Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2005 Issue

Alibris Visited

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From left, V.P. of Operations Mark Nason, Catalogue Manager Ken Aaron, Quality Assurance Manager Chris Putnam.


With the exception of the conveyor belts, most of the work in the warehouse, including receiving, shelving, and packaging, is hand-done by the crew. One automated beast, however, is the "ravioli" machine. For single book orders -- in other words just one book to a single customer -- the ravioli slaps a cover of corrugated cardboard around the book and squishes the edges down so that when the package comes off the belt, it appears to be large brown ravioli with a label. It's very cool!

I have occasionally received one of Alibris's Fulfillment Rate Notices. You get those when you have a book listed, but then it is not available when ordered. Now we all know there are lots of bothersome reasons for this. You forget to delete from your inventory, you don't upload your new inventory often enough, your shelver misplaces the book, or someone picks up the book and carries it off without benefit of paying for it. Alibris's shelf stock is organized with a number for each. It is shelved by that number and no one other than their staff has access to the books. Their fulfillment rate from their own catalog stock is 99.999%, Mark told me. So of course, I complained to Mark about these annoying notices, since I do my utmost best to keep my own inventory up to date without their state-of-the-art technology. He said, however, that if a customer orders a book from any Alibris or Borders store, the order goes to the bookseller. If the bookseller doesn't have the advertised book, it makes everyone down the line look bad and annoys the customer. He noted that it is important to make sure the customer's experience meets his/her expectations. I think that is all well and good; however, sometimes we can't always get what we want when we want it.

We chatted about employees. They have 50-60 employees during the busy season who work from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week. Since there are three major booksellers in the area, they try to make their employees work time as pleasant as possible, they meet or beat the pay rates the other large booksellers offer and, in addition, they are located in a more convenient area of town than the other two, so employees don't have to commute as far. In fact, they were getting ready to have an employee bar-b-que for the Friday lunch hour. My biggest gripe, if I worked there, would be that there are no windows.

We discussed the controversy about the big online bookstores putting independents out of business. As Mark noted, there are two sides to that controversy. For the customer, having a bigger variety of books for less money is a positive thing. Of course, Mark said the sellers "may have a different opinion." He felt that until a book is in a catalog somewhere, it doesn't exist. If it is in a garage, basement or attic, no one knows about it. Once it is online or in a bookstore then it exists and the book buyer can find it. They just put the books out there so that can happen.

As we ended our tour, Mark Nason said emphatically, "Alibris is not the Devil. This is how we get the books people love in front of people who love books."

Essentially, he is correct. Every business goes into business hoping to put someone else out of business. This is America and we are, if nothing else, business oriented. Alibris, like all the other big corporations is a business designed to make money and the only way we small booksellers can compete is to buy carefully and offer something unique or rare. To paraphrase Mark Nason, the niche for independent booksellers is to choose books that you know will sell. If you've chosen correctly, then you win. It may not be what we booksellers want, but it is what is, so we must come up with ways to make the best of it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <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>

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