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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.


Global Book Town, and Ken’s Book Rack

I am one of those newer booksellers who came into the market in the last ten years. My story starts back in 1995 or ‘6 when I was broker than broke, not working very much, and had started picking up little collectible pieces at garage sales that I could put in to the two consignment stores in town that would take stuff from me in an attempt to help cover some of my living expenses. I started to get fairly good at this and within a year was often paying most of my rent off of my sales. I noticed that both stores had consignment books and I started thinking about putting books somewhere to make a few more bucks.

The smaller consignment store had one of their book consignors pull out and so I approached them about my putting in a shelf of paperbacks in the available space and spent over half a year buying some assorted stock at garage sales while waiting for him to finally give me the OK. He finally gave me the word – he had sold his store to his biggest consignor of antiques and collectibles – so I went to work on the new owner. Unfortunately, the new owner decided to stock his own pocket books and I was left sitting on a pile of books with nowhere to put them.

I looked around and finally talked with the people who were running the local flea market and arranged for them to take my books on consignment, set up my first 5 foot wide 6 foot high bookshelf and quickly expanded to about 20 feet of shelving. It was making me a little bit of money but then all of the other permanent stalls in the market realized they could make a few bucks selling paperbacks at 25 or 50 cents and that market went a bit soft as I was asking the normal used bookstore half cover price.

In November of ’98 the larger antique and collectibles store had their main bookseller pull out leaving them with just one smaller antiquarian book dealer and I approached them about having my books in their store. They let 3 of us move in to an area about 16 feet square and I immediately expanded into hard covers and all sorts of other books that I thought were interesting. I soon discovered that even a very good or fine first edition hardcover just wouldn’t sell at even half cover in Vernon, which was quite depressing. The antiquarian seller and one of the other new sellers both told me that they were managing to sell books thru the internet and in October of ’99 I downloaded Homebase and started putting books in. By the end of March 2000, I had passed the hundred book level and took the plunge, listing on ABE. I soon expanded all the way up to about 400 books by the end of May and coasted from there to November.

In mid November, I hired my son to do data entry as he had been having challenges finding work that he could actually make a living at and my books online quickly expanded, reaching about 1000 books by the end of the year and just about 4200 by the end of May ’01 when my son accepted an invitation and plane ticket from a lady he had been chatting with online and escaped to Hawaii, never to return. At that point, I hired two college students and an older lady to do data entry for me and ended up with about 8400 books online by the end of ’01. The college students eventually left and my g/f moved to town and took up doing the majority of my data entry for me as an employee, and I now have about 18,000 books online.

Working on becoming a real book dealer, even though I only sell through the internet, has been a real learning process. I have made every mistake possible from mistaking book clubs as possible first editions to listing hundred dollar books for $5 or $10. I actively follow a number of online or email discussion groups about books where I often learn just how much I really don’t know. Many of the people who have been in the business for far longer than I have bemoan the loss of the time when the marketplace wasn’t swamped with all sorts of newcomers like myself. However, a lot of the old-timers have gone out of their way time and time again to help those of us who are relatively new in the business.

As time goes on, the actual selling venues for books continue to change and grow in many ways. There are large corporate style listing services and smaller co-op style sites and all sorts of other places selling books.

About a year ago, a number of people who were selling online decided to try a slightly different co-operative venture in bookselling by opening up a place for independent booksellers to show a unified front to book buyers while maintaining more of the flavor of independent stores, and Global Book Town was the end result.

It is still in its formative stages but has grown quite a bit from the dozen stores it had when it first opened a site on the net last December. It now lists over 50 independent stores offering books for sale through their own private sites where customers can browse or search within a single bookstore’s books or look through a category list to see who specializes in certain book types. Being involved in getting this new site off the ground was another learning experience for me and, luckily, a very capable person has shown up and taken over as webmaster during the summer to do most of the work.

The marketplace has definitely changed just in the three years I have been selling online. I am sure that it will continue to change as time goes on. By: Ken Dunn




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