Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2005 Issue

Alibris Visited

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The Alibris warehouse in Sparks, Nevada.


By Karen Wright

As an online and brick and mortar bookseller with eighteen or so year's experience, I was curious as to how some of the "big boys" run their businesses. Since my store is within thirty minutes of three of the biggest; Amazon, Alibris and Barnes & Noble, I thought I would contact them and see what was up in their neighborhoods.

I spoke first on the telephone with Alibris's A.J. Kohn, Director of Marketing and Sales. When asked what their goal was, he told me that, "We are trying to accommodate all facets of the bookselling market. It isn't an easy place for everyone."

I asked him about the problems that we booksellers face with so many folks out there pricing and selling books when they don't know what they are doing. He said that Alibris is experiencing some of the same problems alongside us, and they are "trying to gain insight. It is increasingly difficult to get stock that will move as price points disappear." He noted that "A number of people who have been selling books online because they thought it would be a great sideline business, are finding it is more difficult and involved than they thought. They are selling their inventory and getting out. It takes a bit of time for things to shake out and reach some sort of stasis. We think it may swing back to something more savvy."

I called Mark Nason for a tour and interview of the Sparks, Nevada, warehouse. It is a 100,000 square foot behemoth of a building. Mark Nason and Brian Duart are the Operations Managers, or as he says, "the guys who are in charge of keeping the business end of the store running smoothly." I asked him what the main focus of his job was. He replied that "growing sales overall" is his primary concern. Nason gave me a guided tour of the warehouse.

He introduced me to Christine Putman, the Quality Assurance Manager, and Ken Aaron, the Catalogue Manager, the two highly trained "book people" who keep the book end of the store moving. Christine and Ken are both bibliophiles and former bookstore owners with many years of expertise with used books.

Christine handles all the really pricey volumes that come through the store, verifying autographed copies for authenticity and researching points to make sure that books are as advertised. She also handles high value quality assurance disputes with customers. The less expensive books are looked at by another staff member to make sure they are in good shape, no staining, water spots, highlighting, etc., and that they are signed or the correct edition, but at 8000 books per day coming through the store, Christine doesn't have time to check each and every volume.

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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