Wednesday, February 21, 2007


The winter blues

There's nothing happening here. The sun is shining but it's dark in my heart (I've been listening to country music - well, alt-country music). I could make up a few stories, I suppose, but I've always been a nonfiction girl, myself. One scrap of recent fun: Ryan and I went to one of our favorite spots in these parts to pick for books on Sunday afternoon, and I found a signed Maya Angelou first edition for four dollars (The Heart of a Woman, 1981), one of the Christopher Morley-edited Bartlett's Quotations in very nice condition also for four dollars, another copy of one of my perennial favorites to have in stock at the shop, The Practical Cogitator (first edition), yes four dollars too, and a fine first edition in fine jacket of Laurie Colwin's first book (Passion and Affect, 1974; I read most of it last night; I'm only missing one other first edition of hers now - her first novel, Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object), for nine dollars. We picked up a few other items for stock, among them a British anagram dictionary, it's seriously cool - I've been browsing in it this morning: madras, drama; pedantries, pedestrian; Saturnalia, Australian; unrobed, bounder(!). On second thought, this book may land on my reference shelf. Meanwhile, in other news, I'm trying to use my time productively by stretching and gessoing canvases, making mix cds, watering the plants, and wondering what I'll do if I discover I didn't make a profit this year at the bookshop. In the twelve or thirteen years I've been selling used books (nearly six here at this shop), the business almost always grew by ten to twenty percent every year, until 2005 - the first year I showed a loss. In 2006, it looks like I will break even. I am naturally wondering how long I can reasonably sustain this. It's a gloomy, bluesy thought, for a sunny day such as this.

Hi Sarah,
Do you mean a loss after paying yourself a salary? I used to run a shop at a loss before any draw. I was actually using my own cash to pay the rent. That has to be a short lived exercise. Here's hoping you sell a bunch of books today.
Salary, ha, haha, HAHAHA...

No, no salary. Though I do pay myself something if I have anything to pay myself with, so I can pay my part of the bills at home. So that, and books of course. Which, as we all know, cannot actually be eaten instead of food.

My expenses here are low (I'm in Bangor, Maine, on a second floor) so I've usually been able to get by just fine.

Sorry guys, I'm not usually this self-indulgent. Just having a bad day.
Do you think it was an off year, or is due to increased internet selling? Also, from the pictures you posted earlier, it doesn't appear that you sell paperbacks or remainders. Is that an option?
Hello Borges, thanks for your suggestions - no, I don't carry mass-market paperbacks, but yes, I do carry trade paperbacks. I order remainders from time to time (if I have any extra cash) but I'm mighty selective. This is part of my problem here - I'm so selective that I probably shut some people out of my shop because they think "used and rare" means only "rare" (hence expensive). When in fact I have many books for two and three and four bucks each. The internet, sure. Understandable, everyone wants the best possible deal for used books (I do), but real book people still love to browse in real life... don't they (I do)?

The reason I ask is because I'm planning on opening a B & M store next spring. I almost purchased a used bookstore last year in Washington State (I am an attorney in my other life), and after due diligence was ready to make an offer but the building sold in the middle of our negotiations and the new building owner was very hostile. That bookstore, which makes a very nice profit, sells trade and mass market pb, but the owner let me in on the most astounding fact I learned from spending many hours with him in his store: he makes approx 30% of his entire income from remainders. I never would have guessed. The store is located in a small 'tourist' destination town, and he sells lots of quality remainders, not the Chartwell, Serling sort of garbage.
I'm obviously working that info into my business plan for opening my own store. I anticipate my sales percentages as follows: approximately 70% of B & M sales (of which 65% will be children and pb books and 35% hc, including remainder and collectible, first ed and scarce books) with 30% of gross sales from internet sales. A certain percentage of books (mostly hc collectible) will be listed on-line as well as available for walk in traffic.
I'm in negotiations to rent approx 1800 sq feet of space and hope of having an inventory of 15-18,000 books on hand. (I already have approx 11,000 books stored in various locations).
All I think, eat and drink right now is how to succeed at this most difficult of businesses. Reading your blog every day is always a highlight.
Tim (Borges Books, Seattle, WA)
Tim, you probably already know this, but two great quality remainder sources are Daedalus and Powell's (both have wholesale remainder divisions, not just the usual higher-priced remainders for the general public). If you don't have the websites, email me and I'll send them to you.

Re the book business in general, and my shop in particular, I've always thought that the only reason I'd ever close up shop is if I decided I wanted to do something else with my time. Because when I decide to do something, whatever it is, I buckle to and make it work. Even during lean times, I still think that way. For your own shop, you sound prepared, diversified, and excited - and that's the way to do it! Diversification is a necessity these days - when I first opened my doors I had books on consignment in three other locations, also on eBay, and I did bookfairs from time to time to peddle my best stock. Now I still have a book booth in a local antiques mall (which is open seven days a week - I'm only here five or six days at the shop), and on Amazon, and I usually set up at the Maine bookfair. I know I could sell more online if I absolutely had to, but after seven years of internet selling, the packing and shipping got to me, and the sheer number of books available drove prices so far down for general books that I decided my time was best put to use in other ways. For now.

Keep me posted on your progress. You sound like you're really doing your homework in a way which will ensure success. Keep at it!
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