7666 was the reading on my trip odometer when I parked in front of this store. I've been on the road since August 26, and during these five weeks I feel like I've had seven birthdays, I have narrowly escaped death on the highway 134 times, I've turned on the radio five times and heard Death Cab for Cutie (which is something you should be able to buy insurance against), and I have met about nine thousand nice people, some of whom own independent bookstores and the rest of whom shop in them. And some of the latter have exquisite taste in literature, as evidenced by the fact that they bought my books.
Of course, book signings are hardly the same thing as the kind of free-will browsing most of us associate with bookstores. There's this writer sitting there, sad-eyed as a bassett hound, covered in road dust, having traveled every rocky road in the country, having fielded streams and climbed steep grades covered in loose shale, to get there. And all he/she wants is for you to buy one of his/her books. Is that so much to ask? It doesn't cost much, it'll look nice on your shelves, you could use it to press flowers, some tree died for it. And look at the poor schlemiel -- he's come all this way.
If the Big Three automakers had just had the sense to put an auto worker and his or her dependent children in every showroom, anxious to autograph your new Plymouth, Detroit would be booming. I I only wish I had some dependent children I could drag from store to store with me, just to jack up sales.
On the whole, though, it's been a great trip, and it's almost sunny in Seattle, which is the equivalent of a ten-day drought anywhere else, and I'm glad to be in a seat that doesn't have a steering wheel in front of it. Also, I bought a bunch of great-looking new books. Life is good.
You talk about deja vu. It's been about a decade since my last book. Launching I found myself in a strange new world: Where to find an audience of readers? Print ads? Little left to print them in. Lovely independent bookstores with staffs that love the books they sell? Too many vanished. But I'm finding the world of readers still is still out there, looking now on the Web for books and reviews. And, gloriosky, there are still amazing independent bookstores, like SEATTLE MYSTERY BOOKS. We had a terrific afternoon, surrounded by shelves full of mysteries. The proprietor,J.B., and company, could, and unless stopped, would tell you in detail about every book. Heaven. Back in familiar territory, a real bookstore. Thanks for everything.
Anyway, if you haven't tried abook in my Maggie MacGowen series, I hope you'll pick up this one. Call J.B., he tell you all about it. Or, you can get some previews on my web page, www.wendyhornsby.com
Unless you've been hiding in a cave in Pakistan, you've probably heard that today the new Dan Brown goes on sale. Lost Symbols is his third with symbologist Robert Langton and the follow-up to TheDaVinci Code. Whatever you think of DaVinci Code as a work of fiction, it was part of a phenomenal period - along with the Harry Potter craze - when books were at the top of the news. That is never something to sneer at, even if you don't care for the books in the news. Really, wouldn't you rather hear about mega-sellers and people lining up at midnight to get a new book when the doors open and how many kids are leaving the computer off to read? We would, but we're not objective.
But there is another part to the mega-seller phenomenon that is always a puzzle to us: the prices different outfits charge for the same book.
Lost Symbols has a cover price of $29.95. That's steep for fiction. Academic books, yes, cookbooks, photo-books, art books, sure. Popular fiction? That's a big price. It is, to some cynics in the bookworld, a price meant to be discounted.
If you're looked at some of the print adds for Lost Symbols, you'll note that it is mostly being offered for far less than list price. Amazon lists the book at $16.17. That is 46% off the list, or cover price. Target had an ad in the Sunday paper offereing it at $16.99. That's around 43/44%. They're both beat by Fry's Electronics who had the book advertized at $14.99 - that's 50%.
How do they do that, how do they sell a book to you for the same amount that we pay the publisher for our copies? There are two ways:
1) They're not making any money on the sale. They are selling them as what are known in retail as "loss leaders". They're lowering the price on this item to get you into the store in hopes that you'll buy other stuff. "Hey, I saved so much on this book...what else should I get while I'm here?" Loss leaders are fishing lures dangled into the retail pool to hook shoppers.
2) They're getting a special deal from the publisher that isn't offered to independents like us. It is true that a wholesaler - a middle-man book distributor - will get a higher discount than us and we buy books from them at a lower discount than we'd get from the publisher. (The trade-off for us is that we don't get as deep a discount from the wholesalers as we do the publishers, but we get the book back in stock faster.) But Amazon, Target and Fry are not, I do not think, wholesalers. If they're getting a better discount than anyone else it is a violation of the law. I have no reason to think this is the case, but it must say something about the economics of a book that an electronics megastore will sell it at a $1.48 loss just to get you into their store to buy a CD, a DVD, a microwave or a new computer.
How can we compete with it?
We can't. We don't even try. We ordered a carton of the book, 16 copies. Three fine and good customers reserved copies, prefering to get theirs from us instead of a mega-retailer and we're grateful for them doing so. It is a book that we simply have to have around, but we do not expect it to ever show up on our bestseller lists. In fact, I would expect to return more copies to the publisher than we sell to the public. While that might seem bass-ackward, it clearly shows where the publishing world is putting their attention and their business. If you price a book at $29.95 - and understand that this is where prices are going - you do not plan for the book to be a big seller in independent shops. You're aligning your business plan with the mega-sellers.
Lost Symbols will be a HUGE bestseller, have no doubt. But it will be due to sales at Sam's and Costco and everywhere else that deeply discounts it.
If Fry's was closer, I'd drive down there and by OUR copies from them. I'd get a better deal there than I did from the publisher.
For all the talk of the internet replacing the brick-and-mortar bookstore, I am convinced that there will always be lots of people, like me, who enjoy nothing more than to walk into a wonderful bookstore like Seattle Mystery Bookshop and just browse and take everything in (before purchasing several books, of course). No internet listings can replace the touch and smell of an old mystery novel sitting on a shelf. Nor can a computer replace the interaction between customer and bookseller, who share a passion for reading. I love stores like SMB and I'm glad to see them continue to thrive. Thank you, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, for having me and please have me back soon!
"In the middle of Riki's broad back he drew an oval that was about six inches high and four inches across. Inside the oval he added a large X. That's your ten ring, for those of us keeping score. Each shot inside is worth ten points, anything outside is worth five. A guy your size in a tunnel this small would be hard to miss. Even a lousy shooter would still score points with richochets."
Sign of the Dragon is a sequel to Thick as Thieves, which features Alan Stewart in his first/coming of age detective story in Seattle, 1940, where Dragon is his second adventure and involves his teaming up with an operative from Naval Intelligence to catch a notorious Japanese spy and destroy her network in pre-WWII Seattle. Each story stands alone and doesn't require that you have read the other.
I'm busy working on Alan Stewart's third story, Unreasonable Persuasion.