Saturday, April 1, 2023

If you see a book you want, buy it!

It's amusing to me, if frustrating, that people seem to believe that bookstores have every book they could ever want in stock.

Not only do we have a tiny, tiny fraction of even currently published books, the odds of a bookstore carrying a specific book besides current bestsellers isn't all that great. 

I don't think people fully realize that passing up books in stock at my store with assumption that they can get them later and/or at a cheaper price means they may be missing their best bet. Passing up a book you want to read because you already have too many books is fine as long as you realize that when you finally get around to it, that book may be gone. 

I realize that the reader is right now thinking, "Sure, buddy." (I realize that a certain number of you will say that's why you don't buy from bookstores or that you read ebooks, so good on you. I'm talking about when you find a book you want to read and put on your bookshelf right in front of you.)

I can't tell you the number of times that a customer has passed on a book that "they've been looking everywhere for" because it's not a used book or because it's a hardcover (or softcover, as it may be.) I used to straight out tell them, "You're not likely to find that anywhere else..." but have stopped saying that because for some reason the customers see it as a challenge, or worse, as if I'm trying to mislead them.

So here's the truth.

Books are everywhere, but individual titles aren't. Other than current bestsellers or the greatest classics of all time (though most classics can't be found in most bookstores, except as I say, "the greatest,") most books have a certain length of time in the pipeline and then become backlist books, which may or may not stay in the system...usually, not.

The fact of the matter is that lots of books are out-of-print. Those midlist books that are still in print are not carried by most bookstores. If a book isn't being talked about, it fades, and that is 99.999% of the books that have ever came out.

So when I have the odd midlist title in stock and the customer proclaims he wants it's not used or it's not in the right format and they pass, they don't realize that they are missing an opportunity.

Hell, even if another store does has it in stock, just the time, energy, and gas you expend to find it more than makes up the difference in price, but that's an argument for another time.

What I'm talking about is the odds that that midlist book is to be found anywhere else, including used bookstores, and believe it or not, even Amazon. 

The most likely way to find an out of print book is through Amazon, to be sure, but even there books aren't always readily available, and even if Amazon is free postage, the actual seller may not be. I've been surprised by how many titles aren't even available on Amazon, or at such outrageous prices that you have to really, really want that book

The second most likely place that will have a title is the publisher, but buying a single book from a single publisher simply isn't feasible.

The third most likely place a title will be found is at Ingram, the last remaining national distributor, but Ingram lets titles slide after their time in the sun. 

I'm going to say that the average time in the system in bookstores for even bestsellers is a couple years, with huge sellers, maybe three or four. For the average book, it may be six months or a year. With wholesalers, it may be a little longer than that if there is residual interest, but most books drop out. (Available for reorder, but my experience is those reorders almost never show up.) 

So even a good selling book that is more than four or five years old will be gone from most bookstores and even the wholesaler. I see this all the time with Book Clubs who have picked a title that a member loved a few years back. I always check, but more often than not, any book in this time range isn't available anymore. (Should be a rule of Book Clubs that they check availability, right?)

With mass market books, the turnover is even greater. There is a reason that most bookstores these days concentrate on trade paperbacks. Both hardbacks and supermarket paperbacks have a limited shelf-life except for the biggest authors.

Linda and I owned a used bookstore for 15 years and there were a ton of good titles and authors that simple NEVER came in, or would come in once a year and sell instantly. Sure, we had lots of books, but the customer looking for a specific book more often than not couldn't find it, especially if it was an older midlist book. That's why it was so frustrating when they did find one and still passed on it for some reason. The fact was, the bookstore across the street was equally unlikely to have that title.

Good luck with that. 

My store specializes in still-in-demand midlist books, which is a niche most bookstores ignore in favor of the current bestsellers. If I find a cult author, I try to carry every book by that author. I try to keep books that have any kind of following in stock. But most bookstores are focused on current sellers, and they send back those that have slowed down. 

So yeah, chances of a bookstore having a current bestseller are good, but other than that, the chances for midlist books being in stock are almost random.

You pass on it, and it's probably unlikely you see it again. Of course, if you passed on it after saying "I've been looking everywhere for this," I have to assume that you didn't really care about that title after all.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Human choices for human people.

I just discovered a application in one of supplier's websites that I didn't know existed and which will make things more efficient in the future.

I feel stupid when this happens. I stumbled upon this app, and it makes me aware that there are probably tons of apps that I don't yet know about, that I should know about, and that I could probably learn if I applied myself to that goal.

See, I'm still stuck in the mindset of trying to learn it all in my head. I come from a time when if you wanted info you had to go to the library or buy a book or go to school. A time when the media was newspapers and magazines that were tossed when you were done skimming them, plus a half hour news program once in the evening. When if you wanted to catch a movie, you had to go to the theater during its brief run or skim TV Guide listings for late night showings. 

So obviously there are lots of disadvantages to still being of that mindset. I tried a point-of-sale computer and hated it. I have been paying by check for years and only yesterday did I realize that I have only a couple of places I still send payments by mail. I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the future. 

And yet...

There is so much capacity for info out there that it is very easy to get overwhelmed and unfocused. I'm not sure that curating a bookstore isn't done better on a human level, one book at a time. Algorithms are pretty soulless, no matter how well designed. It seems to me that algorithms can only analyze what is, not what could be.

Making choices based on what's in my head by definition makes Pegasus Books more individual and eclectic. I believe human people still recognize and appreciate human choices. I think, in some ways, that's why small bookstores have made a comeback.

There is still a huge amount of groupthink in books. I don't know if the ABA is doing us all favors by recommending the same 25 books to every bookstore on their list. 

I suppose concepts like reading lounges and coffee shops are a way to bring the humanity back to the process, but even those are manifestations of groupthink. (Personally, I think time, space, and energy are wasted on these things.) 

My bookstore is stocked enough that I simply wait for a book to come to my attention rather than seeking out books. Sometimes I'll get a whim to find certain types of books, or I'll make an accidental discovery. A passing mention in an article, or a good review, or simply more than one person asking for a title.

Oh, I'm not above going to Tiktok books to see what's hot. (The response to these books have been rather amazing to me.) But I try not to be completely captured by them either. 

In other words, keeping the bookstore limited to the capacity of my own memory and tastes and guesses keeps to store interesting--to me and, hopefully, to my customers. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The meaning of "nerd."

After forty years of being King Nerd, I wonder where I fit in. After all, can anyone be more of a nerd than a comic shop operator? 

Thing is, I don't remember the term "nerd" from when I was a kid (which was probably when I was at my nerdiest.) I remember my constant reading of books and my black framed glasses as marking me as different. I remember that I was always aware that I could be singled out for bullying. Each school year, I would spend the first few weeks trying not to fall into that category. Most of the time, I succeeded. 

In hindsight, what was different about me was that I was a true loner. Usually, I had a "best" friend and probably a "backup" friend, but I was rarely part of a group outside of organized activities. My mother constantly encouraged me to join in organized groups, but really I was most happy just frittering about by myself or with a friend or two. 

I spent a huge amount of time daydreaming. I think I always wanted to be a writer, and as I got older, owning a bookstore seemed like the best job a person could have. 

The turning point into "nerd" probably happened when I read Lord of the Rings. Or rather, when I read LOTRs too many times to count. Followed by Robert E. Howard's Conan, and then any other fantasy I could find, and most science fiction I could find. 

I finally wrote a book, Star Axe, which reflected my love of fantasy. I went to my first and last science fiction convention. From the moment I walked into that convention I realized that I was not like other nerds. These nerds tended to delight in joining with other nerds, while I wandered the hall alone.

When I bought the store, I had the same experience. It seemed to me that most nerds loved to mingle, whereas I could barely stand to be in the same room for too long. Nothing against nerds, just that I was a loner and it wore me out. I had to actually try to be as nerdy as my customers, though it wasn't hard. In other words, I sort of envied their ability to fit in. I still felt like the odd man out.

I also started to notice that while I loved nerd material, my actual interests seemed to be all over the place. This has remained true to this day. Currently, I'm reading Camera Man, by Dana Stevens, a book about Buster Keaton and his milieu. What possible good does it do me to read about Buster Keaton? No reason. I just wanted to. I am always reading a mix of things, fiction, non-fiction, nerdy or otherwise

My appetite for fantasy waned, and I started reading more mystery books. But then, I always read a lot of mystery books...and everything else. Whereas most nerds seemed find a single subject most interesting, and don't stray far away.

To me, a nerd is someone who has odd interests, gets totally into those odd interests for a time without regard to whether anyone else is doing so. 

Maybe I'm a nerd among nerds, I don't know. 

I'm constantly asked at the store, "How do you keep up?"

"What makes you think I keep up?" 

They think I'm joking, but as time as gone on and nerd culture has more or less conquered the world, I've fallen steadily behind.

Then again, my inclinations haven't changed. I'm still a nerd among nerds.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

I'm never going to catch up and I'm never going to keep up.

When I bought Pegasus Books in April, 1984, I was behind on comic reading. I went on a spree of reading, and I read enough to understand the appeal of the X-Men and such. But I realized right away that I was never going to catch up nor was I ever going to keep up. 

I remember getting the trade magazine and simply being overwhelmed by the amount of information. The trick, as I learned, was to discover what was necessary to know, what was nice to know, and what was stuff I could safely ignore.

Back then, there weren't as many companies doing comics and there were fewer comics overall. Still, it was a daunting task to order material three months in advance with, if you were lucky, a paragraph of information. This was non-returnable material that had a short shelf life.

Later on, graphic novels came along and they had a longer shelf-life and I knew what I was getting. So a big improvement. 

But no matter how hard I tried, I could never quite make enough money on comics alone to survive, so began my odyssey of trying to find supplemental product to sell. Sports cards, beanie babies, pogs, Magic and Pokemon, toys, boardgames, and finally, books. 

I learned through all this that I didn't have to know everything, but I had to know enough to talk about it with my customers. Frankly, I also had to learn to fake it. (I never did play pogs, beanie babies were cute, but come on...) 

Thing is, this wasn't laziness or neglect on my part. I remember saying when someone asked me if I was going to carry electronic games, "My brain will explode if I have to learn one more thing."

So it's a constant triage of what's most important.

Currently, books and graphic novels are 2/3rds my business, comics about 20%, and toys, games, and misc is the last bit of percentage.

Sabrina takes care of ordering most of the comics and graphic novels and the games. I order most of the card games, toys, and, most importantly, the books.

I'm very much a generalist in knowledge. I know a little bit about a lot of pop culture. I think it has served me well. In every product category, I sort of have schematic in my head where everything slots in. 

With books, my schematic is pretty wide and detailed. I've always had a voracious appetite for knowledge about books and movies. So I'm in pretty good shape there. 

The interesting challenge to me now is the growing importance of anime, manga, and electronic games. They have gone from interesting sidelines to being a major part of the business. I may not carry electronic games, but I'm carrying a lot of books that are about them or inspired by them.

Manga has become so big that it has more or less changed the landscape of Young Adult books. A hefty percentage of the YA books I sell are graphic novels, and I think it was the success of manga that brought this about. 

The point being: I need to pay attention to Japanese, Chinese, and Korean culture: this includes DVDs, books, graphic novels, art books, and toys. 

I've been bringing in a lot of Japanese material, especially toys. Again, there is a vast array of material to choose from. I read somewhere that half of Japanese publishing is manga. Imagine that. Comics are tiny, tiny, tiny comparatively. (I'm not talking about the influence of comics, which has become huge. I'm talking about the actually reading of comics.) 

With manga, I have a pretty good idea of what is selling. I'm sort of like a restaurant who has to choose what types of meals to offer, because, believe you me, it would take a city block to try to carry every manga available.

Most of the Japanese figures I get are based on shows I've never seen. Here's the thing: these figures are relatively expensive. Hundreds of dollars for some of them, with minuscule profit margins. A relatively cheap figure might run $50. They sell "blind boxes" which have one small figure in them for anywhere from $5.99 to $19.99. 

The simple answer would be to only order toys from the well-known manga and anime. Demon Slayer, Jututsu Kaisen, Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titan, and so on. 

The problem is--I don't know who the major characters are in each of these shows; or, at least, the characters my customers would be most likely to get.

What I finally decided to do was to order only those figures that had a "cool" factor--to me, if to no one else. The figure had to be aesthetically pleasing, something I could see having displayed on my own desk. Most of these are probably a mystery as much to my customers as to me. So they don't sell often and they don't sell fast, but in the meantime, the store is full of cool stuff.

Almost everything in my store needs to have the "cool" factor, including books. I'm not above ordering bestselling material that doesn't appeal to me, but when in doubt, I always resort to ordering something that I like. 

If what I like doesn't match the customers', then eventually it will catch up to me. 

So far it hasn't.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

All the fixings of a used bookstore.

I'm just going to put this out there: I have all the makings of a used bookstore that someone could start with very little money. They might even be able to make a (very modest) living from it.  I've got about 18,000 books, 25 bookcases, a bunch of other fixtures, a cash register. And lots of free advice.

I keep wondering why Redmond or Burns or a lot of other Central and Eastern Oregon towns don't have a used bookstore.

All of this exists because it was my own backup plan for if I got bored while retired. I figured it wouldn't require more than 600 to 800 square feet, limited hours--12:00 to 5:00, Tuesday through Saturday. Very little downpayment, and in some of these smaller towns, the rent should be affordable. 

A knowledge and love of books would probably be necessary. I'd recommend buying books for a year or so off of liquidation sites to spruce up your beginning inventory, and I think if you're willing to buy good books, you could have a decent business. Nothing to make you rich, but someone just starting out might be able to turn it into something without a huge investment. Or someone older who doesn't want to sit at home. 

My own plan was to find another one or two retired folk who could watch the store if I wanted time off. 

I might still do this down the road a few years if no one appears or I can't get what I think the materials are worth. (Like I said, I think starting a used bookstore is probably the most achievable thing to do for someone with limited funds but lots of enthusiasm.)

If anyone is interested, you can just message me on Facebook or on this blog. I kind of wish I could do it myself, but my own store is doing fantastic so I'm sticking with that for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

That click-baity stuff wears thin.

I don't know if it's me or the internet, but I'm finding less and less interesting browsing material online. I'm fairly immune to click-bait these days. I find myself reading more headlines and less core material. It ain't hard to figure out what they're going to hit you with. 

We're in a weird non-news cycle, other than the usual fuckery. Which I'm thankful that really grabs me is usually in the catastrophic realm of things. 

I have a number if sites I go to for news, (liberal bias admitted): NY Times, Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Slate, Vox, and occasionally, USA Today. I've tried many other sites, but these somehow stuck.

I go to specialty sites about books, Shelf Awareness and Passive Voice.

Locally, I read the Bulletin in paper form and check out KTVZ online (avoid the comments! We're doomed!)

It seems like the quality of the content has declined, become even more superficial--or perhaps I've just lost patience with their puffery. 

For instance, Huffington Post has a section of columns written by non-professionals. I mean, I think these people believe they are professional writers, but most of them aren't half as interesting as they think they are. (Hey, I'm at least Half as interesting as I think I am.)

A lot of self-absorbed blather that strives to be profound and is usually just boring, over-written, and over-long. 

And so it goes. 

The only two social media sites I go to are Facebook and Reddit. 

I just check the main Reddit; I don't belong to any sub-reddits. It's OK to check out when nothing else is going on. 

Facebook. Oh, my. I'm not sure what's going on there. Facebook has decided on a group of "friends" that I'm going to see. I'm pretty sure it's because I've clicked on them--but then, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, doesn't it? Because I clicked, I get more of them to click. A common denominator seems to be that these friends write original posts and not just copying something else.

Oh, and Facebook has also decided that I want Beatles stuff, more Beatles stuff, and oh, here you go...Beatles stuff.  

Anyway, I think I'm slowly but surely cutting down and drifting away, and that ain't all a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

I have mostly stopped writing fiction, but that hasn't stopped me from writing. What you see on this blog is only the tip of the iceberg. I probably write ten times more entries than I actually post. Mostly because I have learned, to my chagrin, that I can't be completely and totally candid on posted blogs. Most often not because I think what I have to say is wrong, but because I'm afraid of unnecessarily insulting or hurting someones feelings. I reserve that right to myself, I guess.

Plus who really wants to hear my daily blather? I'm letting myself post this today, because it's an example of why you should be thankful I don't do it everyday and clog up your Facebook.

Not that anything I say here isn't honest and candid, it's just that I censor myself. Lots of observations from an old man may not be suitable to the world these days. Some subjects just can't be touched, no matter how diplomatic I try to be. 

It's always scary to see someone torch their reputation in public. It's unnecessary. Frankly, if you have opinions that cause that much strife, you might want to rethink. If nothing else, you might consider that you could possibly be wrong. 

My blog posts--or more accurately, my diary posts to myself--are just me thinking aloud.  It helps me order my thoughts. I have a habit of asking myself, "How are you doing?" Often the answer is pretty much the same. Not sure anyone would want to listen to that for long. I ponder things, and if the question is thorny, I try to ask myself, "What is the right thing to do, here?" 

For years while working the store every day, I'd go to sleep at night and ask two questions:

1.) What I have done today that I shouldn't have done?

2.) What haven't I done today, that I should have?

These two questions almost always solicit answers, some of the unexpected. They also tend to resolve quandaries that I might have been wrestling with. Now that I'm at an age where things can go sideways at any moment, I'm trying to give myself a break. I've mostly succeeded in what I set out to do, at least to my satisfaction. 

But I'm still working at the store, at least part-time, because I'm not yet ready to completely retreat from the everyday world. There are still the challenges of small business and I more or less relish that. 

Letting go of stuff.

I bagged, boarded, and priced 400 comics yesterday. Took me most of the afternoon. My current estimate on how long it will take to fully install each long box of comics is about 5 hours. Since I'm going to do at least 20 boxes and probably more, we're talking about, at least, 100 hours. My estimate of how much I've done is about 1/3rd of the way.

I'm going to be busy all of February trying to get all this done. I'll do the final touches in March. Quite the chore I took on.

I also took on the job of emptying out the basement and have removed about 150 boxes of used books. I'm sort of alternating the two tasks.

Having a bad back for a month slowed things down, but I'm back on it. I'm trying to keep the momentum without over-doing it. 

But I'm sort of amazed it is getting done. For years I looked upon the piles of stuff and quailed at the thought of dealing with it. Not sure what finally impelled me to get going on it. Part of it was landlord wanting me to clear out some of the stuff. 

I was talking to one of my customers about it, and he mentioned that he was still "pissed" about me giving away all my sports cards. 

"Well, hell," I said. "I have a whole basement of stuff. You want to see it?"

He liked what he saw so we dickered for awhile and came up with a lump sum. I'm nothing if not an opportunist. 

He hauled away a bunch of stuff on Sunday: all the posters, old toys, and non-sports cards plus miscellany. He's coming back for more stuff, and I sweetened the deal by offering him 3000 comics. (Non-bagged, boarded, and priced, thank goodness.)

The older I get, the more willing I am to let go of stuff. I've never been a collector myself, but I always accumulated material for the store. 

This stuff might be worth a lot more than I sold it for, but it isn't liquid and at this point in my life, holding onto it doesn't make sense. I know in my heart that I would never had time to monetize the stuff; nor did I think Sabrina would ever want to take on the task.

I can take the money I'm making on the old stuff and buy new stuff that can sell upstairs. 

Once I actually started dealing with the stuff, it turned out not to be as impossible as I thought.

Monday, January 30, 2023

An Unholy Blessing: Was Covid good for bookstores?

Covid was good for bookstores. I suppose this goes beyond being a mixed blessing to being an unholy blessing. But true, nevertheless.

Ezra Klein has a pretty good summation of why this happened in the New York Times. He's talking about Barnes and Noble, but it's true, nevertheless.

Here's the way he puts it: "There is no joy in sitting your child next to you while you order children’s books on Amazon. And in the teeth of the Covid pandemic, the libraries were closed month after month after month. ...I found myself playing out my own childhood in reverse, taking my kids there day after day, so they’d have a place to sit and play and exist among books."

I think that is exactly what we saw at Pegasus Books. While that bump has subsided a little bit, it still seems to have brought our store to the attention of a whole wave of new customers. It gave me a chance to reorganize the store, mainstream it a little more, bring in lots of new books. 

Usually things revert back to normal, but I'm hoping the families keep coming in. 👪

Friday, January 27, 2023

The basement of my store mirrors my subconscious.

There was no parking in front of the store for me to do another load of books, so instead, I spent yesterday looking around the basement.

It's like a derelict wreckage history of my store. All the things I tried that either failed or became outdated or simply stuff I didn't want to do anymore. 

Material that got so shopworn, I retired it. Almost anything that was complicated, whether a device or some kind of process, eventually got jettisoned. A bunch of marketing approaches that became too labor intensive or involved wrangling with the customers. Promotional material sent to me that I didn't have time or space to deal with. All of it dumped into the basement.

Sports cards are mostly gone, but I found leftovers. A couple of pictures of me in my 40s giving away a signed basketball in our Mt. View mall store. (Lots of dark brown hair on my head.) Paints and displays for miniatures (I always wished I could do something with that, but could never get people to be interested.) Found a huge lead dragon that I painted red with a broken leg. I have fond memories of that figure. Lots of magazines...remember those?

Electronics--what the fuck do you do with old electronics? Enough dusty stationary  and tools and cords to fill dozens of junk drawers. Broken or unused fixtures. (Those I'll probably leave because someone could use them...)

I'm selling off hundreds and hundreds of old toys and posters and especially a huge quantity of non-sports cards. I'm willing to bet that I have a larger selection and quantity of non-sport cards from the 80s and 90s than...well, anyone in the country. I was very heavy into them and enjoyed them and I don't have PTSD over them the way I do sports cards. I always thought if I was somehow confined to a room, I'd fill a wall with non-sports cards and sell them online...kind of a vague backup plan for retirement.

I have a buyer, so I'm letting go of them. They are the one thing in the basement that I'm sorry to see go. 

The landlord asked me to clear out some of the stuff for insurance purposes; and once I got started, I decided to try to go all the way. Used books are being transferred to my new storage shed at home. Used books are my current backup plan for retirement if I get bored.

Over the years I'd already sold or given away almost a million sports cards, and last year I sold off 40,000 comics for pennies on the dollar. What's astonishing is that over the last year, without trying in the least, we've replenished our backstock of comics by tens of thousands. Weird. I don't even remember getting them, except for one collection I purchased last summer. 

Once everything is gone except the comics, I plan to consolidate what's left and take some trips to the dump. 

I think it'll feel good when I'm finished. I'm definitely doing a favor for whoever was going to follow me and have to deal with it all. 

It's been kind of nostalgic... and somewhat triggering (all the stress and drama of failed product and efforts.) Most of it has been out-of-sight so out-of-mind...on purpose. I've finally gotten to a point where I'm willing to face it and deal with it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The local gaming scene is changing.

I've learned that there were three big changes in in the local gaming community in the last half of 2022 that I was unaware of until this month. Which is very weird to me. I used to really have my finger on the pulse of things. 

Then again, I'm not at the store everyday, and games are not our biggest priority. I understand that board games and card games are a sideline for us. It came home to me years and years ago that, no matter how often the situation changed, that there would always be at least one game store in town.

Anyway, not to bury the lede, on to the news. It appears that Modern Board changed ownership in August, E4 games opened in October, and Main Phase games closed on January 31. 

I've introduced myself or been introduced to the new owners and they seem like good people. They are doing the things, like having gaming space and sponsoring events, that I don't. 

Turnover is something that happens constantly. I'm guessing that a combination of burnout and other opportunities means that people move on. But almost always, there is someone there to take their place.

The first few times that new competition happened, again many years ago, the town of Bend was pretty small and it was pushing the capacity of support. Some of the competition back then seemed cutthroat, though that may have just been because I thought it unnecessary. 

I've become much more sanguine about such things. Bend has grown, most stores develop their own clientele, and co-existence, even cooperation, is not only possible, but desirable. For instance, Dudleys Books is just four storefronts down the same side of my street and we seem to both be able to thrive selling books. 

My own perception is that the chain stores will always be our main competition. Amazon? It came later, after most of the damage was already done by Walmart and Barnes & Noble and their ilk. For some reason, online competition doesn't bother me. 

At any rate, Pegasus Books survives into it's 44th year. Not only survives, but thrives. And most of all, I'm really enjoying it these days.

Friday, January 20, 2023

You have to acknowledge problems before you can correct them. 

A major comic retailer (link at bottom) recently posted a column about the troubles with periodical comics. These are obvious, long-running problems that only seem to get worse. Too many titles, too expensive, too much duplication, too many variant covers, and on and on. Basically, DC and Marvel using gimmicks for short term profits at the cost of  long run growth of monthly comics. 

Everything he says is totally true and obvious. It doesn't mean comics are dying, or that there isn't great stuff being done--it's just pointing out things that could be corrected.

As usual, there are trolls (anonymous, of course) who attack this message. They call the retailer a whiner and accuse him of turning off customers by his complaints. 

I call these guys Quislings. They are basically the "love it or leave it" crowd.  Dummies. Attacking the messenger doesn't help anyone.

These anonymous trolls say they are retailers themselves, (I have my doubts: in fact they sort of out themselves by suggesting that cutting back to a one person store is a solution) but if so, they aren't long for this retailing world. They are part of the problem. I suspect their anonymity is an unconscious admission of their own doubts.

Simply put: you have to acknowledge problems before you can correct them. 

Or even more to the point, by not acknowledging the problem you aren't going to make the necessary choices to survive. Putting on blinders and sticking your fingers in your ears and humming a happy tune isn't going to help. 

I saw this exact same phenomenon in the downward slide of sports cards, pogs, beanie babies, and every other product line that has ever crashed and burned. There were always warning signs: there was always the possibility that the problems could be corrected. 

But,..the more problems, the more deniers. The Quislings only get louder the closer to the end,

Funny thing is, no one is paying attention to all this retail stuff anyway, except other retailers. 

In the end, if you see a problem, you try to fix it. The Quislings only muddy the waters, give excuses, and cover for the Big Guys. In the end, it's they who suffer consequences. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

I used to be so in touch with the marketplace that I knew of the possibility of competition before it happened. I once took a a guy out to lunch for the sole purpose of talking him out of opening a shop. It was a smaller town then and I probably had a monopoly on most product I carried. A monopoly that I probably really needed. I swear for that first decade or two the store existed through sheer stubborn force of personality.

Nowadays, competition can open and I might not be even aware of them for three or four months! I've tried very hard to diversify to a point where I'm not dependent on any one product line. But in backing away from the intensity I've probably stepped out of the loop somewhat. 

Which is totally OK and mostly on purpose. I realized at some point that the store wasn't really functional until it could exist without that intensity--what I call "heavy lifting." Whether sweat or time or tears or energy or blood or space, the store needed to be able to function without using every bit of it up. 

I have the ability now to adjust to present circumstances. If a product line stops selling as much as it once did, why it frees up money to spend on other product lines. There are always improvements to be made. If you're in the middle of a desert and your horse is dead, stop kicking it and get a camel. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Almost all the business advice I read or hear is wrong. Which would explain why most businesses fail. 

When I went up to COCC for some small business advice, I got an adviser who really knew what he was doing. He gave me some tips, some good advice, and some help getting a loan. 

It wasn't until years later that I realized how lucky I was. The guy was a real expert, with experience and common sense, whose advice was tailored to my circumstances. I wish I could remember his name to thank him.

As I commented on the parking garage post, God help us from bureaucratic experts who are in fact idiots. Real experts are rare and a godsend. False experts are numerous and a pox upon us all. 

Automation is not always an improvement.

The parking garage payment system was stupid from the start. 
They improved it a bit, but the exit gate kept being broken. Unlike what they're saying in the newspaper, I don't think it was because people wouldn't pay but because they couldn't figure out the way to Get Out.
They've gone to some kind of scanning license plate, pay upon leaving, credit card only system.
Also extremely dumb. 
I predict continued broken gates until they build a wall. Very friendly. 
Was paying the guys to go around and check by hand really so onerous?
Get this: the original system was to pick up a ticket upon entering. To leave, you had to go the the exact opposite corner of the garage, to a room that even I didn't know existed, redeem it there. 
You then had to go back to your car (which could levels away) and present the redemption at the gate. 
For the first few months, every time I parked I'd see some poor, lost soul wandering around with a ticket in hand. I'd give them quick directions, and wonder why the designers hadn't put the redemption station near the exit. 
Then, months later, they put finally put the redemption station near the exit. But the exit gate was almost never down, because people STILL couldn't figure it out and would break the gate just to get out. Every night upon leaving I feared I get behind some poor lost soul who was stuck behind the gate, cars piled up behind them, and so on. It would have been a lot worse, but the gate was always broken.
There were no gates the entire month of December, for instance. Automation is a great savings, eh?
Meanwhile, we still have parking people walking around downtown giving tickets who could easily cover the garage.
God help us from bureaucratic experts who are in fact idiots. An "expert" who is truly an expert is a rare godsend. An "expert" without real life common sense are numerous and a pox upon all us.


Monday, January 9, 2023

The Christmas Carnage.

Putting the store back together after the Christmas Carnage. Oh, it was horrible. The humanity! Oh, the humanity!

Once I start filling holes, I can't stop. I mean, there are always holes--that's what happens when you sell something. 

Stop buying! You're creating a hole!

I'll probably end up with more books than I had entering Christmas. In my first years of business I did what probably most people would do: I stocked up for Christmas and Summer and cut back during the slow months. 

At some point, I figured out I should be doing the opposite. During the busy seasons, people will buy whatever you have in the store. In the slow seasons, inventory is all that much more important. People are much more likely to be looking for a specific book.

Now, I've never thought people looking for a specific book are the most important buyers. I tend to cater to people who stumble across books (plural) they like. Amazon and B & N are more likely to have a specific book. But if I start carrying an author or a series that people like, I will usually go all in. Rather than have twenty different series of books with random titles in the sequence, I'll carry perhaps a few less series but with as much of the sequence as possible, concentrating especially on the first half dozen titles, and filling in as best I can.

So if I'm going to carry Vonnegut or Bukowski or PKD or Chuck Palanhniuk or Murakami or any other well-loved author, I'm going to carry as many as I can, all of them if possible. This fits with the constraints I have for space because I can horizontally double stack dozens of Agatha Christies or Louise Penny or Lee Child books in the same space that would hold only half a dozen books stocked vertically. 

I've gotten very good at using the space I have for maximum effect. 

So what ends up happening is that I get as stocked as I'm ever going to get even in the slow times, so that when I go into the busy months, I'm already there. 

I enjoy all this. It's fun to figure out what books I can carry, it's fun if they sell. 

I find that my own taste really seems to work. If I get a hankering for carrying Edward Gorey books or Frank Frazetta art books or want a section of Euro Style graphic novels by the likes of Mobius or decide to carry the random Van Gogh or Freda Kahlo or Pre-Raphaelite artist, then almost inevitably, someone will come in and be excited by their find. 

I can't be a snob, because no matter how esoteric I think something is, someone will always come in who knows exactly what I'm offering. It very reaffirming.

Anyway, as much work and expense filling the holes is, it's also fun and challenging. 

I'm expecting over 20 boxes of books today, and almost as many tomorrow. 

I will beg Arno, my UPS driver, forgiveness.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

My friend, tech-wizard Aaron Leis, was at our house and noticed the stacks of book order sheets spread out over my desk and said, "That looks like a lot of work."

"Not really," I say. "I mean, it is, but I like doing it. Just ordering books I learn all kinds of new things, find all kinds of new connections." Wave my hands vaguely.  "All that."

How fortunate the person whose job's most tedious aspect is fun to them.

Monday, January 2, 2023

2022 at Pegasus Books.

I always love doing the end-of-the-year reckonings at the store. It clarifies where we are and where we need to go. I'll be somewhat vague about totals, but nevertheless I'll be honest about how things are going.

Overall, we were up 3% this year. But to put that in perspective, 2021 was a monstrous year for us: we were up 56%  from the previous high total in 2020. So to be able to do even better than that is impressive.

We would have been up 7% if not for the last two months of the year. We started to see a slowdown in November, which continued though not as far down in December. 

We were down 6% at Christmas, which for a corporation would be serious but for our small business is more of a rounding error. We managed to save (for taxes) exactly the same amount as last year, plus extra. When we reinvest the extra saving, our inventory will be back up to normal. 

Can't do much better than that, I think. 

Books and Graphic Novels are now about 2/3rds our total sales. I've tried to keep them as separate categories, but over the last few years that has been become almost impossible. I order a huge number of GNs through my book distributors and I tend to categorize them as books when ringing them up. 

What we've basically done is overlaid the equivalent of a second store over the existing one, while maintaining the same overhead. 

But that isn't to say that comics, games, and toys aren't also a critical part of the store. Probably the difference between break-even and actually turning a profit. 

Things are probably going to get tighter from here on. Overhead is definitely going to increase and I do believe there were be a recession in the coming months, but if budgeted properly, this shouldn't hurt us too much. We are well above the break-even point these days. 

Downtown is doing great, and the customer count continues to grow. More and more customers are discovering our book selection, and that is a welcome thing. We've probably reached peak capacity as far as inventory goes, but we can continue to  increase the quality of what we carry. 

In other words, there is no reason to make major changes. 

Most importantly, it's fun these days and I'm hanging in there as long as I can.