Winter 2002 (Vol. III, No. 4) Table of Contents
- Free Trial Offer from the Americana Exchange
- Note from the Editor
- From the President
- Tom Sawyer – BookWriter Web
- Charles Vilnis – BookRouter & Allusive Information Systems
- Genuine Fakes: Mark Hoffman
- Godsey’s Ravings
- David Klappholtz, Book Collecting from a Collector’s viewpoint
- Collecting Lost Race Novels
- Six Crises and a Challenge
- The More Things Change . . . Where we have been and where we are going in the Online Book Worl
- Eloise Wilkin – author, illustrator and doll designer
- Neglected Treasures – Overlooked writers and books
- Neglected Americana: The Woman’s Rights Movement
- Britannica 11
- Give Me That Old-Time Religion” or, Finding Your Way through the Maze of American Christian Publications
- Mystery Reference Shelf or Two
- Ephemeral Assays—The Good Book
- Fall 2002 MARIAB Book Fair: Good Finds and Growing Pains
- Midwest Bookhunters Book Fair, dePaul University, Chicago
- 15th Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair (SABF)
- Sacramento, CA – 9th Annual Central Valley Antiquarian Booksellers Association Book Fair
- Book Seminars International
- Internet Book Links
- IOBA Q & A Column
- Author/Book Review: Patty Friedman
- Author/Book Review Joe L. Blevins – the Texas Republic
- Lily Chen – AddAll.com Meta-site Search Engine
- Milo Parmoor – Bibliopoly.com
- The Aniquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) Database
- Jack Benson – Bibliophile.net Bookbase
- Brendan Sherar – Searchbiblio.com Meta-site Search Engine
- Reincarnation: Bookquarters to WantedBooks.com
- BiblioDirect Update
- Global Book Mart Relaunch
(Keynote Speech from the Summer 2002 Colorado Book Seminar)
First, the beginnings – at least for me.
By the time this particular day rolled around in late October, 1978, about a week before Halloween, I had been buying and selling books for a half dozen years. I had a book catalog finished and at the printer, but my “real” job was as an Associate Professor of English at The Ohio State University. My wife, Harriet, and I had two sons, Matt, age 9, and Steve, age 6, so we were pretty busy with academic life, school and activities for our sons, and the book business.
I had hired two of my graduate students to help us sort the address labels for my new book catalog into zip code order for bulk mailing. This involved typing 2000 names and addresses onto 4-part carbon sheets of address label paper, gummed on the back and separated into about 40 labels per page. This meant that, theoretically, when I finished typing all the addresses, I had enough labels to do 4 mailings of my catalogs, which I sent out about 4 to 6 times a year.
In order to make the process of correcting and adding names more efficient, I made separate sheets for each state and for other countries. Thus I could add and delete names from the correct sheets and still be able to do a bulk-mailing sort for the catalogs when they were ready to distribute.
This typical Fall day in central Ohio was a good one for indoor work, so Harriet, my two workers, and I were on our hands and knees in our living room sorting the small address labels into piles. It was grueling work, and we had been at it for some time and were nearly finished when we heard the boys talking and shouting as they approached the front door. As always, they were happy to be home, ready to play, and swung the door wide open and ran into the room, accompanied by the blustery winds of an Ohio October day.
The address labels blew across the hardwood floor like leaves, piling up around the furniture and scatter rugs we had moved to the sides of the room. There was a long moment of absolute silence. After we locked all the doors and windows, it took us about 4 hours to gather them all up and re-sort them into state and zip code piles.
This became one of those small, important moments that can change one’s life. I resolved to find some better way of doing that job. And since the first personal computers had just begun to appear in the market, I resolved to get one as soon as it could store names and print mailing labels.
It wasn’t until three years later, after I had quit teaching, had moved back to the Seattle area, and had gone into the book business full time that I finally purchased my first computer. It did store and print mailing lists, one or two states per floppy disk, but it did not yet store and print catalogs. I was still typing the catalogs, each with approximately 500 entries, by hand on a manual and, later, an electric typewriter.
The more I learned about computers – and these were the days when you had to wire up your own printer cables, and modems ran at 300 baud or slower – that is slower than even I can read! – the more I realized the potential these machines held for a business dedicated to keeping lots and lots of information that had to be re-used, including book descriptions and names and addresses. This may seem pretty obvious now, but it was really an abstraction at the time — a few talked about doing it, but only a handful were actually experimenting with computers. I put a small system together with an original Winchester data storage drive that had a huge spinning platter powered by a large rubber band in a frame the size of a small refrigerator, with a tiny little monitor and a keyboard that spoke an 8-bit language called ASCII. That gave me my first real experience with computers. I liked it despite the difficulties, and it started to become apparent what might be possible.
I began transferring more of my manual work to the computer, printing texts I had previously typed by hand, and things slowly started to improve as I accustomed myself to a new way of thinking. Not surprisingly, I found things that worked well and things that did not. I started getting calls from my bookselling contemporaries asking for advice, and I guess I gave good advice because pretty soon it seemed like I had become an authority. It wasn’t planned, it just happened that way.
In the Spring of 1983 I wrote an article titled “Computers in the Antiquarian Book Trade” and submitted it to AB Bookman’s Weekly for publication. Much to my surprise, the editor of the magazine, Jake Chernofsky, not only published it but also called to ask if I would write an occasional column about computers and bookselling. I agreed and wrote more articles over the next several years, the effect of which was that I became a de facto “expert” in computers. These articles covered such stirring topics as: what is a floppy disk? And what is the difference between a dot matrix and a daisy wheel printer. I suggested equipment, I explained ways one could use computers to make repetitive tasks easier, and I talked some about software.
After about 6 columns had been published, Jake Chernofsky called to ask if I would come to the Colorado Book Seminar for a day to talk with the students about computers for their businesses. Shortly after giving the demo, which consisted primarily of my explaining what a computer was and how it worked, and answering lots of questions, I was approached by one of the faculty members. He came right up to me, wedged his way through the small group of people asking questions, looked me right in the knot of my tie (he was a little short), poked his index finger at me, and told me he didn’t like computers and didn’t think they had any place in the book business. I left early for the airport!
This person, who shall remain nameless but whose initials are M.G., did me a huge favor that day. First, he let me know that I would meet resistance to my enthusiasm for using computers in the book trade and that I had better get used to it or quit now. Second, he taught me that everyone in the trade did not want or need to use computers to run their businesses, that the traditional ways had and would continue to have merit, and that the business was about the books and the customers, not the typewriters, fax machines, and computers.
Pre-Internet Online Database/Information Sites :
The very first serious attempt to create a book listing service was Interloc. I formed it as a company in 1983 and produced a business plan based on the used auto parts network model. The company was in negotiations for funding in 1984. The plan was reasonable, but the concept of an electronic marketplace for out-of-print and scarce books was too new to get funding, so Interloc was put on hold. But only on hold – the idea remained fresh and continued to develop.
The first book “site” to actually operate was Antiquarian Databases International (ADI), founded by Larry Costello in 1988. It was a Bulletin Board Service, or BBS. The computer programmer Tom Sawyer created the now standard UIEE record format for use by ADI and supported it directly with his BookMaster software. Larry was a student at this seminar and asked me to help him launch his service. I declined to be personally involved, but I did spend some time working with him, making suggestions regarding problems and strategies. ADI launched but worked only briefly. Let’s remember, those of us who were in the business back then and haven’t suffered serious memory loss, that before the internet became available to commercial users, all so-called “online” activities involved modems and telephone calls, usually directly to computer venues like CompuServe and Delphi that were essentially bulletin boards.
The next was BookNet in 1989, which wasn’t a “site” but rather an office with a bunch of fax machines. The concept here was that booksellers would fill out want list forms and fax them to the BookNet site. The computers there would “read” the faxes using optical character recognition, or OCR, software. Their computer would parse the information and match the wants against the items listed for sale. The results would then be faxed back to the dealer, who would be responsible for contacting the seller. This system also had a very short life.
Then came BookQuest in 1989, which was the first dialup service to have more than 100 dealers. BookQuest was owned by the Faxon Corp., a large company with 100 years of experience providing magazine and journal subscriptions to libraries worldwide. There were actually two components to the plan, BookQuest for monographs, and SerialsQuest for journals. When the Faxon leadership discovered that their investment was going nowhere, they told BookQuest to find someone who could help them fix it. I was called in as a consultant and later hired as a VP, but my insistence that they needed to re-write their software and change their business plan, including their methods of charging users, fell on deaf ears. Faxon closed BookQuest in May of 1993, and the entire Faxon Corp. collapsed the following month.
Meanwhile, BookBytes opened in 1991, operating from a small bedroom in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. It lasted a few years but never achieved enough subscribers to make it profitable.
Then Antiquarian BookMan began developing a system in the late 1990s. Their Automated Bookman system was an attempt to build on the large volume of wants that the magazine published every month, but the system design was not successful. This was really a shame, a huge opportunity lost for the magazine, as I still believe that a good system design, a reasonable business plan, along with the many thousands of loyal AB Bookman subscribers could have been tremendously successful.
After BookQuest failed, the idea of Interloc still persisted. Several dealers who were using BookQuest to buy books for their customers and sell books to other dealers for their own customers called to encourage me to start a listing service. It would be a kind of automated AB Bookman’s Weekly that booksellers could use to find books for customers by listing “Wants” and to sell books to other dealers for their customers or for stock. In those days subscription magazine publishing was the natural business revenue model. That was because it was an entirely dealer-to-dealer environment. The idea of a listing service collecting a commission for an online sale was as foreign as AB Bookman’s Weekly trying to collect a commission on a sale generated by its Want ads.
Past failures made it clear that we had to do it far better than it had ever been done before if such a system were to be successful. Before I decided to do the project, I called Tom Sawyer, author of BookMaster, then the leading software program for booksellers, and asked him if he could work with me to design an online dealer-to-dealer system for buying and selling books. After several long telephone conversations, he told me he could do the job, but that we would need a computer network and systems expert to set up and run the data center. For that job, he recommended Brad Councilman, a computer consultant who had been supporting dealers for years in the Connecticut River Valley area of Western Massachusetts, which many of you are aware has perhaps the highest concentration of antiquarian booksellers in the country. I called Brad Councilman and we talked about what it would take put together what he called a “data center” – 800 number phone lines, computers, backup systems, tech help, and all the rest of it.
From talking with these two gentlemen, I realized that this would take money (several tens of thousands of dollars) and, most important, would put me in the position of running a company from a distance, dealing with two people I had never met. I would have to be willing to trust them with my money and that of investors, with my vision as it was modified by their experience and knowledge, and with my reputation, such as it was, in the book trade.
Furthermore, we would have to operate as disconnected individuals in different parts of the country. We would have to design and code software for both the back-end system and for the booksellers to use, software that had never been conceptually written. We would have to create a hardware architecture that supported the flow of information we envisioned. It would have to be totally secure and reliable and yet be capable of working through existing telephone lines on most computers. We would have to make the whole thing work on a fully automated basis, controlled by the very booksellers who would make use of it. And, we would have to do it with three people in six months.
The whole idea was, frankly, crazy. But I had learned in working in the book business for about a dozen years that honesty and trust are essential to the working of the book trade. Would it be any different working with programmers and technical consultants? It might, I believed, so we decided that each of us should have a large vested interest in the success of the company. My philosophy was that I retained control, but that each of us had enough stock so that if I could not convince one or the other of my business partners about the wisdom of a direction I wanted to take the company, they could pool their stock and out-vote me. I explained this to them and they agreed that this was a sensible plan. So we formed a corporation, issued the stock, raised some money from friends and a few booksellers, and launched what was actually the second iteration of Interloc in mid-1993. As it turned out, this was one of the best decisions I ever made. Tom and Brad consistently supported my management, and I in turn supported their efforts in every way I could. The issue of voting never arose even once, and we had a superb working relationship. We are still friends.
For anyone interested, the name “Interloc” was one I derived from the term “interlocutor,” meaning a person who facilitates a communication between two other parties. For me, at the time, it defined the nature of the listing service model for books. Interloc customers were the booksellers. We were like a newspaper classified advertising service. We derived income from booksellers, but we did not participate in any way in the transaction between the booksellers who subscribed to the service and their customers. In fact, we were forbidden by company policy from buying and selling books at all, since that would put us in direct competition with our subscribers. Thus, when Interloc started, I resigned my membership in the ABAA. Our advertising campaign was directed toward getting more dealers to subscribe. We held workshops all over the U.S. and even in London, England, to help train booksellers on the use of the system and our software, the Interloc Record Manager. And we advertised in bookseller magazines, like Firsts, Book Source Monthly, and others.
During its first two years, from 1993 to 1995, Interloc created many of the features we take for granted today, but it did so in a pre-internet world. For example, Tom Sawyer created a very sophisticated Wants matching service. Many people think it was far superior to anything available on the Internet today. He created “Best Seller” and “Most Wanted” lists. And he adapted a program that would allow him, with the client’s permission, to dial in to a customer’s computer and fix problems. He also created the Interloc Record Manager, a subset of his popular BookMaster program. During the Interloc days, more than 5,000 copies of the Record Manager were downloaded from the Interloc site, and many of these are still in use.
Brad Councilman set up a “data center” on a folding banquet table in the back of his consulting office in Greenfield, Mass. The accommodations were, of course, sumptuous as befits a computer-related company. In fact, Brad Councilman was provided with a sleeping area in the office so he could keep track of the computers. And for his bed we provided nearly new bubble-wrap. After extensive testing, the computer there received its first call on March 24, 1994, at 2:00pm. It was capable of receiving millions of book records to be listed, deleted, and changed every day. Brad also worked with a friend of Tom’s named Dennis Drew, one of those electronics geniuses of legendary ability, to design and build telecom switches that routed customer calls past busy lines until it found an open line and connected the caller’s computer. At this time, these switches were available for thousands of dollars each, but Dennis designed and built several of them for us for a fraction of the cost of one of the type we could purchase. This meant that multiple Interloc customers could simultaneously dial in and use the system to upload, retrieve match reports, and search the database pretty much anytime day or night.
You might be interested to know that in the five years Interloc existed as a listing service, from 1993 to 1998, Tom, Brad, and I met together only three times – once in late 1993 to do the preliminary design for the service, again in 1996 to work on taking Interloc to the internet, and finally in 1998 when we discussed the transition from Interloc to Alibris.
The Internet Begins –
In 1995 the Internet went commercial. Within a year two Interloc customers, Michael Selzer of Farshaws Books in Mass., and Rick and Vivian Pura of Timeline Books in Victoria, BC, launched listing services similar to Interloc, namely Bibliofind and The Advanced Book Exchange. The Internet made the investment in such services relatively small; while the companies needed to develop software for searching for and displaying books online, they did not need to develop any software for their bookseller clients (Interloc already had done that) and they did not need any telecommunications infrastructure like 800 numbers, rollover switches, and multiple phone lines. The internet replaced all of that. And they didn’t even need to find customers – both of them, as Interloc subscribers, had our complete customer list. They didn’t steal it – it was available to everyone.
It took a few months, but my partners and I realized that the small amount of money needed to start an internet listing service would eventually make it possible for just about anyone to get into this business. For this reason, I believed that Interloc, as a listing service, had a limited time to live. So in 1997 I began casting about to find a new business model that would make it possible for Interloc to survive in an internet-focused world. If Darwin taught us anything, it was that if you don’t adapt, you die.
The business concept I settled upon is one familiar to all booksellers. Instead of being a listing service, we created a new bookseller called Alibris. We dropped all listing fees and, instead, earned our money only when we bought a book from one of the booksellers who agreed to make their stock available to us. To make the business model work, however, we had to do a lot of advertising and, by doing so, make more buyers aware of the rich selection that the used and out-of-print book world had available. So far, it has worked, and Alibris continues to make changes to its business model, as do many companies that try new approaches to established markets.
Many of you know that this change from Interloc to Alibris was not the most popular decision in the history of the business. Even though Alibris was closely modeled on the role of the traditional bookseller, many dealers, especially those who were familiar primarily with the internet listing service model, didn’t like it. Alibris bought books from other booksellers at a discount and marked them up to its own customers. This was standard practice for hundreds of years in the book trade. Alibris also bought books for its own stock. Again, standard practice. And when Alibris offered a book to one of its customers via its web site, it did so under its own name. Once again, standard practice. Many booksellers familiar with the long-standing practices in the business understood what we were doing. Others, many of whom were new to the business or were focused primarily on the internet, didn’t like it, and it was this group that began to refer to me as “The Great Satan.” My children agree, of course, but my wife considers this a bit of an exaggeration.
I still think the change from Interloc to Alibris was a smart move, because in the past half dozen years more than 60 listing services have appeared on the internet but more than half of them have failed. The rest (not counting ABE) have had trouble getting dealers to list with them. The reason is quite simple. Interloc worked as a listing service because the people who subscribed were also the customers, just like AB Bookman’s Weekly. It was a dealer-to-dealer community in which transactions were carried on between dealers. Booksellers kept and served their own customers with the help of other Interloc subscribers. But on the internet, all of this changed in some fundamental ways:
1 – With the explosion in the number of people using computers and the internet, any and everyone can become a bookseller. It takes no training, no knowledge of books, no investment, and, most important, no reason to support the long-standing conventions and ethical standards that have made the antiquarian and used book trade so attractive to the small number of dedicated people who have worked for hundreds of years to build and sustain it.
2 – Pre-internet bookselling was about the booksellers themselves – their sources, their knowledge, and their customers. To the degree your stock was unique and your customer service was good, the business was about you. In those days you sent out your catalogs and found books for your customers, but you never, never shared your mailing list. You kept your customers coming back to you. This is why Interloc was designed as a dealer-to-dealer community.
Internet bookselling, on the other hand, is not about the dealers. It is about the customers. That is easy to say, but the implications are enormous and they are just beginning to be understood by most booksellers. For example, it is customers, not dealers, who set the prices of books, because we now operate in a supply and demand economy in books. But wait a minute. Hasn’t it always been `supply and demand’? Of course! What has happened is that the internet has removed much of what business people call the “friction” from the marketplace. Instead of expensive, slow and necessarily periodic paper publications (like catalogs and magazines), or technically arcane pc based databases (like Interloc) dependent upon expensive proprietary telecommunications infrastructure, we now have the internet, which is an immediate, inexpensive, transparent, high bandwidth infrastructure available to practically anyone, seller or buyer.
The promise of the internet for booksellers has always been a seemingly ever-increasing number of customers. This is, to some extent, still true. The problem, however, is not that there aren’t enough customers. It is that there are far, far too many books. When the supply of some titles exceeds the demand for those titles, prices fall. And when prices fall, customers demand lower prices by not buying at higher prices. They are willing to wait for prices to fall because, in essence, the number of books that are truly “rare” has fallen sharply. Even these scarce books sometimes suffer price deflation simply because customers see so many books online that they assume that all books are common.
There are many titles, millions probably, that are nearly un-saleable today. For these books there is so much supply that prices have fallen to nearly zero (or 15 cents on Half.com). This has already happened with some books we thought would remain scarce, including signed copies of the first printings of works by major writers of fiction, history, cooking, travel, art, photography, self-help, religion, biography, and other areas.
Two brief stories will illustrate what I mean. The first is an incident that happened at the Boston Book Fair in 1997. Brad Councilman and I had a room next to the book fair venue where we showed the Internet version of Interloc to potential customers – booksellers and book buyers. Our agreement with book fair management was that we would not allow people to search books online for fear they would do price comparisons in order to haggle with dealers at the fair, so we demonstrated the Interloc service but only used a few commonly available books as examples. About halfway through the second day of the fair, the book fair manager came to our room and asked if we were allowing people to do searches. We weren’t and told him so. He left satisfied. Then he returned in an hour or two saying that booksellers were complaining that customers were looking at the books in the fair booths, making notes, and then leaving the fair. They were then coming back to the booths saying that they had found a similar copy on the internet for less money and offering that reduced price to the bookseller, who more often than not was very unhappy. It turns out that a listing service was set up in the non-ABAA fair across the street and was allowing people to do searches to compare prices on books that they found at the fair. The customers were setting the prices, and if they couldn’t buy at the price they wanted to pay, they went home and bought the book via the internet or they waited until the price fell to one they were willing to pay.
The second story is about a dealer I know in the mid-west who a few years ago purchased several boxes of signed first edition hardcover copies of Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, and several other good popular writers. He paid about $6 to $8 a copy for these when he bought them by the carton, most of them left over from personal appearance tours and signings at bookstores. When I last checked there were ca. 400 copies of Elmore Leonard signed books on Alibris and more than 1,750 on ABE. A search for signed Robert B. Parker books brings up 450 on Alibris and nearly 1900 on ABE. Unsigned copies of these books by these authors total a staggering 12,000 copies of Robert B. Parker books on ABE and 11,000 Elmore Leonard books on ABE. The bookseller who bought these signed copies admits his investment is now essentially worthless; it costs more to store the books than it would to recycle them.
3 – The vast majority of book buyers are not collectors. They are readers, libraries, businesses, researchers, museums, government institutions, nostalgia buyers, etc. who have little or no interest in the o.p. book trade as such. Many have probably never considered entering a used book store. In other words, they are just people, companies, and institutions that want to buy a book or two. This appears to be good news until you consider that it takes far more money to reach these buyers than it does to reach collectors. That is because book collectors have always known about the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, Interloc, ABE, and individual booksellers and shops that trade in books of interest to collectors because they read the same magazines, go to the same book fairs, and talk to the same people we do. And the collector market is still very small and probably will remain so for a long time. The public market is, however, huge. It represents millions, possibly hundreds of millions, of current and future book buyers.
One problem is that these buyers may purchase only one or two books a year, or a few books over a lifetime. Even so, the opportunity is enormous, but so is the problem of reaching these customers. “Customer Acquisition Costs” is a phrase heard a good deal in the internet world. What it means is that it costs a certain amount of money to find a person who comes to your site and buys something. A couple of years ago, it was not uncommon to hear companies talking of spending $100 to $150 to get each customer to their site to make a purchase. Supposedly, if they had a good experience, the customers would come back, and those high costs could be spread across several purchases. But maybe not. This is why Amazon, for example, will not share its list of more than 32 million customers with anyone, and it is why Barnes & Noble gets mad when it finds dealers trying to go around them in order to sell directly to their customers.
For listing services, the problem and the expense of reaching end buyers doesn’t really exist, because their customers are not book buyers but book sellers who list books on their sites and pay subscription and listing fees. The money these services get from bookseller/subscribers goes back into keeping the site running, upgrading computers, buying more communications bandwidth, hiring more customer service reps, developing software, etc. The listing service derives no direct benefit from getting more book buyers unless it receives a percentage of those sales as either a fee or a commission. It does derive an indirect benefit from getting consumers to purchase books in that more dealers will list with the service if other subscribers are selling books.
Not All Bad News
Since books are one of the easiest, most natural commodities to sell on the internet (along with CDs, Videos and DVDs), more and more large companies are getting into the internet bookselling business. Just as it was initially easy for book listing services to start up, now individual booksellers are competing against Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBay’s Half.com, Buy.com, Alibris, etc., etc. I predict that as these large companies grow their customer lists and their sales, the number of people buying from listing services will dwindle. Collectors will continue to use listing services and any other venues that may have books they want, including auction sites. But general book buyers are migrating to the larger, better advertised sites. Customers want what customers want, and most internet buyers want easy one-stop shopping, low prices, and secure transactions. They also want interesting jargon-free content, easier and more natural searching, and they mostly want books that have been published in their lifetimes. So I further predict that people who are not committed to the book trade will lose interest over time, and those who have the stamina and imagination to build a viable book business will stay the course.
The major difference between these large companies and individual booksellers and their listing services is that the large companies have the financial resources to find, attract, and keep customers. So individual booksellers appear to have a choice. They can either compete with these large companies, or they can work with them. At first blush, competing against them may seem like the purest folly. Most booksellers are content to work with these companies, even though they realize that when they sell to someone else’s customers, they do so under terms dictated by the company who has those customers. However, I would argue that most smart booksellers do both – they sell to the large companies, but they also keep and cultivate their own clients and build their own distinctive businesses. Nobody thinks this is easy, but it can and is being done. In fact, it is being done by most of the booksellers currently serving on the faculty of this seminar. Each of them will tell you how they work, what their approach is to the business, as it exists today, and why they believe their approach works. They won’t give you the names of their customers, and they will keep their sources of books, but they are all realists, and between them they have well over a century, probably more than two centuries, of experience to share. Three centuries if you include me.
As much as anybody in this room, I grieve for the passing of the old days of bookselling. Dealers have traditionally resisted any changes to what they, in their time, believed was the perfect environment. My guess is that they didn’t like mechanical printing, they didn’t like the advent of the post office, they didn’t like the first mechanical typesetting machines, they didn’t like the telephone, and I know that they didn’t like computers and the internet.
This is my 30 th year in the business, and while I have witnessed some major changes in the business, I firmly believe that the o.p. and rare book business is still viable, even thriving. Would I go into the business today? Yes! Would I be nervous about my prospects? Not any more than I was in 1972. Would I have a clearly defined plan? Not any more than I did earlier. Most of us came into the book business from other pursuits. It has been a choice, not usually something handed down to us from our families. Because we have chosen it, either as a full or part-time occupation, we have more reason to want to succeed, to make the business interesting and challenging for us. I don’t speak for everyone here, of course, but here are some of the things I would do if I were starting out.
1 – Internet bookselling is changing and will continue to change in ways no one can predict. Sites will come and go, dealers will start and abandon the business. Companies will be bought and sold. And the stock market will do things we wish it wouldn’t do. Don’t worry about these things, and don’t live in the past. Worry about your own business. If someone offers you a viable, profitable opportunity to sell books, take it. Remember that you are booksellers. Leave the philosophizing to people who can afford to spend the time on it.
2 – If you think the internet encompasses the whole o.p. and antiquarian book trade, you are peeping through the keyhole to get a look at the whole house. Opportunities abound, and they are limited only by your own creativity and hard work. Every day I get letters (email actually) and phone calls from people griping about how they can’t make a living in books on the internet. I ask them, who said you can only sell on the internet? If you rely entirely upon some other company for your income, you are likely to be disappointed.
3 – One of the people who trained me in the book business – his name was Arthur Phillips, and he was a book scout for Ernie Wessen of The Midland Book Company in Mansfield, Ohio – told me that it would take me a minimum of eight years to learn the business. I trusted what he said, but I think he was short by at least 22 years. For example, a couple of months ago I attended the New York ABAA Book Fair. In the nearly 20 years I was issuing catalogs, I listed approximately 40,000 Americana books and pamphlets. But I saw lots of Americana items at the fair that I had never encountered before. And I’ll bet if you ask the faculty members here this week, they will tell you the same thing. To keep your edge and to enjoy what you do, you need to continually see new things and take on new challenges. The more open you are to learning about the business and about the books, the better you will be as a bookseller and the more satisfying your experiences will be.
And finally – you have already taken an important step in your quest to become a successful bookseller. You have taken the time and spent the money to attend a seminar that has, for many years, trained many of the best and brightest people in the antiquarian book trade. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the book trade is in your hands. Some of you may become leaders in the trade, officers in local and/or national groups. Some will become opinion leaders or will, by example, show others the rich possibilities the profession holds. What you learn here will give you a useful, practical basis for making good business decisions and conducting yourself as a professional in a world that is changing in some ways but in other aspects is not changing at all. Be sure to ask questions, take notes, keep handouts, and talk with the faculty and the other students. The people who teach at this seminar are following a long tradition of investing their time in and sharing their experiences with you and, through you, in the future of the book trade.
They, and I, hope that you have the best, most interesting and useful week in your bookselling careers.
Now, let’s get to work!
Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website