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.

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.