Yesterday we met Paul Winer, edgy performing artist and lightning rod for freedom of expression law definition.
Today, we get to know Paul owner and operator of The Oasis Bookstore and his unique business model.
The storefront looks like surplus from a cowboy movie set: all front and little behind. The high roof is a permanent structure of steel supports and painted corrugated tin. The walls are soft netting that let breeze and light in but no flying insects. The mesh is protected by roll-up canvas.
The building seems scant protection for the 180,000 titles housed within. That number is the equal of a big box bookstore although Paul manages in a tenth the space.
Paul sells mostly used books although he carries a few new books about local guides of interest to visiting travelers.
Paul’s used book inventory arrives at his door. While I was there three people walked in with plastic totes of books. Paul buys books with store credit. He credits you half of what he believes the book will sell for. You use the credit for up to 50% of the purchase of a book. That is, ten dollars worth of books are paid for with $5.00 worth of store credit and $5.00 cash.
He also has some rare books of value to collectors. At the top end is an only existing copy of a book valued at $12,500.00, in the middle a first edition of The Monkey Wrench Gang at $250.00. If your collector’ budget only runs to $25.00, check out Paul’s 50-year-old magazines.
“I have no web site.” Paul intones in his gravelly voice with frequent traces of his New England roots. “I don’t want to deal with getting paid over the Internet or shipping. I am a one-man show. To ship a book I have to close the store and go to the post office. Besides, if I were on the Internet, my inventory would be picked over in a month. I wouldn’t be able to replace my inventory as fast as I sold it. I’d be out of business.
People come see me from all over the country and even internationally. I like that. People get to hold the book they want to buy and I get to see the person who will own it.”
The desert poses some special challenges to the open-air bookseller. Every book worth over $3.00 in The Oasis is in a plastic bag. The books dry out in the summer heat, but during the monsoon season, the humidity supports a black fungus that grows on the books.
You get the idea that Paul’s business model did not come out of a textbook at a Wharton School MBA program. Here is another wrinkle. The Oasis is an author’s best friend—especially the self-published author.
All day every day, during the season, there are author events at The Oasis. Furthermore, Paul charges no fee to the authors on their books sales.
The Oasis does not make a lot of money. And the business model, standing alone, would not make sense in an investment portfolio. But the model for Paul’s life and business can’t be separated, he has life working for him as well as anyone I know.
Tomorrow: Celia’s Rainbow Garden