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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


“Don’t Do It!”

Editor’s note:

My first encounter with this article was actually at its debut, as a talk delivered by Greg to the Class of 2009 (of which I was a member) at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. I thought it was brilliant then, and my opinion hasn’t changed. In fact, it’s only improved with age — like a fine wine, or a good book, or, heck, like Greg himself — and I’m pleased to be able to bring it to The Standard’s readers. Enjoy! — H.P.


Greg Gibson, Ten Pound Island Book Company

I. In the spring of 1975 I went to work for a genius who made his living rebuilding the old fishing wharves that lined the harbor in Gloucester, Massachusetts. This man understood everything about the internal combustion engine, radio waves and electricity. He was a Leonardo of the lever, a master of everything inorganic. Like many geniuses, however, his preternatural intelligence was limited in scope. Organic life forms baffled him. He couldn’t relate to his helpers. He couldn’t even order lunch. So my job, when I wasn’t placing fulcrums under levers or boring bolt holes, was ordering lunch for him, and running around making sure he didn’t forget things. I’d like to say I learned something from that brilliant eccentric, but I didn’t. The early mornings on the harbor, in secret places under the docks, were unforgettably radiant and beautiful. The rest of the day was long and hard.

After a year of this routine it began to dawn on me that rebuilding wharves was not going to be my life’s work. That was when my friend Jean opened an art gallery and found me a profession.

“You’ve always liked books.” she said, “Why don’t you start a little shop and sell old books in my gallery?”

That was all I needed. I’d gotten out of the Navy as the Vietnam War was winding down, and had spent the years before my marriage producing an unpublishable novel and bales of incomprehensible poetry. The demands of married life had forced me into gainful employment, but chainsaws and crowbars were driving me crazy. Here was a chance to work with words, at least.

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I quit my job with the wharf man, and built some shelves in Jean’s gallery. Jean fronted me $100, and we set up as business partners. One hundred dollars bought a lot of used books in 1976. A kindly old lady who eked out small change quoting the “books wanted” ads gave me some copies of AB Magazine and through them I learned the rudiments of the trade. When it was time to price my wares the range was 50¢ to $2 (which appeared to be the upper limit of what the market would bear). Jean opened her gallery and a few people came through. I had an epiphany. Even now I can see the flash of light that accompanied it. I was reading AB and I realized that, between gallery sales and quoting books, I could make as much as $50 a week at this. $50 seemed like plenty. Soon I was making that $50 a week, but I discovered I’d been wrong. $50 was not plenty.

Jean folded up her art gallery and we moved the books into a building that had been an old fish market. The place was right on the tourist route and our retail business saw a healthy increase. Even better, we began to get more house calls. About that time I had another epiphany – it was all about location.

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If we could bump up our sales and buying opportunities by moving to the fish market, I reasoned, we should be able to do even better by moving onto Main Street. This, in fact, was an imbecilic error in judgment that held me in thrall for far too many years. The old real estate mantra about “location, location, location” might have been true in downtown Boston or one of the crowded, bustling suburbs that surrounded it, but Gloucester was surrounded by nothing but water. Only 35,000 people lived there, and that simply was not a large enough population base to sustain a retail used book business throughout the year. It felt grand in the summer when tourists poured through like spawning shad, but each year there was a day in October when everything stopped. You could almost hear it – a grinding, crunching sound that meant seven months of anxiety and poverty. There was no location that would propel us past the limits imposed by Gloucester’s demographics. Jean wisely moved out of town and left me on my own.

I was so busy chasing down my fantasy of the perfect location – I went through six different shops in my career – that I failed to take full advantage of my earliest opportunities for true enlightenment. As in a Greek myth, these Godly offerings were delivered in human form.

Chief among them was Matthew Needle, a legend in the bookselling trade. I hadn’t been open for more than a month in my first shop with Jean when he appeared in his shiny Mercedes, genial and encouraging. He removed some of the $2 books from my shelves, put some cash in my hand, and made me feel like a real bookseller. He was back nearly every month after that, and eventually I tumbled to the fact that he wasn’t a collector. In fact, I was rather shocked to discover that he was buying books from me and selling them to other dealers. I suppose I understood the process in a literal sense, but I failed to grasp its deeper implications.

Then, some time after we’d moved to the fish market, a fellow named John Thomson and his girlfriend Karen Griffin appeared at my shop in a Datsun pickup. The bed of the truck was covered with a cap and was full of books. John and Karen were traveling across the country in this vehicle, often sleeping in the back among the books. We all hit it off, and they wound up staying with my family and me for a few days, in the course of which he shared a secret. He was buying books he found in his travels and selling them to other dealers along the way. This was mind-boggling to me. Then I connected the dots and realized that was essentially what Matty Needle had been doing all along. These guys were book scouts. Thus I discovered one of the major engines of our trade.

Often, on the heels of this enlightenment, I’d watch Matty’s Mercedes pull away and wonder, “Where’s he going?” Over the years, as my own experience increased, I learned that the answer was “Everywhere.” Matty worked tirelessly, combing the countryside for dealers with a good eye and a reasonable understanding of the fact that books were meant to be sold, not hoarded.

I was sitting in the fish market one lovely spring day, pondering all this, when in walked a slender well-spoken gent in blue shirt, khaki pants, and Docksiders – sans socks. I made him for Yankee gentry right away, and figured he was probably a yachtsman, since the fish market backed up on Alexander’s Yacht Basin. But as soon as we started talking I realized something else. He was a book scout, too. Not only that, he was looking for books that pertained to a single subject area. I had just met my first specialist dealer.

Matty Needle, John Thomson and Louie Howland soon became my friends and mentors, but it took a long while for me to absorb what they had to teach me. This was probably because their approaches seemed so disparate at first. John and Karen forged their encyclopedic knowledge into Bartleby’s Books, which would become one of the finest general used and antiquarian open shops in the east. Matty Needle, by contrast, sold only to the trade. “Less hassle,”” he told me. “You always know who you’re dealing with and their checks don’t bounce.” Louie Howland schooled me in maritime books and got me interested in maritime history. Part of this, I fully understood, was for selfish reasons. The more I knew about maritime history the better I’’d be at finding good books for him.

Each of these dealers introduced me to an important aspect of the specialist book trade, but it wasn’t until I closed shop number Five that I fully realized the error of my ways and gave up my quest for the perfect location. Seventeen years had elapsed. To call me a slow learner would be an understatement.

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II. Still, a lot had happened between shops One and Five.

Much of what I learned about old books was delivered by my colleagues, and by books and magazines about the trade. However, a surprising amount came from my customers – not the hordes of tourists, but those serious and learned collectors who always knew more about their areas of interest than I did. I listened carefully to these people, and asked questions. They pointed me to the bibliographies, histories, and reference books that became the foundation of my knowledge, such as it was, of my trade. Their motivation was the same as Louie Howland’s. They were educating me so that I’d be better at finding books for them, and that was fine by me.

For whatever reason, it seemed that my most serious customers were seeking books about local history, about art and antiques and, because we were a waterfront town, about ships and the sea. I began reading the “books for sale” section in AB, in search of desirable titles for my customers. At the same time I started scouting others dealers’ shops ala Needle. Then came my first book fair.

I forget exactly how we found out about it – this was the late 70s and Jean and I were still partners. The venue was an armory in Cambridge, Mass. And I made the happy discovery that, just as Willie Sutton had said about banks and money, book fairs were where the books were. We sold a few of the books we’d brought, but mainly we purchased books from other exhibitors – books about the fisheries and our local granite industry, and a stack of big, hefty Abrams art books, all of which we sold to our customers over the next few weeks. Not only that, but we met some new customers who were interested in art and antiques and local history. We took their names and telephone numbers and tried to call them whenever we found something we thought they’d like. The idea that we could have customers outside of Gloucester was an intoxicating one.

About this time, with John Thomson very much in mind, I took my first road trip. Things were really opening up for me now. I remember patiently working all the junky antique shops along route 1, where Scott Nason would later find that rare first edition of “Tamerlane” – I wouldn’t have recognized it if they’d put it in my hands – and as far into the wilds of New Hampshire as the White Mountains. I forget where I slept that first night, but it was all terribly exciting. Here I was, out on the road!

A couple of days later I was exhausted, beaten down and nearly broke, having spent my pathetic allotment on I knew not what, when I stumbled into Jack Hanrahan’s place in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, poked disconsolately through a huge pile of books that had somehow landed on his floor, and announced that I was sorry I could not find a single thing to buy from him. To my considerable surprise he upbraided me. He told me it was nonsense to say I couldn’t find any books to buy, and more or less intimated that I was a namby-pamby quitter. ““You can find books anywhere,” he said. “And I know you haven’t been through that whole pile. Now get back to work. This is a business, not a hobby.” Sure enough, I went back and found two books on local history that were quite desirable at the time. Jack probably knew they were there all along, but just to reinforce his lecture he practically gave them to me.

I use the phrase “quite desirable at the time” because of a change that took place in my world during my first seventeen years in the trade. In the seventies and early eighties, while I was learning my way about, Gloucester had a core of cultivated, intelligent and (mostly) interesting men and women who actively collected books. But then, somewhere between stores number Three and number Five, many of them disappeared. Some of them got old and died off, but more of them simply stopped collecting. They bought all the books they wanted or could afford, and then their interests turned to gardening or fly fishing or fountain pens or scotch whiskey. It came as a shock, but it was a fact I’d see repeated again and again. And eventually it led to another epiphany. Most collectors have a limited shelf life, and it is our job to service their wants as diligently as we can during their active phase.

This demise of my clientele necessitated a change in strategy. I started trying to gather the names and addresses of strangers who visited the shop and I redoubled my efforts at book fairs. Rather than quoting these people books by telephone I sent them short mimeographed lists of books in my three areas of specialty. The lists were never rousing successes, but I could feel my business escaping the confines of Gloucester. Then the crash of the eighties came along and the bottom fell out of the arts and antiques markets. Those lovely Abrams books turned into doorstops for the most part, and my local history collectors disappeared as well, no doubt shocked to their senses by the shortage of cash. I was sent scrambling again.

Of my three main areas of endeavor, only maritime books survived. As I contemplated this troubling fact I realized that the fisheries, which I had formerly categorized as local history, were an important component of maritime studies. Furthermore, many of the artists mentioned in those Abrams books were quite fond of painting ships and the sea. Then there was yachting, which had always had a strong presence in Gloucester, and Pirates, irresistible to all – Yarr! – not to mention the naval heroes who were continually bringing them to justice or the bold explorers who for centuries sailed into unknown waters. With a little serious thought, the world of maritime history opened up and came to seem as boundless as the oceans themselves.

At Louie Howland’s urging I began doing the Wooden Boat Show in Newport, Rhode Island. Then I tried exhibiting at conferences of specialty groups such as ship modelers. I searched out periodicals like “Sea History, “Wooden Boat Magazine,” “American Neptune,” and “Nautical Research Journal,” and ran ads in them. I made the acquaintance of the local print shop and started cranking out five page Xeroxed lists of maritime books – just light enough to send with a single first class stamp – to my hundred or so maritime customers. All this proceeded by trial and error. If I got multiple orders for a title, I’d know it was a good one. Suddenly Gloucester was only the place where I kept my books. My ““shop” was open to customers everywhere.

Sometime in the late eighties computers came into the picture and my catalog business improved incrementally. The mailing list and want lists became a snap to manage, and my cataloged descriptions of books moved from file cards that had to be re-typed each time I listed a particular title, to a database in which that title resided for ever, ready to be summoned up at the push of a button. I used the computer to compile a proprietary database of maritime book values gleaned from booksellers’ catalogs, and used this database in conjunction with my wants lists to guide my purchases. In a way, it was a golden age for me. I met my specialist colleagues and found my place among them – certainly not at the top, but very comfortably in the middle. Occasionally a rare voyage or whaling log would come my way, but in general I was happy to specialize in standard out of print reference books. If a ship modeler or an amateur historian needed a good copy of, say, Howard Chapelle’s Search for Speed Under Sail, I was the go-to guy. My mailing list grew to over five hundred names and I had several thousand modestly priced maritime books, easy enough to find with a little work, and easier still to sell. Then the computer took away everything it had brought.

I’m speaking, of course, of the introduction of internet databases. By this time I’d closed shop number Five and moved to my house, where I intended to pursue my mail order business supplemented by frequent book and trade show appearances. Of course I needed a place to keep my books, so I bought the shack across the street from my house. Originally it had been a florist’’s shop but it was too far out in the sticks to thrive as a retail location. Just by luck the owner needed cash, and I was able to purchase the shop for a fair price. I used it as a warehouse at first, but when Interloc came along the guy who worked for me was in there all the time putting books online. And as long as he was there, it seemed we might as well open the doors to people who might want to buy our books in person. Hence shop number Six.

The retail trade was welcome enough, but it was Interloc, then ABE, that boosted our revenues. We’d buy whole collections of general books and throw them online. We’d issue a catalog to our specialist customers, then take the books that hadn’t sold, cut the prices, and put them on line too. For a few years it was easy money. Then more people entered the fray and pricing became competitive, engendering the classic “race to the bottom.”

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In the old days if someone needed a copy of Search for Speed Under Sail they’d come to me and I’d provide the book for $25. There were hundreds of titles like that. I kept multiple copies, and I would buy, for $3 or $5 or $10, every copy I came across, knowing that I had a certain and steady market. But as internet databases blossomed that $25 book began appearing for $20, $15, $10, $5 or even just a few bucks, offered for sale by some high school kid who’d gotten it free from his grandfather, or from that grandfather himself, who got it for twenty-five cents at a yard sale and wasn’t particularly in it for the money, or from the dreaded “penny seller,” giving the book away and making profit on the postage.

Search for Speed Under Sail, which had seemed a scarce and desirable title, was revealed by the internet to be common. At any given time twenty or even fifty copies might be on line, at prices as low as a dollar. Because of the economics of my scale I needed to make $10 or $15 on each transaction. My $25 copy didn’t stand a chance.

The corollary of this distressing situation was that I could no longer buy those standard books in great numbers. The grieving widow of an old customer would call me in to look at her husband’s collection and be shocked and angered to learn that I was not interested in purchasing books that had cost her husband $25 or $50 apiece. I had already accumulated six thousand volumes of essentially dead inventory and was not eager to add to that total. The party was over.

III. All this while, of course, I’d been dabbling in higher priced maritime books. If the “race to the bottom” tended to drive the price of common books down, my intellectual curiosity was propelling me in the opposite direction. I grew weary of handling the same books over and over; I began to seek the exotic. In time, the simple fact that I’d never seen a certain title before became a good reason for buying it.

This turned out to be an excellent response to the dreary physics of the internet marketplace. The only book not subject to the general downward pricing trend was a book that was not listed online. I began trying to fill my maritime catalogs with such items.

While it was difficult finding this kind of book, it was comparatively easy to discover manuscript items about ships and the sea that were not listed on the internet. Indeed, by definition, most manuscript items are unique – written by a particular person at a particular time for a particular reason. I began buying and listing logbooks, journals, diaries, letters and archives pertaining to maritime history. Because each item had to be understood and described in its uniqueness, these items required more work to catalog, but at least I could be certain nobody was going to undersell me on the internet. From there, the hunt expanded to photographs, documents, charts and printed ephemera, none of them unique by nature, but scarce enough to have little internet competition.

By this time – in the mid-90s — my catalogs had evolved into their present 6 x 9 inch 32-page format. This allowed me to list 100 to 300 maritime items in a package that I could mail for the cheapest first class rate. As computer technology evolved typesetting and illustration became possible on my desktop. Ultimately, I’d send a PDF file to my local job printer and get my catalogs back a week later.

Email was another technological evolution of the 90s that had a radical effect on my business. Email catalogs and quotes were instantaneous and free. My hard copy mailing list shrank back under five hundred. My email mailing list expanded to nearly two thousand addresses.

Nowadays I assemble sufficient material for six to eight maritime catalogs a year. These are composed in part of items that are sufficiently rare not to be listed on internet databases, but I always include a number of more common books to encourage beginners and people of limited means. Some of my most loyal customers have been buying $25 books for decades, and I’m happy to try to keep them happy. The four or five hundred hard copy catalogs are sent out in staggered mailings – sorted geographically – and the catalog is posted on our website, usually in a more lavishly illustrated form. After the hard copies have had a chance to land, I email my customers and let them know that they can view the new catalog online. When the hard copy and electronic versions have run their course I list the remaining books on ABE, ABAA/ILAB, and similar internet databases. If a collection of cheap books happens to come in between catalogs, I’ll send out a quick “email only” list, which costs me nothing and keeps my bottom feeders fed.

Two years ago I sold my six thousand low-end books at enormously discounted prices. I took the money and used it to fix the shop up, and my wife and a friend of hers opened an art gallery in it, thirty-one years after my old pal Jean opened hers and drew me in to the world of antiquarian books. Jean died a while ago, but I imagine she’s amused, looking down on us now, to see that we’ve come full circle.

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IV. I have written this narrative in hopes of providing you with a sort of road map of how a late 20th century individual evolved from a guy who’d ““always liked books” to a specialist dealer. The path was long and fraught with missteps. I’m sure it would have been shorter if I’d been able to apprentice with an established dealer, as was the practice in earlier times, or if I’d had the advantage of attending an in-depth seminar such as this one. Still, it is tempting to see my career as a felicitous journey from chaos into order, from trial and error into smooth efficiency, from darkness into light.

I want to caution you in the strongest possible terms that nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, I have been driven from pillar to post by a chaotic marketplace, itself driven by technological and economic forces that I am powerless to alter or withstand. I have “evolved” from being a gentlemanly practitioner of a civilized trade – a man who served his community from a place on its main street – to a marginalized, obsolescent outcast, a desperate survivor of a bygone world. While I sometimes see myself as a wily small mammal dodging my way among dinosaur legs, I feel more often like an Indian on his pony on the ridge, looking down at the Iron Horse steaming through his hunting grounds, wondering where all the buffalo have gone.

Think I’m being too dramatic? Let’s look at the numbers.

V. Say I issue six catalogs a year, each containing $100,000 retail worth of maritime books and manuscripts. In the old days one might have hoped to have spent $35,000 or less on such material. But now, because of the prevalence of pricing information on the internet, those goods might cost me closer to $60,000. (This almost ruined Matthew Needle. Any boob who can fire up a computer has immediate access to the knowledge Matty spent decades of hard labor accumulating. It’s no surprise that he’s moved more into manuscript material, and now makes a good part of his living performing appraisals.)

My catalogs have a healthy sellthrough; I’ll do 50% or better in the first weeks of any catalog’s appearance. Then the remainder will go online and sell another 10%. So, shortly after my catalog appears I’ll have $60,000 in receivables, representing a profit of $24,000 on sold items, with another $40,000 in unsold books on my shelves as equity. That sounds tidy enough. Multiply $24,000 by six catalogs and you’re making $144,000 a year. In the harsh reality of cash flow, however, I’m just breaking even.

Worse still, before that money starts trickling in (I bill net 30 days, terms for which many institutions and more than a few big-shot customers have little regard) I’’ve got to go out and spend another $60,000 on the next catalog. So I run around to book fairs and specialist venues, trying to fob off my back stock, often at reduced prices – at least 20% to the trade – and then wait 30 more days for that to come in, and hope, in the interim, that dealers and customers stop by shop number Six – now an art gallery as well as a book shop – and drop some bucks on items that need to be seen to be appreciated, waiting all the while for the occasional, random internet sale of a big book that’s been in stock for far too long.

Meanwhile, of course, I’m hemorrhaging overhead. (An entire book could be written on this topic, and I am always happy to discuss the manifold ways in which, despite the absurdity of my “location” fantasy, I am still in the real estate business.) So I borrow some money to cover my purchases until my receivables come in. If I’m lucky enough to find a collection with high-profit, quick-turnover items, I can keep my business debt manageable by flipping the most saleable goods to recover my costs. Otherwise, I’m facing a financially stressful situation.

Now, it is a fact that people are drawn in some mysterious but undeniable way to fresh material. If you want to keep selling, you have to keep buying. From a cold-eyed business standpoint this may be as fallacious as my delusion about the perfect location, but you’d be surprised how many dealers behave that way; certainly I do. Most of us, I suspect, are simply addicted to the buzz of the buy. The only hope for us is a perpetual state of financial readiness which, for the reasons under discussion here, is nearly impossible to attain – at least for financial maladroits like me.

Aside from buying addiction, overhead, and constantly lagging receivables, cash flow problems are likely to result from expensive items that do not sell quickly. At any given time a good portion of my cash and credit are likely to be tied up in inventory. This is equity of a sort, but it’s damned difficult to liquidate. If it were easy, I’d have done so.

Sounds desperate, doesn’t it? And yet, here I am, more than three decades into my career, still having fun. I’ve paid mortgages, put kids through college, bought cars and so far avoided bankruptcy. In that time I’ve had many wonderful adventures and enjoyed the company of some unique and remarkable people. I used to think they were simply colleagues. I now realize they are the best friends a man could want.

How have I managed to survive all these years? I don’t know, really. I’ve improvised a lot, and faced more than a few dark nights and desperate passages. But I think I’ve learned a few things, and I’d like to share them with you now. If you are contemplating a first or second career as a specialist dealer, here is some advice. A good deal of it, obviously, has been lost on me:

1. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. It’s too hard.

2. If you’re sufficiently pigheaded or romantic enough not to heed #1, the least you can do is LEARN YOUR SUBJECT AREA. It is not enough to “love” travel books, or to be “interested in” birds. You have to study, and study hard.

3. FIND THE NICHE. This does not refer to a choice of specialty, but to the kinds of materials you buy and sell. You can get a very good start in your specialty by assembling a collection of relatively inexpensive but well chosen books in one subject area. The value of the sum of such a collection is always more than its parts. This, I believe, was how Dan DeSimone got started in his specialty. Or you might skip the bound, printed tome all together and (my favorite…)

4. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOOK. Look for photographs, ephemera and especially manuscripts. You probably won’t be able to cough up twenty grand for Borget’s beautiful and rare book “Sketches of China,” 1842, but you may, as I have done, discover an illustrated journal that turned out to be the logbook of the captain of an opium ship from about the same time period. And guess what? While dozens of libraries may own the Borget, not a single one has that illustrated logbook, because as a manuscript item, it is unique. There are other advantages to manuscripts. You have to read them, and bring your knowledge to bear in order to understand them. Hence, lazy people do not like to work with them. Hence you can often buy manuscripts at great advantage.

5. If Steve tells us, rightly, to ““listen to the book,” we specialists must, equally LISTEN TO THE CUSTOMER. In our limited, highly concentrated fields, advanced collectors and dedicated librarians almost always have knowledge that we do not. Usually, they’re happy to share such knowledge for the same reason Louie Howland first tutored me in maritime books. The more I know, the better I’ll be at getting books for him. I can’t stress enough the importance Kevin’s remarks on repeat customers. They are the life blood of a specialty business. Along with my books, that customer list is my true equity…. Did you ever do a book fair and not sell anything? Happens to me with some regularity. But if, as a result of doing that fair, I meet one or two new people who are truly interested in my subject area, that fair has been a success.

6. So, the Customer is important, and the Book is important. But the description of the book, especially the narrative part, is also of critical importance. Whether you’re doing catalogs, quoting on the phone by email or letter, THE BOOK DESCRIPTION VALIDATES THE IMPORTANCE OF THAT BOOK. IT IS THE LINK BETWEEN THE CUSTOMER AND THE BOOK.

7. EXPAND YOUR VIEW OF WHAT THE JOB ENTAILS. Consider Matty Needle. He works every connection, every angle, every chance encounter or journey, from breakfast at one joint to after-dinner drinks at another. He always seems to be out and about and he’s never not ready to buy a book. I’’m told the great Larry McMurtry was that way too in his heyday. Hogs after truffles.

8. THINK ALONG THE SAME EXPANSIVE LINES ABOUT THE BOUNDARIES OF YOUR SPECIALTY. Just recently I sent out an “email only” list of 19th century stereo views of waterfront scenes. The list sold out. Shortly thereafter I got a standing order from a successful marine architect who wants marine stereos in his office for the amusement of his clients. Now stereo views have become a part of my maritime specialty. You might even think of supplementing your stock with in-print books in your subject, or by sponsoring lectures, or by publishing books yourself. I’ve published about two dozen titles, many of them reference books that were assured of a ready market among my customers.

9. THINK CREATIVELY ABOUT USING EVERY ASPECT OF THE TECHNOLOGY AVAILABLE TO YOU. Those stereo cards sold because when you clicked on the thumbnail illustration in the description, it filled the computer screen with glorious 19th century detail. Pure eye candy. And if something like Google Books sounds threatening, think of it from the other direction. Every item in every one of my catalogs is searchable by Google’s spiders. This yields many inquiries a week. The book may have sold years ago, but now I have the name and address of a person who was demonstrably ready to pay me money. This has been vastly more effective than magazine advertising, and it’s free.

10. And last (there’s much more, but ten is a good number to stop at) LEARN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ESTABLISHED IN YOUR SPECIALTY. Figure out the things they’re doing right and emulate them in your own fashion. Even more importantly, reach out to them, and to the trade at large. They are not your competition, they are your allies. Furthermore, they have survived. You have a lot to learn from them and they, more likely than not, need all the help they can get.

In the final analysis, it is only the windfalls that separate success from failure in the specialist trade, and the troughs between windfalls can last for months or even years. It sounds desperate, and often it is. Do you really want to go there?

If so, give me a call. Maybe we can do some business.

Greg  Gibson Ten Pound Island Book Company 76 Langsford St. Gloucester Ma 01930




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