Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2004 Issue

Profit & Pleasure: The Bookseller as Publisher

Renee2

We recently reprinted George Witton’s Scapegoats of the Empire (1907) in all three formats


By Renée Magriel Roberts

Cape Cod, Harwich Port. About a year ago I was selling a very hard-to-find copy of Britt-Mari Näsström’s Freyja, Goddess of the North to a customer and found the book — how should I describe this? — sticking to my hands. You know the feeling — you’re happy to have the sale, but you realize that you’ll probably never see the book again. I expect that any closet bibliophile/bookseller who has ever dealt with rare books has had the same twinge, felt the same mixed emotions.

Profitability in our area of bookselling usually hinges upon locating truly rare books. There is always a buyer for these books, especially if they are in very good condition. It is always nice to stumble upon these titles at public sales, but with the proliferation of new and amateur buyers who are using the Internet, such finds are becoming ever more scarce. We routinely buy books to upgrade the quality of our inventory, but we see the cost of such investment steadily rising.

In any event, while handling that book on Freyja I experienced a bit of an epiphany: I realized that there were buyers out there who would certainly be interested in the book’s content, and would actually prefer a lower price to a first edition. The more I thought about it, the more attractive the prospect became — isn’t it a bookseller’s dream to have a monopoly on a particular book, as one would have if working with a live author? In the case of rare books, why not copy them before letting the only existing example out of one’s hands? In any event, we contacted Näsström, who (as it happened) had a revised MS in preparation, and we are now the publisher of her book.

For a bookseller selling exclusively over the Internet, the beauty of combining publishing with sales is also obvious. While publishers have to deeply discount books to distributors to get them in retail bricks-and-mortar stores, an Internet bookseller can sell the book at retail, while buying (printing) it at cost. And it’s like printing money; when you need more books to sell, you can just print them.

We made some other decisions critical to our particular clientele and product mix. We decided to focus on high-value scholarly non-fiction in areas where I had some experience, interest and familiarity — history, mythology, literary criticism, religion, the arts, etc, and avoid such fields as the hard sciences. We decided to avoid mass market areas, like popular novels, exposés, and mysteries — books that require a good deal of marketing to create demand. Because our space is very limited, we also decided to publish books in very small quantities, depending upon a higher than usual retail price, rather than having more moderate pricing, but much larger quantities to warehouse and handle. We are not quite print-on-demand, but we’re close to it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 19: 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28: Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 5: African-American Fine Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 17: Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 19:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 26: Rare & Important Travel Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 2:<br>Old Master Through Modern Prints</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 7: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 16: Contemporary Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 5:<br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 14: Illustration Art</b>
  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions