Friday, July 31, 2009
Our Eco Hatchery workshop starts Wednesday, August 5th. You've probably read about it in our email newsletter, and seen the Eco Kit in our store (and probably at a few other places around town). It's a collection of tools to help you redo your home and life and save hundreds of dollars a year.
The original price of the workshop was $120. That's pretty steep, but the kit itself is $97.50. The problem for us is that Ecopreneur Adam Borut didn't originally price out the kit for resale, and built a very slim margin into the product. If you listen to small retailers complain, you know that besides sales, margin is our obsession. It's what determines whether we make or lose money.
So we added the $20 workshop charge. That's two weeks of hand-holding from Adam, explaining how everything works, then giving you a week to play with the stuff, then another session of quesions and answers. We originally though the cost might be offset with grants from Wisconsin Electric or some other such entity that is interested in promoting energy savings and carbon footprint reducing.
No go. So that price point is a little intimidating. I'm going to make it less so. Register for the program, and you'll get the $20 back as a gift card to use in our store. So now the workshops are effectively free with the purchase of the kit.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Her plans haven't slown down. The store is called Avid Bookshop and she hopes to have it open in the spring of 2010. Read about her quest in the trade paper Bookselling this Week. Oh, and she's also Twittering.
Boswell got more than our fair share of press at its opening (and I'm grateful), but the longest-running story has been Jessica Stockton Bagnulo's journey to a bookstore in Fort Greene, now called Greenlight.
Read her personal journey here, in what is by far one of the best regarded bookseller blogs. And here's her official bookstore blog.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Getting Ready for "Stephen Colbert 101" Schiller and Keith on the Philosophy and Rhetoric of Comedy Central's Arbiter of Truthiness
Monday, July 27, 2009
Actually, pretty well.
Here were the high points:
a. The music (Jane Firmunn Hollander, Stas Venglevski, Wayne Wildman) was beautiful and the dancing (Nina Tatarowicz & Eli Leserowitz) was breathtaking.
b. Jane Hollander did a wonderful job of organizing the event. Lynn decorated and catered and was efficient and organized.
c. Many of our regular customers attended and loved it. There were clamorings for more (wow, they don't know how much work this was for Jane & Co.), and even acknowledgements that $10 was too low a price (when's the last time you heard that in a bookstore?)
d. It was an event that clearly validated our rearrangement of the store. We could not have done this if we kept the tall bookcase maze through the center rear.
e. Christine Povinelli did a great job getting publicity, and was very easy to work with.
f. Greg affably allowed us to move his shift back two hours; together with Amie and Jason, we were able to staff the event without extra cost. Thanks to you all.
g. Best dressed crowd Boswell's had to date. Many folks dressed in concertwear. I really liked this.
Here were some of the setbacks:
a. By far, that we couldn't let everybody in who wanted to attend. We turned away at least 50 people, maybe 100. I would have let more people in with a regular reading or even a recital, but due to the visual nature of the dancing and the promise of open dancing (to say nothing of code), we had to cut things off. Folks were not necessarily happy, and I expect to get complaints. Fortunately, most of us (I'm sure one of my booksellers was remiss) let folks know to come early by phone, and we sent out a warning email, and an even more blatant warning correction.
My apologies who arrived after we hit capacity.
b. Priced too low. I worry Jane didn't cover her costs. Of course, I haven't asked yet.
c. Event made my customers happy, but didn't necessarily drive sales. Our business is substantially hurt by the bicycle races (hurray, now we have two dead days in the summer) and the cash registers did not ring much before and after the event (unlike Dwellephant's marketplace idea, which really worked on every level). Did it help at all? Yes, because one of the participants went to town and bought several of our second-hand sets, including one multi-volume collection of Italian Renaissance works, which I had just moved to the back of the store, near the performance.
d. Maybe one tango-related book sold off our display We're going to keep a display up for a while longer, and we're carrying both Jane's (Doggie Dreams) and Stas's CD's (Stas may come up again in another post, as he reminded me of his Schwartz connections). I think folks might not have been interested in carrying something home that night, but they might buy a book later to help preserve their memories of a memorable good time.
e. Originally I thought it was noble to pass the entire admission fee to the organizers, but we ran into problems. Because of this, we couldn't have advance tickets and couldn't take credit cards. It might have worked better for us to raise the price so we could do both of these things. On the other hand, this could have led to more errors. By not having advance tickets, we could just shut the door when the concert started.
f. Regarding the advance ticket thing, I think this would have not been an issue except that Christine did such a great job that enthusiasm really seeped into the market well beyond my customer base. We had folks from Cedarburg to Mukwonago attending, some of whom were the late folks we couldn't let in. Without a PR person, with the press I'd normally get on an event, and with a higher entry fee, I think we'd be able to keep it to a very manageable 150 people.
g. I hit the wrong settings on my camera and everything came out blurry.
Jane and Christine's next project is a doggie concert. We've got the info at the shop.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Now two years later and another of Dundy's novels was released by NYRB. The Old Man and Me was Dundy's London novel. It's another pretender to wealth and the good life, code name Honey Flood, visiting London and falling in with a crowd of partiers, finding all the time a strange attraction to one particularly dashing but something galling older gentleman.
The difference? Sales were nary a whimper, at least for us (I checked Above the Treeline and a handful of other independents had substantial sales of five or more). Dundy died between the releases so she couldn't be relied on for interviews. The jacket, while very nice and certainly evocative of the time. If anything, the elements of this story capture even more of the Breakfast at Tiffany's flavor--high living, a druggish jazz club, fun field trips to country houses.
I haven't proven my thesis yet, but I'm thinking the key to the problem might be the editing. I read Dundy's introduction, and it seems she did some major cleanup before this edition's publication. In particular, much of the extraneous dialogue was eliminated. Sadly, the results made the story seems quite flat, at least to me.
So if you haven't read, The Dud Avocado, go out and find a copy; you've still got at least a month of summer to enjoy it. If you're wondering about The Old Man and Me, do me a favor and read it twice, once from NYRB and another of the old edition (find it how you wish). Then let me know.
Subjects for future blogs: 1) What the heck is Above the Treeline anyway? It's a shared inventory management system.
2) Was I toughter on Dundy because she's dead and therefore can't email me or comment on the blog?
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
We had an interesting talk about how the book actually had some good placement at B&N (must have gotten a good read from a buyer) and whether the book was regional or not (my paraphrased quote? “All books are regional, until they aren’t”), and what we would be doing (we ordered it in for stock).
I usually use folks’ last names unless like authors, they are public figures. I’m assuming the agent is thanked in the books’ acknowledgement. I’m sure Neofotis is very happy that his agent is contacting stores to make sure they are keeping up with Concord Virginia’s increasing attention, and this could lead to more, if not better, submissions.
The most interesting part of this story is how we are interacting more and more with agents. Rob Weisbach kept me abreast of what was happening with Norman Olestad’s Crazy for the Storm, Barney Karpfinger stopped by to see the store and he talked up Ali Sethi’s The Wish Maker. Sethi connected with Karpfinger as a recommended student of Amitav Ghosh, another client.
So why do I know more agents than I did ten years ago? Technology and social networking certainly make it easier. In the past, a call would have been intrusive and a note, likely unanswered. Now it seems making the contact is business as usual and not reacting is the ruder option. Isn’t that a strange turn of events?
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Then I realized that I did have a theme going. Yes, my jumping off point was foie gras, because of our Thursday, July 23rd event with Mark Caro (7 PM). But after The Foie Gras Wars, I jumped to Chinese Food (Andrew Coe's Chop Suey) and orange juice (Alissa Hamilton's Squeezed).
The latter used as source materials, documentations of the government labeling hearings, documents that were later destroyed in a fire. After finishing it, let's just say Tropicana isn't close to fresh squeezed, despite most people thinking so... Also, Downer Theater (or is it Theatre, my apologies for being too lazy to check) is showing "Food Inc.", a documentary that Jason has been salivating over.
Here's the link.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Greetings from the “City of Milwaukee Emerging Business Sustainability Conference.” I got here at 7 PM to set up. I’m the only vendor that has widgets to sell; everyone else is selling services. That left most other folks to leave their spaces and participate in the workshops, leaving me behind to read Richard Powers’ Generosity. Did you know Powers doesn’t sign books? For a second, I thought that meant he might still do readings, as long as he didn’t sign, but he doesn’t do that either, at least for me. He lives in Illinois so I thought we had a shot. We didn’t.
Maybe one day Powers’ cousin will stop by and say, “Did FSG say Rick doesn’t do events? He’s coming to my wedding next May and he’d do anything once I told him this was my favorite bookstore.” There’s a lot of fantasy involved in that statement. I feel like I’m writing fan fiction.
Hey, that's sort of what happened with David Rhodes, author of the wonderful and popular (at least in Milwaukee) Driftless. We were told he wouldn't be touring for the hardcover (it seemed like a shot because he lives in Wisconsin), but he's appearing at Boswell Book Company for the paperback, on Sunday, October 11th, at 2 PM. Go figure. I'm thrilled.
I brought some startup books of the entrepreneurial sort, some basic management stuff, some sales, some sustainability titles, and some business narratives. I played, “How many books have I read on the table” with Marc, the Associated Bank guy who led me to this gig. I read 12; he read more. I’ve got about 60 titles altogether, in ones, twos and threes. There’s no speaker. My rule of thumb is “No speaker, no offsite,” but I broke the rule almost immediately.
So far, the two titles most talked about are Good To Great and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. These are titles that appeal to companies and nonprofits alike. Everybody’s got a crappy coworker, I guess. Oh, and several folks have commented on Jeffrey Gitomer’s The Little Red Book of Selling. I wasn’t quite sure how far an emerging business would be, which is why I brought three copies of How to Write a Business Plan. I looked at a number of books on the subject when I was starting my business and I thought this was the best. (I sold one to a fledgling construction company owner, with just this endorsement).
So anyway, I think I’m supposed to be here all day. I got up at 4 this morning. I’m not sure I’ll make it.
In the end, I sold five books, two of which I threw in the kit at the last minute. I talked to some nice folks, several of whom were trying to sell me their services. And I finally got to go in the new Manpower Headquarters. They have a very neat display case with historical artifacts from the company.
I made it to about 2 PM.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
He's Thiefy McThiefowitz!
I speak like I know him, but that's because we actually know who he is. We spotted him in the shop for the second time and it turned out he'd been already kicked out of the store. He was caught nabbing product in one of our Halloween treat bags. Then one of my booksellers realized he's the guy whom they thought stole her purse at Shorewood.
He likes to wear visors, matchy match short sets, and gold frame glasses. And he is cocky. He walked out with a CVS bag filled with booty (yes, he walked in without a bag) and then said to us, "Someone took it. I'm just waiting for my wife to pick me up."
Oh, and it gets worse. The next day I'm going to work and he gets on the 15 bus! He's eating a sandwich, wearing tennis whites. Huh? I wanted to get up and shout "Shoplifter, shoplifter!" Well, actually my first choice was taking a picture of him, but I left my camera at work. In my dreams I get up and point at him. In my dreams I also have snappier comebacks, by the way.
This one isn't hard. We'll ban him from the store and until I get a new round of booksellers, he won't do much damage. If I get the money shot, we'll let new booksellers see him up close.
This isn't a new problem. David Schwartz worried that thieves were stealing him blind. It hurt back when I was a bookseller. And yes, it hurts worse now.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I talked to one woman who sells book purses. She thinks she might have sold some to Schwartz at one time, but I couldn't remember seeing them. At $150 retail, I mostly envisioned them disappearing or getting damaged. On the other hand, having a few makes the books look cheaper. Hey, I could actually use those collectible cases to keep product!
She's so busy that she has no stock to sell now anyway. But I thought they were pretty cool. So did many librarians. She had quite the crowd around her booth vying for product.
Monday, July 13, 2009
The ALA convention is a bit different. More display fixtures, more databases, less knickknacks for sale. There are still some entrepreneurial booths. One was for a "how to shoeshine" DVD. I'm so fascinated by a couple of ancillary booths that I'm saving them for another posting.
Most, but not all of the publishers were there, including some who sat BEA out. You can see, however, that it's all done on a modest scale, with the booths being simpler, and sometimes not more than tables with a header. Also, unlike Book Expo, many publishers sell their titles, often for half off, sometimes for $5. One booth offered free books, but you had to sign up for their newsletter.
There were authors and advanced readers copies (I feel like an apostrophe goes in there somewhere)and a lot of workshops. There's a greater focus on kids' books, and that's not bad for me, as I spend a lot more time thinking about the kids' section than I did when I was the adult book buyer.
The best surprise was that I did know a few more folks at the booths than I expected. I got some of that networking and reconnecting that I didn't get at the show. I'm hoping some brainstorming might lead to an event or two.
I would particularly like to thank Talia and Anne for making this happen, and in exchange, I have a list of Macmillan titles that I am now under some sort of obligation to read. Talia's thinking I should try Theresa Schwegel's Last Known Address, while Anne feels that Victor Lodato's Mathilda Savitch is the book for me.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
b. Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Friday, July 10, 2009
A Disgraceful Affair, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky includes "St. Luis of Palmyra" by Barb Johnson (collection in November).
Thursday, July 9, 2009
It was the mid 1980’s when I realized that the ubiquitous bandage tins I saw everywhere would soon disappear. There was a distinct trend away from metal in all things packaging.
The bandage tin, however, is a beautifully designed container. Homage has been paid in the retro Accoutrements tins filled with bacon and pickle shaped bandages. And yes, I have a few of these.
The march against the bandage tin reminds me of what the soothsayers pronounce now for the book. And the examples I have remind me of the somewhat lost vibrancy of regional retailing.
All of which explains a bit why I chose to open an independent bookstore in Milwaukee. Enjoy the collection.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I can't find the short story collection they're looking for. We find one Colette book on the shelf. They buy it and leave.
Meanwhile, they obviously wanted Cheri, as the film it is based on was playing down the block at the Downer Theater. We had several copies on our film table.
Oops. If you read this, Mr. and Ms. Customer, I apologize.
Here's the Journal Sentinel review and the Landmark Theatres site for times.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was always popular because admission was "pay what you wish", and I feel that when I was young, there was no admission charge at all. Correct me if I'm wrong in "comments"! Also, I was a big fan of From the Mixed-up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler, which I only know now was brand new at the time.
We might even buy something. Another vivid memory is of The Brown Fairy Book, a collection from Andrew Lang that seemed so captivating in my youth, as I'm a sucker for anything defined by color. Of course, in my practical way, I went for the volume that was neutral in tone. We bought this at the Doubleday on 53rd and 5th. This branch was modest compared to the flagship several blocks north, but it was conveniently located near Mom's preferred Fifth Avenue subway stop.We might walk over to one of the other bookstores, Scribner or Brentanno's. I remember the latter having things like vases. Even then, trying to help the margin with sidelines!
We'd stop in the Donnell Library to browse for a while. They were one of the few libraries I knew of that had a subscription to Billboard Magazine. Most people think of the lions of 42nd and 5th when they think of the New York Public Library. For a kid not doing research, that was a bit intimidating.
And of course we went into a department store or two. There's a legendary story in my family of me crying for hours about something or other--perhaps not being able to get a toy I wanted. I'm still embarrassed.
By the time I was a young adult, the Stouffer's was a B. Dalton, while the Doubleday across the street was a museum store. There was talk of rebuilding the Donnell with a hotel above and a small branch below, but that's supposedly now on hold.
Anyway, Mom's now in Brookline, just blocks from Brookline Booksmith. Finally she lives near an indie bookstore, not that this was something she yearned for. She's currently reading The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which she said is a pretty fast mover.
Happy birthday, Mom!
Monday, July 6, 2009
Possibly the most obstreperous character in literature since Buck Mulligan in James Joyce's Ulysses, Mr. Caldwell's pig distracts everyone from his or her chosen mission. Aaron McCloud has come to Ireland from New York City to walk the beach and pity himself for the cold indifference of the young lady in his writing class he had chosen to be his love. The pig will have none of that.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
#2 is Lawrence Wright's 9/11 book, The Looming Tower. Prisoner of State is the controversial Chinese memoir at #3. But did you expect William Faulkner's The Bear at #5, "The best environmental novel every written?" Or how about Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother at #25? (We sold a copy of Waldman's book this week off the display (below). No Great Gatsby for this list.
Sharon was particularly excited that The Elegance of the Hedgehog was at #45.
We made a snappy display, including a snappy sign. We've got a number of the fifty titles on hand, and several more on order. But where is American Journeys, by Don Watson? Seemingly out of print. And lots more is out of stock.
So in the old days, if this took off, titles would be reprinted, buzz would continue, all would be well. But what if the rights only go to Sony readers or Kindles and there is no printed copy, except for perhaps a print-on-demand, nonreturnable, short discount version? Eeks.
If nothing else, I'm hoping this display sells through my draw of Newsweeks. Hey, Michael Jackson's on the cover and it should already have flown out the door. But People is doing far better--we're already in double digits, which is pretty good for us.
I was hoping to link to the list, but it's not yet posted--you have to buy it! Good for them. Here's a link to Newsweek's site.