An old college buddy, a closet book collector, recently asked me how I got started in the bookselling business. I surprised myself by pulling out book memories I didn’t know I had. One of the vivid ones was the fun…
The IOBA booksellers are gently tied to one another, even though much of what we do is rather solitary. Our days may be spent hunting for books, keying in data, and dealing with sales orders. The ‘Independent’ aspect of our work is significant. Paradoxically, we are united in our sense of personal freedom and charting our own course. When we buy a book (or a thousand) we rely on our personal intuition and knowledge to determine if we’ll be able to convert that book into a profit. Much of our day-to-day survival rests on our own shoulders.
But not entirely.
“For us, the biggest challenge in online bookselling has been the advent of the megalisters and digital versions of books, which have driven the down the value of books that we used to be able to sell for $5- $15 to nothing. It’s not easy to predict the changes that will occur in the trade in the next 5 – 10 years, but we have a hard time believing that the megalisters’ business practices are sustainable.”
Did I mention that we didn’t know what we were doing? The problem was, that we both had studied English Literature (I’d even bombed around graduate school in Albuquerque to the tune of 38 credits), so far from recognizing how little we knew about the book business, we thought we might be experts.
I used to think that the worst aspect of selling online were the commissions paid to online venues like Amazon and ABE, and a concurrent loss of autonomy to the same players. But, it takes time to build up a clientele that one can call one’s own. As I branch out and make more contacts within the trade, I am finding that the 15% to the online venues feels comfortable compared to the 20% expected by colleagues. But one has to keep these things in perspective; since it has long been the case that most book sellers make most of their sales to other book sellers, and one needs to keep churning one’s inventory, the challenge for me right now is merely maintaining the cash flow to sustain myself in the trade.
We started our bookstore in November, 2001. We had about 20,000 books to start. I thought that would last, like forever. I had no idea how fast you can go through books. De has a fine collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy. So my first exposure to book history is in the SF&F field and I must say I fell in love with them immediately. The art work is so exciting.