Monday, July 25, 2011

More About Leases

I'm getting away cheap here, but this guy backs me up on my lease piece:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders' Employees

I can't say I'll miss Borders too much. They were not a good customer for me. Their stores, after the first few years, started looking bland and corporate, with some big exceptions.

From a livelihood perspective, I will be impacted by reduced print runs and lower returns.

But 10,700 booksellers lost their jobs. This is mind numbing. I'm not talking about the top level, most hired from outside the book industry, or the geniuses that hired them, but the booksellers, buyers, and "lower" level managers. These are people who worked very hard at low pay for years to do the best they could with revolving door leadership whose style alternated between inaction and bad decisions. A few will find work in the book industry, but most will probably move on, and this is too bad. If there were a way to harness all that experience and knowledge, some great new bookselling ventures could be created.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thinking and Books

While the press last week focused on how the book is dead and the masses have moved on, I was thinking of my visit to a friend of my son, who needed a guinea pig in an experiment his lab was running, something about looking at how people make choices and what they do with the results. As we sat talking, I was struck be the layers of sticky-notes covering the walls and other vertical  surfaces in his office, some linked by arrows pointing to others, some stuck in patterns to indicate they were part of the same idea or train of thought, while some were alone. My eyes wandered to one wall of the office, half covered by a large white board, scrawls of different hands in various colors everywhere, only where it was not also covered by sticky notes. On one end of the table where we sat across from each other there was a stack of legal pads, seemingly full of scribbles and diagrams, doodles, drawings, notes, and more stickies.

And, between each desk, desks on which sat state of the art computers, there were bookcases, some full of books. Many of these were to be expected, "The Access 2010 Bible," Visual Guide to Excel 2007 Macros," "Visualize This," "Learning Monotouch," but then there were the occasional thriller, one cookbook, and I think I saw a complete Yeats, but maybe it was Keats.

I asked about this preponderance of paper, and after being met by a blank stare, my computer scientist interrogator said that paper is better because you can handle it. I thought about this, and later did a little reading on the subject, and it seems that there is a link between handling the language, literally putting your fingers on it, moving it about, ripping off a corner to pass to a colleague, penciling a note between paragraphs, and how well the information settles in your mind.

I have since discussed reading habits with doctors , other computer scientists, and a pharmaceutical sales rep, and have found that very few of them have embraced e-readers. They say some similar things. My doctor even said that he remembers books in the best way if he smells the pages. This was before he knew I make my living by wholesaling remainders and overstock books to booksellers and others that sell books. He just volunteered his experience. 

Now, I am not deluded enough to think that my industry and livelihood are not taking a big hit from the current infatuation with e-books,  and I also believe we have a long way to go before we figure out how those of us who hang on to this ancient traffic in scrolls and books will survive, but I do not believe this is being plotted out on the music industry template. There are so many people writing about this who have no knowledge of the way books have been sold for the last 500 years, and very few of us have looked at what the paper/mind connection is and what it does. Humans have been doing their thinking with paper for thousands of years, long enough to somehow be in our genes.

So maybe we will become a tiny industry, selling books to the smartest people on the planet. I'm in.

Friday, July 15, 2011

To Lease or Not To Lease

Bad leases and landlords have put way more bookstores out of business than anything else. It's undoable for most, but the opposite end of the spectrum, stores who have bought their buildings have huge advantages. Strand and Powell's come to mind, but smaller, off the beaten path stores all over the country have done this and they never go away.

Regarding selling out of one's home, there should be an exception to the law for books, as there is (was?) for years at the post office and on the sidewalks of NYC. Yeah, that'll happen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Opening a Bookstore

I hear so much about how opening a bookstore now would be too risky. E-books, e-readers, online competition, video games, tablets, smart phones, it seems we have a perfect storm of negative pressure on bookstores.The chains are struggling, many indies are struggling, the press is full of stories about weakness in the bricks, mortar and paper book market.

Yet my customer base grows. I now sell to more booksellers who sell more in more venues. They often have a physical presence, either a storefront, and/or regular expos or fairs, plus internet marketplace sales (eBay, Amazon, Alibris, etc.), plus some kind of direct marketing. The storefronts that rely more on used and bargain books seem to be doing better now than they were a few years ago, though that observation might just be based on my increasing abilities and their diminishing reliance on "new" books.

I think that if one does not expect to get rich, and is willing to work hard, and has resources, this is a good time to open such a business. The folks who ruined the old ways are now moving on to other things, such as marketing e-books and electronic devices, or bankruptcy court. The customers who are still buying books will continue to do so for some time to come, and will look for the interesting place to buy. The incredible growth in e-reader and e-book sales has not been matched, not by a million miles, by a decline in book sales. On the contrary, some categories have remained flat or continued to grow.

This means there has been a huge increase in the number of people buying "books." These were not all your customers. These are people who thought of books, if they thought at all, as uninteresting alternatives to TV or other entertainment. As the years go by, we will see some of these folks start to buy books.

Back to the email, I have lists to send, and new customers to send them to.