Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A career for the introvert

Listed, ready to shelve so they can await buyers.  Downyflake finds the whole process rather boring.

Selling books is probably the most ridiculous job a person could have.  OK, one of the most ridiculous.  Well, pretty ridiculous.

Books are becoming a specialty item for a niche market.  Readers are still pretty abundant, for read-and-toss (which is also a great book type for digital reading) and for Fifty Shades of DaVinci or whatever.  But readers who want to collect them, or to pay postage for cheap copies, are getting fewer.

There's just one problem.  I love doing it.  I love books, but more than that, I love connecting readers with books by offering them something they love, or finding them a deal.  This is why the invention of online selling is as close to heaven as I can get on this earth.  I can match-make people with books they want, and still retain control over my interactions.

The fan of free enterprise who bought this never paid for it.  But we sell online!  We don't ship till we're paid!  Sale was cancelled and it's been relisted.

So, OK, online selling is what I love.  When somebody discovers our online store and buys a whole boxful, I'm not just a businessperson.  I don't just say commodity in, commodity out.  I picture the pleasure of the customer getting a box and opening it and finding it full of books.

You'd think I was a People Person or something.

I am emphatically not.  People stress me.  A real bookstore owner would, should, love jawing with customers and talking books and responding to requests.  I really prefer to just pick my own stock and let it sink or swim, so I'm not only not very People-y, I'm not very business-savvy either.

That's not me.  My ideal bookshop was going to be called Bad Attitude Books, and the philosophy was going to be; "If you want something, buy it, if not, go home."

Or maybe my own version of the "You break it, you've bought it" sign, which would read, "You talk me to death, you've bought it."

Really, put 4 bucks in the tip jar, and then yap away.  I'll apply the $4 to a purchase, but if you force me to act interested in Christian Amish romance novels  (It's a really big genre.  Seriously.), then buy nothing, I'll keep the dough as a listening fee.

See how awful I am?

Counter-leaners come in three types, and one is interesting and supportive of the store.  I'm cool with that.  The others are the dreary ones, and the ones who are out to distract us.  The best was the husband-and-wife shoplifting team.  He leaned on one elbow and yacked congenially while she pocketed paperbacks.  And little gift items.  More profit down the tubes to buy a video surveillance camera.

No we don't do special orders.  Nobody ever comes back for them.  Literally nobody.  We had a 100% forget-it rate on them.

No, I haven't read Lifetime TV-Type Plot of the Month Lady Novelist.  The whole "wasn't it great?" thing rarely happens between me and another reader because I read strangely.

That doesn't mean I read better stuff, just that I'm never in sync with other readers, good books or bad.  Surely everybody's read The Help!  I might get to it eventually.  I am an unrepentant lover of some of Dean Koontz's books, but tend to dislike the ones others love. I've never even read The Age of Innocence, but I did read The Children, which absolutely blew me away.  I think it gets wrongly classed with Edith Wharton's potboilers and is much finer.  In other words, I am a book person, but entirely the wrong book person for whatever topic others are on.

Excuse me, what were we talking about?  O yes, ways in which running a real store (which we did for a year in 2004-5) was taxing.

No, we can't "do better" on the @^%#ing price.  You enjoy wheeling and dealing, negotiating is a form of recreation for you?  Congrats.  I find that about as much fun as cutting my toenails.  Know what I enjoy?  Paying the @^%#ing  rent, that's what I enjoy.

So I stubbornly plug away at selling books online and try to believe it's what I'm meant to do;  that it's one of the ways in which I make a difference that I don't necessarily ever see or know about.

We do fantasize about opening a walk-in store again, in a place where it might be appreciated, but that, and the necessity of doing it on our own terms, are critical.  I want to own the building, and I want to welcome interesting people who actually support the business, and I want to be able to tell the tedious ones that lean on the counter extolling the virtues of O'Reilly's newest so-called history book, that it's junk.


Sherwood Harrington said...

Since you are someone who loves books -- real, physical, hold 'em close to your nose and smell 'em books -- you might be by turns tickled and dismayed by this.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Both! But ultimately I have to admit that it's pretty awesome!

Those of us who have this, probably overblown, reverence for books have to at least accept the reality that many are mass and cheaply produced and just are *not* gonna find good homes because the supply of them so greatly outweighs the demand. And artistic uses are better than landfills! This sculpture did make me smile and partly because i fear our house could start looking like that one of these days...