The smell of the North Texas plains is the dusty scent of dried grass, mesquite bushes and ancient live oaks towering over red brick courthouses of the county seats. Archer City, however, also offers the complex, rich odor of aging paper and musty bindings peculiar to used bookstores. Five buildings in this oasis south of Wichita Falls house a myriad of offerings from two businesses, Booked Up and Three Dogs Bookstore.
Famed author, collectible book dealer, and local son, Larry McMurtry, returned to his hometown and inspiration for his book, The Last Picture Show, to open a branch of his successful Washington D.C. antiquarian book business, Booked Up. He invited the Wichita Falls firm of Three Dog Books to join him in Archer City as he worked towards a vision of an authentic American book town.
For a weekend in August, Book Seminars International will be joining hundreds of thousands of used and out-of-print books to be found in this prairie town. David Gregor will present his daylong multi-media programs, Book Collecting for Fun & Profit and Strategic Bookselling Workshop on August 23rd and 24th. Over a recent lunch, I quizzed the 17-year bookselling veteran about his own enterprises.
TF: Why Archer City Texas?
DG: It is the premier book town in America and it’s in a region that has a strong literary heritage. Many people know about McMurtry’s book town and I thought the programs would be an added advantage for book people to travel there. Scouting through five buildings, you really have to work at not finding something you or your shop needs.
TF: But August in Texas?
DG: (laughing) Well the venue [site of the original Last Picture Show] is air conditioned, but this was the best time to fit in with my class offerings which include extensive traveling across the country and my duties as co-producer of the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair.
TF: Why have you developed these programs?
DG: Because there is a growing body of book enthusiasts who want a basic education on collecting and library-building that is not offered any place else in the world. I developed the bookseller program as a crash course in business fundamentals for people in the trade and those interested in coming in to it-so as to give them every opportunity to succeed.
TF: How do your book seminar programs compare with the Denver Book Seminar?
DG: They’re two different, but our students who have taken both say, compatible programs. I understand the Denver weeklong program is primarily aimed at advanced education for the antiquarian bookseller and collection-building librarian. My collecting program is designed as an introduction to the fundamentals of library-building for the fledgling collector, but we see again and again that the in-class exercises for identifying first printings and condition description help buyers and sellers. The Bookseller Workshop is relevant to both beginning and experienced booksellers. It shows blow-by-blow what your options are for your business if you apply the principals and tactics used by all profitable retail operations-regardless of size or product.
TF: What do you think is the biggest obstacle to the future of the used bookselling trade?
DG: I would say the fragmentary nature of the old school of bookselling. That school is slowly dying away because technology increases competition even though the marketplace has expanded beyond the local and regional customer base of even the general used bookseller.
TF: Define “fragmentary nature of the old school”?
DG: A lack of cooperative cohesion within the bookselling community and between that community and the population they wish to serve. This situation exists despite professional organizations. There is a small body of professional business people within the trade and a much larger number of hobbyists or owners who refuse to adjust to the changing retail paradigm of the used, rare and out-of-print book business. We are no different from any other retail business today-we all have to make adjustments. My goal for the programs is to provide a direction in transitioning from the old school to the 21st Century marketplace.
TF: Do the classes generate a lot of sales for your store, Gregor Books, in Seattle? DG: Not really. I wish it were so. This is a service I choose to provide the book world. I create informed buyers, regardless of their interests. And we all want informed buyers-they better understand both the price of the item and the importance of establishing relationships with reputable dealers.
TF: What are your plans for 2004?
DG: We are still finalizing our schedule. By September I will know which three cities I will be traveling to for the programs. And of course, people can join me in Seattle for the programs. I do them right at the store, which makes it easy for them to browse the stacks during the breaks!