November 22


Archived Newsletter Content


Newsletter #61 March - May, 2003

Hours: M-F 10 am to 8 pm
Sat. 10 am to 6 pm; Sun. Noon to 5 pm
Uncle Hugo's 612-824-6347
Uncle Edgar's 612-824-9984
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29th Anniversary Sale

        Uncle Hugo's is the oldest surviving science fiction bookstore in the United States. We opened for business on March 2, 1974. To encourage you to help us celebrate Uncle Hugo's 29th anniversary, we're having a big sale. Come into either Uncle Hugo's or Uncle Edgar's and get an extra 10% off everything except gift certificates. A discount card will save you even more--you'll get both the 10% savings from the sale and the 10% savings from the discount card. (Sale prices apply to in-store purchases, but not to mail orders.)
        The 29th Anniversary Sale lasts Friday, February 28th through Sunday, March 9th--giving you two weekends to take advantage of the sale.

More Tough Times in the Biz

by Don Blyly

        Three science fiction specialty bookstores announced that they were closing their doors in a three month period. Back in November, the last SF specialty store in the Los Angeles area, Dangerous Visions, announced it was closing. About the same time, an Australian bookstore announced it was closing. In mid-January, the only SF specialty store in the Chicago area, The Stars Our Destination, announced that it would be closing by the end of February. All three stores will try to survive doing only mail order, and without the overhead of a retail space they might all make it. But a lot of people like to be able to wander through a bookstore, look at covers, pick up books and read the first couple of paragraphs, and talk to other people about what they've read recently that's unusually good. A lot of people in Los Angeles, Australia, and Chicago will find that harder to do now.
        I can understand the attraction of mail order. Our December sales to in-store customers was down, but mail order sales went up slightly more than in-store sales went down. The same thing happened again in January. Also, in January Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan came in. I did a big display of the book on the long white table in the front entranceway. The second day that the book was on sale, I noticed how much lower the pile was on the front table, and I checked the computer inventory system to see how many we had sold, and then counted how many books we had left. In the first 32 hours after we started selling the book, we sold 5 copies and had 4 copies shoplifted. I took down the display and thought about the fact that mail order customers can't shoplift books.
        With our increase in mail order sales, we're still holding on. Our total sales were down slightly for last year, with most of the drop for the entire year taking place in the month of April (and we still haven't figured out why that one month was such a disaster). Ken recently asked about the long term future for the store, and I told him that my best guess is that I'll still be working here 20 years from now.
        But the economic conditions certainly make things interesting. For about the last 20 years we've brought in small numbers of British books that are not available in U.S. editions. British books tend to be 2 to 3 times as expensive as they would be if they were available in U.S. editions, they are not returnable if they don't sell, we don't make as good a discount on them, and it takes more work to get them than to get U.S. editions. But if it's the only way to get books that we think customers will want, we're willing to go through the extra effort, and if we are careful enough with our ordering, we'll sell enough to make up for the ones that don't sell. And it gives us a competitive advantage over the chains. Normally, about 4-6 weeks after we place a large order, a significant part of the order will show up (compared to a 2 to 7 day wait for most U.S. orders). About 10 weeks after our last large order to England, we hadn't seen a single book, and I started to suspect a major problem. About a week later I received an e-mail from the supplier. His largest customer, a Japanese bookstore, had declared bankruptcy just before Christmas, and he had lost so much as a result that he had closed down his warehouse and was returning everybody's orders. It was stunning to think that a bankruptcy in Japan would prevent British books from reaching Minneapolis, but that's the way the business works these days. (By the time you read this, we should have a new source of British books established, but some of you will have to wait much longer than expected for your special orders.)
        I get e-mails about what is happening in the book industry around the country. A few weeks ago I read about how a couple of major independent bookstores in Colorado are dealing with the current economic conditions. One store had been forced to lay off 10% of their employees (with a promise that those people would have first chance at any openings in the future), while the other store had been forced to give everybody a 10% pay cut.
        I also read an interesting opinion piece about the publishing industry that blamed the publishers for the huge market share of the chains, and then went on to comment that the situation was as if the fashion industry were to put the future of their entire industry in the hands of K-Mart. What is going to happen to the publishers, the agents, and the writers when one of the huge chains opens so many under-performing stores that it "does a K-Mart" and has to drastically cut back on stores to survive?
        With some of the salesmen who come to the store, we do more than order a few months of books from their publishers--we also compare notes about what's happening in the industry. What I've been hearing is that most of the independent stores are grimly hanging on, but have done a pretty good job of adjusting their ordering to the economic conditions, so that the number of un-sold books that they are returning to the publishers seems to be reasonable by historical standards. But I've heard that the chains ordered heavily for the Holiday Season, had a very disappointing December, and the publishers are dreading the number of books that they will have to accept back in returns.
        One salesman recently pointed out that the chains seem to have run out of good locations, but need to keep adding stores in order to tell Wall Street that their total sales go up every year. He pointed to Ames, Iowa as a place that is getting a superstore, and he didn't think the area could generate enough business to support a superstore, given what the town has now. After the superstore moves in, it will almost certainly put all the locally- owned stores (except the college bookstore) out of business. Then, when it finds that the market area isn't large enough to support a superstore, what will Ames do after the superstore closes?
        I pointed out that the general trend in retailing is that a new store will see rapid growth for the first three years, when a large number of the local customers discover it, followed by much slower growth after that as a few more local customers and a few people from farther away discover it. With the superstores, many have seen their business fall off after the third year. I think this is because when a new superstore first moved into an area that had not previously been served by a superstore, book customers were exposed to a much larger selection of backlist books than they had ever seen at the local 2000 sq. ft. mall store. Some people would walk over to the art books, others to the cookbooks, or self-help, or religion, or whatever, and find lots of books that they hadn't previously known existed, and they'd start buying like crazy. But eventually they'd run out of older titles that they wanted to buy, and from that point on the books they'd be likely to buy were the new releases--the same new releases that the old 2000 sq. ft. mall store used to carry before it went out of business. After about three years, the strength of the superstores, the huge selection of backlist books, became a problem. It took up a lot of money and a lot of space, but wasn't selling very well anymore. So, the companies started finding other things to use up the space and tempt people to part with their money--coffee, music, videos, etc. This makes perfect sense for the older superstores, but I feel that in the first three years the superstores did a lot of good for the publishers and for the customers by providing that huge selection of backlist. But with the modern corporate strategy of "cookie cutter" stores, where they are as much alike as possible, the brand new superstores are looking just like the very old superstores--coffee, music, videos, DVDs, etc. taking up the floor space from Day One instead of being gradually added to replace the huge backlist. I recently read an article that indicated that Borders was considering experimenting with cutting back even more on books in order to do video rentals from their stores--sort of like a mini-Blockbuster where the backlist books used to be. From a business point of view, it might make sense in that they might make more profit per square foot from the video rental, and it would certainly be less expensive to fill that area with videos and DVDs for rent instead of with bookcases crammed full of books that aren't selling very well. But I've felt that as long as the superstores were crammed full of books that the customers might not be able to find elsewhere, it didn't hurt so much to see so many 2000 sq. ft. mall stores go out of business. I'm not sure that I'll be able to hold onto that small comfort with regard to the superstores of the near future.

Award News

        The Preliminary Nebula Ballot consists of all works that received at least 10 nominations within the first 12 months after publication. The Final Nebula Ballot will contain the top five vote-getters per category plus perhaps a sixth title selected by a jury. The Preliminary nominees for Best Novel are Lion's Blood by Steven Barnes ($6.99), Kiln People by David Brin ($7.99), The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold ($7.99 or $25.00 signed 1st hc), In the Company of Others by Julie Czerneda ($6.99), American Gods by Neil Gaiman ($7.99), The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin ($13.95), The Consciousness Plague by Paul Levinson ($24.95), Illumination by Terry McGarry ($7.99), Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh ($14.95), Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip ($14.00), Picoverse by Robert A. Metzger ($22.95, $6.99 pb due end of February), Perdido Street Station by China Mieville ($18.00), Technogenesis by Syne Mitchell ($6.99), Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell by Pat Murphy ($7.99), Dreams of the Compass Rose by Vera Nazarian, The Impossible Bird by Patrick O'Leary ($25.95, $14.95 due mid-March), The Getaway Option by Jerry Oltion ($26.95), J. by William Sanders, Child of Venus by Pamela Sargent ($7.99), Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer ($7.99), Argonaut by Stanley Schmidt ($25.95), Alien Taste by Wen Spencer ($6.50), The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling ($6.99), Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick ($25.95, $7.50 due end of February), Compass Reach by Mark W. Tiedemann ($16.00), and Divine Intervention by Ken Wharton ($6.99).
        The nominees of the Philip K. Dick Award (for best sf published as a paperback original in the U.S.) The Mount by Carol Emshwiller ($16.00), Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories by Carol Emshwiller ($16.00), Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon ($5.99), Warchild by Karin Lowachee ($6.99), The Scar by China Mieville ($18.95), Leviathan Three edited by Jeff VanderMeer & Forrest Aguirre, and Empire of Bones by Liz Williams ($5.99).

        The Mystery Writers of America have announced the nominees for the 2003 Edgar Allan Poe Awards. The nominees for Best Novel are Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews ($13.95 due mid-March), Jolie Blon's Bounce by James Lee Burke ($25.00), City of Bones by Michael Connelly ($25.95, $7.99 due early March), Winter and Night by S J. Rozan ($24.95, $6.99 due early April), and No Good Deed by Manda Scott ($22.95).
        The nominees for Best First Novel by an American Author are Southern Latitudes by Stephen J. Clark ($6.50), The Blue Edge of Midnight by Jonathon King ($22.95, $6.99 due early April), High Wire by Kam Majd ($5.99), Buck Fever by Ben Rehder ($23.95), and Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt ($23.95, $6.99 due early May).
        The nominees for Best Paperback Original are Black Jack Point by Jeff Abbott ($6.99), The Night Watcher by John Lutz ($6.99), Out of Sight by T. J. MacGregor ($6.99), Trauma by Graham Masterton ($6.99), and Prison Blues by Anna Salter ($6.99).
        The nominees for Best Critical/Biographical are The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction by Mike Ashley ($12.95), The Classic Era of Crime Fiction by Peter Haining ($35.00), Crime Films by Thomas Leitch, and The Art of Noir by Eddie Muller ($50.00).

        The Dilys Award is given by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association for the book the members most enjoyed selling. The nominees are You've Got Murder by Donna Andrews ($21.95, $6.50 due early April), Without Fail by Lee Child ($24.95, $7.99 due early April), The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde ($23.95 signed 2nd printings available, $14.00 trade paperback due around the end of February), Hell to Pay by George Pelecano ($24.95, $6.99 due early March), and In the Bleak Midwinter by Julie Spencer-Fleming ($23.95, $6.99 due early March).

Harry Potter News

        The fifth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is scheduled for release on June 21, at a price of $29.95. It is expected to be about 896 pages, a third longer than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It is expected to weigh about 3 pounds per book, which means that the first printing of 6.8 million copies will weigh about 20 million pounds. For collectors who can't get excited about getting a first edition when there are 6.8 million first editions floating around, the U.S. publisher will issue a Deluxe Edition (with only about 350,000 copies being produced and a retail price of $60) that will come with gold embossing, a slip cover, printed end sheets, and "special deckled edges", whatever that is. Yes, you can reserve a copy of the regular edition, and you really should let us know in advance if you want a Deluxe Edition.
        The Canadian publisher is reported to be planning two editions of the new Harry Potter book, which will be identical except for the cover. One cover will be for the kids' market and one will be for adults who want to read the book but would be too embarrassed to be seen reading a kids' book on the bus. (Does this mean that there are people in Canada who haven't heard of Harry Potter yet? Or does it mean that the name Harry Potter won't appear on the cover? We don't know.)

Neighborhood Update
by Don Blyly

        The city council has decided that it should request proposals for the redevelopment of the former Sears complex. MCDA says that there are several very qualified developers that are very interested in the project, as well as a bunch of people who drive taxi and can remodel their own kitchen with a lot of help from Home Depot and think that qualifies them to tackle a $100 million redevelopment. Since everybody who wants to give the city a proposal will get a huge pile of paper (including copies of blueprints going back to 1928) that will be expensive for the city to duplicate, the city is thinking about requiring every potential developer to put up $1000 before they get the pile of papers, with $900 of that being refunded to the developers who are no picked. This would limit the potential developers to those who can actually raise $1000 and save everybody (potential developers and city employees) a lot of time.
        The request for proposals will go out sometime in March, and will include information about what the citizen advisory board wants, what potential tenants have asked about space in the complex, the mountain of architectural drawings, marketing studies, demographic profiles of the area, etc. The proposals will be due back sometime in May, with the hope that a developer can be selected quickly enough to actually get some of the outside work done yet this summer. Many of the serious potential developers have already toured the complex and started working on their proposals.

        A couple of issues back, I talked about the latest design proposal for a new bridge for Chicago Ave. over the Greenway (formerly the railroad trench) next to Uncle Hugo's, which called for the current single bridge for vehicles and pedestrians to be replaced by three bridges. Vehicles would used a slightly arched bridge in the middle, with an 8 foot gap on either side, and then a slightly sagging pedestrian bridge on either side, with the pedestrian's head being at about the level of the car's exhaust pipe at the center of the span. (Just think of the slush thrown out cars during the winter!) I'm convinced that anybody with a problem with heights would not be able to walk across the pedestrian bridges, raising serious issues concerning the Americans With Disabilities Act, which the design team dismissed as irrelevant.
        During the first week of February, a couple of consulting engineers stopped into the store. They said that the design for the bridge had been approved, and they were now supposed to figure out to make the design work--and they were having major problems with the engineering aspects of the design. So, I told them about all of the concerns about the design that had been voiced at the last public hearing and were ignored by the design team. The engineers thought that all of the concerns were valid, and were going to take them back to the project manager. Even without those concerns, they couldn't figure out how the design team thought that the pedestrian bridge could possibly be built 8 feet away from the vehicular bridge without wiping out the front of my building. They were supposed to get back to me with a name and phone number that people could used to complain about the bridge design, but that hasn't happened yet. If you'd be interested in voicing an opinion of the design, contact me and I'll pass along the name and phone number as soon as I get it.
        Supposedly, 2004 if the year for tearing out Chicago Ave. from near downtown to south of Lake St., as well as replacing the bridge over the Greenway. Perhaps the economic problems of the state government will trickle down to the city and cause a delay in construction, but it's too soon to tell. If the city is short of money, I'd think that postponing the rebuilding of Chicago Ave. would make more sense than cutting back on police and fire protection.

Upcoming Signings

        On Thursday, February 27, from 6 to 8 pm, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller will be signing at Uncle Hugo's. They are best know for the Liaden Universe, which is up to 7 novels, 8 chapbooks, and probably some short stories that haven't been collected yet, but this will be a good chance to get their newest novel, The Tomorrow Log, which is the first of a new series. Although they'll be signing at Uncle Hugo's, Sharon will be happy to sign her one mystery, Barnburner.
        At the same time, Joel Rosenberg will be at Uncle Edgar's signing his first mystery novel, Home Front, but he'll be happy to sign any of his science fiction and fantasy books, especially the new omnibus hardcover The Guardians of the Flame.

        On Friday, March 21, from 5 to 7 pm, Sujata Massey will be signing her newest book, The Samurai's Daughter, as well as her earlier books.

        On Monday, April 21, from 6 to 8 pm, Laurell K. Hamilton will be signing her newest Anita Blake novel, Cerulean Sins, but we will also have both paperback and hardcover copies of the books in her other series, plus paperbacks of all the other Anita Blake books and the recently issued hardcover of Guilty Pleasures, the first Anita Blake novel.

        On Saturday, May 31, from noon to 1:30 pm, Erin Hart will be signing her first mystery novel, Haunted Ground, the first of a new series with an archaeologist and a pathologist, which is already getting international interest.
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