Category Archives: Blog
I’ve been looking for a new creative outlet for a while now, and I’ve found it in the form of a new webcomic called Ferret in a Lab Coat. The concept of a webcomic has fascinated me for quite some time, as the potential goes so far beyond traditional printed comics.
Syndicated comics fit into one of a few strict formats: the daily multi-panel (landscape), the daily single-panel (roughly square), and the Sunday format. Newspapers need this structure to make sure that the comic page lays out neatly every day. If Dilbert fit into a particular space yesterday, it will fit that same space tomorrow.
When I started planning for Ferret, I played around with ideas of what could be done on the web that can’t be done in print. I didn’t see any reason to fit a web-based comic into a set of restrictions defined by newspapers.
I pulled all of these ideas together into what I call the “Enhanced Webcomic.” Here are its components:
- CHARACTER ID: Not sure who one of the characters is? Hover over the character to see the name, click (or tap) on the character to go to the appropriate page in the cast of characters.
- HOTSPOT OBJECTS: What the heck is that thing in the drawing? Hover over it for a description, click to read about it in more detail.
- TRANSCRIPTS: Every comic has a full text transcript below the image, which helps with web searches if you want to find a particular comic again.
- VARIABLE IMAGE SIZES: In the days of newspaper comics, there were only a few size options to choose from. Daily comics were either a single-panel format (e.g. The Far Side) or a standard wide format, usually drawn as three panels. On the web, there’s no reason to limit the size. Randall Monroe takes this to extremes in his comic, XKCD, with comics like the scrollable Click and Drag, the big wide Movie Narrative Charts, and the really tall Earth Temperature Timeline. Zach Weinersmith’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is also well-known for very tall comics. Randall and Zach are both inspirations of mine.
- TEXT LINKS IN THE COMIC ART: Certain words in the comic itself may also be links to related cartoons or reference sites. I’m experimenting with highlighting the linked text in red vs. leaving it as an Easter egg for readers to find.
- MULTIPLE NAVIGATION PATHS: We don’t all read comics the same way. Some start at the beginning and read forward, some folks look at titles and pick something interesting, some start at the end and read backward, some jump around randomly, some look at series or story arcs. I’ve built Ferret with standard forward/backward navigation, an archive page, and a dropdown menu above and below each comic showing the titles of every single one. I’ll be adding a random link shortly.
So far, I’ve put up a dozen comics, ranging from science to poetry to politics to screws.
One of the best things about teaching and giving seminars is that it makes you think about subjects you might not otherwise have thought about. I was approached by Edmaker about giving a keynote address for Library Journal‘s New Ideas in Collection Development & Merchandising workshop. They suggested calling it “How to Merchandise Like a Bookstore.”
I’d never thought about merchandising from the point of view of an organization that’s not really selling anything, and it really led me into a new way of thinking about the work librarians do. The traditional definition of merchandising involves convincing people to buy something. Change that word “buy” to “borrow,” and it’s precisely the job of the librarians that are working to develop and expand their collections. Bookstores don’t carry a book unless people buy it; libraries don’t carry a book unless people borrow it.
Last week, I presented the keynote to a group of librarians. There were some great questions and discussion topics, and it really underscored how much a library has the same goals and objectives as an independent bookstore (or, in my case, a community-owned co-op bookstore) and how easy it is for us to work together.
The slides from the presentation are available here for download (it’s a 5.1MB PDF file). As always, I welcome comments and questions on the presentation!
Last week at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) fall tradeshow, I put on a seminar titled Bookselling by the Numbers, where I discussed some of the various metrics used for measuring success of a bookstore. I spent most of the seminar, however, talking about inventory strategies and how they change depending on whether you’re looking at profit margin, cashflow, inventory turns, or return on investment. The concept for the seminar came from Leonard Shatzkin’s monograph, The Mathematics of Bookselling, but I made quite a few changes, as the business is a bit different now than it was in 1997—especially given the recent renaissance in indie bookstores.
Topics covered include:
- Pick your metrics: Profit, Cashflow, Turns, and ROI
- Sales per Square Foot vs. Sales/Rent
- Your hidden money drain: Carrying Cost
- When you can live with Lower Margins
- Doing the math on Wallpaper
- Profit and Cashflow with Remainders
- Doing the math on Returns
The slides from the presentation are available here for download (it’s a 1.1MB PDF file). As always, I welcome comments and questions on the presentation! If you didn’t attend, it may be a bit difficult to get the whole message, as the slides are just meant as accompaniment to the presentation.
I will be signing copies of the Yellowstone edition of Who Pooped in the Park at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park on Friday, August 5 and Saturday, August 6. If you’re going to be in or near the Park, stop by and see me! I will be in the lobby, right outside the gift shop, 11:00 to 6:00 Friday and 11:00 to 4:00 Saturday.
The Old Faithful Inn is one of my favorite places to sign books. Since there’s no wi-fi there—and no cell service to speak of—everybody is focused on the world around them instead of their phones. That, of course, includes me. Sometimes, when there’s nobody looking at my books, I’ll just jot down random thoughts. A lot of the ideas for my new book (Gary’s Guide to Successful Book Signings) came from the Old Faithful Inn. I’ve made plenty of book signing observations from Yellowstone Park, so I’ll skip those this time, and just ruminate on the differences in recent book signings.
The Who Pooped signings in the big national parks generally draw nature lovers, and most of the people that stop by the table are in no hurry to be anywhere. The idea of a book about poop throws a few people, but most are intrigued by it. The crowds at the NYC bookstores that hosted my Who Pooped signings (Book Culture and Bank Street Bookstore) were definitely different. By the time I was done reading, they were ready to buy a book (hopefully) and hit the road. Very few people wanted to just hang around and chat. Quite a few people—including bookstore owners—found the subject matter offputting. My publicist was told by two different stores that animal poop isn’t an appropriate subject for their stores. Luckily, the stores that hosted me were open-minded and fun, and the people at the Central Park Conservancy thought the book was a cool idea.
The Myths & Legends signing in NYC was a whole different world. It was about storytelling and drinking tea. The people who came hung out to chat and ask questions. The store owners prepared different tea samples for different stories from the book. It wasn’t like a national park book signing where I wait for people to stop at the table. I just stood and told stories. If you’ve never visited the Monkey Cup in New York City, stop and see them. It’s worth the visit!
Next week, I head to New York City on a book tour. The schedule still isn’t completely nailed down—why have a final schedule a week before the trip?—but I’d love to have you join me at one of these public events that we do have finalized. All of the events are completely free and no reservations are required. I’ll be signing books at all of them.