Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2011 Issue

Experiments in the New Bookselling

Ecat

E-Catalogues: 2 clicks away

Traditional book catalogues have been with us for three hundred years and for good reason.  They are effective.  But the economics of bookselling have changed in ways that are raising costs and diminishing results and the field needs new options that harness the web efficiently.  We are throwing our support behind PDF catalogues to encourage the inevitable transition to electronic presentations.   We will of course continue to review the printed catalogues of members but the handwriting is on the wall.

To do this we have created a Section III.  The barriers for inclusion are minimal.  Any research or higher member can submit an electronic every month.  We will not review them but we will provide ample space for the issuer to discuss them.  At the end of the day three elements must be present for a PDF catalogue to be successful:

Compelling content;

An effective presentation;

Logical Pricing

In other words all the rules that govern success and failure in printed catalogues will apply although the penalties for lackluster material and presentation or inappropriate pricing will be paid in diminished credibility, not in direct out of pocket costs.  Because the investment in electronic catalogue presentation will be modest sellers may be tempted to throw something together.  That will be a mistake.  For these catalogues to succeed the dealer requires a following.  We are simply providing the opportunity for these presentations to be found.   Readers will note interesting presentations and continue to look for them.  Unappealing presentations will be quickly ignored and summarily dismissed.  In a few months we’ll add links to follow future releases of dealers whose catalogues you admire.

In some sense, while the barriers to entry will be lower, the standards will be higher for electronic catalogues.  Wry presentation attracts a following.  Meticulous bibliography also attracts an audience.  The mundane and pedestrian will not.

In the transition from the era of paper catalogues to the emergence of electronic media it is already apparent that established cataloguers of the old school have a distinct advantage because they are, at least initially, simply converting to PDF what a few years ago they sent to their printers.

Some also seek to expand the catalogue concept.  John Windle's experiments with innovative cataloguing are an example and I have no doubt his early efforts will be collected by students of the field.

Rare Book Monthly

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