It is in the nature of the book trade that the field is always adjusting the relationship between tradition and change. The percentages will vary through the decades, prosperity is a dampener, for when things are good why change? But we are living through an era of great battles in the printing field and can neither avoid nor side step their consequences. To be on the field is to be in the fray.
For those with decades in the field, they joined the trade before the current shakeout and have made a nice living selling books. Back then; bookselling was more about finding material than it was about finding clients. Today we are awash in things to buy, not because there are fewer buyers, but because there is simply more material to buy and it is easier to find. For older dealers who have thought of their inventory as a retirement account, they have probably seen a substantial decline in value. They will get through this, but could experience disappointment for some time to come.
For new and rising dealers the situation is much better. They do not have the old inventory to worry about. They will end up with one but that is decades into the future. They look at the market today, see where the strength is and focus there.
Whitmore Rare Books, in southern California, as a rising bookseller is in the second category – focusing on the strongest areas of the market in their field of expertise: important fiction, unique copies of books and other significant works. Sometimes it is good to be late to the party.
For their clients, they avoid the conflict of having a dusty inventory that they would like to move, but that is probably not the best choice for a discriminating collector to purchase. The leaders in the market generally avoid this problem by focusing on the future and wholesaling and discounting stock they believe will fall from favor in the decade ahead.
Whitmore is beginning a push to broaden their footprint in the field. They have applied to the ABAA for membership and will become, if accepted, an active book fair participant. They are looking at their catalogue presentation, its form, structure and delivery. They may become one of the few who embrace the opportunities and challenges of rapidly changing technology to belong with the new generation – those who are under forty, interested in and adaptable to various platforms and willing to invest their time. Older dealers will not because they have lived through the era of ripe fruit and easy pickings and cannot bring themselves to think about starting over. More than anything else though, Whitmore is working to offer a select group of books that will increase in value, books that will define themselves and their clients as sticklers quality, importance and condition.
For collectors, the Whitmore approach is interesting. Whitmore is buying great material, but it will take time for them to establish a substantial collector following. For collectors, this translates into an opportunity to buy top-shelf material well, not cheaply, but well.
Beginning this month and for a portion of this year they will be advertising in AE slide shows and will be visible on most AE pages. They will be illustrating a range of their current offerings, looking to find great new items to purchase, and making their case to be considered an important, up-and-coming dealer.
They are off to a fine start.
Tel: 626 297-7700
1904 Coolidge Avenue
Altadena, California 91001