December 1 marks Uncle Edgar’s 34th anniversary. Come into Uncle Edgar’s or Uncle Hugo’s and save 10% off everything except discount cards, gift certificates, or merchandise already marked 40% off. A discount card will save you even more–you’ll get 10% from the discount card plus another 10% off from the sale. (Sale prices apply to in-store purchases, not to mail orders.) The sale runs Friday, November 28 through Sunday, December 7, giving you two weekends to take advantage of the sale.
Small Business Saturday, which is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, also happens to be during the Anniversary Sale.
We will also be having our annual inventory reduction sale December 26-31, but that will feature deep discounts on things we really, really want to get rid of. It will not be a store-wide sale like the 34th Anniversary Sale.
The Hugo Award for Best Novel went to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie ($16.00).
The British Crime Writers Association announced that the CWA Diamond Dagger for an outstanding body of work in crime fiction went to Simon Brett, the CWA Goldsborough Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year went to This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash ($14.99), the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller of the year went to An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris ($15.95), the CWA John Creasey Dagger for best novel by a first-time crime writer of the year went to The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin (not currently available in the U.S.), the CWA International Dagger went to The Siege by Arturo Perez-Reverte ($28.00), and the CWA Endeavor Historical Dagger went to The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson ($15.95).
Holiday Gift Ideas
Our most popular gift option continues to be our gift certificate. We can issue one for any amount. It can be used at either or both Uncles. It can even be used for mail orders, and it can be purchased over the phone (if you have a Visa, Mastercard, or Discover Card) and we can mail it either to the purchaser or to the recipient, or we can just enter the balance on a credit file here in the store to avoid the risk of the gift certificate being lost.
Calendars used to be a very popular gift item, but so many people are now using assorted electrical devices in place of a wall calendar that we substantially reduced our selection of calendars this year. Some titles that we ordered were not produced; the distributor shipped us a Weather Guide calendar instead of the Game of Thrones calendar we had ordered; and apparently the publishers and the wholesalers were also very cautious about calendars this year, because we’ve already sold out of about half the titles that came in and we haven’t been able to get replacement copies for any of the titles we sold out of. If you want a calendar for 2015, you better hurry.
Signed books are also very popular gift items. Some recently received signed adult books at Uncle Hugo’s include Hawk by Steven Brust ($24.99), The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison ($26.99), and Prince Lestat by Anne Rice ($28.95); recently received signed young adult novels include Ambassador by William Alexander ($16.99), The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill ($16.99), and Clariel by Garth Nix ($18.99); and recently received signed mysteries include The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly ($26.00), The Lewis Man by Peter May ($26.99), The Long Way Home by Louise Penny ($27.99), and Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child ($27.00). To see the hundreds of signed books we have available, go to our website, click Browse Our New Books, scroll about half-way down the next (long) page and click Signed Books (for either Edgar’s or Hugo’s or both).
by Don Blyly
The oldest independent bookstore in the Twin Cities, The Bookcase in Wayzata, went out of business in mid-October (although one major media outlet reported it as “the last independent bookstore in the Twin Cities” going out of business), after 51 years in business. I’ve heard rumors of other independent bookstores being in rough shape. The Barnes & Noble on Ford Parkway in St. Paul is also going out of business. And we’re not doing very well either.
Last winter was very rough for us (and almost every other business in the area). Things picked up once the weather improved, but they didn’t get back this summer to the level of the previous summer, and nowhere near the level of 5 years ago. Now the cold weather is back, and we had a terrible October and expect another rough winter. During the coldest, darkest part of the winter, people want to get home from work and then not go back outside again. So we normally see very few people after 6 pm in January and February. I ran some sales numbers for last January, February, and March and found that for January and February we lost money by being open for both the 6-7 pm period and the 7-8 pm period. By March, sales had picked up enough that we were making money by being open in the evening. We are going to try having Special Winter Hours this winter, for the first time in 40 years. We’ll be open our regular hours through the end of 2014. For January and February, we will be closing at 7 pm instead of 8 pm Monday through Friday, and hope that the few people who would have wandered in after 7 pm will instead wander in before 7 pm.
While the entire retail sector of the economy continues to grow, the bookstore sales continue to decline, with the bookstore sector doing significantly worse than the entire retail sector, and I don’t expect that to change in the near future. Part of the problem is competition from e-books and part is competition from Amazon and part is heavy discounting on a few bestselling titles by Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, etc. (which is more of a problem for Uncle Edgar’s than Uncle Hugo’s since they tend to carry several titles by bestselling thriller and mystery authors and have rarely carried any science fiction or fantasy titles since the last Harry Potter book seven years ago). If enough people do all their book buying at Walmart, etc., pretty soon the only books they will be able to buy are the few that Walmart, etc., choose to carry because all of the bookstores will be out of business. And part of the problem is that the publishers are putting out a lot of books that people are not very interested in reading. Looking over the publishers’ catalogs for the winter, Elizabeth and I found a few titles to get excited about and a lot of titles where the decision was “should we pick up 1 copy just in case somebody is interested, or should we just skip it?” Fortunately, most of the publishers have finally figured out that they were putting out a lot more paranormal romances than anybody was willing to read. Unfortunately, they just switched the genre code from “paranormal romance” to “urban fantasy” on a lot of the paranormal romances that they already had under contract. And this then made readers a lot more cautious about picking up anything labeled “urban fantasy,” hurting the sales of the good books as well as the bad books. Publishers still haven’t figured out that they are putting out a lot more zombie books than people want. The huge number of people who go on a “Zombie Pub Crawl” are not primarily major book readers.
Some of you might be asking yourself what you can do to help the Uncles survive. Buying books from us would certainly help, but I realize that this can be influenced by your personal financial situation and how many books the publishers put out that you are interested in reading. But there are several other things you can do to help:
1) Recommend the Uncles to people. Over the years, we’ve tried all kinds of advertising, including newspapers, TV, radio, assorted yellow pages, and various internet-based things, and none of them have been cost-effective. Last March for Uncle Hugo’s 40th anniversary, we spent $1300 sponsoring Minnesota Public Radio for the first day of the sale. We had three new customers come into the store because of the sponsorship, plus several regular customers who thanked us for the sponsorship. Not cost-effective. The single most effective way for us to get new customers has always been personal recommendations from current customers. Positive reviews on various social media sites also help.
2) Give your friends and relatives gift certificates from the Uncles for the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc., or request them for yourself. There are several ways we can handle gift certificates. We can hand the gift certificate to the purchaser (if the purchaser is in the store) for them to deliver to the recipient. We can mail the gift certificate to the recipient. We can hold onto the gift certificate behind the counter for the recipient to come in and pick up in person. Or we can just put a credit balance on file for the recipient and not mess with the actual certificate. (Since the certificate has to be physically present to be used, the credit-on-file option works best when the recipient is not in the metro area and will be using it for mail orders).
3) Printing and mailing the paper newsletter costs us about $5.00 per person per year. The paper newsletter has to fit into the 32-page format, so many titles get left out, many book descriptions get shortened, and most of the book reviews are left out of the paper version. The expanded version, available for free at our website, is usually 55-60 pages long. If you switch from the paper version to the website version, you’ll receive almost twice the information, and you’ll save us $5.00 per year in expense. Just go to the website, click “Mailing List”, and then fill in your e-mail address, click “Newletter Announcements”, and click subscribe. Then send us an e-mail to let us know that we can stop mailing the paper newsletter to you. If you no longer have any interest is the newsletter, please let us know that we can drop you from the mailing list for the paper newsletter. (And some people who prefer to receive the paper newsletter send us a donation to cover the cost of mailing the newsletter to them.)
I recently got around to reading Bellwether ($7.99), a delightful short novel by Connie Willis from 1996. Sandra Foster is a statistician working in a research facility for a large dysfunctional corporation where Scott Adam’s Dilbert would feel right at home. Her project is to figure out how fads begin and spread, and she hasn’t been having much success. She meets Bennett O’Reilly, a physicist specializing in chaos theory who lost his previous grant and is now stuck working in the same corporate facility. When the paperwork for his next corporate project (involving dispersal of new skills through a group of monkeys) gets lost somewhere in the corporation, Sandra suggests that they save his job by merging his defunded project with her project. She doesn’t have enough money in her budget to buy him any monkeys, but she has a rancher friend who is willing to loan them a bunch of sheep as long as the corporation feeds them. Neither Sandra or Bennett have any experience with sheep, so the idea of trying to teach new tricks to sheep and charting the dispersal of knowledge through the herd of sheep seems like a good idea to both of them. The entire book is a delight, but the sheep portion is particularly humorous.
Naturally, the thought of a corporation trying to find a way to create a fad made me think of publishers sending authors on tours to promote their books, and how much author tours have changed over the last 40 years. Although Uncle Hugo’s was much smaller for the first 10 years, and there were many more bookstores in the metro area back then, we had some wonderful author events back then. Here are three examples:
Douglas Adams was on his first U.S. tour for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the publisher sent him to Minneapolis to parade him through B. Dalton’s headquarters to try to get B. Dalton to push The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy through the entire chain. But Douglas Adams was so unknown at the time that nobody else in the metro area was willing to host an event for him, so Uncle Hugo’s got him. We didn’t have a huge number of customers come in to get his signature, but Scott Imes and I had a great time talking with him for an hour in between customers asking for his signature. After that tour, he was in such demand that we never had another chance to see him.
Frank Herbert also didn’t draw a huge crowd, but later in the evening he ended up with a few people back at Scott Imes’ apartment, a block from the store. Frank asked Scott why he had 3 copies of Dune on his bookshelf. Scott told him that his other 5 copies were currently loaned out to people that Scott thought needed to read it. Frank really like that answer.
Anne McCaffrey drew a crowd that went out the door and half a block down the street. Fortunately, the weather was good. She came back about 10 years later, when we were in our current location, and again the line was out the door and half a block down the street.
A lot fewer authors are sent on tour to Minneapolis these days (and very few authors are willing to come to Minneapolis in the winter). What has changed? While B. Dalton headquarters was in Bloomington, a lot of authors were run through Minneapolis to be introduced to the book buyers. And if the author was already in Minneapolis anyway, they might as well do a signing or two. When B. Dalton was sold to Barnes & Noble and the book buying function was moved to New York City, the number of authors sent to Minneapolis went down quite a bit.
In the early days of Uncle Hugo’s, we didn’t have the internet or cable TV. Almost all readers looked through a local physical newspaper, and the newspapers carried listings of book events. If the publisher could arrange a signing at a bookstore, and the bookstore sent a notice to the local newspapers, that translated to free advertising for both the book and the bookstore, and many book readers were likely to see the event notice when they looked through the newspaper. Those days are long gone.
In the early days of Uncle Hugo’s, people were only able to get the few local TV stations. And the local commerical stations all had at least a couple of hours of locally produced talk shows in the morning, and they were hungry for anything interesting to fill all those hours. Authors on tour were interesting and could almost always get scheduled for at least one and sometimes for a couple of those talk shows while they were in town. Even I was on the channel 11 morning talk show a couple of times in the early years. With so few choices for stations, if a TV was turned on in the morning, it was either on one of those local talk shows or PBS, and the exposure was very broad for the author. Now, the stations seem to find it more profitable and less trouble to run national talk shows for most of the morning (so the publishers want to get the authors on the national talk shows instead of flying the authors all over the country to try to get onto a bunch of local talk shows), and there are many more stations available to watch, so the number of people watching any particular talk show is much lower. There were also a lot more radio talk shows of a non-political nature in those days, so many more authors were able to get local radio time.
Around this time, Gordon R. Dickson told me that the key to making an interview successful (from the author’s point of view) was to figure out what you wanted to say, and then answer the questions you wished the interviewer had asked you instead of answering the questions the interviewer actually asked you, until you had delivered the message you wanted to deliver. Of course, some people are better at this than others, and I mainly see this approach used these days by political talking heads on Sunday morning news shows.