Selling Books, One at a Time

I am a subscriber to the excellent Notes from a Small Press email newsletter, by Anne Trubek, founder and director of Belt Publishing. I’m not sure how I found my way there; I suspect Robin Sloan may have been involved.

In this week’s edition of the newsletter, Anne writes about the backlist; in part:

The backlist—named after the place in a publisher catalog where the titles are listed—are books that were published at least six months earlier. Most sales for a book occur while they are on the frontlist (you probably can guess where that terms comes from), specifically during the first 90 days after publication date, though many of those sales occur in the month or two before publication, in those initial orders placed in anticipation. When a title is a frontlist, it’s costing publishers money and time: we are paying off printing bills (usually the highest single expense), publicity costs, marketing, designers, proofreaders—all those items that are figured into the P&L, or profit-and-loss statement. And we are thinking about how to do all those things better, and biting our nails. But after six months or so, that time and those costs subside, and the book moves to the backlist. All the costs have been paid off, and it consumes less of our mental energy. Which means each time we sell a copy of a backlist title, a much higher percentage of the revenue goes straight to our bottom line. One backlist sale equals about three frontlist ones in my mind.

Farther down she referenced the Belt book How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass.

Excellent title.

I was curious, sought more information, and found:

Are you moving to Detroit because your rent is too high? Did you read somewhere that all you needed to buy a house was the change in your couch cushions? Are you terrified to live in a majority-black city? Welcome to Detroit! And welcome to the guidebook that you coastal transplants, wary suburbanites, unwitting gentrifiers, idealistic starter-uppers and curious onlookers desperately need. Now updated for 2018, How to Live In Detroit Without Being A Jackass offers advice on everything from how to buy and rehab a house to how not to sound like an uninformed racist. Let us help you avoid falling into the “jackass” trap and become the productive, healthy Detroiter you’ve always wanted to be.

That’s a book up my alley. So I bopped over to the website of The Bookmark, my local independent bookseller, and tried to order a copy. I was dismayed to find that the book was listed there as:

special order — may be slow to obtain — suppliers are waiting for stock

Concerned that something was amiss with the backlist pipes, I emailed Anne, and she quickly responded, advising me to check that the ISBN I’d ordered was 978-1948742313, which is for the more recent second edition.

It was not.

I’d ordered the first edition, which is, indeed, “slow to obtain.” But the second edition, The Bookmark’s website tells me, can be here in 13 days or less. So I switched out my order and I eagerly await my copy.

In the meantime, I followed another link from Anne’s newsletter to the newsletter Quoth the Raven, penned by Danny Caine, the proprietor of the Lawrence, Kansas The Raven Book Store. My first issue arrived in my inbox today; it is a collection of snippets from the book-selling floor, including:

Today we had a launch party for Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch. We ordered 75 books, which felt decadent, reckless. Selling even 50 of those would smash in-store event sales records. Last time we checked, the Facebook event had 40 people “going” and 120 “interested.” 100 people showed up, the store was stuffed and sweaty. The crowd spilled onto the sidewalk. We sold out of books with ten minutes to go before the event even started. The first two customers bought five and six books each, respectively, and I knew we were screwed in the best way.

I have long maintained that what’s next in retail is not the challenge of providing more choice, but rather the challenge of providing less choice.

The algorithms were supposed to solve this problem for us, but they’ve proved not up to the task, for they’ve no way of jumping over conceptual fences to recommend the unexpected.

Anne and Danny understand this, I think. I’m happy I found my way to them, and I look forward to having them narrow my choices.

Confederation Trail Mud-Based Cycling Census

Oliver and I concocted a grand plan for today that involved cycling up the Confederation Trail first thing this morning to visit Brett’s coffee stand, then continuing on to rendezvous with his support worker so that he could participate in the New Student Orientation activities on the UPEI campus.

The plan was almost thrown into disarray when the forecast called for rain; we were going to have to recoil to plan B and take the bus.

But then the sun came out, and we were able to cycle after all. And it was a grand morning for cycling, with the very most faint mist in the air and the Island as green as green can possibly be.

We did, indeed, enjoy a coffee, and a hot chocolate, at Caledonia House, and walked up to campus. And Oliver went off on his own.

I walked back to the Farmers’ Market to pick up my bike, and headed back down the trail to work. By this time the forecast rain had manifested in a more serious fashion, and gentle mist became somewhat-annoying-shower. But I persevered.

As I was cycling downtown I noticed that one gift brought on by the rain was that the tracks of every bicycle riding by were in evidence, providing a kind of mud-based cycle census:

Photo of the Confederation Trail showing bicycle tracks in the mud

There is better census data for the trail than what gets left in the mud: the 2018 report Charlottetown’s Active Transportation Network: Downtown Connectivity & Bike/Ped Volume Information.

The study collected data at several key points along the trail for 32 hours in September 2017 and reported:

  • Charlottetown Mall/Towers Mall
    • ~600 Confederation Trail users north of Towers Road and ~700 to the south
    • Roughly 150 trail users to/from the mall
    • Over 300 pedestrians and cyclists used the Towers Road (which doesn’t lanes or sidewalks)
    • Almost 250 people walked or biked between the Mall and Towers Road
    • Similar numbers of pedestrians both days (except for late morning spike on Friday)
    • Notably more cyclists on Saturday than Friday
  • UPEI
    • ~1600 Confederation Trail users at this location during the 2-day count
    • Almost 300 people to/from UPEI
    • 450 people used the trail to Mt. Edward Road
    • Slightly more pedestrians on Friday than on Saturday (ignoring the very high pedestrian numbers around 2PM on Friday)
    • Slightly more cyclists on Saturday than on Friday
    • At least a couple of pedestrians during almost every 15-minute interval, whereas bikes were reported during several intervals
  • Belvedere Avenue
    • ~770 Confederation Trail users north of Belvedere Ave and ~880 to the south
    • ~125 people accessed the Farmers Market from the Trail or Belvedere (would have been closed on Friday)
    • 75-80 people walking or biking in each direction along Belvedere Avenue
    • Similar numbers of pedestrians both days; 10 or more pedestrians during many of the 15-minute intervals
    • Higher cyclist volumes on Friday than on Saturday
      • At least 1 cyclist per interval between 6:30 AM and 7 PM
      • On Saturday, very few cyclists before 9:30 AM and after 6PM
  • Allen Street
    • Almost 1200 Confederation Trail users north of Allen Street and ~1100 the south
    • Significantly more people accessed the trail from Allen St. west vs. Allen east
    • About 400 pedestrians and cyclists using Allen St. sidewalks and bike lanes
    • Similar pedestrian numbers both days (ignoring the spike in pedestrian around 2PM on Friday)
    • Steady use of the Trail by cyclists both days
      • At least 2 cyclists during most 15-minute intervals from 10 AM to 6PM both days
      • Many intervals with 3-12 cyclists
  • Longworth Avenue
    • 1000-1100 Confederation Trail users to the east and west of Longworth Ave
    • Significantly higher pedestrian use of sidewalk on the west side of Longworth Ave than the one on the east side (600 vs. 150 south of the trail)
    • Steady and consistent pedestrian activity at this location
      • 10+ pedestrians during many 15-minute intervals, including a spike around 2PM Friday
      • Cyclist volumes of at least 1-2 during most intervals, topping out at 11 around 1PM Friday

Why teach computer science?

Linda Liukas writes about why we should teach computer science to young people:

Teaching computer science in primary school is not only about coding. It’s about developing a love of learning and offering widely-applicable, long-term ideas. A way of thinking that provides a new perspective to the world. And that’s what computer science does.

We shouldn’t teach computer science only because it’s useful, but because it’s interesting and intensely creative. Computer science blends intellectual pleasure of reason and logic with the practicality of engineering. It blends the beauty of arts with the change-the-world ethos of social sciences.

Computer science as a vector for active citizenship is a much more interesting notion than computer science as an economic development tool.

The Busiest and Sleepiest Roads on PEI

My colleague Matthew sent me a link to this compelling GIS application that allows exploration of the provincially-maintained roads on Prince Edward Island by annual average daily traffic:

The Roads of Prince Edward Island, by traffic count, 2018

The busiest road on the Island in 2018 (the latest year for which data is presented) was the Hillsborough Bridge between Charlottetown and Stratford, with 35,053 vehicles per day:

Average Annual Daily Traffic count on the Hillsborough Bridge between Charlottetown and Summerside, 2018

Four roads were tied for least busy, each with an average of 42 vehicles per day.

The first two comprise this stretch of road that includes the Aberdeen Rd., the Mill Rd., and the Mickle Macum Road, near Naufrage:

Route 357

The third is the Gowan Brae Rd. near Souris:

Gowan Brae Road.

A road that sees 42 vehicles a day is seeing under 2 cars an hour, on average. That’s a pretty sleepy road.

As you might expect, the collection of busiest provincial roads on the Island are those that run into and around Charlottetown: each of the roads highlighted in yellow on this map had a daily average of more than 12,000 vehicles:

The busy roads around Charlottetown

Because the application supports exporting all of the data about the roads and the traffic counts to GeoJSON, it’s possible to cook up your own visualizations too. Here are the roads in QGIS, colour-coded by traffic count (the redder the line, the more traffic):

Visualizing PEI's provincial roads by traffic count

This visualization looks like a circulation system of the body. And, of course, that’s exactly what it is.

Kudos to the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy for releasing this data, and developing such a useful tool for exploring it.

I am so hot!”

It’s Sunday afternoon. Oliver is out with his University of PEI peers participating in a downtown scavenger hunt.

My phone rings: it’s Oliver, making a Google Duo video call.

Oliver: I am so hot!

Me: Where are you?

Oliver: I’m downtown, in the park by your old office.

Me: What about your water bottle?

Oliver: It’s empty.

Me: Okay, look in the corner, over by Richmond Centre; you will see a blue water fountain with a water bottle refiller. Go and refill your water bottle.

Oliver: Okay.

I happened to know that there was a water fountain there because I added it to OpenStreetMap two months ago.

All kinds of interoperating technology FTW.

Caledonia House Does Weekdays

A very helpful development at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market this summer has been Brett Bunston’s opening of a second coffee stall, outside in the parking lot in the trailer formerly occupied by 4S Catering (and, before that, by Donkin Donuts).

Photo of the Caledonia House Coffee Stall (when it's closed!)

This move has significantly reduced long-coffee-line induced paralysis, especially in the busy “oh look, dear, let’s get in the wrong line for coffee and then ask lots of questions” summer months.

Now Brett is kicking it up a notch and opening the outside stall six days a week , Monday to Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

With the proximity to the Confederation Trail, and to UPEI (with its paucity of good coffee), this new development opens up an entirely new aspect for early-day uptown travel.

For decades Brett’s market stall was the only place to get good coffee on PEI; it’s great to see him doubling down.

Got a bicycle? Want to go for coffee some weekday? Ping me!