Keeping Track Of A Changing Marketplace


Current Trends in the Used Book Market

By Susan Siegel
Book Hunter Press

Back in 1992 when David and I started Book Hunter Press, building a database of used book dealers was fairly straightforward. Dealers generally fit neatly into three categories: open shops, by appointment or chance dealers, and mail order only dealers. While there was some overlap between the categories, by and large, anyone interested in selling used books had three business models to choose from.

Not anymore. The Internet has changed all that.

For dealers, the Internet has opened up an array of new selling options and, at the same time, given dealers the ability to choose a business model that suits their personalities and meets their diverse lifestyle needs.

These same changes have also presented Book Hunter Press with an ongoing challenge: to develop new systems for gathering information about a constantly changing marketplace and disseminating that information in a timely manner to book hunters throughout the world.

Three e-mails in today’s inbox illustrate how we are meeting that challenge.

In the first e-mail, a dealer informed us that after three years operating an open shop, she would be closing her store at the end of May, relocating to another state and reopening as an Internet only dealer. From the long list of reasons why shops close, this closing fit into the “good news” column: Romance. The owner was combining households with the person she has had a long distance relationship with. For this dealer, both the relocation and change in dealer status will be noted in the upcoming printed Supplement to the Used Book Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Coast States . Once the shop is officially closed, the changes will be uploaded to the online version of the Guide.

The second e-mail came in the form of a “Dealer Information Form” from our web site and provided us with a new listing for a recently opened store in Nebraska. By next week, the information will be uploaded to the Used Book Lover’s Guide to the Central/Western States database and anyone searching for used bookstores in Nebraska will be able to add this shop to their visit list.

Unfortunately, the third e-mail returned my earlier message as “undeliverable” and confirmed my suspicion that after the owner’s death a few months ago, the store was not likely to continue in business. If there’s no response to our follow up postcard, the store will be deleted from the database and listed as “closed” in the next printed Supplement to the Used Book Lover’s Guide to the South Atlantic States .

(Before deleting a closed store from the database, we try to learn whether the dealer is continuing in business as either a by appointment or mail order/Internet only dealer.)

Several other changes were made to the database that day, including a Pennsylvania store that moved within the same city, adding new listings for open shops in Indiana and Missouri, changing the addresses for two dealers who relocated out of state, adding a new area code in Michigan, updating several e-mail addresses, and changing the hours for an open shop.

Current Trends
Taking into account all the additions, deletions and dealer category changes that have taken place over the past 10 years, the bottom line reflects a steadily increasing number of used book dealers, and perhaps even more important, a steady stream of new brick and mortar shops.

As the figures in Table I show, between 1993-1996 and 1997-2000 there was an 18% increase in the total number of dealers and, over the same time period, a 13% in the number of open shops.

Between 2000 and the first quarter of 2002, while the overall number of dealers has continued to increase, with the exception of New England which continues to show a net GAIN in open shops, there has been a slight (4%) decrease in the number of open shops.

Of the 362 new open shop listings added to the Book Hunter Press database after the most recent edition of the regional Used Book Lover’s Guide was printed, 160 of the 362 opened after 1996 and many of the new shops were opened by dealers who, prior to 1996, sold books on a by appointment or mail order basis.

The new owners range from enthusiastic and energetic young couples in their twenties to retirees who are realizing a life long dream of owning a bookstore. We’ve also spoken to many new owners in their 40’s and 50’s who were simply “burned-out” in their previous jobs and made a lifestyle choice to “do what I enjoy doing.” (Profiles of some of these new owners can be found on our web site. Follow the “Report on the Used Book Market” link.)

Will all these new stores succeed? Probably not. But chances are many will. I still remember visiting an enthusiastic young man in 1992 only a few months after his store had opened. Today, three locations later, the same dealer is a member of the ABAA.

Will more long established stores close? Probably yes. Sometimes we forget that many of these dealers are in their sixties and seventies and are looking forward to retirement, and in some cases, their second retirement. Thanks to the Internet, some will continue in the business as part time mail order dealers, spending the rest of their time traveling, on the golf course, enjoying their grandchildren and no doubt reading all the books they never had time to read.

Will there be a shakeout of dealers — in all categories — and possibly a leveling off of growth? Probably. When and how much, that I can’t predict. However, based on past experience, I believe there will also be a healthy number of new dealers (including new open shops) starting up.

I just hope that David and I can continue keeping track of everything and everybody.

Included in these figures are dealers who sell at least some used hardcover books and whose business has been verified by phone, snail mail, email or personal visit. They do not include paperback exchanges that are 100% paperback, dealers who sell only at book fairs, dealers who have not responded to our inquires and whose business operations could not be verified and relatively new Internet only dealers who did not inform us of their business.

Is Your Business In Our Database? 

We could use your help.If you’re already in our database, please let us know if and when you move or change your dealer status or your e-mail address. Even let us know if you’ve changed your inventory mix, or your hours. Thanks to the Internet, we can quickly get this new information out to the book buying public.

If you’re not currently listed in our database, we invite you to complete the online Dealer Electronic Form on our web site, www.bookhunterpress.com,and let us know about your business. The database includes open shops, by appointment and mail order/Internet dealers, as well as dealers who display in multi dealer antique malls. And — there’s NO CHARGE for the listing.

Why keep your business a secret?

Table 1

REGION # of Dealers (1993-1996) # of Dealers (1997-2000) Net Change in # of Dealers (1992-1999) 1 # of Bookstores (Open Shops) (1993-1996) # of Bookstores (Open Shops) (1997-2000) % Increase in Bookstores (Open Shops) (1993-2000) Bookstores (Open Shops) Opened Since 1995/96 2
New England 774 881 +14% 354 413 0.17 78
Mid-Atlantic 915 1160 +27% 444 534 0.202702703 109
South Atlantic 634 962 +52% 458 622 0.358078603 121
Midwest 1052 1339 +27% 640 757 0.1828125 99
Central/Western3 1270 1,270 (1996) 938 938 (1996)
Pacific Coast 1361 1500 +10% 1006 1064 0.057654076 126
Total 6006 7112 +18% 3840 4328 0.127083333 533

Table 2

Region Number of Dealers Bookstores (Open Shops) %Bookstores (Open Shops) By Appointment %By Appointment Mail Order %Mail Order Booths in Antique Malls %in Antique Malls
New England 881 413 0.47 244 0.276958002 181 0.205448354 43 0.048808173
Mid-Atlantic 1160 534 0.460344828 298 0.256896552 295 0.254310345 33 0.028448276
South Atlantic 962 622 0.646569647 138 0.143451143 122 0.126819127 80 0.083160083
Midwest 1339 757 0.56 225 0.168035848 225 0.168035848 132 0.098581031
Central/Western 1270 938 0.74 131 0.1 141 0.11 60 0.047244094
Pacific Coast 1500 1064 0.709333333 218 0.14 192 0.128 26 0.017333333
Total 7112 4328 0.61 1254 0.17632171 1156 0.162542182 374 0.052587177

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