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Newsletter #119 September November, 2017

Award News

        The Nebula Award winners included Best Novel to All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders ($15.99) and Andre Norton Award (young adult) to Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine ($7.99).

        The Hugo Award winners included Best Novel to The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin ($15.99), Best Novella to Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ($17.99, Best Related Work to Words Are My Matter: Writing About Life and Books, 2000-2016 by Ursula K. Le Guin ($24.00), and Best Series to The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.

        The Locus Awards included Best SF Novel to Death’s End by Cixin Liu ($26.99, $16.99 tr pb due early September), Best Fantasy Novel to All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders ($15.99), Best Horror Novel to The Fireman by Joe Hill ($18.99), Best First Novel to Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee ($9.99), Best Young Adult Book to Revenger by Alastair Reynolds ($15.99), Best Novella to Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ($17.99), Best Anthology to The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer ($25.00), Best Collection to The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu ($15.99), and Best Non-Fiction Book to The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley ($15.99).

How’s Business
by Don Blyly

        We are once again participating in the Henepin County “Choose to Reuse” program. The coupon book has coupons for many stores that carry used merchandise, as well as companies that rent equipment or repair stuff. The deals vary from store to store, but 20% off for used stuff is most common. The coupons are valid August 1 to October 31, 2017. We have a display of the coupon books right inside our front door, but they are also being distributed at Hennepin County Libraries and many other Hennepin County locations. It’s also supposed to be possible to download the coupons with a smart phone, but I don’t think we had a single person use a smart phone coupon last year. The coupons are only good for in-store purchases, not for mail orders.

        Back in the late 1970s I was working on a Ph. D. in marketing and researched, wrote, and presented to the department some papers on channels of distribution in the book business. At this point, I have no idea where those papers are at, but a customer recently asked how there can be so many award winners and finalists that never made it into mass market paperback. This made me think that there might be a lot of people who’d be interested in learning a little about history of the channels of distribution in the book business.
        Once upon a time all of the major publishers published hardcovers only. After they had bought, edited, printed high quality hardcover editions, and promoted the books, they would sometimes sell subsidiary rights to another company (such as Grosset & Dunlap or a book club) to print cheaper editions, and the original publisher would keep half of the subsidiary rights money for themselves and pass the other half along to the author (or the author’s agent). But the big money for the author was from the sales of the original hardcover, and any subsidiary income was a minor part of their income.
        In the mid 1930s, Allan Lane started Penguin Books in the United Kingdom to reprint books as inexpensive paperbacks that would fit into a pocket for the mass market. Many of the major publishers were sure that he would be out of business in a few years, and sold him subsidiary rights cheaply. He sold enough copies of the first batch of titles to Woolworths to pay for the entire printrun, and sales took off. He had printed one million books in the first 10 months.
        In 1939 he entered the U.S. market, but something strange happened here. The major publishers in the U.S. sold directly to book stores (quite different from our current idea of bookstores, they were often part of department stores, and frequently ran rental libraries as well as selling hardcovers), while the magazine publishers sold to “rack jobbers” who supplied the racks and the printed contents to drug stores, grocery stores, hardware store, tobacco stores, dime stores, etc. The buyers for the bookstores needed to understand what was popular among their customers and also had to handle returns to the publishers when they guessed wrong. The owners of drug stores, etc., didn’t have to know anything about the printed material or worry about returns. The delivery guys for the rack jobbers took care of what went onto the shelves and took care of returning the out-of-date magazines. Penguin decided that in the U.S. they were going to stick to the book store channel exclusively, even though it had been the mass distribution that made them so successful in the U.K. But lots of people in the U.S. had been watching what Penguin had done in the U.K. and decided that going for the mass market in the U.S. was the way to go. In 1939 Pocket Books was launched, and they went with the rack jobbers for widespread distribution and ignored the bookstores. All of the other U.S. mass market publishers that followed Pocket Books also went with the rack jobbers.
        The rack jobbers insisted that the paperback publishers had to do business on the same terms as the magazine publishers, which included accepting stripped covers for returns rather than demand the return of the full book–after all, a magazine publisher didn’t want to deal with truckloads of 3-month-old issues showing up at their warehouses. Because of paper shortages and other kinds of rationing during World War II, returns didn’t become much of an issue until after the war.
        There were two channels within the rack jobbers: American Distribution (a national chain that owned warehouses in every major market and bought stock for the entire country from a single location) and I.D.s (independent distributors, locally owned in each major market, each of which bought stock for just the local market). Around half of the magazines were distributed by American Distribution, the other half were distributed by the I.D.s, and likewise American Distribution handled distribution for about half of the mass market companies and the I.D.s handled distribution for the other mass market companies. Because each distributor handled only half of the magazines that people wanted, most stores had racks from both distributors. (When I opened Uncle Hugo’s, there were still a few guys around who started working as delivery drivers during this period, when one distributor handled Time and the other handled Newsweek, when one handled Look and the other handled Life, and they had some entertaining stories to tell about each driver trying to hide the magazines of the other distributor while giving better display to the magazines of their employer.)
        American Distribution was a publicly traded corporation, and its income looked reasonable for its asset base. But it had owned warehouses near the center of every major city, and the warehouses had all been depreciated down to the value of the bare land back before 1920. Some sharp guys on Wall Street figured this out in the early 1950s and realized that American Distribution was worth a whole lot more if you closed it down and sold off the real estate, so they bought it, fired everybody, and made a huge profit selling the warehouses. Suddenly, half the magazines and half the mass market paperbacks had no distribution. The I.D.s suddenly were in a stronger negotiating position, but could not double the size of their warehouses to take on all of the new potential business. So each I.D. decided which weak magazines to stop carrying so that they could add on much stronger titles. And I wouldn’t be surprised if significant amounts of cash changed hands under the table while this was going on.
        (When almost half of the magazines in the country suddenly went out of business due to lack of distribution, it resulted in hard times for huge numbers of editors, writers, artists, and production people.)
        When I was growing up in Peoria, Illinois, there were a couple a bookstores that carried a large selection of mass market paperbacks, lots of magazines, Hallmark cards, and some gift items, but no hardcovers other than bibles. Both were owned by the local I.D. To get a selection of hardcovers, you had to go to a department store book department. Other than the stores owned by the local I.D., you could find mass market paperbacks at the college bookstore, all the drug stores, all the grocery stores, etc. When I went to college at Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, there was a bookstore that carried lots of mass market paperbacks, lots of magazines, Hallmark cards, and some gift items, owned by the local I.D. When I moved to Minneapolis in 1973 I was surprised to find lots of independent bookstores that were not owned by the local I.D., but they all got their books and magazines from the local I.D. When I opened Uncle Hugo’s I went to the local I.D. and I was told that they were the only place that I could buy books (not true), but they supplied all my book and magazine racks for free, they accepted returns, and at first they also allowed me to go through the returned science fiction and fantasy mass markets from stores out in the Dakotas, which often included Ace Doubles and other books that had been out-of-print for many years. After a few years, I discovered The Bookmen, a local book wholesaler that offered mass market paperbacks and hardcovers at a much better discount, but did not accept returns and did not provide free racking, and I shifted most of my book business to them, until I got to the point that it was worth doing business direct with the publishers.
        The other thing that Minneapolis had at that point was B. Dalton Booksellers. It was started at Southdale Center by the Dayton’s department store, and at first it had a very elitist idea about what book buyers wanted, and at first sales were very poor. They shifted over to a more mass market mix of books, and things took off. As they expanded nationwide, they became such an important part of the market that publishers had to sell to them, which broke the power of the I.D.s. Many local I.D.s had refused to allow publishers to sell mass market paperbacks directly to bookstores in their territory, so that the bookstores had to buy mass markets paperbacks from the I.D.s. But once B. Dalton came to town, the publishers were eager to sell directly to all of the bookstores in the territory.
        When Uncle Hugo’s started (and more importantly, national bookstore chains took off), the money the authors made from mass market sales began to exceed the money from the hardcover sales, and they didn’t like the hardcover publishers taking half of the mass market money. On the other hand, if they sold the book to a mass market company, they wouldn’t get distribution to the libraries, wouldn’t get reviewed, and would not get the potential hardcover money. At that time, there was almost no overlap between the hardcover companies and the mass market companies, but that started to change as the authors realized that they could make a lot more money if they sold hardcover and paperback rights to the same company. Hardcover companies started either buying paperback companies or setting up their own paperback lines; paperback companies started printing hardcovers. Before long, most books were sold in hardcover/paperback deals, and the chances of a book being printed in mass market paperback went way down unless it was sold to a publisher that had a mass market publishing arm.
        Today, lots of books are being published by small publishers that don’t have a mass market line, and mass market companies almost never buy reprint rights to books that were originally published by another company. And the major publishers that include mass market lines are putting a lot fewer titles into mass market, thinking they will make more money in trade paperback (where they will charge at least double the price per book with only a slightly larger printing cost than for a mass market paperback). We frequently tell salesmen from the major publishers, “We’ll take 2 copies of this title in trade paperback, but if it were in mass market we would have taken 10 copies.” One salesman responded, “If your customers prefer mass market paperbacks, you must be the only bookstore left in the country where that is true”, because that’s what the home office in New York City has been telling him.

        I recently read that 355 issues of Galaxy magazine from 1950 to 1976 had been posted to and I went to take a look. The issues I looked at were images from magazines where the pages had turned very brown. I would find it much easier to read the stories directly from the actual magazines, but if I was looking for only a few stories and didn’t have the original magazine available, I can see how this would be useful. I then looked at the other stuff available on, and found 459 science fiction/horror movies (mostly black & white), 292 comedy films (mostly black & white, including lots of Charlie Chaplin), 1205 silent films, 4147 classic tv episodes, 199,176 NASA images, and lots of other stuff that could claim way too much of my time if I allowed it to.

        I ran across an article about a bookstore in Portugal that possibly inspired J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. The bookstore is so amazing that they charge three euros to enter the store and look around, but the admission fee is refunded to anybody who buys a book. It’s worth looking through the photo slideshow and reading the article at

        Ecko and I came over to the store for a few hours on the 4th of July to work on some mail orders, after which she wanted a walk around a couple of blocks. She was attacked by a pit bull we had never seen before, and we both ended up with some puncture wounds, but we have both fully recovered.

        Sales tax is going up by .25% on October 1 for both Hennepin and Ramsey counties. For mail orders, the tax rate is figured when we ship the order, not when you place the order.

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