Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2014 Issue

Does a Bookshop Closing Really Mean Much Anymore?

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A bookshop recently announced it will be closing its location in an English shopping mall after almost 40 years at the same place. It plans to continue, but most likely only online and through the mail. It is a story that not long ago would have led to weeping and gnashing of teeth within the trade. Now, the story is old hat. There is no longer a need for wailing. The book trade is not dying. It is simply evolving.

 

The bookstore that will be closing by the end of the year is Exeter Books, of Exeter, UK. They have been located at the Guildhall Shopping Centre since 1976. Owner Roy Parry, now 90 years old, runs the place with his son, also Roy. However, this is not a retirement move. Roy, Sr., plans to continue in the business, even if they no longer have a storefront. He told a local newspaper that no one has told him to retire, so he plans to carry on. Why shouldn't he?

 

The Guildhall Shopping Centre is in the midst of a major renovation, at a cost of over $10 million. It is located in a busy area of town, with lots of businesses and good neighbors. Rents are going up. The area of the mall containing the bookshop is to be converted into something of a food court. The twelve shops will be converted to 13 cafes and restaurants. Books may not be quite as easy to sell as they once were, but food consumption does not appear to be waning. There are already numerous restaurants in the area, from upscale to fast food. Nonetheless, there must be a need for 13 more. Perhaps no one in Exeter eats at home.

 

Many bookshops have closed over the past few years. Then again, others have opened as well. Certainly, there are no longer as many open storefronts. Bookshops in malls, even those selling new books, have largely faded away. Others in prime locations have succumbed to rising rents. Many dealers who once had open shops now confine themselves to selling on the internet or via direct mail. The listing sites may be their primary venue. Others make greater use of auctions, be it traditional, online, running their own auctions, or eBay. Prices may not be as high, but sales are quick. Time is money.

 

There are two primary ways dealers have reacted to changing times, even if they didn't fully realize what was happening or how they were responding. One has been to seek new ways of selling. Naturally, the internet has been a major new source of sales. Others have devised new ways to reach their community. A Massachusetts dealer is well-known in his area for giving seminars at local libraries and similar places where he discusses old books and invites people to bring theirs along for an evaluation. A Texas bookseller recently announced she was setting up a bookmobile to be used as a temporary location at various spots, almost like an outdoor food vendor.

 

Other dealers have responded to fewer book sales by expanding their sales to logically related material, such as maps, prints, ephemera, and various other works on paper. Fewer people these days are pure book collectors, but many collect books as one item that pertains to their field of collecting – perhaps science, a famous person, or a particular place. Some dealers focus very deeply on a particular field, similar to what many Main Street shops did years ago when they realized they could no longer compete against discount chains and supermarkets. They became specialists. People still crave expert advice, even if they do seem reluctant to pay for it.

 

The other way of dealing with changing times is cost control. When a bookseller closes a shop, they may not be thinking of it that way. It may seem like an act of desperation, an end to life as they know it. What it really is is a business decision, a logical reaction to a market that focuses more on price and stay-at-home convenience than to the camaraderie so important to an earlier generation of collectors. That's okay. It's the collector's prerogative. Booksellers then adjust their service and cost structure to be an accord with the new collector's willingness to pay. Not all are able to change their ways quickly enough, but they will be replaced by sellers who better understand the times. The market evolves to meet what today's collectors want. Booksellers adapt. After all, the customer is always right.


Posted On: 2014-11-18 21:32
User Name: Fattrad1

Perhaps an article about new shops opening would be of interest to the readers of AE monthly.

Jeff Elfont
Swan's Fine Books


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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