid-20th century. For instance, I was not aware of lending (for profit) libraries, which were a huge part of the book business in the early part of the century. Amazing, the snobbery toward mystery writers! Even more amazing was how writers could actually make a decent living writing for the pulps. The story of my life, from SF and Comics and genre books--and my current disdain for most "literary" books.

I've been reading a lot of books about creative people. (A bunch of full books about single movies: Chinatown, Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate, The Wild Bunch, The Godfather...)

I don't regret owning a bookstore as my career, but oh, for the chance to immerse myself in the arts and nothing but the arts! I'm not sure what good it does me this late in the game, but I still love it.

I pulled myself away from the TV over the last couple years--especially cable news. Now I'm trying to pull away from internet browsing and into reading again. I don't know where my interests come from, or what good they do me, but I sure enjoy reading about them.

 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Say no to anything not essential.

 Time for one of my sermons about not taking on too much as a business. 

The following from a new small business owner. He didn't ask for my advice, so I won't say who it is. But boy, do I recognize the symptoms! 

The unfortunate truth of owning and running a Business….. 
 Running a business is really hard.
 
What they don’t tell you is that it can cause severe stress and anxiety, and drains you mentally to the point of depression in even the most laid back people.
 
People will talk about you, compare you to others, use you, they will view you as a service and not a person anymore.
 
Friends and family will expect discounts and people will value you and your hard work less than a big chain store. 
 
You have to worry about if you forget to email/message someone back, are they going to think it was on purpose? Did you disappoint them? Will they hold that against you? When in reality you just can’t get to everyone’s messages and emails right away.
 
Starting up and running a successful business puts incredible strain on personal lives and relationships, many of which fail because there is just often no work life balance. You need to be the director, the worker, the admin, the marketing team, the accountant, the cleaner..... All while being a parent, a husband or a wife, family support, friend... it’s one of the hardest things you will try and balance.
There’s a reason you don’t see many people succeed in small businesses after 5 years. If they are successful they are overwhelmed. It takes a toll. It’s freaking exhausting. Especially the past couple of years when so much has been out of our control.
 
Here’s a small reminder that we are just normal people with hectic lives. Be kind, be patient, support small businesses…….and hopefully more of us will stick around!
 
I copied this from another small business owner that I support and they support us.
 
....It's Not For Everyone & only the strong survive!!

Where to start?

This was the comment I made on the above Facebook post:

Owning a bookstore for 38 years, one bit of unasked for advice. Winnow your business down to essentials. Say no to everything else. Being burned-out by being successful does not meet my idea of "successful."

I was in a friend's store the other day and stumbled upon a way to say it. He was talking about something he was considering doing and I said, 

"Just say no to that.  

I swear I've been spending decades saying no to this, and no to that, and no, and no, and no.

When the overwhelming message for everyone else is different than the advice you're giving, you are simply drowned out. This friend has sometimes mentioned he's doing something expecting me to approve and I'll say, "Actually I suggested you not do that." He's always surprised. See, he's hearing an overwhelming amount of messages that say one thing, and one lone guy saying the opposite. Who's he going to listen to?

Hopefully, he will end up listening to the evidence of his own experience. He'll be able to distinguish between common practice and the truth. 

Keep it simple, stupid!

For most of the time I've been preaching this, it's been as a way to avoid burnout. But I'm coming around to the notion that paying attention to basics is also a good business practice. 

I'll give you a simple example. We don't "hold" books. I mean, we will stick a book under the counter for someone for a few days, but we don't take "requests" per se. Someone says, "Can you let me know when this comes in?"

A simple request, right? Right?

What I actually say is, "This looks like a good book. I'll order it for the store and it will probably be here when you come in next. If it happens to sell, we'll order it again."

So basically, I've said, "No, I won't let you know." But the customer hears, "good book" (aren't you smart!) and "I'll order it" and "it will be here." All of which is true.

The alternative? 

1.) Trying to figure out when the book is in stock at the warehouse: the only way to do that is to check every day. Being conscious of this single request for as long as the request hasn't been filled; being conscious of this request when I'm doing a thousand other things per day.

2.) Ordering it when it can be part of a larger order, (free postage only come with volume) which means keeping separate orders.

3.) Having a method of knowing when and where I ordered something and for who, and keeping a phone number and/or email for a single request.

4.) Setting aside the book for who knows how long (after all, the customer hasn't committed) and/or...

5.) Taking the money in advance without knowing how long the customer will have to wait or even if the product well ever come back in stock. If taking the money for something that is in stock, then having a separate system for keeping track of who's paid for what--as oppose the the relatively simple Pay At The Register For Something I Actually Have In Stock.

6.) Disappointing a customer who has to wait longer than they want, who might see the same book somewhere else and feel put out that I haven't got it for them yet: or worse, buying it elsewhere and wanting their money back. 

And so on and so forth. A simple little request: "Can you let me know when it shows up?" 

There are a thousand other "simple" little services that aren't so simple, that take time, money, and space.

I'll say this again, "TIME and SPACE and ENERGY" are the EXACT same thing as money. 

I own a bookstore. My job is to be there at posted hours, help the customers in the store, make sure the store is clean and orderly, order and sell product at a price that makes sense. Anything that takes away from those basic functions is not only not helpful, it may actually detract. 

The above example may not be the best. My friend makes a lot of sales by special ordering and then calling the customer--and it makes sense for him to do that. It doesn't make sense for my particular store to do that. 

Nevertheless, it is a good example of how complicated a simple little request can become. Multiply that by all the little things that seem like a good idea but actually take away from the essential task. What I'm saying is the non-essential can quickly overwhelm the essential if you aren't able to distinguish the difference. 


Thursday, February 24, 2022

This is the longest I've gone without a post since I started this blog.

I got nothing. I'm speechless. 

Russia has just invaded Ukraine. Unbelievable...and at the same time, totally believable. It's not like human brain chemistry has changed. The older I get, the more I realize that every generation is really the same, no better, no worse.

So what's happening? The store is doing very, very well. We've now beaten the previous year every month of the last two years--by a lot. (I'm not counting the close down.) Mostly due to books, but the infusion of money has helped every category. The store is fully stocked, top to bottom, and tourists seem to be coming in droves. So that's working.  

I'm at the store for 3 official days a week, and usually one unofficial day. It's lots of fun with the store is doing well. 

I'm not really writing these days. I'm dreaming lots of ideas, I get the impulse to write, but I know that it would be only fits and starts. I am reading more--all kinds of esoteric things, for some reason. My curiosity hasn't changed, even if the curiosity doesn't lead to anything. 

Just got off my once a year zoom call with the doctor. I'm in good shape up and down the line. If it wasn't for the heart attack three years ago, I'd think I was in perfect shape. I'm trying to prepare for retirement--being a loner, I've always relied on the store for social purposes. When I'm not working, I tend to stay home and do not much of anything. 

I'm hoping Linda and I can travel, though how and where we go is still up in the air. Linda wants to take the cat with us, and I keep telling her, "He's just a cat! He'll be fine!"

I'll probably take up writing again, and going for long walks. Other than that...relax? What's that?

 



Saturday, January 29, 2022

Bookstores doing badly? Huh?

Lots of articles about how badly bookstores are doing, which is crazy because I think all of the local, Central Oregon, bookstores are doing incredibly well. At least, that's how it appears to me.

Sales on books are up tremendously at my store. Part of this is the two years I've spent building the book part of the store, but at least part of it is a newfound appreciation for local bookstores. My feeling is, Barnes & Noble is no longer a "new" phenomenon compared to dusty old Indies: in fact, these days most Indies have much more life and flair to them than fuddy-duddy B & N. Again, that is only anecdotal and a guess, but that's the way it seems.

But I don't doubt that many bookstores aren't doing so hot. 

1.) For some reason, bookstores seem more severe in their Covid precautions than most businesses. I have no idea why this is, but closing the doors and doing only curbside and/or online for months on end isn't a winning strategy. 

Pegasus Books has been open every day that we've been legally allowed. (All but 54 days.) We have firm mask-wearing protocols, and that seems to have worked: Sabrina and I are both vaccinated and boosted and we haven't gotten sick and on most days we have a nice crowd of people coming into the store.

2.) Lots of bookstores have built a business model based on special events: signings, readings, panel discussion, book clubs, etc. etc. I've never been fond of these promotional efforts. This sort of proves the point: these bookstores were dependent on bread and circuses to survive, instead of everyday sales. If you can't survive on everyday sales, then it will catch up to you at some point.

3.) Begging for money. Well, I'm not a fan of this. I would do it if my store was in dire straights, but then again, without changing the business model, this is only throwing good money after bad. We've been doing so well, I can't see myself doing it. I have too much pride for that.

4.) Used bookstores seem to be doing terrible. (Again, anecdotally.) I'm really not sure why this is. It seems counter-intuitive. All I know is, with a new bookstore, I can carry exactly what I want, and if I'm any good at figuring out what others want, that works.

5.) Lack of backlist books. Most Indies depend on the latest bestsellers to make their money. Just to throw out some random numbers, I'm guessing the it's at least 60/40 new versus backlist for most stores. (My own guestimate is more like 75/25.) We're the exact opposite. I depend on the backlist for the majority of my sales. The sad thing is, Indies could really do a better job of carrying backlist--and at the same time, in my opinion, still make the same amount on new bestsellers. All it takes is a bit of attention. 

I realize that Bend is a unique place. We're growing, attracting well-heeled folks, and we have a growing and thriving tourism inflow. Especially downtown Bend. So we may be weathering the storm better than most bookstores, but...

I do think that a lot of bookstores are a "dream" and not run especially well. At least, from my observations on my travels. It's not an easy business, by any means, but I have to say: for the twenty or so years I hesitated in doing new books all I heard was how hard it was. But once I got into it, I found it ten times easier to order for than, say, comics. It's actually not a terribly difficult business--get books in stock that people want. Pretty simple. 

I've spent most of my 40 year career learning the hard way that the assumptions that people make about small business are mostly wrong. Unfortunately, may people still operate their businesses on those assumptions.

PS: Notice I don't mention Amazon. Hey, it's a fact of life and just has to be factored in. It doesn't preclude you from doing a good job on your own. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Writing and reading.

Read through the reviews on some of my books, and they really were more positive than I remember. I think, during the moment, the negative reviews tend to stick out. Frankly, about half the negative reviews were weird--either way off base or petty. The other half were legit, and a few were spot on in identifying the weaknesses of a book. 

But overall, very positive results, and not just from friends and acquaintances.


Read the first Lois McMaster Bujold Penric novella and she's up to her old tricks. Which are good tricks. Something I've noticed with writers I really like is that I read so much of them that I start to notice their little techniques--their tricks--at being a satisfying read. I've often thought I should write all these tricks down and see if I can't reproduce them in my own writing, but then, when I'm actually in the midst of writing, I go my own way, which is probably for the best.

Bujold is the best write I know who fairly often writes clunkers. All but one of her early Vorkosigan books were great, but there was one definite clunker among them. Her first fantasy was pretty bad. Her later Vorkosigan books fell off in quality, the more she got away from Miles Vorkosigan. 

I really didn't care for the Sharing Knife series. Really, she shouldn't be trying to emulate YA fantasy series with all their tropes--those writers should be emulating HER.

But her Chalion series is absolutely great stuff. I wanted more of that, but she seemed to disappear for awhile. Turns out, she was producing her own novellas set in the Chalion world, starring a character named Penric. The only way to get them was expensive editions, which I might have done if they were all available at the time.

Anyway, she's finally released the first six of the Penric novellas in two volumes, and I read the first of them last night and it was great. Very satisfying. 


I liked writing. I was satisfied with what I produced. 

So why aren't I writing?

Basically, it's a huge investment of time and energy. For me to accomplish anything, I have to totally focus on the story. It doesn't leave much room for anything else.

Conversely, if I'm doing something else, I can't do the writing.

I dedicated these last two years to getting the store ready for sale, for making a last bit of money. I also wanted to relax; not expect anything of myself in the creative realm. 

I'm also seeing that there might be some creative benefits in taking a break. My creative energy is obviously reviving--waking up with entire plots to books is a sign of that. I suspect that when I get back to writing, I'll have renewed inspiration.

And it gives me time to think about the process. What I was doing wrong, what I was doing right, what goals I'm trying to achieve.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Books I love that I can never seem to sell to customers.

 Books I love that I can never seem to sell to customers.

1.) Any and all Lois McMasters Bujold. Never mind that she'd maybe won more industry honors than just about any other writer, nothing I do will convince people to try her.

2.) Armor, by John Steakley. One of the best standalone SF novels I've ever read. Even though the author only wrote two books in his life (the other, Vampire$, is almost as good) no one will try him. His books have never gone out of print, which is an accomplishment for standalone books.

3.) Thomas Perry thrillers. To my mind, he's the best out there. Compulsively readable. Great characters. But I guess he ain't no Lee Child...

4.) Anubis Gates, Tim Powers. This to me is the precursor and still one of the best urban/goth/steampunk fantasies. Lost in time, I guess. 

5.) Stephen Hunter: another great thriller writer, even if I don't much like his politics. (Seems to be a a lot of right wing stuff in thrillers.)

6.) Heinlein young adult books. Everyone seems to want to read his later, "dirty old man" novels: basically everything after Stranger in a Strange Land. But his YA stuff is the cat's meow. My favorite is Tunnel in the Sky, which is out of print. Most of his YA is out of print. I actually had a kid return a Heinlein because it was too slow. This is not an something I would have ever thought possible. 

7.) The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. Apparently too old school for the new generation. But came long before most YA fantasy. 

8.) Watership Down. Yes, it's about bunnies. But these are some honcho bunnies. 

9.) The Once and Future King. Actually, I do have some luck selling this, but I'm always afraid it is going to be too dense for modern fantasy readers, so I sometimes talk them out of it. 

10,) Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, even this, but only because I think most people think they already know the story. But knowing and experiencing it are two different things.

 I could go on, but these are a good start.


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Random thoughts.

So many beautiful songs of love written by people who eventually split from the one for whom the song was sung.  It's sad.
 
Cowboy Take Me Away
Uptown Girl
Something

But the songs still work if you are still in love with the one you love. 
 
 
 
The speakers to the cheap $100 Victrola I just bought are better than the expensive set I bought in 1968. The record player, on the other hand, absolutely sucks.
 
 
 
The Bulletin is having a really hard time delivering to me in Redmond. Got three days worth this morning. Sometimes I don't get them at all. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. 
 
But, really, I wonder if our society has gotten away with underpaying most workers for so long and the inevitable passive/aggressive rebellion had finally happened. 
 
 
 
I used to think the parallels between the fall of the Roman republic and the US were a stretch. But the last few years have brought them totally in alignment. The reformers were stymied again and again by the rich and powerful until it blew up in their faces.
 
 
 
I swear I came up with this before I read it was a real theory, but if there are infinite parallel universes then consciousness travels between them. In other words, I'm conscious in the universes where I'm still alive. 

But I'm pretty sure I've veered far from the original, especially in the last few years. 



I've stated my preference for SF that cleaves the genre conventions. I normally don't like "literary" SF. It usually bores me. 

We're up to episode 8 on Station Eleven and it's getting intense. I like it quite a bit. So maybe it's not that I'm against "literary" SF, just bad "literary" SF.
 
 
I've definitely got too much time on my hands. (Random thoughts? Really?) I shudder to think what might happen when I fully retire.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Giving up percentage discount to control cost.

Once again, I'm giving up discount percentage points to retain some semblance of control over when and how much I'm shipped. 

I can get an extra 10% from both Scholastic and PenguinRandomHouse, but they are so bad about shipping that it drives me crazy.

I lose 10% with Ingram but I can control when and how the product arrives. The minimums are easily achievable.

I made a last couple of orders from PRH and they are arriving in bits and and pieces every day. Sabrina can file them, and it's probably good for her to do so as a learning experience. 

But it drives me crazy. It plays havoc with the cash flow.

I'm working Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays now. If I order from Ingrams I can make sure that all the books arrive on Monday and Tuesday. For one thing, it gives me something to do. Sabrina is already dealing with games and comics, so she has her part of the store to take care of.

This giving up on discounts with the goal of controlling costs isn't new. A long time ago, I gave up on buying sports cards directly from the manufacturers because they came in too large of minimum quantities and costs. By buying through the middle-man I could could buy exactly how much product I wanted--but I had to pay about 15% more. 

I don't think it's an accident that Pegasus Books survived the collapse of sports cards and most other shops didn't. (At the peak, 85% of our sales were cards!!)

I used that control over costs by using middlemen during the Beanie Baby, pogs, and first Pokemon surge, to my advantage. I never had to overspend and I could cut orders in a timely manner.

Recently, I chose to go back to Diamond Comics even though I lost about seven percentage points--for the same reasons. Again, it is all about control over costs and shipping.

This also gives me an advantage in book keeping. Instead of ordering from multiple manufacturers, I can order through a few distributors and keep track of what is happening. 

Believe me, I love higher discounts and I order product at lower discounts every chance I get.

But not when it means losing control over quantity and cost.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Weird Apocalyptic Euphoria.

To what do I attribute the surge in business over the last couple of years?

I don't know...has anything unusual happened in the last two years? Hmm? 

So I've been coming up with all kinds of likely reasons.

1.) Books, books, books. This is the most likely explanation. We've increased the quantity and quality of our new books rather dramatically, and I think it finally kicked in, especially with tourists who walk in the door and think, "Oh, a bookstore!"

2.) Pokemon and Magic. This too is a likely explanations. I went out of my way to carry a good inventory of both brands at a time when they were popular, especially Pokemon. 

3.) The desire on the part of the consumer for the human, not corporate touch. I'd like to believe this, and I do think that tourists are more interested in idiosyncratic, funky businesses than in going to the same corporate big boxes that exist where they came from.  

The "Shop Local" mantra might be finally kicking in. It's sweet to think so, but I think the Internet and big boxes are doing just fine. 

4.) Free money. Sure, lots of money was pumped into the economy. How much of that propped up sales is open for debate. At the very least, it kept spending from cratering. 

This morning, it occurred to me that all of these explanations are insufficient. It occurred to me that the real reason we had such a surge was simple.

Weird Apocalyptic Euphoria. 

I won't try to define it. You know what I mean...

Live, eat, and be merry--and spend money--for tomorrow we may die. People came into the store like they'd been released from prison and just had to get a book, or comic, or game, or card. 

"Damn it, I deserve it! I'm tired of all the bad news! I'm doing it!"

Only problem is, that feeling is going to wear off eventually. The new, new...new normal is that masks and Covid and all that comes with it are here to stay. 

It's a slow apocalypse.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

"Stay small? How unAmerican!"

Imagine, if you will, that you've had a very successful year in business. You see an opportunity to expand. You seize it.

That's the great American way, you know. 

But stretch your imagination a little further. You've had a very successful year in business. What if you just...you know...took the profits and did nothing? What if you continued doing the things that had made the year successful? 

Believe me, I understand the urge to grow. I had four stores at one point. It seemed like a natural progression at the time. 

Here's the thing: You never, ever, hear anyone say, "Stay small." 

When my four stores crashed, I was forced to consider what my goals really were. Basically, I only bought the store to have a place of my own. It hadn't been my goal to be a tycoon. I'd seen my former boss go that route and while I was impressed, it didn't look like something I wanted to do. And yet I was seduced by the myth. 

I came up with my ancillary to the Peter Principle: A business owner will expand to their level of incompetence. 

About ten years ago, before Dudley's really got going with new books, I looked around downtown and realized it could support a bookstore, and that I had the knowledge and resources to pull it off. I would have needed some new management skills, but I'd identified them and could have tried to learn them.

But I was 60 years old, my business was doing well, and...well...I'd done that sort of thing before and I know that:

1.) It would take away from my current business which was doing well.

2.) It would cost twice as much, take twice as long, and be four times the work as one store. 

Now, ten years later, I've created a new bookstore within the perimeters of my own store. It works--and it doesn't need the extras that a brand new store would have needed. Admittedly, I didn't know that I'd take it this far or that it would work out so well, but it does sort of prove my point.

Stick to what you're doing and try to do it even better 


Monday, January 10, 2022

The new, new....new normal.

First wave, second wave, endless wave. 

This feels permanent; a new, new...new normal. Take it in stride, mask up, make sure we have the latest booster.

I called Sabrina a few days ago and told that I thought we needed to communicate only by phone from now on, because if we were associating and one of us got sick, we'd both have to quarantine for the 5 to 10 days necessary and that would be extremely costly.

"Oh, my God," she said, "I didn't even think of that. Wow...Christmas."

"I had it in the back of my mind, but I thought the boosters would take care of things. But now...?"

From what I've read the Omicron surge should peak in March; and that some more of the new medications should be available by then too. We need to be extra careful for the next three months. Then, hopefully, things won't be so dire. 

I've moved to wearing N95 masks now. They are not as comfortable, and they are much more difficult to remove in order to drink or eat something. But I do believe that Sabrina and I having made it through months of hundreds of people coming in the store has shown the value of masks. 

But it is so easy to slip. Scratching my nose, rubbing my eye, whatever. A slip-up can happen at any time. I'm sort of half expecting it. Also, it's very wearying to remind people to wear their masks properly, and some times I just don't have the energy anymore. Stupidity wins.

Meanwhile, it's been slow at the store. Normal January business, not the kind of boom that we saw through most of 2021. Again, I wonder if we're setting into a new, new...new normal. I can hardly be disappointed: We had a spectacular year.

I ordered a ton of books. 18 boxes came in today. Literally a ton of books. It was most of the books that were depleted during the Christmas rush. But I've blown two weeks worth of budget in one week, so I need to step back. Considering how slow it's been, it shouldn't hurt. I have to fight my tendency to borrow from the future.

It just is starting to feel routine somehow, at the same time as conditions have changed yet again. 

It's new and it's normal.

 


Saturday, January 1, 2022

The math of art.

 Lord knows, I'm no mathematician. I failed Algebra in high school, quickly followed by failing Astronomy in college. 

But I use basic math, addition, subtraction, division, multiplication fairly well; and it applies to all things business.

I was listening to a podcast about the 18th century mathematician, Pierre-Simon Laplace, and I realized that I was basically using some of his ideas in running my business--in the most elementary form. One of the commenters used the phrase, "intuitive math," and that really sounded about right. 

Reminds me of when I went up to see a business adviser at COCC and he described my processes as being "a primitive sophistication." I'm still not totally sure if he was complimenting me or insulting me. 

I've gotten better at business because I now have much more data to work with. When I started, I did my research, as I always try to do when starting a new venture, but there was almost no information, either specifically--about comics shops--or more generally, for small business, that was useful.

Most of the information that would have useful about comics was privileged information, available only to the publishers and the wholesalers, and they weren't sharing. 

I realized after making some rather drastic mistakes following the advice of "small business" books that most of the information contained there-in were for operations much bigger than mine. There were--and are--very few books about Mom and Pop sized businesses. I suppose there is no money in writing such a thing. (I wrote an ebook about my experiences called, "Small Business Survivalist Handbook," which almost no one has read. Heh.)

Anyway, in a sense I use this data to make predictions, "probabilities" if you will. I usually construct three possible outcomes: a low, a middle, and a high. Usually, about halfway through the time-period I can make a pretty accurate estimate of which outcome is most probable and make more adjustments.

I'm also aware that humans can't be predicted, that they are the ultimate chaos factor, so all such predictions can be radically wrong.

However, I also tend to think that things settle into a normal range, and I'm always aware when outcomes are way outside that range and plan accordingly. Things always trend back to "norm," and it's the safest way to proceed. 

I can't really use formulas, so to speak, because the smaller a business is, the more idiosyncratic it is going to be; the more individual choices influence the outcome. The larger a business, the more uniform it is likely to be, and therefore broader formulas more likely to be accurate. 

And so on. It's impossible to know outcomes, so you basically use "intuitive math" to try to negotiate your way into the future. A Mom and Pop business is probably more an art than a science, but that doesn't mean you can't use math in your art.