Gypsy Bookselling

by Craig Stark

#57, 5 December 2005

Part I: The Plan

A few months ago I mentioned that I might be relocating from my present location in Florida to parts unknown. Since that time my wife has been on special assignment, working in the most likely area we'd be moving to (should a permanent assignment kick in, that is). Up until now she's been flying home every weekend, but our 2006 plan is for me to travel there as well, perhaps as much as twice a month, so as to distribute things more fairly.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to come up with a POA for my visits that will at worst not impact my bookselling business negatively and perhaps even give it a boost. Since her company will generously reimburse my travel expenses whether I fly or drive, this seems like a good opportunity to take a shot at what we booksellers refer to as a road trip. If a first r.t. works out, more would follow. Also, if we do end up moving, I think it's very likely that shorter road trips would continue to be necessary - that is, the area I'm alluding to doesn't seem to be a bookscouting Mecca; there are, however, about a half dozen major cities I could drive to inside of two hours.

What concerns me most about this short term is being gone from home up to 10 days a month (at 5 days per trip). I certainly don't want to put my books on vacation while I'm away, and, as I come across things, it'd be nice to get them listed immediately, perhaps even build up a temporary traveling inventory, and if anything sold before I got back, I suppose it could be shipped on the road as well. Finally, if something sells out of my home inventory while I'm away, I'd need to arrange for somebody, perhaps one of my sons, to pack and ship it. Possible, but some arms will have to be twisted.

So, my question is this: will gypsy bookselling work?

From a book scouting point of view, it's not only possible but most likely advantageous. Potential scouting territory would expand hugely, for one thing, and it'd be comparatively easy to plan itineraries online - research locations of thrift shops, work FOL and other sales into the schedule, etc. - also easy to install GPS (a Global Positioning System device) and become instantly and universally efficient at getting from A to B.

From a bookselling point of view, however, it seems that a number of obstacles would need to be overcome. Space comes to mind first. I already have a pickup truck, and of course I'd have no choice but to install a topper. The truck also has an extended cab - more space available there as well. I'm sure I'd have no problem designing and building shelving for the bed, perhaps enough to house an inventory of several hundred books. It could run front to back along one side, wrap around the wheel well, be up to four shelves high - and it would also need some sort of mechanism for holding books securely in place. Since the bed is four feet wide, this would still leave three feet of storage, also a place to take a nap if I started to nod off on the road.

Thanks to technological advances in recent years, I could certainly take my office with me. I recently purchased a laptop - it can run off its battery or the cigarette lighter - and a mobile printer will soon follow. A blackberry would take care of both phone calls and field lookups. My low-profile Canon scanner could come along too. Possibly I could build a cabinet that would fit behind the seats in the cab to house this stuff or take the passenger seat out and design a more conventional desk. The main thing is that all would be operational in the truck.

This is about as far as I've gotten in my thinking, and I'm keenly aware that I won't really know what'll work and what won't until the time comes to do it. And I'm sure there are things I haven't thought of yet - in fact, that's partly why I wrote this article. If anybody with experience in gypsy bookselling has any suggestions, I'd greatly appreciate them. After the first road trip in January, I'll report back on my experiences.

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