Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyMy Bold Plan and its Daring Execution

  • Mon, 08 Jun 2015 02:12:56    Permalink

    You may recall, from a few blog entries ago, my hypothesis that profits in the book trade are the result of occasional “big hits,” and that the secret of success in this difficult business lies in finding ways of keeping cash flowing between big hits. 
    Just to show you that I'm putting my money where my mouth is – or more properly, my mouth where my money isn't – I have recently opened an eBay store, and flooded Biblio, IOBA and ABAA with cheap books, briskly described, and each with its own photographic image. Additionally, instead of sitting in my booth at book fairs watching swinish customers ignore the maritime pearls I set before them, I am now bringing cheap, colorful books in hopes of enticing those fine folks to part with a few bucks. 
    Here is my report to date. 
    In mid-May I got my buddy Walter, a mostly “retired” guy who lives down the street and enjoys fixing discarded lawnmowers, to set up an eBay store for me. I named it heartbrokensailor and I started sending Walter 6 images per book of books that were just sitting around, that had spent YEARS taking up shelf space, refusing to be bought, and generally demoralizing newer arrivals. Once I got their asses out there on eBay they had to straighten up and fly right! Morale in the big bookcase went up overnight. AND... I actually sold something. A $750 book that I had paid $380 for two years ago. For $400. To a customer who was already on my mailing list. Of course, after I pay Walter his 20%, I'll take a minor loss, but hey, I can write it off! And then I'll have $320 to go out and spend on another mistake. The only hitch is that it takes longer – much longer – than I expected to get six high resolution images of each book. 
    Meanwhile, on the cheap book front, I've spent the equivalent of two solid days hard labor getting 200 or so items online. And I've actually gotten results! I sold what would normally have been a $100 book for $40. Also I got an inquiry on a $75 book, which I was offering for $25, from a discerning gentleman in Australia. Unfortunately it was a heavy book, and the postage would have been $40.25. Needless to say our conversation stopped there. 
    Then I took all the cheap books I'd cataloged and set them up on shelves across the street in Flatrocks Gallery so that tourists, art lovers, and art loving tourists could browse through them. That took another day.Then it was time for the book fair in New Hampshire, so I boxed up the books from the gallery and took them to New Hampshire, where I unpacked them and set them up in my booth. It had been a long while since I'd schlepped cheap books, and they were heavier than I remembered. Quite a bit heavier. But it was all worthwhile because at the fair a man bought a first edition of Dow's “Whale Ships and Whaling”, which I'd normally sell for $50, for $15. So, as you can see, my experiment in cash flow continuity has been unexpectedly successful, resulting in sales in each of the three venues I have chosen to colonize.Now, about that book fair.As is well known by this time Marvin Getman runs a good show and brings the people in. I'd guess the crowds were 20% - 30% better than they'd been when Laura Parr was promoting the show – not that Laura didn't do a good job. Just that Marvin put the extra “oomph” into it.Of course, simply getting them in the door doesn't guarantee a thing. A few people I talked to had shows in the mid-thousands. Many, like me, were in the mid-hundreds. Still it was a lovely day for a book fair. Plenty of business got done, plenty of meals were consumed and plenty of face time was passed with customers and friends. At the end of the day, I'd spent about $7500 and made $750. Not an encouraging ratio at first glance but I have cast my bread upon the waters I know it will bear fruit – breadfruit if the metaphor holds.Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to move those cheap books back into Flatrocks Gallery. While I'm working you can read about this interesting piece:Print."Panoramic Picture of Boulogne..." Print Made During the Napoleonic Wars Showing Napoleon's Preparations for the Invasion of England. J.T. Serres, 1804.Folio sheet 13 x 16½ inches, hand colored. Serres was a well-know English marine painter who, in this example, played upon England's obsessive fear of a cross-channel invasion by France. All sorts of schemes were imagined and presented to a titillated public, including balloons, barges, and giant rafts. The fantasy invasion pictured here is a little more mundane. Examples in black and white are known; this one has contemporary hand coloring. "In 1804 Serres tried his hand a panorama painting, with a 150-foot, nearly circular view of Boulogne showing Napoleon's preparations for the invasion of England... The panorama was exhibited to the public at the Great Rooms, Spring Gardens. Serres published a circular key, evidently intended to be seen from above, which shows that spectators viewed the panorama from one side of the circle standing on a reproduction of the stern gallery of Rear Admiral Louis' flagship." - Tracy, "Britannia's Palette", p. 239. This “circular key” shows local features, military emplacements, and such strategically important items as “The Explosion... prepared for Action, and making signal that 26 of the enemy's vessels are getting under Weigh.” Or, “The French Flotilla.” Or, “Hired cutters engaging the Flotilla.” Scarce in hard copy. Worldcat shows only two institutions holding copies. None in the US. Paper evenly tanned. Old, short, tape repair at top of sheet, else very good condition. $850

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