Database URL: http://www.bookavenue.com
How did you originally get into the bookselling business, Rhett?
It was my second job after getting out of the Army. Well, actually not a job, it became a career. I needed money, had plenty of books, so I went to the local bookstore and offered some of my books. I was offered a few cents a book, and I walked out thinking “What a thief.” So I went to the library, read some books, then read some more, and put out a list that I sent to a few booksellers and sold all of the books. I figured out that I could make money buying and selling books, but at fair prices, and since I was unemployed gave it a good shot, and it paid off.
What has been the course of your career as a bookseller, i.e., a bricks & mortar shop, book fairs, paper catalogs, etc.? When did you go online, and how?
Reader, collector, book scout, B&M, catalog/AB Bookman’s sales, catalog sales, search service/catalog sales, on-line sales/catalog sales, B&M. It’s been a long journey from 1965 to the present. We started online with a site on Antiquarian Book Worm, I think it was. Then we went to Interloc.
Do you have, or have you had, specialties in the types of books you personally sell?
We have 3 active specialties: Psychology/Psychiatry, Business and Investing, and Theology. That means we’re actively buying collections in those fields. Since we no longer put out catalogs, much of what we buy remains in our warehouse in boxes, awaiting data entry. Just like every other bookseller we have much more waiting for entering than on-line.
Have you always dealt with the very large volume of books that you have now, i.e., was accumulating so many books intentional or did it sneak up on you?
No, we were somewhat sane once. It kinda snuck up on us, but now it’s a part of our life. You might ask how 600,000 books can sneak up on anyone, but it can. I think the preventive is to not get a big warehouse. Once you have the warehouse it seems a shame not to fill it.
Do you find it hard, or just interesting, to be an online bookseller, an owner of a bricks and mortar shop, and a commercial book database owner? Any more balls you’re going to be tossing into the air?
It’s not hard at all. We have great and productive employees, and they run Gutenberg Holdings without our day-to-day supervision. That leaves Helen and me to run the bookstore and BookAvenue. Since the store is only busy 8 weeks of the year, it’s a no-brainer. I spend most of my time on BookAvenue.
We are active people and have a number of projects in the works.
What originally made you decide to start BookAvenue?
Because of changes taking place in the marketplace, we decided to build a site that would remain available for booksellers for years to come. We wanted to build a site where any bookseller could afford to offer their books over the net. We’re still very active people, and we need work, so we create our own. BookAvenue is work, but we love it. Over the 3-1/2 years we’ve been active, we never strayed from our original plan. Not many databases can make that statement. We offer stability.
Did you already have the knowledge needed to start a database? If not, how did you go about finding that knowledge, the people needed, etc.?
First we went to the IBM retired exec in the family who consults on database development, and sought direction, and free help. Then we went to the young programmers who are brilliant, who we knew from another project. They all still help when needed, and we’re working on some interesting improvements to BookAvenue right now, that I’m not able to write about yet. Nothing that will change our business model, however, so we don’t want folks to worry.
Do you intend to continue BookAvenue as long as you’re a bookseller? Ever think you’ll quit either one or the other—selling books or running a database?
Helen and I are passionate about bookselling and database management, and business in general. I doubt we’ll leave either, except feet first. Remember bookselling is a way of life for us, and not a job we can leave. Database management has become a part of our family.
Any information you can give us about planned upgrades, improvements, innovations that you want or can see happening on BookAvenue?
We’re very enthusiastic about our 800 toll free service, which will become the portal for internet-challenged book buyers, collectors, organizations, institutions, and businesses. Not to say they are internet-challenged, but time plays a big roll in business, and if we can cut down the amount of time a business or institution spends on the web to find a much needed book, we’ll provide a service to them and to the booksellers selling over BookAvenue. We found that lots of folks have e-mailed asking about booksellers on BookAvenue, and if we can provide an operator to answer their questions it will make BookAvenue the place to call for books and information about particular booksellers.
BookAvenue has always been very stable—I personally can’t remember any downtime. If not secret, what did you do technically to ensure such stability?
We have very little downtime, and that’s because we’re constantly working with BookAvnenue, and because we have a stable ISP and tech people watching all the time.
I know BookAvenue is searched by BookFinder now. Any plans for rethinking being searched by Addall?
There are no plans at present to redevelop a relationship with Addall.
Anything you can tell us about present or future plans for advertising BookAvenue?
By the time this interview is published there should be some advertising going into print media, advertising our new toll free order facilitation service.
Are there any particular markets (geographical and/or demographic) or types of books where you think BookAvenue excels in reaching and attracting book buyers?
Scholars, institutions, booksellers, book buyers worldwide. The internet makes this question irrelevant.
What services/features does BookAvenue have that you feel sets you apart?
I would say that our new 800 service is fairly indicative of the innovation we look to provide. We seek to develop ways to increase the sale of books by attracting a different audience.
Well, if I haven’t been nosy enough, if there’s anything you’d like to tell us about yourself or BookAvenue, please do so—like perhaps your personal hobbies, what books you like to read (if you get time to read), etc. And thank you very much for participating in this interview, Rhett!
Helen and I like building things, so of course we’re in the middle of our second year of remodeling our house. We expect to finish in a few years, with a major addition, since it’s going to be our last house.
I love Balzac, Melville, Dickens and other 19th Century writers. I also read history and am currently working on Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters. Pepy’s Diary is one of my favorites, particularly the part about the Great London Fire. The minutiae of the lives of historical figures, diaries for example.
Helen has an extensive collection of Orientalia, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright. She reads extensively in Architecture and Orientalia. Her collections are large and extensive.
We both like early 20th Century English mysteries–who doesn’t?