Selling Books To Real People

This post has been prompted by my friend Amanda Green’s post on Amazon.  To whit, by the implication that Amazon killed Borders that others have flung up.

This is a touchy subject, because although I was informed that nice ladies don’t discuss politics, religion or coitus in public, I’ve found that the touchier subject is money: making it, keeping it, wanting it.

We’ll start by all the cries of greed that are so fashionable.  People decry greed in stentorian accents, and are usually the very people who, if they had the slightest understanding of how to do it would be soulless, greedy rich people ala Scrooge.

But let’s establish there’s such a thing as too much concentration on making money.  When Dan and I were young and very broke (as opposed to middle aged and merely broke) we had a friend who belonged to a money-making group.  He invited us in.

This group didn’t focus on stocks, or real estate, or… it was just “how to make money.”  They shared deals, encouraged each other, etc.

We went to two meetings and then reluctantly each of us told the other that’s not what we wanted to do.  I mean, we wanted money, don’t get me wrong.  We wanted money so we never had to make it two days on an egg, a handful of flour and some dried mushrooms; so that a  cat illness or a broken car were not the end of the world (we’d still like those last two) so that we had security.

But spending the whole time, all the time, just plotting how to make money and how to make the money grow?  Um… no.  It was like making money was an all-consuming interest to these people, and we had others, like music and writing.

The other time I found the limits to my greed was “when we were rich” — Dan made about double what he makes now, though still under the “very rich” of our president’s obsession. We had money to go out to eat every day if we so wished.  We had money to go to movies and amusement parks, to take our kids on historic tours of other cities and to just have fun.

But the job required Dan to travel five days a week.  If he were offered something like that now?  Sure.  I would just pack the cats and go with him.  The cats (soon to be only three) can stay at certain hotels.  We’d be fine.  BUT back then we had a six year old and a nine year old, and it didn’t occur to us that we could just homeschool them around the country (it seems like a very difficult thing until you actually try it out.)  So I had to stay with the kids.  And it was killing us.  We decided we didn’t need that money as much as I (and the kids) needed Dan at home.

So, yes, at least for me there is such a thing as “too much greed” but I would not judge for other people.  Our friends in the investors club — who are probably now multimillionaires — were wonderful people and in fact got us out of a really tight corner a couple of years later.  We lost touch with them, and I’m sorry for that, because they were good people.  It’s just making money was their interest/hobby.  It’s not for me to judge anymore than it is for anyone to judge the fact I like to make stuffed animals.

However, in certain circles wanting to make money is the ultimate sin.  Of course, people who think that way are also people who have unlimited greed for power, including over who gets to make money, so I’d like them to gaze lovingly on my middle fingers while I discuss how to sell.

My background for this, other than writing which is a weird field (though the rules still apply) is of growing up with tradesmen and observing my grandparent’s best friend across the street, who ran THE general store.  Also, in various ways, I sold several things because my parents didn’t believe in allowances and believed in ingenuity.

So when, at four or five, I told mom I wanted to sell as much as I could of the crop from the tangerine tree (instead of the extended family making themselves ill on tangerines and still losing half to rot) she not only approved but gave me tips, like to put on a dress and act nice while selling the tangerines from our stoop.  Others of my commercial ventures, like publishing a neighborhood newspaper (handcopied.  I DREAMED of a mimeograph) puzzled them more.  And by the time I started “rapid language courses for travelers” they’d given up on being surprised, and just did things like consult me on the furniture they should buy for the receiving room I used for the lessons.

Anyway, the point being, I’ve ran businesses and I’ve seen people running businesses, and I know what — other than an ability to lick miles of tape, metaphorically speaking — it takes to make it.

So we return to Amazon vs. Borders, or let’s face it, Amazon vs. Barnes and Noble who is on the same butter-greased merry slide to h*ll with less excuse.

Did Amazon kill Borders?  Well, only if you look at it as assisted suicide.

Borders grew and became very big by having a system.  The system was ordering to the net.  They ordered only proven sellers.  The way they did this was by looking in the computer at the author’s name, and seeing how many of his hers or its (must be post binary) book they had sold.  Then they ordered just that number.

This system worked magnificently while Borders was a small bookstore, in a small town, and before the publishers tumbled onto it.  Two things Borders didn’t take into account: the variety of regional tastes and the violence corruption inherently possible in the system.

The publishers did.  Oh, they did.  You see, NYC publishers had for a long time wished to be able to forecast exactly how much a book would sell.  This because after the eighties round of mergers, they were run by corporations that didn’t understand books aren’t widgets and that it was impossible to say something like “the last historical mystery sold 100k copies.  So this one will sell that” when the periods, characters, authors and writing style are completely different.

For middle managers in publishing houses, it is necessary to forecast how much a book will sell so you can calculate an advance, and I understand selling too much is about as bad as selling too little.

So. They latched onto the ordering to the net system.  Particularly since in a couple of years every chain bookstore and a few independents were using it.

What it was first was a good way to have disposable writers, who never earned out their advances, which doesn’t mean that the book didn’t make money for the publisher, because that’s another matter.  (I pride myself in the fact that while in this role at Berkley I STILL earned out advances, though they usually took the book out of print right after the first earnings check.)

If you didn’t “push” a book onto the shelf, (And there were ways the publishers would PAY for the push — say for 100 copies per store, which the stores thought was just more free money) the default stocking was 2 books.  This meant even if you sold all the books, you could only get two on the shelf next time.  But given increasingly short shelf times, the more common things was one of two: either the books were never unpacked (these were low priority books, why should the staff bother?  Neither of my two first books ever made it onto shelves locally, though they were in the system) stayed in a closet and were marked as “didn’t sell” which means next they ordered none, or the books went on the shelf but due to low visibility sold only one.  The other one might even be shoplifted, it still showed as not having sold.  The end result was the same.  Next book you only stocked one.  And one book in a shelf of books, good chance of not selling, means your career was over, at least under that name. (And you could ride this carousel several times.  I did it at least three times.)

If you were lucky, your “career” lasted three books.

The way to beat the system was to stock so many that you couldn’t fail.  If you had fifty to a hundred books per store, you were going to sell a large amount, regardless.  The code for this, btw, was “the publisher has high confidence in this book.”

The trick was that no one was reading the books.  Well, maybe someone at the publisher’s, but certainly no one else.  (And I wouldn’t bet on the publishers.  I know several books of mine were only “read” on proposal, except by copy editors.)

And the problem is that this is a lousy way to sell books to real people.  Real people who read are, yes, influenced by externals on a book.  There are names I’ll buy sight unseen, and time periods that I’ll buy without much thought.  There are certain characters that appeal to me.  None of these require reading the book.  BUT in the end I’m buying the book to READ.  As are most if not all (!) readers.

So in the end the style, character construction and FEEL of the book count.

But they didn’t in the push model.

What we noticed as readers was that suddenly it was possible to go to the store and come home without a single book, disconsolate and upset saying “I guess no one has our tastes anymore.”

And let me tell you, even while utterly broke (which is worse than just very broke and happened a couple of times while Dan was unemployed and we had little ones) we set aside money for books, according to RAH (genuflect)’s plan to budget luxuries first.  When the world was an endless shower of sh*t, I remember walking home from a grocery store gloating at a book I’d found and couldn’t wait to read.  It lit up the whole week.

But we found we could no longer discover books to read.  A lot of our old favorites were no longer on shelves and we stupidly assumed they just weren’t writing anymore.  And we didn’t find any new ones.

Then there was Amazon.  While packing I found the thermos cup Amazon sent me at their one year anniversary, to thank one of their best customers.  Mind this is one of the two years we were “rich” and I put the knife into our bank account to the tune of several thousands of dollars.

The search was pokey, and you couldn’t read a sample online, and I couldn’t have the book right away, but I found a few hundred books (when going full clip and not, say, rebuilding a house from the foundation up I can read six books a day.  I used to pack a separate suitcase of books for vacation) I didn’t know existed, some published three, four years ago.  And I could read.

I never looked back.  When Borders collapsed, I realized I hadn’t been inside one for years.  The last time I was at Barnes and Noble was to buy gifts for friends.  Not books.  Little diaries.  We still have all the Barnes and Nobles in Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins on our GPS (I found while looking for the hazardous waste disposal site.  Chill.  Not spent uranium, just excess paint.  Yeah, I know.) We just never visit.  (We don’t call or send flowers either.) Particularly now when I could be “reading this book in seconds.”  And I am.  Often.

So, did Amazon kill Borders?  Well, kind of sort of.  In the same way that Amazon, if not killed, dealt a big blow to traditional publishers.  Which is why they’re hated.

But this is not killing.  It’s more like if you were sitting on top of a powder keg and a spark from your neighbor’s barbecue set it off.

Look, the whole “push” model was so enchanting — and in the hands of humanities majors took no time at all to become a “let’s push worthy books” whether “worthy” meant “agrees with my politics” or “flatters me by being incomprehensible, and therefore I must be very smart to read it” — so alluring, that I understand why people caught in the corporate grind fell for it.

On the other hand they forgot the essential thing: selling books to real people.  You know, people who read.

They forgot that the customer had a say on what they bought or not.

No wonder all of these people decry the “capitalist” system.  They want to tell people what they can and can’t buy.  For their own good, of course.

But capitalism is NOT a system.  It’s simply the way humans trade, as natural to us as trading shiny pebbles is to some penguins.  Even in the deepest, darkest communism, free trade appears in the form of a black market.  Sometimes the ONLY flourishing thing in the whole d*mn mess.

So, the one thing you can’t forget, if you want to survive as a commercial entity, is that consumers count.  That what people has to buy matters.  That you can, yes, try to package some of those tangerines everyone is sick of in silk paper and some people will buy them, but the backbone of your system has to be something people want and are looking to buy.

And the only way to find out what people want is to make it available, and then get more of this if it sells like hotcakes.

NOT to keep the stuff people might want away from them and telling them they can ONLY buy the stuff you want them to have.

Because that’s not how commerce works.  It takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in education to obliterate humans’ instinctive trading skills.

So, Borders.  Yeah, Amazon helped it kill itself, by existing.  But it wasn’t murder.  At most it was assisted suicide.

326 thoughts on “Selling Books To Real People

  1. This is a comment. It is not put here to inform, amuse, entertain or in any way advance the interests of readers of this blog. it exists solely to allow me to check a box, enabling WP to notify me of additional comments put in this venue. I do not have great expectations of such additional comments being especially informative, amusing or entertaining — but I live in a bleak house.

    1. Since when do wallaby’s live in houses? I thought you enjoyed the outback. You know, free range, no boundaries, “like nature intended”, that kinda thing. What’s next, cats obsessing over indoor plumbing? 🙂

      1. My house is a metaphor. It represents Man’s inhumanity to man (or perhaps it is the other way ’round — I tend to forget, which is why my house is bleak.)

      1. Slightly delayed clever rejoinder (while giving thanks that the Internet allows “treppenwitz” to pass for quick thinking.)

            1. Is there such an animal as a “good pun”? [Evil Grin]

              1. I saw that basic routine performed by San Francisco improv troupe The Committee back in the early 70s, without the Manslamming that this variant incorporates. Classics never wilt and even stand up well against the encroachment of fashion.

                1. because manslamming is supposed to be funny…

                  after twenty plus years of it, i’m tired.

                  1. One minor point on the manslamming: it is rude (and counter-productive) to walk into a room where somebody is engaged in something (watching TV, counting stitches, measuring anything, reading) and address them as if they are expected to immediately jump to attention at your entrance. It implies that what they were engaged in is of no importance and deserves to be interrupted at your whim.

                    It is a petty dominance game which has the effect of immediately putting the interrupted party on the back foot, explaining and justifying their failure to be sitting awaiting your entrance.

                    1. I am working on getting this across to my kids.

                      For the eldest, we’re also working on the idea of respect including the way you ask questions– if you’re expecting the person you’re asking to care more about your question than you do, you’re doing it wrong. The lesson about paying attention to the bleeping answer she asked for is another battle….

                      Wish more parents had at least made the effort to do the same. :/

                    2. …or my other favorite: ordering someone about by phrasing it as a request. I’ve met people who were quite skillful at it. “I’m off to the beach, do my laundry for me thanks” and out the door, then much butthurt because “you let the down.”

              2. Huh. That’s certainly a boilerplate on sitcom arguments, but has little to do with real arguments. While I recognized the trope, I also found it as annoying and stupid as… as I find most TV programs that I try once and never again.

                I wonder how offensive it’d be to the regular viewers if the genders were reversed?

                1. While I recognized the trope, I also found it as annoying and stupid as… as I find most TV programs that I try once and never again.

                  I agree with yo uon most TV, but it triggered a notion.
                  Thought: sitcoms are kind of like those daytime talk/judge/OMG-you-dinn’t! shows. They take a very very tiny bit of reality, and embroider it to spread over the hour.
                  It is true enough to appeal to some folks, but it’s so tiny that you’ll do vast damage if you act like it’s even a fairly common abnormal, let alone being the majority.

    2. This is my comment. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
      My comment is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life.
      My comment, without me is useless. Without my comment, I am useless.

      (from the Commenter’s Creed)

        1. No, but he might turn it on you, and then you’ll be sorry.

          Or you next of kin will be.

      1. Where would be the fun in that? Efficiency for style is generally a bad trade — you want to hold out for at least a few magic beans tossed into the deal.

      2. “Blather.” “Extended blather.” “Passive-aggressive blather.” “Accusatory blather.”

              1. long, over worded retort that has nothing to do with either the pun or my offense, but tosses in a blood libel and massive ad homonym attack

                1. Musing based on an off-the-wall misreading of some aspect of the comment, combined with a conversation from a week ago, and lack of sleep.

                    1. Rant about how lack of sleep is not a problem, or how lack of sleep is a HUGE problem. Possibly both, though in different comments.

                    2. claims it is exactly the opposite of what you said
                      in both cases
                      just to be a contrarian.
                      (sub post to state contrarian is not in spell check … wth?)

              2. second reply to apologize as previous post was supposed to be on a completely different forum, where I pretend to be a leftiod troll

                  1. Tangentially related comment with profoundly weird scientific fact nobody knew except some very highly specialized disciplines that just happen to be on this forum.

                    (Vinegar eels? Really? I no longer live in blissful ignorance, unaware that such creatures exist. Filed right over the notes on the underlying geology of Philadelphia…)

  2. although I was informed that nice ladies don’t discuss politics, religion or coitus in public, I’ve found that the touchier subject is money

    Without the fourth item on that list, the first three would hardly matter.

    1. Does that mean when I discuss the icky, icky subject of marketing and how to actually sell out to the crowds by making works of deathless prose attractive to the consumer eye and available where potential readers are looking… I’m not being a nice lady?


      1. When she was good she was very very good,
        and when she was bad she was amazing.
        Old ditty I thought appropriate.
        Ms. Grant, I’ve seen you in action. Nice? Not hardly. Awesome, on the other hand…

  3. People decry greed in stentorian accents …

    Which is why Hillary Clinton donates so much of her time, giving speeches inveighing against greed and deploring those who embody it. And why Harry Reid virtually impoverished himself and his family during a lifetime of service in the Senate, making sure that the undeserving Rich were denied the fruits of their scheming. As well as why Nancy Pelosi’s family businesses have fought to protect their employees from being wage slaves.

    1. One notes that wishing to pay less and so keep more money, can also be greed as well as wishing to be paid more and so get more money.

    2. It is a general rule of mine that I assume that people who accuse/worry about other people doing X are highy likely to do X whenever they think they can get away with it.

      It’s a tell that practically no one can avoid

      1. That is playing it safe, although it’s also the response of those who’ve been hurt by fill-in-the-blank before; it’s part of what makes the “reverse” part of DARVO so effective.

  4. Yes. And hell yes. It wasn’t as bad for nonfiction as in fiction, but we (my company, Coriolis Group Books, RIP) faced this issue in the ’90s. Meatspace retail bookselling went off the rails when the chain’s book buyers (not customers, but midlevel staff who chose the books to shelve) lost power to database reports from HQ. Add this to co-op (“pay to play”) programs and you’ve constructed that wonderful buttery thrill ride to hell. Everybody lost in that disaster, but small- and medium-sized publishers most of all.

    1. I used to shop in the original Borders in Ann Arbor. As a frequent traveler, I also shopped in major bookstores around the country, and I found that the Ann Arbor Borders had the best computer book selection anywhere. Why? Because the guy in charge of that department WAS a computer guy. He was a regular participant at local programming groups. He knew what we were reading and what we wanted to learn about, and he ordered that.

      Then they switched to, as you say, database reports from HQ. And the department went to hell long before the chain did.

    2. I dunno. I walked into stores with the intent of spending money, then walked out with my money still in my pocket.

      I kinda feel like I lost too.

  5. As a Reader (and Purchaser) of Books, I approve of this article. [Smile]

    IMO the “kiss of death” for Borders (perhaps B&N) is the fact if a reader wants a certain book, being told by a Border’s (or B&N) clerk “we can order it for you” just concedes the “game” to Amazon.

    Why should I drive 30 miles to Borders/B&N, order the book then have to drive back when the book comes in when the alternative is order the book from Amazon and have Amazon deliver it to my home?

    Borders died because they were late getting into the on-line game (they wasted time by doing it via Amazon).

    Barnes & Noble *had* been doing a good job with on-line sales but appears to be killing themselves with their recent “improvements” to their on-line store.

    Amazon is “killing” the competition because they know that they are selling to “real people”.

    1. And Barnes and Noble is killing their brick-and-mortar stores because they won’t stock books. The shelf space at the Fort Collins one is about half what it was when it opened twenty years ago, with the rest used for non-book items. Along with much wider aisles, for some reason, with fewer standing displays. The bigger B&N in Loveland ten miles south actually manages to have less shelving. It does have a coffee shop the size of a restaurant, with up to two seats being used at any one time. Fortunately, the Fort Collins one is good about stocking Baen, at least.

      1. The main advantage a brick and mortar establishment has over a virtual store is the fact that it better facilitates browsing. Amazon is very good when you know exactly what you want, and has taken steps to encourage a form of browsing. But a B&M bookstore allows you to scan table displays and shelves to see what is available that you had no idea would interest you; it grants the ability to sit and browse through a book to determine if the writer’s style is engaging, if the subject matter is addressed in sufficient depth to be of interest without being so deep you fear drowning.

        It is rather surprising more bookstores do not make greater effort to exploit their competitive advantages. It is almost as if their upper management, where such decisions are made, never enter their stores to observe customers’ patterns.

        1. Except that there are literally dozens of instances where B&N and other bookstore employees brag that they make sure “reich-wing” authors don’t get put on the shelves, don’t get recommended, don’t get put in the displays.

          1. A somewhat different issue, that one, and one which has long been a problem; back in the 90s, talk show host Ken “The Black Avenger” Hamblin noted that his book, Pick A Better Country, kept getting put in the “African-American” section (and hidden within there) when there was nothing specifically “African-American” about it other than its author’s skin’s light reflectivity. His book hadn’t been written to be kept in a ghetto.

            But this is simply another way in which Brick & Mortar stores squandered their competitive advantages, in this case through failure of management to provide adequate supervision. If staff want to ensure that the wrong kind of authors don’t get sold they should leave the general market bookstores and seek employment at specific interest ones, such as New Age Feminist Lesbian Astrological Literature.

            Refusing to make a cake celebrating a gay wedding is not as bad as refusing to put politically incorrect authors’ books on the shelves.

      2. I used to have a friend who managed an B&N in AL, and part of that wider aisle thing was / is Americans with Disabilities Act mandates.

        1. Which would be another instance where Amazon is superior. Getting my wife’s wheelchair through some stores/crowds is a nightmare.
          (Mostly because I’m still not allowed to run people over with the wheelchair. I’ve built an off-road wheelchair with oversized tires that would be perfect for running down pedestrians.)

          1. The laws forbidding running over people who steadfastly block our way are amongst the most intolerable on the books. They’re right up there with the laws against front-mounted machine cannon on vehicles of any sort. People driving in the Left-Hand lane at sub-limit speed deserve their fate and no just society would bar its deliverance.

            1. We don’t need no steenkin cannon: The mine flail up front handles slow moving pedestrians nicely.

          2. I’ve been run over by a wheelchair! I was even in the gimp ‘n wounded section of the bus myself with a sprained knee –which meant the (very nice) lady in the motorized wheelchair couldn’t see, as she was backing into the bus, that I couldn’t move my leg in a brace out of the way 🙂 Not her fault, but damn those things are heavy…

            1. Oh no, my wife’s off-road wheelchair is mule powered. By a bad tempered mule.
              (I’m the mule.)

              1. Several years back I went to visit my sister in England. Right after she broke her ankle. I refer to that trip as The Adventures of Gimpy and the Mule.

                Did have a half-dozen drunk Scotsmen link arms and physically shove a pathway for us after doing New Year’s at Trafalgar Square.

                  1. Well they – and a few thousand others – had just spent the previous couple of hours trying to push into the “empty space” between myself and the railing around Nelson’s Column. I considered it a small gesture toward and apology.

                    1. I can’t remember what the effect is caused, but it’s why people get crushed to death at big store openings.

                      Basically, each person pushes a little bit, and if you can’t basically sway and then push back just as much, the force tries to equalize.
                      So it takes active effort to stay where you are on the edges, and if you’re against a wall, or ARE an immovable object….

                    2. Luckily I’m a big enough guy that I can approximate an immovable object in a crowd of people, but once some idiots started throwing bottles at the police inside the cordon, we were pretty sure we were going to die.

        2. Which makes sense. Except they put tables full of Dr. Who merchandise in the middle of the aisle, which means they need wheelchair access on both sides. Which means taking more shelves of actual books out.

      3. The only time I go into B&N these days is to buy coffee.

        No, literally. There’s an office I go to occasionally where the places within walking distance that sell coffee are a dunkin donuts and a barnes and noble. So when I want a midday coffee break, I go to the barnes and noble.

    2. And they’re in the process of doing the same thing to the rest of retailing. Best Buy, Circuit City, Sears, they’re all in the process of getting their lunch eaten because it’s easier and more convenient to order the product from Amazon and have it delivered. About the only reason to go to a meat space store is so you can see it and try it before you order.

      1. I will openly admit to (semi-regularly) going in to Best Buy, etc, to find the product I am looking for, then get on my phone and order it from Amazon for less money while still *in* the physical store.

        1. I try to weigh in how much benefit I got at their expense when I choose this stuff– at the very least buying stuff that’s not worth ordering via Amazon– but when it’s hundreds of dollars’ difference, goodness yes.

      2. Circuit City ? They’re already long gone. As I recall, TigerDirect bought what was left of them.

        There ARE brick-and-mortar retailers who have gotten with the 21st Century, but they’re mostly “big-box” megastores.

        I remember the Borders near me. Almost an eighth of the store was a “children’s reading area”, surrounded by bookshelves, but empty in the middle. And there were rarely, if at all, children to be found there. And as Borders went further down the drain, the coffee shop and the “gift” areas, as well as the recorded music area expanded, but fewer and fewer new books showed up. Eventually, we stopped going there, as we’d pretty much been buying nearly all our books from Amazon, anyway. . . .

        1. One major benefit of Amazon is it will remember what I buy far better than I do these days. While there was a time when I could instantly recall whether I had a book or didn’t, that day is far back in Time’s rear-view mirror.

          So if I go looking for a book because some blogger referenced it, Amazon can tell me that I bought it in 2007 — assuming I’ve the with to ask about all available editions (if I am looking at the ppb it won’t tell me I already ordered the HB editions, but I can search through my past orders data.)

          More usefully, Amazon is very good at telling me if I have been buying each season of (for example) Justified in BluRay or DVD, and whether I have already pre-ordered the next collection of Naruto.

          Demmed handy, thet.

        2. I remember the Borders near me. Almost an eighth of the store was a “children’s reading area”, surrounded by bookshelves, but empty in the middle.

          Did you look at the shelves?

          I’ve had better luck getting little kids’ books at goodwill than at the book stores– you’ve got ugly illustrations, bland subjects or pious education in soggy gray fluff. Sometimes all three in the same book.

          I use to spend a lot of time in the “young adult” section, getting good books. Then they switched it to “pr0n and depression with a pre-adult main character” section. /sigh

      3. Some things you still want to try on: clothing, footwear,… But as far back as 2007, we were referring to Best Buy as “Amazon’s unpaid demo store” 😉

        1. If they were smart, they’d look into doing some sort of a “Compare before you buy” thing with Amazon and an affiliate link.

              1. I recall a Real Life webcomic about traveling into the future and getting a new computer from a ComUSABestBuyFry’s and the mains getting advice from the store help “Wait. Was that Useful Advice you just gave us?” “Yeah, it was made company policy in 2027” (guessing at the year)

        2. The funny part of that being, I’ve used Amazon to compare prices and reviews before heading to Home Despot or similar to buy the item in question… or used the smart phone in the store to decide whether it was worth a two-day wait to get something else. (Sort of the poor man’s Consumer Report.)

        3. We still buy shoes for older son mostly from Amazon — he wears a 17. Before Amazon, we had to go to Denver to find his size. Oh, and then there’s #2 son who had a defect of the ankle that causes his feet to turn slightly inward — and hurt — when he was diagnosed in middle school, we had to buy his shoes from ONE store in Denver. which then went out. Thank G-d for Mr. Bezos, is all I have to say.

          1. We’ve known a friends whose sons needed pants in a (going from memory) 29″ waist and 42″ inseam. IOTW, either somebody sews or somebody is flashing a bit of ankle.

            I believe their daughters were nearly as bad, but you’d probably be surprised how few such conversations I’ve had (and remembered details from even fewer.)

            1. If they weren’t so expensive, I’d suggest he go to the Women’s section. I frequently find really nice looking lady’s pants in my waist size (29-34, depending on the cut) and the legs are in the 40s.
              (I have no idea where these amazonian women are; all I can guess is that enough women buy with the idea of six inch heels to make it more probable than a square like myself.)

              1. I suspect that women’s pants, even in those lengths, are cut a little roomier in the hips & butt than those lads could fill.

                1. Possibly not by much. I have lately had the curious experience of browsing pants online and observing “curvy” styles modeled by models who appear to have a waist:hip ratio of approximately 1. On the other hand, I once appropriated a pair of my husband’s old khakis after he got too tall for them, and despite being a men’s cut they had left enough room to move that they were pretty comfy….

                  1. Pretty much all of the pants I’ve had that look nice have been men’s– the biggest difference I can find in the pants is that the guys’ tend to have pockets (which I can’t use anyways…) and they make them for short legs without also assuming tiny waists.

                    1. It is an odd thing about the sexes, but women wearing men’s clothes tends to be much more acceptable than men wearing women’s clothes. Part of it is that men tend to reject “women’s” wear as readily as boys reject “girls’ ” toys or books.

                      I think it also may be that this:

                      just works better than does this:

                      But maybe that’s just Marlene Dietrich vs Lou Jacobi (as seen in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask).

                    2. I think it has to do with their charms; a woman’s physical charms can relatively easily be highlighted by men’s clothes, while a man’s charms are very, very difficult to highlight in a woman’s clothes.

                      Contrast a lady’s skirt with a kilt, for an example that’s fairly apples to apples.

                    3. I concede that comparing la Dietrich to Jacobi is stacking the deck. There is no question about some men being able to bust formal wear, e.g.,

                      And there is no denying that Cary Grant could carry off a chiffon & feather robe like few others …

                      But they just don’t cut clothes for men the same way as they do for women.

                    4. (Recalls last trip to beach. Remembers appearance of average guy seen there, remembers appearance of average woman.)
                      Not really, no.

                      I venture to say more people would prefer Halle Berry in swim trunk over Daniel Craig in a bikini.

                    5. I have a pair in about that size! (Pregnancy jeans– because the made-for-pregnancy clothes have the same problem as normal clothes. Short people don’t get pregnant, apparently– or if we do, we wear nothing but skin tight stuff.)

                    6. I have disproportionately short legs and arms and have that problem both in pants and in shirts. In shirts, at least, I can give up wearing long sleeves.

      4. > Sears

        Folded their tents and slunk away almost 20 years ago, here.

        > Circuit City

        Five years ago.

        > Best Buy

        Half-dark, with umpty-zillion-candlepower pin lights trying to fry my retinas. Earthquake-level mumbly-whiny-girl-music. Surly employees. I will never willingly enter one of those stores again.

        I didn’t become an Amazon customer from laziness, but because most major merchandisers have either pulled out of my area, or they were never here to begin with.

      5. Retail died when the idiots decided that the local manager was too stupid to know his customers, and that the big mainframe back in the home office could handle all the ordering for every store in the country.

        Problem is, that’s just not so. Home Depot, for example, sells exactly zero specialty saw blades for cutting Hardie Board up here in the North during the winter months, ‘cos ain’t none of us contractors up here stupid enough to try siding with that stuff in the middle of winter. So, the SKU shows no activity for four-six months, leading to it falling off the stockage list, and then hey, presto–Come spring, we all need Hardie blades, and nobody has them in stock, ‘cos the geeneeeus computer back in the big city says we aren’t buying them…

        This idiocy of top-down management and purchasing is what killed Sears, and is killing the rest of big-box retail. Sad thing is, they killed the little retailers when they came in, and now Amazon is killing them due to their own big-brainless-box mentality.

        I think Amazon is eventually going to own retail. Probably, totally. And, a completely different model of sales is going to replace what we’re doing now–You’re going to see a bunch of local “storefronts” for Amazon, where the owner/operator/partner is engaged in the business of telling you what to buy to solve your problems, and then fronting for Amazon, who will handle all the stockage/distribution issues. Best Buy? DOA. Home Depot. Same-same. It’s only a matter of time, and you’ll be going down to some storefront where a guy will basically be a guru/mentor for solving your problem, whether its how to install a flatscreen TV or paint your house, and he’ll take a cut off what you buy from Amazon, and maybe serve as a point of contact for services like actually doing the install and/or painting for you. Retail is dead–The concierge concept will replace it. You simply cannot overcome the speed and responsiveness of Amazon. Even if I wanted to give business to Home Depot, they take a couple of weeks to get in products when I try to order through them. If it’s not in the store, forget about it. I can get it 2nd day, for free, from Amazon, and usually at a better price. About all I go to Home Depot for these days is stuff that has too short a recoil to tolerate waiting, or things they’re remaindering. It’s idiocy on a grand scale, and they’re committing economic suicide as we watch.

        1. Oh, exactly – the local little storefront expert will have some of the most popular items for you to look at and handle … really, I’ve thought for a couple of years now that this is what Best Buy should have done – have the shelf display units for people to look at and test out – and then to order online and have delivered by two-day express, either to their home, or to the store for pick-up if special configuration was required.


          Okay, now that that’s out of the way:

          I just got out of a 4-year stint working customer service. Not in a book store: a supermarket. In prepared foods. At least books won’t kill the customer if they sit on the shelf longer than a week.

          I was there when the change-up to top-down management happened. We’d finally gotten the deli/kosher deli squared away after a year of the most incompetent department manager in history. Sales were skyrocketing and shrink was at record lows, because we knew what our customers wanted, what sold and what didn’t sell, so we ordered our products accordingly.

          Then top-down came, and it all went to hell. Our kosher counter, for instance was a money-loser because we were in an area with a minimal Jewish population, but for a while it thrived because it was the only game in town. That changed, sales started plummeting, so we scaled back our selection to only the items we knew would sell. Corporate had a fit. No wonder your sales are down! The case is empty! It looks horrible! So we were forced at gunpoint (metaphorically speaking) to order product we knew wouldn’t sell. And then Corporate had an even bigger fit because our shrink numbers skyrocketed.

          Then our one good manager left (promoted up the chain) and was replaced by a series of Corporate stooges and yes-men. Great at ass-kissing and sucking-up, and piss-poor at running a department. And of course it was always the counter crew’s fault when things went wrong, because obviously we weren’t pushing the product to the customers hard enough. But it wasn’t like we were pushing anything exotic or new: people have already tried cole slaw, egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad, pickled beets, etc., and they already know if they like them or not. Handing out free samples isn’t going to change anything. And God help you if you couldn’t give away samples: nevermind if it was 3 in the afternoon on the slowest day of the week and the store wasn’t deserted, clearly we weren’t trying hard enough!

          I got out because I recognized it was only a matter of time before I did something that either got me fired or arrested (sorry, but if a customer takes a swing at me, I absolutely will lay them out!). It wasn’t just me: morale in the department and the store were incredibly low. I figure it’s a matter of months, a year tops, before it implodes. Hopefully it’s just that one store and not the entire chain that goes down.

          I do have to say that one bright spot about being unemployed is that it gives me plenty of time to edit my novel and bang out short stories.

          Okay, rant over. Sorry to go off & probably derail the comments like that.

          1. A Music Store Chain (name long forgotten) did that stuff too. They did really stupid stuff like give everyone walking IN the door a free CD opener … yeah, pilferage went a bit high that week. Then they rearanged the aisles so that it was impossible for the cashiers and managers to actually watch the place for such actions (done shortly before the genius give away no less), and then corporate were telling the New Orleans stores what kind of Local Music would sell best.
            Right now, I can’t find anything but the fruit flavored Alka Seltzer chews. EVERYWHERE has only the fruit in this area, and that includes the store brands. No Mint. Leading up the racks were there, but empty, and the fruit usually stocked up. Then the mint selection area disappeared. I asked why and a manager said “We weren’t selling any” I said, “Gee, every time I came in you were out … made it rather hard for me to buy them.” I once bought two bottles, because it was the only time I had seen two at a time in any of the places I bought them.

            Now, I get them from Amazon. Shocking. No?

            1. > fruit flavor

              I’ve seen similar things in groceries. I needed some salad dressing. Everything on the shelves was “creamy.” It didn’t matter what brand it was, they are all creamy. A few months later ordinary Catalina and Russian dressing showed back up, and eventually the unsold “creamy” products vanished. Same thing for chocolate chip cookies; one day, no matter what brand name was on the package, they were all “buttery.” Then they all changed to “soft.” Eventually ordinary cookies came back. Oh, and onion-flavored potato chips. No plain chips could be had. Those morphed into “sour cream” and then into “ranch style”, and eventually plain potato chips came back.

              I’m not talking about just one store, either. Any place that sold groceries, they ALL did that.

              Though they are all supposed to be different corporate entities, I’m personally convinced that those packages all come out of the same giant factory somewhere, no matter how they were marked.

              Hopefully it won’t evolve into something like the old Russian shoe joke. “This year we make left shoes, next year we make right shoes.”

              1. yeah, this is what is happening. CVS, Walgreens Walmart, HEB, Albertsons (last time I went in the mint line was still there, just empty). All of them do not have the mint flavor. Walked into a Walgreens in Memphis last time I was there (Spring I think) and they had both AK brand and the store brand in double rows, two sizes.

                1. Really glad you mentioned this– my mom has complained of the same thing, and it meant that I remebered to get more for our house, and the walmart had spearmint and winter-mint. (Wintermint is horrible, but the spearmint looks great!)

                  1. even the Wally Worlds here have only the fruit, or citrus. Citrus is less annoying, but the flavor is not that good to me, and it takes little to be less annoying than the fruit.

                    Why is there no Bacon flavor?!

          2. One of the “features” of According To Hoyt is the mobile soap box. It ambushes people who once ambushed deliver rants. You just got ambushed by the soap box. Been There Done That (Have the t-shirt). [Smile]

        3. Part of the problem is that many stores are using one big *central* computer that doesn’t allow for regional , city, or neighborhood variations. Some of them actually *do*. Wal-Mart being pretty notable for it. Item sales and re-ordering are tracked on a per store bases and the system feels out trends that way. Of course enterprising people can band together and go f**k with the computer…

          1. And what your describing there is exactly what I was commenting to below; it doesn’t surprise me Wal-Mart would already be doing it.

          2. It can also be really funny; the WalMart in Omak is stocked in a totally inappropriate for the area way…especially during long weekends in Canada. They’re the closest American one for a pretty sizable section of folks who vacation on the border, so you’ve got a ton of Canadians with their RVs who have been spending like crazy on vacation.

            Annoys the locals, but man do they move product.

        4. “Problem is, that’s just not so. Home Depot, for example, sells exactly zero specialty saw blades for cutting Hardie Board up here in the North during the winter months, ‘cos ain’t none of us contractors up here stupid enough to try siding with that stuff in the middle of winter. So, the SKU shows no activity for four-six months, leading to it falling off the stockage list, and then hey, presto–Come spring, we all need Hardie blades, and nobody has them in stock, ‘cos the geeneeeus computer back in the big city says we aren’t buying them…”

          And that’s a failure of my IT profession, because every store manager should be able to get a report called “Stuff I will sell within the next 30-60-90 days that I ain’t got”, showing every one of those items that have been sold during that time frame whose on-hand is less than the amount forecasted within the lead time of the product.

          1. It’s an IT failure, but it’s up at the management level. The programmers and admins don’t get to set policy, they just try to make whatever brain-dead “concept” that comes down from On High work…

            Some of the problem is corporate politics. Having been involved in generating data for reports, I can say that many managers are for more concerned with data that makes them look good than with data that is useful for planning or sales.

            1. Yes, it’s a failure of management to get competent logistics advice when setting up their computerized system. The core pretty much has to be a relational database, and from anecdotal evidence here sounds like their construct either lacks regional and seasonal fields, or they have not been properly linked with each other.
              Not a big fan of UPS for any number of reasons, but I am in full agreement with their ads that say quite plainly that logistics is the key to any customer oriented business.

            2. Part of it is IT and part of it is management. Usually neither of those departments have an actual clue as to what the actual business is about at the store level.

              I also used to work in the Big Box Retail environment and one of many of the big idiocies to come down the pike there was the nonstocking of tap and dies, both individual and in sets. The explanation we were given is that if a customer needed one we could order it from our “Endless Aisles” and have it directly delivered to them in about a week. Now anyone that knows anything about tools knows that if you are needing a tap and die it is most likely because you broke a bolt or stripped the threads. That is not exactly a situation that you are going to want to wait a week to be able to rectify. Corporate immediately received a ton of flak from us on the floor and said that they were working on a solution. Well two years latter we finally get tap and dies back in the store just before I decided to find employment elsewhere.

          2. I have a hard time blaming IT for that one. The best computer can only give people the information that they ask for. In this case, corporate headquarters got a forecast that Hardie blades wouldn’t sell based on the assumption that sales of Hardie blades in the next three months could be predicted on how they sold in the previous three. That this was a stupid assumption is not the fault of the people running the computers.

            If management is too dumb to realize that they are going to sell different things in January than in April, even the smartest system isn’t going to save them.

          3. Just before spring one year, just before everything became totally centrally managed, my HD store ordered a crapload of sump pumps. Atlanta cancelled the sale. We called and told them we needed them. They said we only sold a bunch the year before because it flooded, which doesn’t happen every year. We explained it floods every year in NY, we just don’t know where exactly it will be, but if we have them, we can transfer them. We got them. A week later, we transferred every one of them to where it flooded. We were the only store that had any to transfer.

            Today, that couldn’t be done.

  6. John Hemry had the 2,1,0 down to him but he was lucky enough to have an editor who believed in him. Which is why he is now published as Jack Campbell.

  7. The “Push” model really just represents an attempt at the commodification of books. But readers do not consider books interchangeable, they stubbornly insist on having favorite authors and genres irrespective of the literary merit of those works. Unfortunately for sellers and producers, anticipating readers’ tastes makes it difficult to manage costs, requiring they predict multiple variables when determining print runs, shelf allotments and display vectors.

    If only readers could be persuaded to consume books the way they consume McDonald’s hamburgers, life would be so much easier for publishers, distributors and venders.

    Stupid Amazon, letting people choose books they want to read rather than making them buy the books publishers and stores want to sell!

    1. What they really want is the commodification of readers. They *should* all want the same things, over and over again. Publishers will attempt to trim or stretch readers’ thoughts until they all fit on the mental Procrustean bed.

      Human Wave, now, celebrates everything that sticks out and causes trouble, like putting a cat in a cat carrier. We have elbows! WE WILL NOT FIT YOUR BOX! Ptthhhbbbt!

        1. DANGIT! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong! Note to self: “Remember to aim.”

  8. Money is an exchange mechanism for the power you accumulate through doing things or making things that people want. Some people decry money because they don’t want YOU to have power, only the “right” people. (And if they ever get their way, most of them will find out they’re really “wrong” people, the “right” people just never told the useful idiots that.)

  9. > What we noticed as readers was that suddenly it was
    > possible to go to the store and come home without a
    > single book

    That happened to me in the mid ’90s, when I lucked onto a job making four times more money than I ever had before. Enough money that in the first few months I managed to pay off every debt we had… and then we went booking. (after, I might add, buying a complete set of back issues of Jeff’s “Visual Developer” magazine…)

    And came home empty-handed. The local stores had shelves filled with reprints of Edgar Rice Burroughs that were already in the public domain, shared-world fantasy anthologies, and some new stuff that wasn’t what I thought of as SF, nor was it attractive enough to try out even given our new affluence. So we went back to mining the used book stores, flea markets, and yard sales, hoping some something we hadn’t read yet, and I moved over mostly to detective and adventure stuff. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve bought any new SF. Almost all of it has been online, because we don’t have any local bookstores any more. I guess nobody else cared for their selection either.

    1. As more books become series, knowing a little about the series really helps, and the bookstores can’t do much for you in that regard. After Sad Puppies 3 broke back in the winter, I decided to try MHI. I bought MH Legion at the local B&N. (It was, bogglingly, the only volume in the series they had on the shelves.) I should have started at the beginning of the series, since there are ongoing threads, earlier reveals and insights about characters, etc. The book did not make as much sense as it would have if I’d read them in order from the first. I (later) found that warning in the comments online, but meatspace stores don’t have comment sections. It’s not only faster and cheaper to shop online, but smarter: You get the benefit of other people’s experience. I doubt there’s any practical way that physical bookstores could fix that.

  10. “But capitalism is NOT a system. It’s simply the way humans trade, as natural to us as trading shiny pebbles is to some penguins.”

    Can I get an “amen” for this?

    I know it’s tangential to the main point of the post, but it’s been a point that’s been on my mind a lot recently as I see discussions of the “capitalist system and it’s shortcomings.” I sometimes feel we lost the war against Marx when we conceded the name “capitalism” to “what people will naturally do in exchanging resources unless forced to do otherwise.”

    1. “But it’s not fair that you should have so many shiny pebbles, and I have only a few. A proper system would share the pebbles out equitably. By force if necessary.”

      Most people outgrow that notion of economics about the time they’re old enough for the first grade. Others wind up teaching those notions in college…

      1. Share your pebbles as evenly as you like. Give it a week, and the sharp operators will have theirs back. People get what they love. Unfortunately for my floor beams, I love books. People who love money, get money. In most cases, I don’t even think it’s the money they love. It’s the adrenaline rush the process of acquiring money gives them.

      2. “You have more of the pretty shiny pebbles than do I, so you must have cheated to get them.”

        It couldn’t possibly be that you got out earlier to look for them, stayed out longer and have developed your sharpness of eye so that you can spot them more easily than I do (I only actually find any when I trip over them while dancing to my iPod.)

        1. And if your parents gave you some pebbles or taught you how to look for them, that’s cheating too.

      3. But part of the whole “shiny pebble” methodology is that one lady penguin’s idea of a perfect shiny pebble is not necessarily shared by the others. The idea is for penguins with the same standards of shiny pebbleness to find each other 😉 Ergo, it doesn’t matter how many shiny pebbles you have if you hate them all, and the one perfect pebble is not in view.

        And that’s a part of capitalism they all hate. There *shouldn’t be* a market for pink plastic flamingos, because *they* hate them. Capitalism means the people who want pink plastic flamingos get them, and the ones who hate them are not obligated to buy them, and I can buy chocolate-coated bacon or bacon-design shower curtains or bacon air-fresheners or…. You get the idea.

            1. Dude! Digital Blasphemy! I’d completely forgotten that site existed after losing all the art and the bookmark in a computer crash and some rocky life circumstances years ago!

              He’s still going, and it looks like he’s gotten even better – that’s so awesome! THANK YOU for bringing that up!

    2. I sometimes feel we lost the war against Marx when we conceded the name ‘capitalism’

      One major reason why many of us refer to Free Market Exchange rather than Capitalism. The former draws focus to the transactional component, the latter to the structural.

      Oddly, “Controlled Choice” is also less attractive to people than is “Free Market” — hard though that may be to imagine.

      1. I sometimes get the impression that most of the people fighting the battle in the 19th Century had no clue who Marx was. They just went about their business and made stuff, society and lots of money doing their things. it’s not really an accident that the greatest fortunes of all time were created in the last quarter of the 19th Century. It’s only later that greed and envy was used to subvert and steal that money for “better purposes” and ensure that only the “right people” ran things. Which they have not done very well.

        1. A cursory review of History suggests that the intersection of “successful things” and “things run by the ‘right people’ ” is probably a null set. Having the “right people” pretty much guarantees all decisions will be made for the wrong reasons — even (especially?) when the decisions made are the right decisions.

    3. I’ve been trying to think of a way to get it across to people.

      It’s not so much a system as a tool, or… like violence. Both are a tool, vital to imperfect human interaction, and it’s evil if used improperly.
      Example for ‘capitalism’: the alleged tactic of the VA not treating veterans because it’s cheaper to pay off the families than to fulfill obligations.

      They’re both like fire– good servant, bad master, and you’ll die without it.

  11. Exactly. And what Paul said, too. Now, living even farther out, driving to a big brick-n-mortar is more trouble than it’s worth. Hallelujah for Amazon.

  12. The one sincere lament I have for Borders, is that they were great about working with local authors, and ordering their books from Ingram, and setting up events. B&N can’t be bothered – if you are not big enough to be in their own ordering system. Their outreach to local indy authors sucks nickels.

    1. That varies a lot by store. My local B&N had a local indy author signing just last week. That store has a fantastic events coordinator who actively scouts out events that the chain might never notice.

      1. So other writers have told me — it all depends on the individual store’s events coordinator. If they’re on the ball, it’s fantastic. If they’re the usual run of B&N slugs, like the ones around – then good bloody luck.
        It’s a pity, too – because the one independent bookstore here has trended to favoring children’s books, and writers of anything else have increasingly had bad experiences doing signings at it. B&N could have a lock on local author events, but they can’t be bothered to make the effort.

        1. Heh. See my comment elsewhere this thread about Brick & Mortar’s failure to exploit their competitive advantages.

          For as much attention as Moneyball received, it is surprising how few people have understood its theme about not trying to play by the same rules as your competition but rather to find those areas where you can exploit their weaknesses. Put simply, you cannot outspend the NY Yankees, you have to spend more wisely by looking for those elements they are not accurately valuing.

        2. Heck, the regional B&N (or Hastings either) won’t stock my university-press published non-fic because “the print runs are too small.” Now, this is a work that is flying off the museum gift-shop shelves and that gets comments like “I read this because I had to . . . and then I really started to like it! This stuff is wild.” And it is the ONLY book on this topic in print, and is about a very hot-button issue. But the initial print run was “too small,” so the chains won’t touch it, so I can only do signings at libraries and museums. As you and Sarah say, local managers vs. ordering by database.

  13. There are still people fighting to get one of the deck chairs on the Titanic. They desperately want to be known as one of the winners – in a bad lottery.

    Some of them are decent writers, and it’s their life.

    The past four years of reading the blogs has been fascinating.

  14. If all the bookstores die, then what happens to the stories about bookstores?
    Sarah wrote “All Who Thirst,” and I just reviewed it on Amazon, and may blog about it, and it’s set in a New Age bookstore. There ARE, I’ll admit, many items in said bookstore which cannot be downloaded. Like the meditation room, and the statues.
    Is Lawrence Block still writing about Bernie the burglar, who runs a used bookstore? Will used bookstores exist forever?
    Oh, yeah, I reviewed Dave Freer’s romance story “The Road to Dundee” on Amazon as well.
    And I will never check the comments block on ATH no matter HOW much I want to see what happens next, because what happens next is that my mailbox explodes.

    1. Bernie is totally reconciled to selling on the Internet as well as in his store. However, he also seems to have a tendency to ignore his store for large periods of time (because he has another income stream and isn’t hurting for money).

    2. I don’t think book stores will manage to die off. The big, dumb chains might– but we’ll get “Amazon connected POD, used book and hey sit and order a coffee” centers before there’s NO book stores.

      1. For a while we had a local Bistro cum/Bookstore near the local university branch; its failure had, so far as i know, nothing to do with the bookstore component. Certainly the books created a unique ambiance in the restaurant.

        A casual dining restaurant could easily arrange a deal with a local used book dealer to stock the restaurant with appropriate “gently-used” books, with the register programmed to track sales.

  15. I went through the same thing, going from leaving a book store with a dozen books to leaving with maybe one, if I was lucky.
    We still go to book stores, but I still leave empty handed fairly often, because I rarely find what I’m interested.

    The aside to this, is that I’m always fascinated by how companies will put people in charge of a business who know nothing about it at all, and then can’t understand why it failed.

    1. It is the same philosophy that focuses on training teachers “to teach” in expectation that subject matter doesn’t matter. A “real” manager can manage any enterprise, whether it is books or tires, shoes or T-shirts.

      Form over content.

      1. I think this may be the real secret behind the amazing improvement kids show when homeschooled– they’re getting the same education the school offered (reading a text book at them) combined with education by someone who understands the subject in whatever subjects the parent actually understands.

      2. I loved the looks on faces when people asked if I was going to teach at Metro School District and I said, “Well, I’m not qualified. I only have a PhD in a field and university teaching experience. I need an education degree to be able to teach.” I did my best to sound remorseful and apologetic. It got the point across, methinks.

        1. yep. At one point I was fluent –native level fluent — in French and German. But I couldn’t teach them in high school. I COULD translate chemical research into English. BUT my teaching certificate was foreign, so I wasn’t even allowed to take the certification exam here. Yeah. To protect the students. Riiiiiiiiight.

          1. Now sweetie, we all know that rule was put in place to protect someone. And we here are smart enough to figure out exactly who “someone” is.
            I know the South’s weather is not favorable to your health issues dang it, or I would suggest a move to Huntsville. Technical translators are and always have been in high demand here.

            1. Now I’m a writer. I intend to be more of a writer once the house is done. I intend to write like a demon (TM) but back then, I was in the South. I just didn’t know about Huntsville. The jobs I got paid wonderfully ( I once made 14k in two weeks) but they were few and far between. Apparently “speaks science” as well as languages is rare.

              1. Now there’s an interesting thought – what would demonic writing be like? Would bad guys win? Would the good guys be only slightly less bad than the villains? Would a demon write grey goo(TM) or would the writing be transcendantly evocative of the distinction between Good and Evil?

                Yeah, not what you meant when you said “I intend to write like a demon (TM)” but when have I ever indicated I paid attention to what folks meant?

                I might want you to talk to the Daughtorial Unit who has contemplated merging her interests in biochemistry and Japanese into translating work. Apparently severe allergic reactions to chemicals can be a limiting factor in a medical career (shocking!) and she’s aware of the advantages of multiple threads to one’s income web. Please try to attend a con near us in order that such a conversation can be held.

                1. Wouldn’t it depend on the kind of demon? The ones that tempt into sin would make bad seem good– and the ones that cause pain (including despair) would write to make that.

                2. Attending more cons is on the program, once the house is sold and boys out of house.
                  Yeah, I worked for Hoescht Celanese for two years, and my badge said “Do not allow in labs!” 😛

      3. A real manager can manage any enterprise. Primarily because the first thing any real manager does is learn as much as he can about what hes going to be managing, and the second thing he does is identify those employees who know more than he ever will, and pays attention when they talk.

        1. I knew a “real manager” like that – worked for him, actually. That was what he did, exactly: he picked out the people in the office that he had been given overall charge of who knew what they were doing — sucked up their expertise like a sponge, and then went and had heart-to-hearts convo with absolutely everybody, even the low-ranking. He knew how to work the system, he knew how to manage people … and so the fact that he started in not knowing much about the specific mission wasn’t a handicap, much. He was willing to learn, and to take the word of those who were experts.
          Alas, I believe there are too many people like that Pao woman who has come close to running Reddit into the ground, who come in like gangbusters, expecting to overawe with the sheer weight of their authoriteh! Tw*ts like her have given genius managers like the man that I mention – who have not much specific knowledge going in – but have the wit to acquire it – a very bad name indeed.

          1. Oddly, it is the Pao-like jerks, and never the “real” managers, who are most likely to proclaim that a “real” manager can manage anything.

            1. Oh, one more thing about the true “real” managers: they always take the blame for things gone wrong and give credit for things going well.

              1. But RES, that’s not how the game is played. You sweep in, figure out how to game the system so your short term numbers look really good, then transfer up or out to a better position, leaving those under you to deal with the ultimate collapse when your house of cards comes tumbling down.
                I swear they must imprint this concept subliminally in business school programs, as it seems to be the default mode for success in far too many businesses.

                1. The Biz school guys think Dilbert is a how-to guide. (And I can see the EXACT cartoon with the manager-on-a-bungee-cord. I think it’s in _Shave the Whales_)

          2. I’ve worked for a few real managers, tried to be a real manager a couple three times, and watched a few work. One thing they all got in common, it aint about them, its about getting the job done. I never reddited, and don’t know much about pao, but it seems to me everything pao does is about pao. I dunno, maybe i read too many comics as a kid, but whenever I been forced to lead and didn’t know what to ask I ask myself, “what would SG Rock do?”

  16. When I walk into a B&N and see only four Pratchett novels on the shelf, I know that an idiot is doing the buying for the store. I rarely ever bother going in any more.
    On the upside, working at a used book store certainly increases my spending on books. I worked for the largest used book store in Idaho (And possibly the last in Eastern Idaho), buying used books from any and all. That translates to having every garage sale, estate sale, flea market and library book sale enter my store, trying to sell. I didn’t have to go anywhere to find cheap books.
    The downside is it’s a lot of books to haul now that I am moving.
    Oh well, there are worse fates.

    1. We used to have a local used book store – only 30-odd miles away – that operated like that. They bought stuff by the truckload from estate sales, flea markets, whatever.

      The place was run-down and a bit moldy since it periodically got flooded, and the roof leaked so badly tarps were strung over the shelves to try to keep the inventory (and shoppers!) dry. It would be harder to imagine a more down-at-the-heels operation… but people would be waiting in the morning for Marsh to get there, and he’d have to herd them out at night.

      Marsh’s schtick was “buy in volume.” And it didn’t sell, the paper recycler came by every couple of weeks. Even then, customers had to climb over piles of books. There was *always* something new there; my wife and I sometimes left with more than one full shopping bag each.

      The recycler dumpster sounds pretty bad, but literally, by the time stuff got to Marsh’s, that was where it was going before he intercepted it.

      I got a lot of engineering and foundry books there, and once found a complete set of old electrical engineering books by some guy named Steinmetz. Since they were autographed, I hauled them up front and told Marsh he might want to keep them in a dry spot. He put them on top of one of the piles of porno magazines near the front window.

      As he related later, shortly after I left he heard a funny noise and saw some guy laying half across the porn boxes. Marsh got his baseball bat and prepared to suggest he leave the store, but it turned out the guy had found the Steinmetz books and was squeeing with delight. Marsh said not even the Raincoat Brigade made noises like that…

      It might have been a book scout looking at a fat payday, but I like to think it was some electronics geek stumbling on the mother lode stashed among back issues of Juggs and Naughty Nymphets…

    2. Prof, we got a couple in Pocatello, Walrus and Carpenter and Circle C. Haven’t been in the later lately, but it looks open. Seemed to be mostly Westerns and Romances when I was in there a few years back. Walrus and Carpenter does both new and used, special orders and I think rare, looked open the last time I was on Main St, so, Tuesday.

      1. Okay, good to know. Thanks.
        I’ll pass it on to my ex-coworkers. We had always assumed they were closed due too a) the number of customers who came up from Pocatello to buy and b) the multiple calls from the Pocatello mall wanting us to open a new branch,

  17. Prime was the third cocktail drug, methinks. It made people utterly unwilling to wait a couple weeks for a “special order” if a store didn’t have something.

    Also, Bezos has basically insulated himself from big publisher tantrums. “Well Publisher X and I are spatting, so I can’t have that book until X. However, I can give you this indie book in the same genre (and maybe half the price) right now…”.

  18. The B&N down here just reduced the S/F&F shelving to put in more romance stuff. Good luck there is all I say. I have never availed myself of Amazon just because I don’t do any business on the interweb(long boring story). OTOH the daughter’s family live on the web so sooner or later…

    1. If you ever should happen to feel like giving Amazon a try, you can buy a gift card at many stores and use that for your purchases. I don’t do plastic–which puts me in a smaller minority than I was in before I got on facebook last year–so that’s how I use Amazon.

      1. Thanks, Holly, usually I just call the daughter and ask her to pick up what I can’t find anywhere else, then send her a check.

  19. The music industry is going through something somewhat similar. As a result, musicians who could actually play and compose went dry, while some idiot mumbling ‘I’m so bad I can s— my own d—” (an actual quote from an LL Cool J (c)rap “song”) gets lionized. “Singers” that can’t hold a tune in a bucket get their vocals cleaned up with AutoTuneTM and their lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter dreck pushed. Now everybody can download exactly what they like for pay or (in practice) steal it. (Somebody even halfway computer literate can extract audio from a YouTube video, and if t was HD it will eve sounds decent.) And what do the clueless musc companies do? Pay their actual creators ever less so the unproductive drones in the office can be kept in the style they are accustomed to.

    1. I listen To Radio Paradise .Never thought I’d see a Gotye song be overplayed on regular radio.
      Bands are going Indy as well and doing very well (OK Go, who managed to break YouTube, ferinstence)

  20. re:packing a separate suitcase for books

    oh the days before weight restrictions on luggage 🙂

    when I went to a conference in DC in 2007 I took two weeks of vacation (hey, if they were going to pay to send me there, I was going to see the sights for the cost of hotel + food), and I took enough books that I was at the airline checkin counter with my luggage open moving books from one suitcase to the other to try and get the weight down below the 75 pound “max weight even for overweight luggage” limit

    1. At that point, it’s a great deal cheaper to FedEx or parcel post your books home. A business hotel can often do this right at the front desk. So if you absolutely positively have to have the books (or painting, or whatever), there is an option. (And heck, you can even ship your suitcase home from the hotel, if you’re really disgusted.)

      1. Some dealers ship their stuff from home to the hotel, too. But you have to be kinda trusting that it will get there, rather than leaving you stuffless in a strange city.

      2. At least with Marriott, I have been able to ship stuff from Amazon to there, and also ship stuff to the hotel before I get there. Of course, being Platinum Elite helps.

  21. I too remember going into B&N and walking out with armfuls of books, and likewise needing an entire backpack to hold the books I took with me on vacation. Alas, both are now just that: memories.

    The 2-1-0 thing certainly explains a lot: I’d just about given up on a number of authors because their books were never on the shelves. Side note: Sarah, are the first two Darkship novels still in print?

    The B&N near our old house was huge, and actually had a pretty well-rounded selection. I can’t say “good” because they rarely had anything I was actually looking for, besides a new issue of American Handgunner every other month. And their sci-fi section had a well-rounded selection and a good amount of Baen authors, just never any Hoyt, and Williamson seems to have disappeared too. And while they had toy, game, and multimedia sections, and a coffee shop, there was still a ton of shelf space for books.

    The B&N that’s sorta close to our new house? Different story. Seems like >50% of the floor space is devoted to games & puzzles, journals, diaries, planners, and laptop accessories, and the coffee shop. The kid’s section is absolutely massive, but full of Legos and other toys with hardly any books to be found. And what floor space is devoted to books is dominated by Romance, Teen “Literature,” Sports, and Graphic Novels. Seriously, the Romance section is the same size as the general Fiction/Literature section, and some of the Fiction stacks are partly empty.

    Sci-Fi/Fantasy gets a good chunk of one wall (right next to the restrooms), but it’s still a a joke. Mostly authors I’ve never heard of and books that look thoroughly boring, which means they’re probably all Hugo winners ;-). Hardly any Tolkien, Pratchett, or Heinlein to be seen. Baen? Unless it’s brand-spanking new (as in just released this week) or a massively popular or prolific author like Ringo, Weber, or Flint, forget it, and even then they’ll only have 3-4 books at the most. And when I say books I mean individual physical books, not multiple copies of 3-4 different titles.

    And what really kills that store for me? I used to go the old B&N, buy a large cup of something from the coffee shop, and nurse it for a couple of hours while I pounded out a good-size chunk of my latest story, but Ian’t do that here because the coffee shop’s chairs are so uncomfortable that if I sit in one for more than 15 minutes, my ass falls asleep.

    1. Also, B&N’s Bargain Books section has gone to sh*t. Anybody else remember when you could browse the Bargain Books and find real gems at great deals? Now it all seems to be their in-house publishing company’s coffee table books and kiddie arts and crafts kits, and cookbooks.

      1. While I thoroughly enjoyed them I imagine more than a few SJW-types found them indigestible.

      2. I just double checked and they are still offered at Baen as well. HB, PB, and e-book same price as Amazon. The main advantage with e-book is that Baen offers theirs in multiple formats, not just Kindle.

  22. OT, but hey, it’s cats: my wife was watching the abortioness horror video yesterday and broke down in tears. We have this big old orange semi-feral tom we rescued. The instant he heard her crying he launched himself from the farthest end of the house — I was still getting out of my chair when he streaked by me— and welded himself to her. He didn’t even blink as she sat there rocking him.

    1. My daughter’s “kitten” is a spoiled jerk, but a major point of endearment is that he also tries to comfort anybody who’s crying. Just goes and sits in grabbing distance, even if that means he gets mauled by the sobbing toddler.

  23. I noticed something tangental to this in the 1980’s. If you remember, there was a great boo-ha over how “Chain Stores” (they meant Crown Books, primarily) were driving out “Mom-and-pop” bookstores.


    The biggest hullabaloo was made in New York City, but it was supposedly taking place all over the country. I live (at the time, and for some years later) in the Washington Metro area, and I observed an interesting thing. The “Mom-and-Pop” bookstores that were closing were mostly the ones that ordered straight off of the New York Times Review Of Books. They ones that stocked All The Right Books. The ones that didn’t actually have a point of view.

    Mystery bookstore? Doing fine. The Civil War Book Shop over in Georgetown? Going strong. The Technical Bookstore that Borders sent anybody looking for something a little more in depth than “For Idiots”? I don’t think they even knew they were supposed to be in trouble.

    The ones that were closing were the ones that were pushing books that either A) Nobody outside of the New York Intelligencia gave a damn about or B) you could get cheaper at your supermarket.

    And good riddance, too.

    1. There’s a little hole in the wall (and I mean that almost literally. It’s tucked in between an industrial bakery and a car-parts exchange) used bookstore down in Amarillo that specializes in Christian fiction, westerns, and sci-fi. And by “sci-fi” I mean a shelf of Poul Anderson double stacked, everything David Drake ever wrote, you name it, you just might find it if you are willing to look behind the front stack. They seem to be doing pretty darn well.

    2. In most areas, the ‘chain stores’ they were fussing about were things like Waldenbooks.

        1. Going through her stuff in the house and found a $30.00 gift certificate from Waldenbooks. The wife had used in for a bookmark in one of her books. Dated 1994…

      1. In the DC area, what they were bitching about was mostly Crown. And I have to say, I didn’t buy much from Crown; their selection sucked mucky moose feet. But so did the selection of most of the “independent” bookstores (how independent is a bookstore that dasn’t shelve anything that isn’t approved by a newspaper in another state?), AND they were more expensive. Crown are their lunch.

        Waldenbooks and B. Dalton were a waste of space anywhere outside the convinces of a mall. IN a mall they were a welcome respite from ugly clothes for teenagers (and people who want to think they are teenagers).

        The Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressives have been trying and TRYING to mold the rase of The Masses for more than a century, and they have conspicuously failed. Of course it might help if their manner of doing so didn’t amount to deciding that most of everything the Middle Class likes was awful, and then focusing on fringe styles that annoy practically everybody, and then bitching that the Masses don’t appreciate Art.

        Make. Up. Your. F*cking. Minds!

        EITHER you can be Avant Guard and above the plebeian tastes of the Great Unwashed, OR you can persuade them to flow your taste. Trying to do both is a mess, and makes you look even more foolish than God intended.

  24. I remember back in my bookstore days when we’d get piles and piles of the latest anti-Bush books. Most didn’t sell. I remember one in particular, we got 30 hardcover copies of it. We may have sold one. May. I remember that one in particular because we couldn’t return it until X-amount of time passed, so I’d be endlessly shifting those 30 hardcovers around and around and around . . .

    1. When the John Kerry exposé Unfit for Command came out, I went down to my local Bookstar (Borders subchain) to preorder a copy. The supercilious little latte drinker keying in my order said, “I don’t think you’ll have to worry, I don’t think we’ll have much demand for… *screen changes* … oh.”

      The day the book came out I got a call from Bookstar at work, “Mr. McEnroe, your book came in. We’ll hold it for one week and that’s IT.”

      Manager of the same store later tried to tell me I, Rigoberta Menchu was factual.

      1. Funny story: we sold some of Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men, but sent back quite a few. We got 10 copies of an anti-Moore book, sold 9 of them.

      2. I, Rigoberta Menchu was factual.

        For certain values of fact, such as “a thing widely known and believed to be true.” From the same dictionary, I believe, as “settled science.”

        1. There’s an idea I’ve run into consistently, that just because a group has declared concensus, then ther facts are correct. I’ve seen it fairly often on Wikipedia and Snopes.

    2. Gave me considerable pleasure to see Harper Collins hand the NY Times their cojones back to them in a gift box. The Times had refused to place Ted Cruse’s new book on their best seller list, ostensibly because of some bogus bulk purchase excuse which Harper rather quickly debunked. It became obvious to the casual observer that the Times picks and chooses who gets on their list with a considerable liberal bias.
      But then we already knew that.

    3. One good thing about the shelf-warmer: you could always use it as the centrepiece of the pyramid stack on the table because the stack always remained the same height.

  25. According to Wikipedia, Borders went “defunct” in 2011. The next year, this happened:

    “We had the best year in store history in 2012,” says [Steve] Bercu, [owner of BookPeople and] a founder of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, which promotes locally owned businesses. “It was the third best year in a row. We’re up 12 percent so far for 2013.” (From:

    Anyone who tells you that nobody reads anymore, or that Amazon is unbeatable, is either ignorant or lying.

  26. Norman Spinrad commented on the death spiral ordering system.

    The stores order five thousand copies and sell through 80 percent. Next book: they order FOUR thousand copies and sell 3200.

    Then 2400 copies ordered, then maybe not bother for the next one.

    Donald Westlake made it a major plot point for his book “The Hook”.

    1. to Captain Comic: thank you. I had read Westlake book, but could not remember the title (worst I remember that Block had written it, getting old)
      have not finished the comments but wanted to say thanks

    1. And an even half competent grocer knows good and well that groceries are subject to regional, seasonal, and cultural drivers. At least one who hopes to stay in business what with the extremely tight margins on most food stuffs.
      Doing what I used to do we would occasionally host visiting teams of Russians. There are few experiences more illuminating both for the host and for the visitors than to take some Russians on a tour of Wal-Mart. Their reactions are priceless. Invariably you will be accused of creating a Potemkin display for their benefit. Though come to think of it they never actually use the word Potemkin.

  27. yes, yes, Amazon’s “killing” of Borders had absolutely nothing to do with the time Borders closed their website and made their customers register with Amazon. That was the only reason I got an Amazon sign in. Then when they separated their site was less functional, and tended to have less stuff and, I ALREADY had an Amazon account for some reason, and they had it and would get it to me faster, for less … hmmm. Makes that Chicago store sign “Sorry, no public restrooms!”
    Go try over at Amazon.” tastily ironic
    I preferred Borders over B&N and if the two were side by side would walk into the Borders only … I hate(d) B&N .. then it started. I’d go in and the selection was bad, or they stopped carrying what I went in for (several of the magazines I bought, that happened too) then once I moved here the local one stopped carrying good music … if it wasn’t pop, r&b/hiphop, or new country it was not in there, the website was so bad it drove me to actually look at B&N for something once (I think I ended up ordering it via Amazon, but I recall the incident but not the product, and that B&N wasn’t a whole lot better than Borders site at that time). When it first started in N.O. (Metairie) I could go in and spend hours looking, listening, and chatting, and my wallet was oft damaged by the visit … by the time I moved to Texas I was far less impressed and the ones here were very not good.
    Though the N.O. store did have my first acquaintance with a flaming gay politically conservative guy. The look on his co-worker’s face when he admitted to being a Lifetime NRA member and having a Class # license was priceless.

  28. Gee, my local Barnes and Noble seems pretty good to me still. I don’t hang hang out like I used; married man, responsibilities, don’t you know 🙂 I did notice that they do have *a lot* more non-book merchandise.

    I haven’t made the jump to Amazon nor FaceBook yet; I’m probably just being a slightly paranoid stick in the mud. I like Barnes and Nobles’ online service; that’s where I get my used books nowadays. My favorite used bookstore closed a few years back; the town I work in has a small used bookstore, but its stock doesn’t appeal to me and its hours are irregular. I do purchase ebooks directly from Baen, and once or twice from iBooks.

    The best used book store that I’ve ever seen is The Reader’s Corner on HiIlsborough Street in Raleigh, near Meredith College. That’s where I got my copy of the Chemical Rubber Corporation Handbook years and careers ago. I looked for the Reader’s Corner the last time I was in the vicinity, but I drove by it without seeing it. (Their FaceBook page says 3201 Hillsborough St.)

    1. I spent many long hours at The Intimate Bookshop in Chapel Hill. It was an hour+ drive but it and The Second Foundation Bookstore down behind it justified the trip.

      Kid, when i was your age we didn’t have these fancy-schmancy e-readers and internet booksellers. We had to drive hundreds of miles in all kinds of weather; uphill both directions.

        1. Boy, did you have it good. WE had to belly crawl through gravel and broken glass, in freezing weather, then had to shower in lemon juice with a rubbing alcohol rinse once we got back home.

            1. Shush! Didn’t we all agree to keep that a secret from all the less intelligent folks so as not to worry them?
              Next thing I suppose you’ll want to tell everyone about that second moon we had to blow up.
              And remember, it’s a violation of Federation law to let the public know of our provisional membership in the League of Planets.
              So shhhhhhhhhhhh!

    2. I’ve been there. There used to be a whole row of used book stores on Hillsborough.

      I had the back and passenger seats and floorboards loaded when I rolled out of Raleigh on that trip… I had reading material for months.

      1. What was the comic book store that opened across from the university library in the late ’80s or early ’90s?

  29. Because I just reviewed “Ill Met By Moonlight” on Amazon, THAT’S why!

    And I still don’t understand the meaning of the words to ‘Stairway To Heaven.” I’t’s been mre than 40 years. Should I move along?

    1. I still don’t understand the meaning of the words to ‘Stairway To Heaven.’

      I don’t get it.

      What’s not to understand?

        1. too short, methinks.
          Gene is a big fella, and I think he was working to become a teacher back then … or maybe selling comic books. Don’t think he actually taught until after the show was off the air.

    2. And I still don’t understand the meaning of the words to ‘Stairway To Heaven.”

      I think the meaning involves drugs, most likely the heavy ingestion of prior to writing….

      1. Okay, I must be on an entirely too simplistic level, but I thought it was a pretty much straight up story about a lady who thinks anything is for sale, her money has the power to get her special treatment, and she can get into Heaven on works alone. Edify me, please.

        1. Half that, and half “oooh, look how deeeeeeep I am, man! I have the easy to condemn story for the parable, and the parable’s got a meaning, maaaaaan. And I even put a lampshade on how it’s got the story meaning and the parable meaning. Not like all the simplistic fools.”
          Posturing, and not even all that good of posturing, plus cheap grace. (Seriously, is there a safer possible target than a rich woman who thinks that money means she can do whatever she wants, even to the rules in God’s home not applying to her? And “cause you know sometimes words have two meanings“… in an already flashing-neon-lights simplistic morality story. Wow, dude, and people complain about CS Lewis not being obscure enough in his stories’ second meanings.)

          Incidentally, I made that assessment before researching it, and found this site quoting the guy who wrote it talking about how it can be interpreted in a bunch of ways, and even he doesn’t have a specific meaning.
          Although he sums up the parable as “a woman getting everything she wanted without giving anything back” rather than noticing, as you did, the “I am entitled to heaven” aspect that is more in keeping with the lyrics; I’d guess the problem is similar to why I find it so simplistic– a very, very simplistic understanding of heaven, without a real concept of heaven being something you can never deserve, only strive to be less-unworthy.

        2. I’m not even sure if it gets that far. It’s more like a story salad, as evidenced by the stanza-long Tolkien reference in addition to the rich lady.

    3. The first time I understood the lyrics to “Stairway” (as in comprehended the words, not groovin-to-the-meaning) was after listening to Gregorian’s cover of the song. I don’t bother trying to get the meaning, not after reading an interview with T. Grandin about designing better cattle slaughter facilities that ended with a description of her playing “Stairway” on her truck’s stereo.

  30. retailing, of anything, is nothing but a numbers game. In order to stay in business, you have to make a profit. Or at the very least, break even. Amazon/the internet is changing the game, but hasn’t changed it completely . Yet.

    I sold major appliances for many years. There are people that sell appliances, and people who take orders. I sold them. As of yet, most customers want to see and feel an actual real life appliance before they buy one. And Sears, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowes, Olums, etc. all have display appliances. Many duplicated. And it’s incredibly wasteful. The displays get dirty, dented, and dinged and at the end of their display time, are generally sold at a loss. Eventually, all the major stores are going to have a holodeck room where you can walk around a lifesize 3D rendering. If you want to feel and touch an actual display, you’ll have to live near a major city, where each manufacture will have displays of their appliances, with a list of retailers you can purchase them at. Some may go to direct sell to the consumer and cut out the middlemen. But every store having physical displays is going to disappear. maybe one centralized store per region will have a limited number of physical displays.

    The bottom end of appliances may be kept in stock, as they are now. All middle and upper end are going to come from a central distribution point.

    For almost anything that can generally be waited for, there will be displays, but no actual merchandise stocked. Write the number down, go to the kiosk, and place an order. 2 days later, it’s at your house. Or go to the convenient retailer app on your smartphone. You won’t be able to get it at Amazon. For every retailer will have a clause with their suppliers. Anything they have on physical display cannot be made available to online only retailers. Look at it at Home Depot, and Lowes or Bed Bath and Beyond may have it. But Amazon won’t. Physical display space costs, and retailers aren’t going to display items that competitors without physical display space are selling.

    1. They can put that clause in, and the manufacturers will tell them to take two weeks kissing all of their ass. Amazon sells more.

      1. Already happening. If you note, amazon’s app has a feature to scan a barcode, and it’ll pull up the item (if available) on Amazon. Not long after it happened, most big box stores started demanding (and getting) special barcode variations/model numbers for their stores, so you couldn’t do a one-to-one comparison by barcode scanning. I was amused when I read the model number at Home Despot as blah-blah-HD0001, and the functionally same item on amazon was just listed as model # blah-blah-AMZN0001.

        1. I’ll be surprised if there isn’t an app under development to do an automatic conversion.

        2. Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards all sell several of the same brands, but the models are all slightly different. so when you price match they can get away with not meeting the price.

  31. We forget: Borders killed off most of the little local independent bookstores, and Borders’ big record store section hurt the record stores. So when the fullness of time brought a different business model, it was Borders turn to fall by the same sword. So it goes. Now I can get a much better selection of books, for a better price, and quicker. Customers win.

    1. Borders killed off the little local stores that were DEPENDENT on the New York Review of Books and the New York Times. The ones run by somebody who knew and loved a particular genera or subject never had much trouble that I saw. But where I was living during the “Chain Stores are killing the independents!” fuss (Baltimore-Washinton area) there were an awful lot of books stores that, from what I could see, existed solely to shore up the Intellectual cred of the owner. Maybe I’m being mean. Maybe there really ARE people off of college campuses who read nothing but Deep Intellectual Discourse and Improving Literature as approved by the New York Fish Wrapper, and enjoy it. For its own sake. But I’ve never talked to anyone who had that front who didn’t strike me as deeply phony. And those bookstores closed like so many 3 cent mousetraps when Crown or Borders or Barnes & Nobel moved into the area.

      Not before time, either.

      1. So, you’re saying bookstores are like aviation and the firearms industry: full of people who get into it because they love it, and have absolutely no business sense whatsoever?


        1. Actually, I’m suggesting the opposite. What I saw was bookstores run by people who loved books and liked and knew their customers doing just fine, and books stores run by Intellectual Snobs who took their marching orders from the Literary Clique in New York, and who generally despised anyone who read “genera” fiction going under. Maybe what I saw wasn’t the general case, but people I’ve talked to in that area tell me they saw the same thing.

          Civil War Book Shop in Georgetown? Doing fine when I left the area in 1998. Half a dozen mystery bookstores in Maryland, DC and Northern VA? Still up and running. The Technical Bookstore (Reiter’s Books, 1900 G St. NW)? Never stringer.

          A dozen or so small shops that (apparently) ordered straight off the New York Times bestseller lists?


      2. We had a fine locally owned and operated book store that threw in the towel when a Big & Nasty store started to set up locally. Might be they fell for the hype, might be they were already struggling, might be any of a number of things. It was a delightful store and we were sorry to see them leave.

        I can think of a few others, such as the (fore mentioned) Intimate Bookshop in Chapel Hill that (I believe) went under, although the fire which destroyed their original center-of-town location, forcing them to the out-skirts of town and lose a year or so of custom probably didn’t help.

              1. Hey! I wear shorts around the house. Until I can afford to have pants custom tailored (or learn to do it right myself), that’s how I keep from being so uncomfortable that I want to kill people.

            1. You know, I must be half out of it, because everything you say sounds incredibly funny, and I know you’re out of it, because shifting schedules.
              I THINK we’re slap happy together.

              1. I think you might be on to something there.
                Also started another string of 12 hour work days. Tyvek and 100 degree temps, just lovely.
                reeminds me. we need more tyvek suits.
                hmm also got logged off WP for some reason.

  32. All this yada, yada, yada, about Amazon taking over would be great except for one minor detail on their business model, to wit, THEY(apparently) HAVEN’T MADE A PROFIT SINCE THEY STARTED – at least according to the financial reports that I’ve read.

    1. define profit. fun with numbers and expanding everything will keep the profit looking low or not there for tax reasons, but they seem to be able to pay for things.

      1. In this case, “profit” is “amount distributed to those with stock, rather than spent on costs or reinvested.

        Amazon doesn’t just refrain from eating the seed corn, they’re improving their seed supply and working on making new fields for future crops.

          1. Haven’t even read it the first time– with the kids and the heat, my reading level focus is pretty much stuck at popcorn book level.

            I just notice how rare it is for a company to actually invest in the future.

            1. Do read it. Tis written like a blog anyhow.
              I’m finishing a reread to kill time while my brain and body reset from changing from nights to days and 4 work days to 5.

            2. A few minor points: lots of companies invest in the future, few of them with as big a public profile as Amazon.

              A company’s ability to defer recognizing “profit” is a good indicator of its investors’ confidence and long-range planning.

              In the current economic/socio-political environment, any company reporting a profit is likely being mis-managed or managing to a standard other than long-term development (e.g., GM has political reasons for reporting a profit.)

              From this accountant’s standpoint, “taxable profit” is a choice as much as plant location or fixed asset recognition. It is but one way of rewarding investors and is in many ways inferior to stock price growth, capital gains being taxed at a lower rate as an encouragement to investment (aka, deferred consumption.)

              Just because a company has failed to report a profit or is a non-profit does not mean it is managed inefficiently. I realize i have ranted ere this about obscene salaries paid to managers by not-for-profit organizations and will not go into that here.

              Management of a conglomerate will exercise care to “distribute” profits where they will be most efficient. The Atlanta Braves, to use a familiar example, could opt to sell their broadcast rights to Turner Broadcasting at below market fees because they want to recognise the “excess” at TBS rather than in the Braves, and they pay premium fees for the chartered jet the team travels in (owned by a subsidiary of Ted Turner Corp.) rather than select the lowest cost bidder for similar reason.

              I strongly suspect that the same “ownership” of Planned Parenthood donate fetal body parts to a commercial lab (also, coincidentally, owned by the same people — albeit as different entities) in order to distance the profits taken, allowing them to claim that PPI is “not making any money” from sale of those body parts. Note, also, the many ways the Clintons have found to filter money and expenses through not-for-profit foundations.

              Ringo does an interesting job of explicating these strategies in the Troy Rising books.

              NONE of these strategies are illegal, immoral or unethical. They are just highly complex and thus susceptible to the kinds of financial players who have moved up from the “3 Walnut Shells and a Pea” level.

    2. So much for that criticism. Friday’s Washington Post:

      Amazon stock surges as earnings beat expectations
      By Thad Moore July 23
      Amazon on Thursday reported a second-quarter profit that took Wall Street by surprise and sent its stock soaring.

      Shares of the Seattle-based e-commerce giant surged 17 percent after the markets closed, notching a new accomplishment for Amazon: It is the world’s most valuable retailer, at least for now, with a market value higher than Wal-Mart’s.

      That’s not to say that Amazon earns more – or even consistently turns a profit. Well-known for plowing its earnings back into the company, Amazon has been in the red three of the past five quarters [Editor’s RES’s Note: that means in two of its last five quarters it has been in the black!], and Wall Street analysts, according to Reuters, expected another negative result Thursday.

      Instead, Amazon reported a profit, as the company said it netted $92 million during the second quarter, which ended in June, after posting a $126 million loss over the same period last year.

      “We’ve had competition for 20 years now from some of the biggest names in retail and other areas,” said Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky, according to Bloomberg. “We’re used to competition, but we focus on the customer. … We’re happy with the results.”

      Amazon, whose chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post, also posted better-than-expected revenues, which grew 20 percent to $23.2 billion.


      “It looks like they beat across every major revenue line,” Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., told Reuters. “That, along with the surprise profit beat, is icing on the cake, so to speak.”

  33. The problems at Borders were far worse than that, at least from my perspective. I worked at the HQ for years (and thankfully left a while before their collapse), but they had been setting up their death spiral for a long time. The writing was on the wall a decade or more before their collapse. Their biggest problem from how I saw it was that they were planning for the market they wanted to exist rather than the one(s) that really did. This took a couple forms.

    They thought big, expensive stores were strong brand carriers. So despite their little, quiet Waldenbooks stores making a great profit (decent sales and dirt cheap to run), they ate that all up to pay for large Borders super-stores everywhere they could. It was seen as an arms race with B&N. Borders had to open more and more stores across the country and then internationally, so that they could push the Borders brand. All of this funded by Waldenbooks profits. So rather than chasing profits, they chased pushing a brand and being loud and flashy in order to be a bigger brand than B&N.

    Secondly, they thought ecommerce was a passing fad. During Amazon’s early days, when there was still room for a competitor, at Borders all staff meetings, the CEO would love to list just how many quarters Amazon had gone without a profit. He was gleeful about how it was doomed to fail and that the future would always be bricks and mortar. Until Amazon didn’t go away and instead took over the market. Then it was how was a grand new initiative and new direction for the company. Until they couldn’t figure out how to avoid being just a failed copy of Amazon. Then they just gave up and if you looked closely, at the bottom of every page was a little “powered by”

    They chased a market that didn’t exist and while doing so sucked one profitable market dry and ignored another massively growing market until it was too late.

    Add in some revolving door CEO problems, a massively corporatized climate that was one of the worst I ever worked in where everyone was out for themselves and CYA at the cost of your co-workers was the norm, and Borders did a fine job of killing itself without any help of Amazon or publishers. It was clear to me at least a decade before the collapse that if Borders would survive, it needed a massive change in direction and better leadership. Unfortunately, it just chugged and sputtered quietly along on the same death march it had already been on since at least the early to mid-90’s.

    1. … everyone was out for themselves and CYA at the cost of your co-workers was the norm

      This is quite common on sinking corporate ships, a logical response to the water taken on. Whether it is the chicken or the egg in the circumstance is largely irrelevant; it guarantees a death spiral for the company unless redirected and quickly. Part of the problem is it tends to blow out first the people willing to take responsibility, leaving the shirkers and diverters in office.

    2. at Borders all staff meetings, the CEO would love to list just how many quarters Amazon had gone without a profit.

      See above discussion of corporate accounting and recognition of profit as a matter of corporate choice. A CEO really ought know how that is done.

    3. They thought big, expensive stores were strong brand carriers. So despite their little, quiet Waldenbooks stores making a great profit (decent sales and dirt cheap to run), they ate that all up to pay for large Borders super-stores everywhere they could.

      This is the kind of thinking that has helped destroy Hollywood and Publishing (among other industries.)

      Going for BLOCKBUSTERS by spending huge sums in hope of recouping even huger sums is a classic case of all eggs in one basket. Where Hollywood was once content to make ten movies at $5 million per, recouping a meagre $20 million on average (for ROI of 300%) they instead make ONE movie for $100 million and hope it makes $1 billion at the box office (a ROI of 1,000%). The problem being that, when you swing for the fences you are going to strike out a lot: of ten blockbusters made, seven typically sink without a trace and two more barely recover investment — but the eec who greenlit that one that succeeded (more often than not, sheerly from fortuitous circumstance) sure looks golden.

      In Publishing we see the same trend in trying to manufacture best-sellers even though analysis of the market indicates the better strategy is to flood the zone: put out enough moderately successful books that all return a profit and hope one is the lucky book that catches a wave. This seems to be the strategy adhered to by Romance publishers and they certainly seem to be proliferating. Because all evidence is that while it is nearly impossible to predict what will capture the public’s fancy, the one thing of which you can be sure is that “good” writing is not it. The recent history of best-selling books surely indicates that the writing need only be adequate and in some cases (some 50 cases, cough) even that is unnecessary.

      N.B: ROI = Return On Investment

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