Eudora Welty and my Eudora Pro email program (which they sort of named after her) remind me of the early days of online bookselling. She was a swell author and warm personality, and Eudora email works pretty well. The default New Mail sound is a nice little six note wav file that goes something like, “Do do, do do . . . do-do.” I remember the evening I first uploaded my books to Bibliofind (the briefly missing link between Interloc and pure-era ABE). No sooner did I sit down to dinner then orders started rolling in, signaled by those dulcet tones. Interrupting the meal for a brief check, the first two were for a nice first edition of Forester’s Hornblower and the Hotspur and a softcover price guide on glassware of some sort that is now probably as common as dirt.
I eventually got sick of the New Mail sound feature and turned it off many years ago. Why get your hopes up when most of the mail is now spam or phishing; and when our brisk business has been replaced by increasingly corporate search service propaganda justifying higher fees for worse service and less control over dwindling sales?
In some ways, The Glut has leveled off substantially. Let’s say you had the only copy of something in 1998, and you priced it accordingly. If there are 75 copies on now and yours is one of the most expensive, you are probably wasting real and electronic shelf space. It is also important to remember that potential customers who see one ridiculously overpriced item will often assume that all your prices are out of line. Your two main choices are to cull it or try to underprice the low end of the spectrum. If there are less than a dozen non-phantom copies, however, you stand a pretty good chance of moving it some day (depending as always on collectibility, condition, and price). Odds are that the number of copies will not increase at nearly the same Glut rate in the next ten year period either.
My New Year’s Resolution is to physically inspect all of my online listings one storage box at a time. Do I actually own the book; is it in the proper place so I can find it right away; do I have any that are not showing up online; did I describe it well back when I was in such a rush to hit the first 1,000; are there any typos or glaring errors; and have the search services or meta-search engines messed with my listings. Above all, however, extremely common titles will be removed and marketed elsewhere (in the antique shops, at auction); and I will donate others. Most of the keepers will probably come down in price, though some will go up. Anything added in the last couple years has been subject to these deliberations, and is lightly checked in pencil as an indicator of same. I expect to lose one third or so of my online stock, though I am surrounded by hundreds of good uncataloged keepers anxious to take their place. I am going to finish this work in just a month or two without uploading. When everything is ready, I’ll ask the wife for a special dinner, ftp the file, turn on Eudora’s old New Mail sound, and hope to recapture a little of that magic from the early days of online bookselling.
We begin this issue with an interesting account of navigating internet shoals in the pursuit of every title that ever included the talents of the fairly obscure, multi-talented children’s book illustrator Louis Slobodkin. It’s from my good friend, colleague, and fellow editor Carol Reid. I recently picked up some early copies of the local high school literary journal, The Thinking Reed, that contained some of her late hippie-era prose, and suggested I might have to publish that if she couldn’t provide something else. The Slobodkin piece arrived with lightning speed. She wanted to title it, “What Are the Odds? Slobodkin!” in a strained nod to the antiquated minced oath, and I was even snarky enough to insist on “Hunting Slobodkin” instead (Lewis Carroll meets Louis and Carol), which puts the emphasis on her book quest rather than on her string of somewhat serendipitous discoveries. Otherwise, though, it was perfectly written editing-wise, and only required changing “Slobodkinia” to “Slobodkiniana.” This is followed by IOBAn Laura Smith’s exciting and inspirational account of opening a new small town bookstore the day after Thanksgiving; a Charles Dickens-centered interview with IOBAn Vic Zoschak of Tavistock Books; and a Portuguese book buying travelogue from regular contributor Jetset Joe Perlman. From the Reference Desk, an equine ephemeral assay; and another bookselling book review. The Tool Box contains a revamped portrait of the Abracadabra Bookshop, with special emphasis on moving tens of thousands of books time and time again. IOBA Bookseller Profiles heads out west and Down Under, and Addenda follows.
In IOBA news, we are redesigning the website, beginning with the new home page (check it out), and we have added a Member’s Forum to supplement the Discuss list. If you are a member and have not renewed yet, please take a few moments to do so. If you are considering membership, please let us know if you have any questions.
The next IOBA Standard comes out the first day of April, 2007. You will now have to register to view it, and there is a fee of $10 for each article, $50 for the whole issue, or only $100 bundled together with our entire archives. Ha ha—an early April Fool’s! Maybe that will help make the winter go faster. See you then.