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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.


The Return of AB Bookman

T. S. Eliot, perhaps, described the end of AB Bookman best, it went out “… not with a bang, but a whimper.” For almost 50 years, it was the standard in the business. I was just talking to the current owner of its intellectual property, the owner of Bookman’s of Arizona, and he, like so many of us, began his career with the want lists in AB Bookman. Quietly, without even a notice to its subscribers, it slipped away into our yesterdays. No more Tuesdays in the book room with postcards. The world passed on by, without so much as a honk of the horn.

The challenge is to rebuild and reshape AB Bookman into a new modern format, without losing what made it unique. It just hit me that in doing this, I am the “prospective” third editor to head it since it crawled out of Publisher’s Weekly to slip inside its very own covers. I have had to think about how I could take what it was, and transform it, somehow, into something that fits modern bookselling. My approach will be on three fronts.

The first will be an auction format, similar to what is now done on flea market sites such as eBay and Amazon, but with some important differences. Books will be offered in much the same way, but with references to an online first edition guide or a printed standard. When you buy a first edition through AB Bookman, it won’t be a Grosset and Dunlap reprint. Grading standards will be online, with the freedom to link to a grading standard of the seller’s choice, so the buyer will know what the condition is. And the auctions will feature a “books wanted” auction working in reverse, where the prospective buyer can list a want, and dealers bid the price down, not up.

The second will be a database site, linking both an in-house database and want lists.

The third will be a homepage featuring articles and news of the trade as well as reprinting articles from the archives of the old AB Bookman.

The flea market sites have done many wonderful things. They have changed the way in which we trade in vintage and collectible items. Indeed, they’ve changed the way in which we look at them. More and more, however, I hear from collectors in many areas who are dissatisfied with the lack of information, the lack of any kind of authentication, on the flea market sites. Just yesterday, a rare coin collector mentioned to me that a rare coin auction site was sorely needed. By reviving AB Bookman as a book site, opening what it was to the general public, as a better place to bid on books, as a place to find that elusive title to complete a collection, with more information, reference material a click away, the hope is not to compete with the flea markets–they will always be a part of the scene–but rather to broaden and enhance the choices of both dealers and book buyers. Looking for a bargain will still tempt the buyer to take a chance on eBay or Amazon. Looking for the right book, to fill that empty space in the collection, is what AB Bookman will be for; at least that is the plan. Eventually, the auction format will have to move into specialty sites. Sites that are a part of a specific business, run by people who understand that business. The “policies” of the general audience “flea markets” can clash with the established book business, leading to such errors as the removal of an auction of Dick Gregory’s autobiography, “Up From Nigger,” on a major site due to the use of the term “Nigger.” The book trade has always been one of the prime movers in the fight against censorship of all kinds, and the general market auction sites are, in fact, censors. AB Bookman will be a booksellers site, and, we hope, a prime mover in the fight against the censorship that the “flea market” sites are forced into by the breadth of their audience.

In short, we feel that the future of the auction site will not be competition for the general market sites, but specialty auction sites for the serious collector. In reviving AB Bookman, we are looking toward that future.

If readers would like to ask questions about the new AB Bookman I am available to them at this email address, and would be more than happy to give them what information and plans I have. Please remember, however, that currently I am in Tempe (near Phoenix) and the archives are still in storage in Tucson.


Rick Russell is the author of “ Antique Trader Book Collector’s Price Guide“, and (prospective)

Editor of the new AB BOOKMAN.




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