One evening in late April, after a full day at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, I stepped into one of those famous newsstands in Manhattan-600 square feet jammed with thousands of different magazines on floor-to-ceiling racks.
You can find almost any kind of magazine in these places. This particular shop, on Madison Avenue, had an entire display devoted to watch collecting, with five magazines and a few once-a-year special publications. The shop also stocked two magazines for pen collectors, several each for stamp and coin collectors, a couple of antiques titles, and even a magazine for Yu-Gi-Oh card collectors. (If you don’t know any children between 8 and 14 years old, you may not be familiar with this insanely complicated Japanese card game that holds the elementary and junior high set in its thrall.)
But I digress.
My point is this: Among the thousands of magazines being published, you won’t find even one about book collecting on any regular magazine newsstand. Yu-Gi-Oh-yes. Watches-more than you can read.Coins-how often do you want it? Weekly, monthly, bi-monthly?
Book collecting? Fuggedaboudit.
That’s a large part of the reason that I started Fine Books & Collections magazine three years ago (as OP magazine-see The Standard, vol. IV, no. 1 and vol IV, no. 3). I collect various kinds of books but I’m generally interested in book history, fine presses, other book collectors, and what’s going on in the auction rooms. I wanted to know more about books and book collecting, and there simply wasn’t a publication that covered books in a broad way. I subscribed to some of the specialty publications, and there are quite a few-for miniature book collectors, collectors of diaries, Scottish books, modern first editions-but nothing with broad appeal and wide distribution.
Ours is a small operation, connected by the Internet. I edit the magazine from Eureka, California and my business partner, a magazine publisher, works out of offices in Durham, North Carolina. The publication is designed in Manhattan and printed in New Hampshire. This arrangement allows us to cover book news and events on both coasts.
Many people think that putting a magazine together entails printing stories people send in. In fact, less than a fifth of the stories we run in the magazine were sent to us. We commission the vast majority: I hire writers or researchers to do stories on particular topics. The typical feature will go through six drafts, will be fact-checked by two people, and copyedited by four or five. It’s an intense and time-consuming process.
Nick Basbanes, a veteran newspaper reporter and the author of A Gentle Madness and many other fine books on book collecting, recently commented on the rigorousness of our editing process. “I am astonished at the depth of your fact-checking,” he wrote. Why are we so nitpicky? Because I know that book collectors and dealers rely on us for accurate information.
At a point in time when many people are predicting the end of print, it might seem strange to start a new magazine. However, I think there’s never been a better time to be a book collector and that means there’s never been more of a need for a book collecting magazine. It’s true that price competition and the increase in hobbyist sellers has hurt the bottom line of many professional booksellers.
On the other hand, the power of the Internet is giving collectors the tools to build collections like never before. No collecting field supports as many e-commerce web sites as book collecting and online book auctions are vibrant and healthy. The transition to web-based commerce has been difficult for dealers but the opportunities available to collectors will be good for the trade in the long run.
Yet the hobby has a very low profile in the public eye, perhaps lower than at any point in the last century. This state of affairs is partially due to the Internet, which has fragmented the rare book world. We can now easily buy books on another continent, and as a result a lot of us no longer shop at the used bookstore around the corner. As more and more commerce goes online, the person-to-person interactions that are so important to building relationships and for educating both collectors and dealers are diminishing.
Where can new collectors turn for information about collecting? Where can dealers learn about books beyond their areas of expertise? Those learning experiences used to come from open shops. Every year there are fewer of those and people travel less: Why scout in person when you can surf the ‘Net late at night from home in your p.j.s?
This is where a magazine fits in. One of our goals is to help knit the book world together by bringing our readers the voices of the many men and women who love books. You may not have an opportunity to talk with the head of the New York Public Library, but we can and did. We also talked to Google, booksellers, academics, book historians, the head of the National Library of Scotland, auctioneers, executives at Abebooks and Alibris, and collectors. And that’s just in the most recent issue. Where the Internet tends to separate, Fine Books & Collections can help bring the antiquarian book world together, to introduce our readers to the range of current opinion and research on books and the hobby we enjoy so much.
In the last 12 months, we’ve gone from black and white to full color and from 36 pages to 60 for our July/August 2005 issue. While we’ve increased circulation three-fold in that time, it isn’t nearly enough to sustain a viable, general interest magazine for book collectors-the sort of magazine that can hold its own against the glossy watch magazines on newsstands in Manhattan. We believe that a magazine that appeals to the broad spectrum of book collectors and dealers will be good for book collecting and will attract new collectors into the hobby. My business partner and I have made a significant investment in this venture because we think it is worth it from a business standpoint. We are also both long-time book collectors who want the hobby to thrive and for new collectors to take it up.
I know there are some skeptics reading this, so I’m ready to put my money where my mouth is. We know from past experience that most people who try Fine Books & Collections like, and many of you will, too. We invite you to join us, and we’ll send the readers of the IOBA Standard a free first issue, with no obligation. Just follow this link: http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/freeissue
If you like the magazine, you’ll also get our best subscription price, just $19.95 for your first year. This offer is not available on our web site – you must use the link above. Consider a gift subscription for your best customers: they’ll remember your generosity with every issue.
Scott Brown is the editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine. He collects books by R. K. Narayan and Gary Soto.