by Alan Beatts
Last month I announced that we had reached our goal of 300 sponsors and would remain open for at least another year. I also explained that, because the sponsorship program had been so successful, I have raised our sights beyond merely remaining open until our lease ran out in five years. Our sponsors have been so constant and enthusiastic that I'm not really concerned about the near-term viability of that model to support us in the face of mandatory wage increases. Of course, something could change but overall our situation seems stable for the next few years.
With that concern addressed, I've been looking forward at the next major concern -- what we're going to do when our lease expires in 2021. Given the current rental market in San Francisco and the historical trends (even during hard times economically), we will not be able to find a space that we can afford and that will house the store in 2021. So, we are either going to need to move out of San Francisco, or we need to come up with another plan. Moving is unattractive, but I'll keep that as a backup. My preferred plan is to buy a building to house the store (and, perhaps, similar businesses -- more on that next month).
If we're going to do that, we need to raise a bunch of money for the down payment. I've done the math, and I'm sure that we can cover the mortgage, maintenance, and taxes with what we currently pay in rent. But we've got to have that down payment. I have many ideas about how to raise that money and I'll pursue them all, but there is one thing happening already that's helping a lot -- the sponsorships. Right now we have more than 500 sponsors. Last year we had 844. If we can continue getting many more sponsors than we need to cover the higher payroll, we can make it most of the way to our goal. And so, despite our success in reaching the 300 sponsors we needed to say open, if you've been considering becoming a sponsor, please do. To perhaps help you with your decision, here are a few reasons to become a sponsor.
1) You believe that the continued existence of physical bookstores is important.
The most common cause of bookstore closures is rent increases. In addition, bookselling has always been an only-marginally-profitable business. More and more people are choosing to live in urban areas (check out my article about that http://borderlands-books.blogspot.com/2015/08/urban-conservation.html ) and that is increasing rents in all cities in the US. Bookstores, especially specialty bookstores, need a minimum population density to be viable (especially in these days of Amazon and ebooks, people are unlikely to drive 50 miles to shop) so it is harder for them to survive outside cities. That shifting population trend combined with the limitations inherent in bookselling means that it is going to get harder and harder for bookstores to locate in cities and, by extension, it is going to make it harder for them to survive.
Added to that, ebooks are going to continue to take away from the sales of physical books. Right now the trend is showing a drop-off in the sales and popularity of ebooks, but I believe that's a temporary dip. As I used to explain to skeptical booksellers -- can you imagine a future 100 years from now in which the standard and usual way to distribute a book is to cut down trees, process them into paper, and make that into books that are then driven around the country?
My goal in buying a building is not to enrich myself. My dream is to create a bookstore that can continue to exist for 25, 50 or even 100 years. And not just a genre bookstore. If we have room or as we gain room, I'm planning to make our stock broader and broader. We'll always have the best selection of genre fiction we can manage but, if we pull this off, I'm sure Borderlands will eventually end up a general interest bookshop. If we can get this building, I will make arrangements so that, when I'm gone, Borderlands will become a non-profit foundation committed to maintaining what we know as a "bookstore" for as long as possible. Becoming a sponsor is the best way, right now, to help make that dream real.
2) You live in the San Francisco Bay Area and like to socialize with people who read the books we sell.
One thing that has always stood out about Borderlands is that it's a very social place. We've always loved to host parties, either at the store or at conventions that we're attending, and we're always happy to meet new customers and get to know them. The sponsorships were successful in a great part because of that social quality. So it's no surprise that one of the cores of being a sponsor is social. The party that we host quarterly is great fun and the major component is just what you would expect -- hanging about and talking about books. I've already seen many friendships spring up among our sponsors and, personally, I've made several true friends from among the people I've met at those parties.
This year we also have a list of special events that I'm very excited about. From literary walking tours of the city to wine tastings to museum tours . . . it's going to be a good year for our sponsors to go out and have some fun with like-minded people.
3) You live outside of the area but want to have access to cool unique stuff (and have a home-away-from-home in SF).
Something that has been on my mind almost since we started the sponsorships is that it is hard to offer much in the way of benefits to folks who are distant from the store. I don't think that I've a solution to that, yet, but I'm working on it. For now, honestly there isn't much. We've started live-streaming our events and the presentations that we do for sponsors but, aside from the sponsor-only stuff, anyone will be able to watch them. There are things like the sponsor T-shirts and bags (great conversation starters, truly) that we can ship to you and there are some more physical items that I've got in mind, but that's not a whole lot.
In the future there are more things I'd like to achieve. I really want do some sponsor get-togethers in other cities and at conventions but, with the possible exception of a party at the World Fantasy Convention this year, those are probably plans for the 2017 version of me. I'm also cooking up a rapid, super-simple mail order system just for sponsors (think one-click shopping at Amazon, but much better). And, there are a few more things bouncing around in my head. But they are all for the future.
But, there is one other thing for you out-of-town sponsors. Our sponsors are the reason we're still here and they're a crucial part of what is going to keep us in business. So we are, truly, at your service. Within reason, we're happy to do just about anything for you. If your 65-year-old mom gets stranded at the San Francisco Airport because of weather and you need someone to go down there, pick her up, and drive her to a hotel -- just give us a call. If you're starting your own business and need some advice about how to do the bookkeeping -- drop me an email and I'll give you all the advice I've got to offer. Need some feedback on co-working for the non-fiction book your writing -- let me know and I'll put a notice about it in our sponsor newsletter. Hell, if you get stranded in SF and the hotels are full -- I'll put you up on my couch (but you gotta deal with the cats). In short, though I wouldn't go so far as to say that the sponsors of Borderlands are like one big family (especially given what my family was like,) I would say that it bears a passing resemblance to being a member of the some weird fraternal order, kind of like the Masons but with more books and no silly aprons . . . or maybe it's more like a benevolent motorcycle gang . . . I dunno. But we certainly do look out for our own, including every single one of our sponsors.
4) You work in our business as a writer, editor, publisher, artist or agent.
In the first place, if you're working in the book business, you know that independent bookstores are a critical part of it. We stock and sell the backlist (books that are not new releases) of publishers at a rate more than double Barnes and Noble and Amazon. We are also the places that discover new authors and push their work on our customers for no other reason than the desire to sell good books to people who will enjoy them. And, finally, we act as a counterweight to the massive effect that Barnes and Noble and Amazon have on the business.
But more than that, consider my previous point -- I and my staff are at your service. Got a question about what I think of a book cover? Just ask. Want to know what our sales reps are saying about a new title? Likewise. Just got your first contract, don't have an agent and you're wondering what clause II. A. 4. means? Send me or Jeremy an email.
We're honest booksellers. If you're a sponsor, we're not going to give your books preferential treatment. If your new novel isn't good or, more likely, isn't a good fit for the customer I'm talking to, I'm not going to recommended it. Same goes for a publisher, editor, or agent. On the other hand, if someone asks me to recommend a great fantasy novel . . . is it likely that the first book to cross my mind might have been written by someone whose name I see every day, posted on the wall in the year's list of our sponsors? Yes, it is likely, 'cause our sponsors are always on my mind, in one way or another.
Finally, to be utterly mercenary about this, if you work in the writing business you should be able to take your sponsorship as a tax deduction since it should fall under the "Dues and Subscriptions" deduction (assuming that you itemize and you're making some money in the biz). That's like getting the sponsorship at a discount!
In closing, I hope you'll at least consider becoming a sponsor. If you act quickly, it's still possible you'll end up with a number under 1000. Those numbers are never reused so perhaps, fifteen years from now, when we're comfortably ensconced in our own building, you might be very proud to be sponsor number 945. But, much more importantly, by becoming a sponsor you'll be one of the few people who can claim responsibility for what Borderlands is and, what it may become.