Category Archives: Bookselling

Printed Books Still King of the Hill

People still buy printed books in 2018 and appear to prefer them to all other media. The growth of e-books sales appears to have plateaued, but audiobook sales have been climbing rapidly. All other media sales have been disrupted by comprehensive subscriptions offering large libraries of movies, shows, or music for a monthly fee. E-books have these plans too, but they haven’t taken off with readers possibly because the selection isn’t good enough yet.

“There’s another factor that continues to support the sale of physical books: the stubborn survival of booksellers, especially the independents that have endured a series of onslaughts.”

Those booksellers–standing behind Hadrian’s wall against the rest of the world–you have to love ’em.

Man of leisure, about town

Monday was for translation work and my novel. Tuesday was just the novel. Today was the Sons of Norway International Convention, held in a hotel down in Bloomington, not far from the Mall of America. I was not a delegate, but a volunteer.

I wore my Viking clothes. Greeted people at the door. Sold books (I’m almost out of Viking Legacy, which is suffering a bottleneck at the source right now). Stood in the sun for about an hour, showing people what path to take to get to the light rail line, for an outing to the big new stadium.

I think I was in violation of the law when I did that, because I was wearing my Viking scramasax, which exceeds the legal length for a sharp blade. Though I’m not entirely sure whether I was on a public street or hotel property. However, the cops who drove by didn’t hassle me. No doubt it was due to my dangerous, intimidating appearance.

Tomorrow, back for more of the same.

Exhausting for an avoidant, but I shall persevere. What does not kill me makes me very, very tired.

Pod people

If you’re geographically underprivileged in such a way that you can’t listen directly to the Northern Alliance Radio Network on WWTC the Patriot (AM 1280) each weekend, you probably missed my appearance on the show with host Mitch Berg (of Shot in the Dark blog) this past Saturday.

You can listen to it on a podcast here. I’m in the first half-hour of the hour marked “7/28/18 Lars Walker.”

I was, of course, plugging Viking Legacy. I think it’s a pretty good exercise except for the very end, where I kind of went deer in the headlights. Still, all in all a good show and thanks to Mitch.

You Don’t Have to Buy a Second-Hand Book

Elizabeth Freeman offers some experiences and rules for buying used books from Californians.

What I dread are the decrepit cardboard boxes or trash bags. Books schlepped in a rippling thirty-gallon plastic bag are not books in reasonable condition; they are books which have become recyclables or a mold hazard. And yet occasionally there are treasures: the first time I ever saw an Armed Services Edition paperback it was in a trash bag. There were fistfuls of them, binding and pages all perfectly intact (despite the former being a single staple and the latter incredibly thin and delicate). I bought them all and watched them sell within days.

(Via Anthony Sacramone, who says he wants this position with Argosy in New York City — oh my! That store is like an amusement park!)

Life and Death of Brick and Mortars

Columnist David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times, “It’s depressing to imagine that more than 600 Barnes & Noble stores might simply disappear. But the death of Barnes & Noble is now plausible.” It seems people don’t buy enough books in person, but they do buy coffee and borrow books to read while they drink. (via Prufrock News)

Perhaps running a large network of books retail is no longer sustainable. Some recent report tout the health of independent bookstores around the country. At least six stores are successfully attracting customers in the broad Pittsburgh area.

“I think people want conversation, they want a human connection,” Susan Hans O’Connor, a bookstore owner, states. “They want to talk about ideas; they want to talk about books they’ve already read or that they haven’t read that they should read.”

This agrees with a report from Detroit, which notes the growth of indy bookstores in that city.

Erin Gold writes:

And there are a lot of reasons Detroit and other urban communities should want to keep their independent bookstores around. At a time when face-to-face interactions are becoming less common, independent bookstores act as a kind of community center. They hear first-hand from their customers what is important to the community and respond through book curation, author visits, and community partnerships.

In his recent study on independent bookstore business, Harvard Business Professor Ryan Raffaelli found that independent bookstores have become even more valuable in today’s world where so much of an individual’s free time can be spent online. “People are still eager to connect, and indie bookstores make that happen,” Raffaelli says. “They create a safe space for individuals to debate new and important ideas with friends and neighbors.”

Another year, another Hostfest

I suppose you’ll want a report of my week at Høstfest 2017 in Minot, North Dakota. You’re demanding that way; I’ve been meaning to discuss it with you.

Hostfest 17a

My major reaction, frankly, is that I’m pretty exhausted. That doesn’t mean it was a bad week. It just means I’m old and too fat, and not as much up to the challenge as I used to be. Back when I was a fighter, I found the fight shows kind of demanding. Now that I’m retired, I miss the action. 11 hour days, surrounded by crowds of strangers. Walking around on concrete floors wearing unstructured medieval shoes. The dusty, dry air of the horse barn which was our venue. It all took its toll.

Hostfest 17b

But the thing in itself was pretty successful. We had a large group of reenactors, most of them of pretty high on the authenticity scale. I met or improved my acquaintance with some interesting people – notably Phil Lacher the wood carver, Dawson Lewis the Saxon moneyer, and – surprising to me – Randy Asplund, an artist who used to work with Baen Books, and now – get this – makes medieval books in the traditional manner.

My basic criterion for a successful Høstfest is whether I make enough money selling books to cover the cost of the Viking bling I buy. I succeeded at that, and I got some pretty cool stuff. One was a finger ring based on a famous Danish arm ring. The other, an even greater delight to me, was a silver crucifix that looks like this:

Birka crucifix

This picture isn’t of mine, it’s the original, but they’re pretty much identical, except that the thong ring on mine is a tad narrower, and mine is – I honestly think – a little better executed than the original. I used to have a rather crude copy of this crucifix, but I lost it last year. This one, I am told, was made by a Polish artisan who once crafted a chalice for Pope John Paul II. It is tiny and perfect and exquisite.

So all in all, a good festival. Now excuse me, I have to lie down.

What Banned Book Did You Read?

Last week was Banned Books Week in America. I hope the loyal readers of this blog enjoyed their local book burning fires and a witty tête-à-tête with a stranger over a cup of pumpkin spiced something. I was somewhat busy last week, so I ignored the festivities entirely, which I hasten to say is in keeping with the holiday spirit.

Matthew Walther wishes all of this would just go away. They urge him to read a banned book. Which book? he asks. Mein Kampf? If that old Hilterian classic appeared in readers’ hands throughout a city during Banned Books Week, would librarians and bookstore owners be slapping each other on the back for a successful campaign? Heil, no, they would not. Walther writes,

In my experience, those with the strongest emotional investment in Banned Books Week tend to be people whose idea of literature is something called “Y.A.,” which they can continue to enjoy well into their 20s, plus whatever they found themselves forced to slog through as liberal arts majors in college in between tweeting and watching prestige cable and old Buffy reruns on Netflix.

(via Prufrock News)

Momentous day

Twice a year, I experience a major moment of accomplishment at work. That is the day I finally get all the assigned textbooks onto the shelves of the campus bookstore. Today was that day. Since this was also the first regular class day, it was none too soon.

Openly, and without fear or favor, I shall identify my biggest problem. It was Harper Collins Publishers, which owns, among its posse of subordinate religious houses, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson. I sent a lot of orders their way this fall, and I can’t fault HC for promptitude in delivery. The books came with dispatch (though they could improve their carton sealing procedures. One box was split open, though no books were lost).

The problem was their billing. Usually in this life we complain that bills come too soon. “The bill’s here already?” we say. “I just took delivery!”

But it’s different in my wild and crazy world. If I were like those bloated capitalists who run the average bookstore, I’d pause from lighting my cigars with $500 dollar bills to slap the suggested retail price on every book, then sit back and rake in the obscene profits. But at the schools of the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, we just add a small percentage markup to the wholesale cost, and pass the savings onto the customer. If we get a good deal, the buyer gets the benefit. That’s how we Free Lutherans roll.

But I can’t do perform that process if I don’t have the full cost of each book order. Many publishers include an invoice in the carton, or state the total cost (including shipping and handling) in the packing list. Harper Collins, however, does not do that. Their invoices finally arrived in the mail today, and I was able at last to price all our new books.

Then I performed some librarian magic to get the seminary dean a copy of an old journal article he wanted. Before I checked it out, I didn’t even know I could do that.

I need a medal. Some kind of an achievement award.

I’ll take a donut. Anybody got a donut?

Small talk

It’s one of those nights when I don’t have anything worth writing. Whatever follows is guaranteed, certified piffle.

I did read another book, but it’s one in a series I’ve been following and reviewing for a while. You already know what I have to say about these books. A Skeleton in the Closet is the seventh in P. F. Ford’s Dave Slater series, about a small town detective in England. What can I say? Like the others, it’s lightweight but likeable. I estimate the Dave Slater books at about the intellectual level of a TV series – an American TV series. Which means they’re entertaining, but they won’t change your life. In this one, a colleague dies in an explosion, and Dave must delve into this person’s personal life, which turns out to have been full of secrets. At the same time, he’s under pressure from what in America we’d call Internal Affairs. In all contemporary fiction series, there’s a moment or two – or several – when certain cultural boxes must be ticked, in order to satisfy the commissars. This is a story where author Ford ticks off one of them. Upbeat and cheerful, good entertainment even with the social freight.

A Skeleton in the Closet

Classes begin at school next week, and I’m in the final throes of setting up the bookstore for fall textbook sales. Nearly done now. Tomorrow should finish it. My main thought as I survey the shelves of required textbooks is, “I ordered too many. I always do. Will the sales of books previously in stock cover the loss?”

God bless instructors who assign books we already have plenty of.

On the writing front, I’ve found my way at last after a long stretch wandering without a map. I feel keenly the fact that a few faithful readers have been waiting patiently for this book for years. All I can say is, I’m bringing it as fast as I can.

Book pitch: ‘Writing Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Teacher’s Ed.’ by Lelia Rose Foreman

Writing Speculative Fiction

My friend Lelia Rose Foreman has written a text book, Writing Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Teacher’s Ed. It is aimed especially at home schoolers teaching high schoolers. An excerpt from my novel Death’s Doors is incorporated, with my permission.

Autographing eBooks

In our last post, we looked at a new problem for Californian booksellers who hope to attract buyers with autographed editions. Though I didn’t say it then, the law appears to apply outside the state as well as inside, because it defines Californian dealers as being in or from the state. It’s like original sin. The stain of being born in California can never be removed in this life.

I don’t know whether the law applies to digital book editions, but if you’ve been thinking eBooks wouldn’t have this problem because they can’t be signed, allow me to open the door of enlightenment for you. Authors can sign eBooks.

Two sites allow authors to list their eBooks and offer them for signing. Autography.com allows customized signing pages in their cross-platform app. You can sign an eBook remotely or at a book signing. Autographed pages can even be shared on social media. Authorgraph.com offers a similar service with less customization. In fact, it doesn’t appear to be actually signing eBook, but a page associated with the it. Readers can request signatures from authors who are using the service and can buy books through the site.

Has anyone developed a digital autograph book for fans to collect signatures on iPads? I’d think there would be a market for it, except in California.

California Wraps Book Signings in Red Tape

A new law in California, if enforced, would make book signings at local bookstores extremely tedious on both readers and booksellers. A bookseller with three stores in the San Francisco area has filed a suit against the state this month to argue the law, which was promoted last year by actor Mark Hamill, will crush his stores. He’s capitalized on signed books and book signings over the last several years as a unique feature of his business. He hosts roughly 700 of these events each year.

In January, a state law went into effect that would require a record of many details related to a signature on any item sold for over $5. It’s not enough to stand before the author and watch him sign your book, nor can you go to the store the next day to buy a leftover signed copy. If the law were enforced (and so far I don’t know that it has been), a bookseller who sells an autographed book for a Lincoln plus will have to provide a certificate of authenticity with a description of the item signed, date, price, warranty, size of item, size for future editions, number of items signed, number of items intended to be signed in the future, state-issued serial number, and other details. Pawnbrokers are exempt as well as those who sign and sell their own stuff (because no fear of fraud there, obviously). These records will have to be kept for seven years.

One comic book dealer, who says they have authors sign every copy they have for later sale (and no markup for autographed copies), tells California Political Review, “To have to generate and track individual ‘Certificates of Authenticity’ for each and every book (let alone trying to identify potentially hundreds of existing items in our inventory) would make already break-even business even less tenable.”

The penalty for running afoul this law is 10x the value of the item sold plus legal fees.

The law doesn’t target booksellers. It apparently was intended to kill off expensive sales of fake signatures on sports and movie memorabilia. But the law says all autographed items sold for over $5, and once again lawmakers demonstrate that they slept through the course on unintended consequences.