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Issue #124 - December 2005

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What is a Dealer

By Marion van der Voort

The majority of dealers are primarily fans. People who enjoy what they sell and encourage others to find enjoyment in it, and they manage this efficiently enough to make a living at it.

This does not apply to every dealer, of course, in particular those at one-day fairs and comic shows. In several cases where the police have investigated a regular show, because of the sale of counterfeit or banned material, and they have brought the Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue and DSS with them, the majority of dealers (73 out of 75 in one case) have been found to be officially out of work, unregistered for VAT and not declaring any income to the Inland Revenue. We all know people who regard their customers as mugs, and cheat them as a matter of course, who are only interested in being known as big frogs in little tiny ponds, who lay the law down about those people who are worth knowing, and those who arenít, who suck up to the famous and who sneer at the little-known, regardless of talent or pleasantness, who draw unemployment money and make money on the side without ever paying commercial rates or taxes, even income tax.

Forget them, they usually come and go. The out and out dealer has usually started off in a small way, buying and selling to make room for more things they want to buy, finding new sources of supplies to fund their hobby, and maybe then paying their expenses at a convention and having more money to buy more goods, and all the time learning. Maybe they start on a market stall, then finally a shop, or go online, but generally they have hit on a way of life they enjoy, taking the risks of being their own boss, as well as the benefits of not having a fool in charge, and become a fully fledged dealer ó of books, CDs, jewelry, costumes, models, comics, weapons, anything ó and although none of them get rich, they enjoy their life.

Book dealers usually read a good percentage of the books they buy and, with luck, enjoy reading them. They enjoy conventions, not just for the money they make, if any, but because they meet old friends and make new ones. They work long hours, have few holidays, always have someone asking for something to get there tomorrow, have customers who get ten times the salary they earn refer to them as "dirty dealers", and accuse them of making money out of innocent fans, are told often that they made a killing at some convention or other when they barely covered expenses.

If one looks at conventions from the business point of view, the cost for a dealer is very high. Consider an Eastercon. If the dealer runs a shop at least one person must be paid for covering the shop, and in the case of a biggish town two people, at least one of them a male. Usual cost for Easter Thursday and Saturday about £200. Petrol to travel, say to Hinckley from either London or Scotland, if you have a car of your own, £100+. Sending stock that wonít fit in the car, and sending back unsold stock, £140. Hiring a van for the weekend otherwise £250. Registration fees £100 for dealer and wife. Double room for four days £240. Food and drink for four days for two people, £40.00. Four tables at £30 if lucky, £120. Total at least £780. To cover these costs one must sell at least £2,500, say perhaps 125 new hardbacks or 400 paperbacks. With second hand books you must sell more. Perhaps 500 fans come in the dealersí room, where there are a dozen or so dealers.

At the last Worldcon in Glasgow we needed to take £4,000 to break even. Our friend next door, who sold jewelry, needed only £2,000 to break even. This does not account for the time working at the convention, nor the time taken before to order books for authors coming, to pack them, and then unpack them on getting home. None of that is charged up to the business because it usually takes place in spare time. In business hours the dealers are busy taking orders, ordering and packing stock and ordering ahead for the weeks after the convention. We spent two hours a night for three months before the Worldcon checking on the authors coming, ordering their books, and sorting them in order, and just plain packing them into boxes, and we are lucky enough to have space in our home where we can store 90+ boxes.

It is fairly easy to understand why the big shops are not interested in coming. The wages for staff would be prohibitive.

Dealers are expected to pay full registration fees for a convention, plus fees for dealersí tables, and never see any of the program. They are expected to bring books for authors attending, many of whom donít bother to come to the book room to sign their own books, and are expected to bring their entire stock and fit it on three or four tables, changing it every night so people have plenty to look at.

They are expected to move their own stock from outside the hotel to the book room without help, often up a couple of flights of stairs, not to park in other visitorsí way, and sometimes to park at the back of the hotel because the hotel does not want your van cluttering up the forecourt, despite the fact that the book room is right at the front of the hotel. And half the time the trolleys used by the hotel do not fit in the lift, if the lift is working.

We could tell you horror stories. If there is a little ring of dealers laughing in the corner of the bar that is what we are doing: recalling the hotels where books had to be carried up three flights of stairs; where the lift got stuck as dealers were packing up; the signing where it poured with rain and nobody came; the GoH who was so drunk he had to be carried up the stairs before his speech; the security men who insisted on every box being opened; the book room without tables or chairs, where it turned out that the room was part of the official fire escape route and the doors could not be bolted throughout the night; the book room where a dealer could open the door with a credit card quicker than the manager could open it with a key.

The average dealer is a mug. Yes, we know that. The plus side is the customer from the other side of the world that you havenít seen for ten years, rushing up to say hello, and introducing two more customers; the new writer that thanks you for introducing them to a publisher or agent; the housebound customer who rings you up to say that their latest parcel was enough to cheer up their whole day; the charity convention who would like you to provide a bookstall, knowing that you will not make money, but asking you as a friend to give your time; the friend you make there who is still your friend ten years later; the fan who loves the book you sold her and asks for more by the same author. And you get to read the latest books by your favorite authors.

This year Ken Slater of Fantast (Medway) Limited semi-retires at the age of 87, having started his business while still part of the British Army of the Rhine to supply SF and fantasy to the fans that were out there with no facilities for getting books. But heís still dealing, sending out books and magazines to customers and friends, many of whom heís dealt with for over 55 years, he is the epitome of a dealer.

By the way, he is still dealing as Operation Fantast.

[Marion and her husband, Richard, run At the Sign of the Dragon and are regular attendees at British conventions Ė Cheryl]

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
Designed by Tony Geer
Copyright of individual articles remains with their authors
Editorial assistants: Anne K.G. Murphy & Kevin Standlee