Thursday, December 15, 2022

Words (almost) fail me

 As my two faithful readers know, I volunteer at the local county historical society museum. Things I've assumed responsibility for are the gift shop (such as it is) and online sales. I'm the person who orders books that might sell reasonably well in the gift shop, and I manage sales through Amazon and EBay. One of the books the museum has had consistently steady sales with is a local history, which describes the development and growth of a lumber company town, Pequaming. 

The book has been out of print for many years, but like many local histories the original press run was ordered by a historical society that (as usual) was wildly optimistic about how many copies they would manage to sell. Every time the museum runs out of copies, it turns out there is still another case or two of them stashed elsewhere in the county. We may be coming to the end of the infinite supply -- when I picked up a case of the books a couple weeks ago my source told me there were only two boxes left in addition to the one I'd just purchased for the museum -- but I know as long as we've got some, they'll keep selling.

The book had actually been out of stock in the gift shop for awhile. When the last one sold I'll confess I procrastinated about tracking down more. Still, once I did re-stock I figured we get enough questions about the book that it would be good to let people know. So I did a post on the museum's Facebook page advising folks that if they wanted a copy the book could be picked up at the museum in Baraga. $12 a copy, which is a bargain for a book that is really nicely done (hard cover, printed on glossy paper, lots of good quality photos, decent writing). All people had to do was email the historical society and we'd meet the buyers at the museum at a mutually agreed upon time. Alternatively, they could order the book directly from the museum for $16 -- $12 for the book, $4 for shipping and handling. 

A  couple people did ask about the mail order option. Gave them the mailing address for the museum and said we'd ship as soon as we got their check. Guess how many people have actually done that? To date, zip. Zero. Zilch. 

As for the pick it up in person route? Several people did ask about that. Two of them did make appointments. Twice each. Once again, guess how many bothered to show? If you're thinking it was like the no-follow-through on the mail order option you'd be right. No shows both times. Then one of them had the nerve to suggest trying a third time. 

Nope. Double nope. I figure the hours I wasted going down the luge run to town and back to sit in a cold museum waiting for book buyers that never showed added up to the equivalent of a full day. I live 14 miles from the museum so just the drive down and back can eat up close to an hour. I might go down the luge run like I'm practicing for Le Mans in the summer but once it's snow-covered? I creep. Not a fast trip either way. 

Granted, I did get stuff done while I was waiting at the museum. There is always stuff to do so it's not like I just killed time reading a first edition Tarzan of the Apes (which I actually am doing when I take a break to eat lunch down there; the mix of racism and sexism is kind of mind-blowing)(there were half a dozen Edgar Rice Burroughs 1920s' novels in a donation box; they're in the gift shop now except for the one I'm reading a couple jaw-dropping pages at a time). Nonetheless, despite the fact I did use the time productively, I have noped right out of meeting anyone at the museum during the off season. I may be retired, I may be a volunteer, but my time still has value.

So what happens now if someone wants to buy that particular book or any of the others we have listed on Amazon or EBay? I refer them to the appropriate link. The amount of stuff we have listed is fairly small. One Sterlite tote and it all came home with me. I'll even haul it along when we head for Arkansas tomorrow (assuming the storm has blown itself out and there's no freezing rain happening between here and Portage). But will people be getting that book at the bargain price of $12? Pshaw. Amazon charges fees. I've done the math. When you add in our costs (the price of the books, cost of mailers, postage, the fees Amazon sucks out) there's no way we can sell the book that cheaply. Anyone ordering it online is going to fork over $30.50. And, yes, that is more than double the in-store price, but, hey, not my idea. If anyone complains, I'll just tell them to talk to the folks who couldn't be bothered to keep their appointments.  


  1. I wish you could come down and see our little museum. It's really really wonderful. You would be impressed. I have a bunch of books on religion I'm trying to find homes for..sigh*

  2. Over estimating book sales is a function of inexperience and printing cost. The first book printed costs a fortune and after that whether you print 100 copies or 10,000 doesn't matter as the price per copy is the same more or less. I was on the board of Canadian Western Agribition when it celebrated 20 years. We commissioned a history and loss $100,000 that year. I am not sorry as the history is recorded for posterity and there are pictures of people in the book whom I knew well and who are no longer with us. I wish they had done a history of the 50th show but no body had the nerve I guess. With print on demand it would have been much cheaper today.

    1. Back in 2001 I edited a local history for a small rural community celebrating its centennial. The print shop's minimum press run was 500 copies. I did the math and figured that if we sold 130 copies we wouldn't lose any money. Sold about 150 at the centennial celebration and then it dropped to a trickle. Think the last of the 500 copies sold about a year ago. We were lucky. There are still hundreds of copies left of some of the local history books the county historical society published 50 years ago.

    2. I love old books. When I was in Kentucky I got into history of the area, and here in Maine I have done the same. One I particularly like is about log drives on the rivers in the early 20th century.
      Take care on your trip. The weather can be a hazzard.
      the Ol'Buzzard

  3. I read my father's Tarzan books when I was a kid. The Mars and Pellucidar books, too. The racism and snobbery shone brightly, but I was able to slide through those and enjoy the antics.


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