On Rare Book Hub: a reconsidered approach to Books for Sale
- by Bruce E. McKinney
Over the past 15 years listing books on line has moved beyond the future into something embedded, like wallpaper, in the unfolding everyday reality of old and rare books. Superlatives were common in 2002 and today have been replaced by workman-like descriptions and best guesses about where the market is for each item.
Ten years ago we added Books for Sale as an alternative search for [then] AE and now Rare Book Hub visitors and members. It was a soft success, really an experiment that turned out to be more difficult and less rewarding than pursuing upcoming auctions and increasingly older auction records. Today we are three audiences; paid subscribers who use the database of more than seven million records every day; perhaps ten thousand that regularly use the upcoming auction search, and more than twenty-thousand who receive Rare Book Monthly and flood the site during the first five days of each month. It’s a formula that works both for the serious and the neophyte and has turned AE/RBH into a viable business.
But the Books for Sale section has lagged, mainly from inattention. And that is changing. We have retained Biblio to handle our Books for Sale section and now pay them to handle member uploads, orders and purges that are the norm for listing sites.
What we have not changed are four crucial aspects of this service:
Material listed in Books for Sale continues to emphasize buyer-seller direct contact. We do not charge commissions so have no need or purpose to separate buyers from sellers. We encourage contact.
What we are now able to offer is Biblio’s superb [and reasonable] check-out services. It’s a nice plus. In our experience, more than seventy-percent of buyers prefer to pay by credit card.
All searches on RBH search all databases simultaneously. Whether you are searching upcoming auctions, the transaction database, or Books for Sale, we run all searches simultaneously and show the number of results from each of these databases for each completed search. This makes comparisons easy and tends to bring items in Books for Sale and Upcoming Auctions immediately into the mix with Transaction Database outcomes. Our assumption is that all the information we have should come up in every search result.
What will change are the number of items posted to Books for Sale and in time it’s orientation to becoming a Collector’s Books for Sale. Biblio is now contributing listings based on algorithms for value and rarity, that will broaden and improve search efficiency. In time a larger percentage of the listings will be contributed by RBH members, in part because RBH members will have the buyer/seller direct link as well as access to the Biblio check-out while Biblio’s listings will have only the check-out links.
RBH members who are Octavo or Folio members have, in addition to Books for Sale’s simplified access, other services that are widely used; shared RBH Transaction database access as well as the Matchmaker suite of services.
And we hope it will do something more, provide a highly efficient, venue for ephemera or ephemeron that is emerging as the material many in the next generation of collectors, will find appealing and significant. That category is some thousand or more times larger than old and rare books and we would like to provide a home for it. But as much ephemera is inexpensive, listing costs and credit card processing may either be a significant proportion of the price or simply drive the listed prices higher. We hope to avoid both possibilities by permitting the direct link that listing sites generally avoid so that conversations can ensue. In that way relationships can flourish and the “next big thing”, the emergence of an ephemera listing site find an inexpensive and efficient home on RBH.