November 22


Archived Newsletter Content


Newsletter #111 September November, 2015

How’s Business?
By Don Blyly

        We are once again participating in the Hennepin County “Choose to Reuse” program. The coupon book has coupons for several used book stores, three used record stores, a bunch of thrift stores, used clothing stores, used electronics stores, used sports equipment stores, used furniture and office equipment stores, a couple of equipment rental places, etc. The deals vary from store to store, but 20% off for used stuff is most common. The coupons are good August 1 through October 31, 2015. We have a display of the coupon books right inside our front door, but they are also being distributed at Hennepin County libraries and some other official Hennepin County buildings. It’s also supposed to be possible to download the coupons with a smart phone, but nobody at the Uncles has a smart enough phone to manage that. The coupons are only good for in-store purchases, not for mail orders.
        We see an increase in business every summer. Partly, it’s because local customers find it easier to get around than during the winter. Partly, it’s because we see a lot of once-a-year customers from out-of-state making their annual trip to vacation in Minnesota or western Wisconsin and they’ve made a stop at the Uncles part of their annual vacation. (Funny how folks from warmer climates seldom come to Minnesota to vacation in January or February.) Since the Sheraton Hotel was built across the street and especially since the convention business has recovered, we’ve been having a lot of guests at the Sheraton look out their windows, see the Uncles, and come over to look around. Some of the hotel guests just wander around, saying something along the lines of “I’ve never seen a bookstore like this before” and then leave without buying anything (and often without putting books back where they picked them up). But some of the hotel guests do buy a few books. And some buy a lot of books and have us ship the books back home for them. While our sales are up compared to winter, the sales are about even with the last couple of summers.
        We’ve been having frequent computer problems lately, perhaps partly because the equipment seems to have aged faster than I had realized. The worst was several weeks ago when we had a violent Friday night/Saturday morning thunderstorm that knocked down lots of trees, leaving about 240,000 homes and businesses without power. When I walked into the Uncles Saturday morning a few hours before opening, I found that we had lost power for a few minutes and I had to restart some computers. I pushed the power button on the server, lights lit up, and it went buzz, buzz, buzz, but the monitor wouldn’t light up and the other computers couldn’t find the server. We couldn’t use the cash registers at all or process charge cards in the regular manner. A friend of the store was able to come over mid-afternoon and found the problem. The server’s RAM got fried, either when the power went down or when the power went back on. We had a couple of other identical models of computer that we replaced a few years ago with newer computers, so there were plenty of spare parts available, and about 2:30 pm we had the cash registers back in operation. Across the street, the Sheraton didn’t get their power back until about 4:00 pm (which meant no food service and no air conditioning on a day around 90 degrees), and the Global Marketplace’s annual music festival (with two outdoor stages and one indoor stage) also had no power, no food or beverage service, and no air conditioning until 4:00 pm. I’m hoping to be able to replace the entire computer network at the Uncles in the next couple of months, which will probably mean headaches for a couple of days and then hopefully things will improve a lot.        
        But the problems with our own computers were just the beginning of the technological headaches. One day we lost our internet connection, but that was because our router died, and was easy to fix. A few weeks later, the internet slowed down so badly that our credit card processing software kept timing out before it could get a response. After 4 hours, Comcast got the problem fixed for the entire area. Four days later, the entire area lost internet service for another 4 hours. (During the second outage of the week, I realize how unfair it was that our fax machine didn’t also die when the internet went down: the spammers can still get to us by fax. All winter we get faxes telling us that the human resources department wants us to vacation in Mexico or the Caribbean, using a particular travel agency. During the second internet outage of the week, we received a fax informing us that the h.r. department wants us all to go to a federal training camp to learn to be forklift operators.) We also had problems a couple of times with our website not loading from the server (which I think is now in Virginia, after many years in California). Tech support was not very helpful and kept trying to claim that it was our fault that their server was not working properly. Most recently, the telephone line to Uncle Hugo’s went dead. CenturyLink was quick to switch the calls coming into Uncle Hugo’s over to the Uncle Edgar’s line (so Elizabeth could deal with twice her normal load of robo-calls and boiler room calls), but said it would take a full week before they could send somebody out to look for the problem. (So, Comcast goes down more often than I would like but gets things fixed within 4 hours; CenturyLink goes down and won’t send a repairman for a week, and CenturyLink can’t figure out why I don’t switch my internet service over to them.)
        The e-book situation continues to be interesting. Barnes & Noble did have e-book distribution for the Nook set up in 40 countries, but in July they announced that as of August 7 they would only sell e-books to customers in the U.S. and the U.K. I’ve read that when Sony got out of the e-book market and sold out to Kobo, most of the e-books purchased from Sony became impossible to access and Kobo was unwilling to help. Many people in other countries who bought e-books from B&N are now wondering if the same thing will happen to them now. Amazon saw the sales of the Kindle tablet decrease by nearly 70% last holiday season compared to the year before. The American Booksellers Association arranged a deal where member stores could sell Kobo e-book readers and e-books, but the sales are reported to be less than spectacular. Of course, if a bookstore has a choice between making $10 by selling a hardcover copy of a title or making $.50 by selling the e-book of the same title, they probably won’t push the e-book very hard. And the percentage of the book market claimed by e-books grew only slightly in the last year. What we’ve seen among Uncles’ customers is that a few have switched completely to e-books, a lot of customers have tried e-books and find them useful in some situations (going on vacation or for a book that is no longer available in the print version) but have found that they enjoy reading printed books more than reading e-books, and a lot of customers still haven’t tried e-books and are not very interested in trying them.
        I just read a report on the book industry in Greece. In late June, the government limited the amount that could be withdrawn from bank accounts and made it extremely difficult to send funds outside of Greece. Since then bookstore sales have dropped between 50% and 80%, sales of books from publishers to bookstores has dropped by 80%, and publishing new books has stopped. Seems that all the paper and ink needs to be imported into Greece, and the printers can’t pay their bills to their suppliers because of the currency restrictions, so printing has stopped. The publishers are not allowed to pay royalties to authors outside of Greece because of the currency restrictions, but they couldn’t afford to pay anyway because the bookstores can’t pay their bills because of the currency restrictions.
        One of our upcoming signings is for Saturn Run ($28.00) by John Sandford and Ctein. The publisher has told us that Ctein will be the only one at the signing, but that John Sandford will probably stop by sometime before the event to sign stock.
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