Risk Management for Booksellers
by Renée Magriel Roberts
Example of risk management: A NASA model showing areas at high risk from impact for the International Space Station.
I first ran into the concept of Risk Management when I wrote my first book with my first husband (so many books, so many husbands, so little time), Backgammon. Backgammon is not just a game of luck, but a strategic game, used by many individuals in the financial services industry - as well as game players - to better understand risk.
Simply put, you want to increase the probability that something good will happen to you and decrease the probability that something bad will happen to it by positioning your checkers around the board, deciding when to attack and when to play it safe, and making decisions about the stakes.
Managing risk means that first of all you have to identify the effect of uncertainty on your objectives, whether they be gaming, or business, or life, and then follow up that identification with action to either minimize risk or, on the flip side, maximize your opportunities.
While bookselling seems like a relatively safe occupation, I'm sure we can all recall instances where businesses have completely imploded: from death, from illness, from natural disasters, and from competition (bricks-and-mortar and/or internet). Play it too conservative and you can wake up to find yourself without moving inventory; play it too risky and you can lose your shirt.
We have an internet-only business. This basic decision - for us - has done quite a bit to minimize risk, not the least of which is that I can't be fired. It also means that we are reducing our overhead, and eliminating store traffic, which I once had and did not like. In-store theft is not an issue (we don't do book fairs either). This is both a personal decision and the kind of risk I don't want to manage.
Because we began the business with our own collection of books, it has the strength of our own interests: biographies, children's books, twentieth-century literature, medieval studies, music, and books about science. We've been in business eight years now, and have increased our holdings to other related categories, but not specifically into areas in which we have little or no knowledge. We want to be able to have a reasonably intelligent conversation with our customers.