I joined the very exciting BookNet Canada PubFight fantasy publishing game with three of my colleagues at Titles Bookstore for the fall season this year.
We basically get to pretend to be publishers, create our own publisher name, logo and slogon, then buy titles in an auction and set print quantities (both offset and digital print runs with varying pricing and delivery times) -- then, based on the sales data from BookNet Canada's records, we can gage how we're doing. But in order to get "sales" you need to ensure you have enough stock to meet the cross-Canada demand.
And it's not as easy as it might at first seem.
For example, last week, I got caught with my pants down and lost over half a million dollars in sales because I dramatically underestimated the incredible volume of a particular title and barely had half as many in stock as sold that week. And while I did do a giant batch of digital short-runs to try to get it in stock, I still won't have that stock until next week, so have missed out an entire week's sales this week too -- and my larger offset print run isn't coming until October 11th -- yikes -- so I just see those incredible lost sales.
The BNC PubFight game is an awesome way for booksellers to see the industry from a whole new perspective -- sure, we can manage stock at our store level and anticipate movement trends, etc. But trying to gage it at a national level and ensure there is plenty of stock out there is pretty challenging.
Over the past couple of decades I have always wondered why or how a publisher could NOT HAVE stock of a particular title that suddenly ramps up as a "sleeper" hit and starts selling like crazy . . . but now I know . . . and it has been perhaps only a half dozen years that BookNet Canada has been around and able to provide publishers with information on the state of books in the Canadian market, so how publishers did it before that I really don't know. (Did they have secret crystal balls?)
PubFight has given me a whole new respect for the incredibly intense and challenging job that publishers have in deciding whether or not to do a second print for a title (keep in mind that PubFight is extremly simplified and doesn't include the complex concept that publishers ALSO have to consider that some of the stock they have "out there" in bookstores will be returned to them, so if they print too many, they'll be sitting on a ton of extra stock after the season is over -- scary stuff) My experience so far is that this game is an incredible educational tool that I think booksellers would definitely benefit from.
Now, I still have bragging rights that among the players in my league I am ranking #1 and beating the next highest ranking publisher by almost a half million dollars -- but my lead would be incredibly further ahead and more properly secured at well over a million dollars ahead had I not fallen asleep at the publishing wheel.
In any case, I got my butt kicked in lost sales because I was sleeping. Okay, from the realm of "good excuses" I was busy at my campus store focusing on helping the rush of Sept students find their proper course materials and textbooks . . . but not paying attention for that week and a half period where it was absolutely busy was all it took to shake down my publishing house -- (Xander House - "Books worth getting excited about")
Fitting the theme of me getting my butt kicked, this week's HNT picture is a shot of me from my own university days. Yes, this goes back about 20 years. I was doing a senior level English seminar talking about "silence, violence and chaos in Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter.
My seminar involved an interactive sort of "silence, violence and chaos" as I tried to demonstrate the impact that these things had on the reader -- I freaked a few people in my class out with the manner in which I delivered my presentation, (I used Pink Floyd's "Careful with that Axe Eugene" as my background theme music for part of my talk where things got a bit chaotic) -- but my prof was impressed and I did get an A -- so I'm pretty thrilled with that. The picture below is a test of the makeup I'd applied halfway through my presentation.
But the picture kind of matches how I feel after getting a can of whoopass opened on me this past week in PubFight.