Bookselling in a Red and Blue World
By Renée Magriel Roberts
I'm at the computer today and should be doing something for the bookstore: entering a quantity of Ben Franklin-related materials, or putting together our pretty amazing catalog of Henry Lord Brougham bronzes, signed letters, books, and engravings. Or perhaps I should be making headway on the tens of thousands of really good books (that have been screened at least three or four times) and are sitting in boxes waiting to have their moment online.
I could be on eBay, looking for that next great buy (like the very first edition published in 1869 of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, snatched in the middle of the night from a Spanish bookseller), or conversely, putting some of my for sure materials up for sale, like the 1795 first English edition of George Washington's letters to Congress.
If I'm feeling like we don't have enough books, I could be scheduling visits with the estate sales in our area. With an unusually high population of elderly citizens, you don't have to go far to find books for sale privately. Not likely on this one though, as we have totally run out of space for mass acquisitions.
I could be doing personal searches for those special clients, you know the ones that account for a disproportionate amount of our sales. Since many of them already know how to use the used book search engines, we have to get creative. For example, once I found a scholar who had cited a hard-to-find early edition in his research paper and was happy to sell it (he was just interested in the content, not its rarity).
Instead, I'm finding myself obsessing, during business hours, over our politics. Not only the national races, but also local stuff, and of course the effect that this economic disaster (this seems like too mild a word for the implosion of the financial services industry) will have on our business and the businesses and lives of those we know.
For example, we just received a phone call from our payroll company for the weekly payroll numbers. Not difficult, as we only have two employees. But when I got to speaking with my rep, she told me that a lot of businesses she works with have gone out of business. She's worried about her own job.
I've had similar conversations with suppliers. All of them - both large and small - seem extremely anxious not only to get additional business, but to get paid as quickly as possible to improve their cash flow. We don't offer credit-based transactions either through the bookstore or through the publishing company, with a very few exceptions. We didn't want to have to maintain an accounts receivable, and in times like these, that policy appears to be almost prescient.