Surprise ending 

Local book-seller averts disaster and turns a new page

click to enlarge Roy Jackson has reason to smile again. - LAURA MONTGOMERY
  • LAura Montgomery
  • Roy Jackson has reason to smile again.

This was supposed to be a sad story. Something like: Once upon a time, there was a man who loved books. He loved them so much that he opened a store downtown called the Book Broker. But when a huge beast named Amazon came along, his bookstore was forced to move online. There it died a tragic death, like many before it. The end.

Fortunately for local booklovers, some stories have surprise endings. But let's begin at the beginning ...

Last week, we heard the Book Broker the longtime Bijou Street business that had moved into a north-central warehouse in 2007 was closing for good. Sure enough, owner Roy Jackson confirmed he was planning a final sale of books and fixtures.

"We've lost all our [major] sources of inventory," says Jackson. "They all decided they could sell the books themselves which is true. And it wasn't just one of them that decided this; they all went to some seminar in Washington."

For used book dealers, inventory is everything.

"It's like an animal that needs to be fed," says Jackson. "I used to get about 10,000 books a week from the Goodwill thrift store as auction stuff, and then from Salvation Army auctions, and if there's nothing going in, it's just really hard."

Only 17 months before, Jackson had endured one major shift. Like the owners of the Chinook Bookstore and McKinzey-White before him, he closed his downtown location; unlike those landmark stores, though, Jackson vowed to fight it out online. And Jackson stayed afloat at thebookbroker.net.

Then another new challenge hit.

"The whole thing is automated, and it's totally screwed up the industry," says Jackson. "When I make $1,000 now, five years ago I would have made $5,000 on the same books."

The problem, Jackson says, is automatic repricers that online booksellers use to compete with one another. If you place a book online for $10, the next bookseller's software sees that and prices its own copy of the book lower, to sell it faster. The fight starts a downward pricing spiral; Jackson sells many books for as little as 10 cents, hoping to make something on shipping charges. Without a large inventory, profit is impossible.

And with his inventory disappearing, the story was set to end. But late last week, Jackson told us that one supplier has reconsidered, and the influx of books will buy him time to seek additional vendors.

"I'm a little wary," he says. "It's getting harder and harder, but we'll see what happens."

To be continued ...


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L'Aura Montgomery


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