Today’s window. How to catch an invisible hummingbird. Or a passing by bookworm. With a modest, loving reference to Clementine Kruczynski and Michel Gondry.
I used to say that I am an independent bookseller. I truly believed it. I wrote it on our sign in capital letters.
I was my own boss, right? I chose our books, cared for our web page, managed our databases. I cleaned the floor, washed the windows, fixed the lights. I made our shelves and drew our bookmarks. And it was great! It was hard work, it was fun, and I thought I was free.
Bullocks! I was free until I noticed an omnipresent hill of unpaid invoices, moving in time always slightly ahead of me. I realized I was like a hamster, racing to catch something I cannot reach.
The standard model in book-selling is called a “credit account”. It is a long term contractual relationship in which you order books, publishers ship them right away, and you pay within an agreed period of time (most commonly 60 or 90 days).
It’s all fine as long as your turnover is either flat or growing. Zach once said: “If your business is ten percent down against the same period last year – sell it!” I wish I could.
I never read the small print. I mean, do you? I always click on “Agree” button. In theory you could return books to publishers in exchange for credit. The truth is that the system is designed so that it makes it easy for you to buy books (and develop debt) and very difficult (too expensive and too rigid) to return them.
Once your turnover is (irreversibly) down, you’re in trouble. You either start selling cupcakes, coffee and computer games or file for bankruptcy. Every normal person in my place would probably walk away and look for a new job.
Today I have moved beyond “independent” bookseller. We shall see if I’ll be lucky enough to get beyond “indebted”.
Proudly announcing our very first online shop. This is a small step for e-commerce, but a giant leap for me.
We kick off with a handful titles from our Red Sticker Sale, but with big plans for future.
We shall add few new items each day.
We hope that this beautiful little beast will take us far.
On the road to ourselves.
Powered by Tictail. (Hvala, Rok!)
This makes me mad! See that Book Depository ad within the arrow pointing at us? Funny, no? You can sell books if you want, but just not those few billions that Amazon and Book Depository sell cheaper than anyone else on the planet. Kul. No problem. Fun being a bookseller these days.
Today we launch our very first, broad Red Sticker Sale. More than 250 books from our selection are marked with little red round stickers (as seen above).
We offer these at 40 percent discount. Even better – if you buy three or more of these, you get a 50 percent discount.
Please, kindly understand that we cannot hold and reserve books from the Red Sticker Sale. This is strictly on a first-come, first-served basis. The discount is deducted from the price on the first inside white page of the book. Many of these books have already been discounted in the past. So, the additional red sticker discount makes it a true bargain.
Obviously, the aim of this sale is to attract a little bit of extra cash into our starved financial system. But it also marks a detour from a way I used to think about our selection. No more Canon. In the future, we will concentrate on wonderful, idiosyncratic, strange, beautiful and unique. We will become more like an antiquarian bookstore.
Or a Cabinet of Curiosities.
My personal little alchemy of the present – How to distillate the true qualities of real books in a real room – and change the bookshop into something else.
On the last few days of November we had the pleasure to host the 2012 edition of the biennial HAIP Festival. The main theme this year was Public library.
It was very interesting. Especially if you are anyhow involved in the existing bookselling eco-system.
My overall impression was: Bookselling is dead – Long live bookseeding!
Well, maybe. Maybe not so literally. But still.. very close.
HAIP visited Behemot on Wednesday and Friday evening – and on Thursday I was invited to give a ten minute talk within the Lightning talks part of the festival.
My presentation starts at mark 12:45 and ends at mark 22:45.
I am very happy for the spontaneous applause and for Marcell’s beautiful comments.
Later, in the discussion part, Josephine Berry Slater asks important question – “And what about the reader?” I try to share my understanding of the problem between the mark 1:10:00 and 1:17:00.
Enjoy, share, fight, discuss. I hope you might find my bla bla inspiring, interesting, anything.
Dear friends, Today we shall close a little earlier than usual – at 5 pm. Please check our holiday opening hours:
Basically, we close a bit earlier today and on the 24th – and we are closed on the 25th, 26th and 31st of December. Everything else pretty normal. We open in the new year on the 2nd of January. One big change is that in January we shall no longer be open on Saturdays – sorry! All the best and lots of peace in the days to come!
Behemot is my Diagon Alley in Slovenia. I’m Bastian Balthazar Buxall as I enter, and when I leave I’m written in blue.
It was Saturday, the 29th of September. It was the first day that our old bookshop on the Jewish Lane was closed. I arrived in the morning, armed with electric drills and duct tape. I was about to move all the books into the boxes and take apart the shelving. It was a strange and lonely weekend.
So, how did this all happen?
In June I wrote a letter to Dr. Uroš Grilc, the head of the Municipal Office for Cultural Affairs. It took me three weeks to write. It was important.
In the following days I had several meetings. With Blaž Peršin – the director of Ljubljana’s Museums and Galleries, Alenka Gregorič – the head of the City Art Gallery, and Ajdin Bašić – a graphic designer affiliated with the City Art Gallery.
As a result of these meetings, Behemot was invited to move to the ground floor of the City Art Gallery.
During the summer we brainstormed different possibilities on how to implement a bookshop into a corner of a larger, multifunctional space. Thank you for your time and willingness to listen to my ideas and thank you for sharing your ideas with me.
The target space is difficult – it is at the same time a gallery reception, an exhibition hall, and a passageway to the bar – and now also a convertible bookshop.
We tried to make a nice, cozy, bookish corner for the daytime and a good-looking wall furnishing for the night. There’s still plenty to do, but it feels a bit like home already.
At one of our summer meetings in Café Galerija, Alenka introduced me to Ana Laura. Ana Laura runs Ab-Fab Vintage Boutique located right across the street from the City Art Gallery. She offered to lend us some of her beautiful furniture. Suddenly, the world that I draw on our bookmarks became real.
First three weeks in September I mostly did two things: 1) being very busy all the time, successfully avoiding to do what really needs to be done, and 2) panicking.
Finally I called Pešo. He is both friend and family. And he is a strong pillar that one can totally rely on. Black belt in karate and more than twenty years of experience in working with wood. As a master craftsman with real knowledge he was an invaluable part of our DIY team.
One of my customers told me I should ask Mark for help. This is one of the best advices I got in years. Mark is truly Magic Mark! Serendipity walks hands in hands with him. At times it felt like we were doing an exhibition together. It was great fun and a great transformative experience for me.
We re-used old shelves. Pešo lent us his Makita circular saw. Mark drove with his van to a lumber near Škofja Loka. We took all new wood to Pešo. He worked in his workshop on Metelkova. Ajdin, Mark and me went to visit Ana Laura’s warehouse. Mark and I transformed the old location into a craftsman workshop. The City Art Gallery helped us to move everything.
We wanted these bookcases to look good when closed. The doors were covered with enlarged drawings. We worked hard on these and in the end the thing wasn’t dry by the time we moved. We had to carry them by hand. The bookcases remained a bit sticky even after we opened.
On Thursday morning Saša, Mark, Tadeja, Meta, Mojca and me all got together and placed books onto shelves. At 6 pm the opening party started.
Many friends shared their unique skills, resources, time, and energy in this project. Can you tell a yourney by the first step? I am starting to believe that Behemot as a community project is truly possible.
Some pictures from our new location.
Now we know the exact dates.
We shall close on our present location on Friday evening, the 28th of September.
The grand opening in the City Art Gallery is on Thursday evening, the 11th of October.
See you there!
Here are some aspects of our current situation. I write this as a little memento of things to consider as we prepare our move to a new location in the ground floor of the City Art Gallery. We invite you to think with us – about the role of bookshops in our society in general and about our own possibilities to adapt. Your ideas and reflections are always very welcomed.
The text is divided in four parts:
1) Nation’s most beloved online retailer
2) The unbearable lightness of electronic books
3) A call for action or what could be done before Orwell comes to town
4) Related links
1) Nation’s most beloved online retailer
The Book Depository is an UK based online retailer. It won the hearts and pockets of the majority of local English book buyers. It features free worldwide shipping and prices that are about twenty percent lower than ours. And you don’t even have to walk out of the apartment.
It is interesting to note that in July 2011 Amazon bought the Book Depository. In the beginning, Amazon wasn’t that big problem for us. They concentrate on big national markets. But, the Book Depository changed this. They focus on everything that Amazon ignored – the rest of the world.
We do not want to be in a bunker fight against online retailers. In a way we are in a position similar to that of a street performer. We engage in an activity that is ephemeral, nearly invisible to the vast majority – activity that can easily be overlooked and is hard to appreciate.
If you want to support us, you can still order books with us. It is obviously more expensive – but in the case of reasonably priced books the difference is not more than one would give to a street performer.
2) The unbearable lightness of electronic books
We live in a digital world. They say that information wants to be free. Just like music and movies, books also want to be free. That is – after you have paid for the reading devices of your choice, after you have paid your content provider, and after you have paid your connection fees. Once these bills have been taken care of – there are terabytes of seemingly free books all around us. It would take several hundred lives to read them all.
Time and quality filtering are new issues. How do you find the time to read a book after you consumed all the bright liquid crystals? Sometimes I feel that the price – let’s say ten or fifteen euros for a book – is not actually as significant barrier as is the time one has to invest into reading it. Today if a book has more than three hundred pages I find it difficult to sell.
So, how do we compete? You cannot beat free. It’s the ultimate price. If you cannot support a bookshop by selling books – how do you?
3) A call for action or what could be done before Orwell comes to town
Let’s make this clear: I am not against technology. I am not against Internet. I am not against double-deck tape recorders. I am not against digital books. I am not against Amazon or Book Depository.
I just feel uncomfortable with monolithic empires. I find them very bad for biodiversity, for my basic right to be different. Monolithic empires shrink the world. They make our world smaller and that is not good. In my opinion this is the only real ethical problem with online ordering.
I actually believe that there is only one price for one chosen book. If Amazon sells the same book at nearly half the price – there has to be a good reason for it – a certain mathematics behind it. And by accepting this mathematics we accept a certain set of values, a certain vision of future. If Amazon’s mission would be written in a clear language, like a manifesto or a program – would you sign it?
Small, idiosyncratic bookshops used to be good places for recommendations and conversations. The most important books on our shelves are usually those two – the one to the left and the one to the right – next to the one you already know. This is where discovery takes place. It is called serendipity or the subtle magic of bookstores.
I believe that bookshops can still be an important cultural catalyzer. Maybe libraries and bookshops will eventually merge. Maybe bookshops will morph into semi-secret salons in private apartments. Maybe we will find ways to digitalize even this type of serendipity. Whatever will be – I finally tend to agree that if we want to save bookshops – we have to find new ways to financially support them. We have to bypass the market and enhance (or even substitute) the overly simple and outdated cash register model.
This October we are moving to a new location. We will try to build a beautiful room with good books. We shall see what happens. We are looking for possible answers to above questions. Join us. Maybe we’ll think of something together.
4) Related links:
We are moving!
This Autumn Behemot bookshop will move to a new location in the ground floor of the City Art Gallery at Mestni trg 5.
Until we move, we remain open at our present location.
We would like to thank to the Municipal Office for Cultural Affairs and the City Art Gallery. We accept this kindness with great responsibility. We will do our best in order to continue to provide a warm-hearted place for people and books to meet.
There will be art, books and coffee – all in one place. We are very happy. We are looking forward to our new home.
With Monday, 1st of July we changed our opening hours!
Yes, again! Good God! Looking from the other side it must look like .. “you guys, you really have nothing better to do than to change your opening hours.. .” Well, let’s just hope that we figured it out right this time.
Thank you! And see you soon.
Zazen is one of possible paths to enlightenment. Its core practice is meditation. Long hours of silent sitting.
Keisaku is one meter long staff made from oak wood. Keisaku blow is administered with great precision. It stimulates release of fresh energy and prevents sleep.
Thank you for your replies, visits, books you bought, books you ordered, questions, concerns, social network initiatives, everything.. Thank you!
Every morning you make Behemot rise again from the shadows of the night before. Thank you!
Here are two moments that I would like to share. Two moments that simply resonated with my inner workings.
One day Jan came to the bookshop. There’s a mistake in your way of thinking, he said. I was making some wrong conclusions. It’s easy to close. But it’s wrong. All I really have to do is to make a new step. And the only problem is: I am not able to figure out what this new step should be. He sent me back to sit and meditate.
Then, one day, a young girl stopped by. She bought two books: Žižek and Occupy. She told me she really cared about this bookshop. She gave me an unusually big tip and left quickly. Metaphorically, she administered a Keisaku blow.
Now I am awake. I am looking, searching. I am going to places I never went to before. Maybe I’ll figure out what the next step should be. Maybe we’ll figure it out together. Anyway, I believe there might be a way. I still don’t know if it will all work out in the end, but I do believe that this story is to be continued.
I keep trying to write this for a long time. These are some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately. Fragments from a late night letter to a close friend. It’s nothing new. These kinds of stories are all over the Internet. This is not a farewell letter. It is rather a letter of anticipation.
Long time ago, the list price of the book acknowledged each and every single creative input in the bookselling eco-system. It paid authors, publishers, editors, graphic designers, paper mills, truck drivers, printers, warehouses, distributers, booksellers, you name it.
Today, the list price has totally lost its meaning and has mutated into a mere concept. It is a very useful psychological tool in the hands of online retailers and a heavy burden around the necks of independents.
Things started to go wrong with the arrival of corporate capital. Small, low profit publishing enterprises merged into giant media behemoths. Bookstores grouped into chains. In order to win more customers and increase their turnovers, bookstore chains started to sell lead titles at heavy discounts.
Emerging online retailers took it even further. They make money by losing money. It is beyond the realm of my understanding.
Especially now, with the disappearance of the real (books), the business model for a small independent bookshop is irretrievably lost. Even with ethical consumption, author events, reduced prices, aggressive social media presence, local community support, what am I forgetting? – It is either not going to work or it is going to be very difficult.
I remember this customer, some five years ago. He bought a book, expressed compliments and engaged in a short conversation. When he heard that this is how I plan to support my family he told me I was insane. He was well acquainted with the local book-related realities.
I thought my insanity will shine and provide a power source for Behemot’s lighthouse. And it did. For a while. For this I thank you sincerely.
However, times have changed. Perplexed by obvious benefits of online ordering, pressed by harsh realities of recession, the local community finds it ever more difficult to support our small, independent bookshop. Behemot (the physical container of it) will close. Not this week. Not this month. But soon enough to think about it.
Here is a little true story from Prague. It stayed with me through all these years and still works within me, changing me slowly – like a worm in the wood.
It happened in the rainy summer of 2002. One-hundred-year flood devastated the city and affected lives of hundreds of thousands of people. For a few months sales fluctuated between none and very slow. We kept our opening hours like nothing had happened, but seldom did we sell a book or two. It was a very difficult time of spooky emptiness.
I was at home one afternoon and suddenly wondered how they were doing at the bookshop. So I called.
The telephone rang.
Denis was a philosopher of mixed Greek and Czech origins. He worked part time with us. He had that rare gift to hear things not yet spoken and see things not yet seen.
The phone rang.
Our telephones at the time didn’t have that incoming number display. So he couldn’t tell it was me who’s calling. And usually we answered our phone with the name of the bookshop followed by a “hello” or our first name. I would say “Anagram bookshop, Dean”. You know, the usual boring stuff. But Denis was unique.
The phone rang. He answered: “Továrna na sny, dobry den!”
He picked it from the thin air, right there, right then. But his message was clear: the bookshop he worked at could very well be described as a “Factory for Dreams”.
Thank you for sharing our dreams for the past six and a half years. Maybe we’ll meet again, perhaps in another dream.