Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2007 Issue

AbeBooks Survey: Who Is Selling Books Today? Who's Buying?

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AbeBooks surveyed almost 2,000 of their booksellers.


By Michael Stillman

Abebooks recent released the results of a survey they conducted of almost 2,000 of their booksellers. While their findings did not particularly surprise us, they did confirm a lot of our own anecdotal impressions about who is selling books today, and particularly, who is selling online. We then went to the source, AbeBooks, to see what their reaction was to the results.

Youth may be served, but youth is not doing the serving. Abe found that 79% of its sellers are aged 45 and over. This places the bookselling profession in the same category with Wal-Mart greeters and...well...book collectors. Perhaps the greatest issue facing the collectible book field today is the aging of those who have an interest in its wares. The current generation has not grown up with books the way earlier ones did. Alternative sources of information, first television, and now the all-invasive presence of the internet, has made books an afterthought to much of a generation. It is hard to sell nostalgia to those who never experienced the thrill when it was new.

This is not to predict the doom of bookselling. Millions of books are undoubtedly changing hands every few days, and many buyers are young. The huge textbook market must have an average customer age of around 20. The issue here relates to the traditional collectors, a valued but smaller part of Abe's overall business.

The remaining profile of Abe's booksellers is also interesting. Half have degrees or some type of "higher qualification," and most sellers left white-collar careers to become booksellers. The most common prior careers are teaching, librarians or other library careers, sales, and management. What we are seeing here is something most AbeBooks sellers know (likely from personal experience) -- those entering the field tend to be well-educated, professional people, looking to exit their stressful careers for something more relaxing. Boy are they surprised! For so many, bookselling is a labor of love, rather than a great career move (financially). They love books and want to be a part of the business, but for many it may be more suitable for a side, hobby career than a way to get rich.

The survey shows that 11% of Abe's sellers work 51-60 hours per week, 9% over 60 hours. These are not the hobby sellers but those trying to make a full-time income. The most time-consuming task is online cataloguing. You knew that. A majority -- 60% - sell only online, but just 21% plan to launch their own selling website. Abe sellers get their books at library sales, estate sales, private sales, and auctions, and 26% have traveled up to 100 miles to obtain a book. One quarter of these dealers expect to increase their online inventory by 10% to 25% this year.

In a sign that there are many booklovers within this profession, the survey revealed that 33% read from 5 to 10 books per month, despite all of the time needed to sell them.

What are the sellers' biggest fears? To this question, 68% listed falling book prices as their largest concern. Another 38% said they were worried that fewer young people are reading books today.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. <i>A superb collection of manuscripts signed by Lincoln and relics related to Lincoln’s death</i>. Washington, 1864-1865
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Rare Relic of the Underground Railroad (1857). <i>$500 Reward Ran away ...</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> CARTER, SUSANNAH. <i>The Frugal Housewife,</i> (1772) the second American cookbook, plates by Paul Revere.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> SCHIRRA, WALTER M.. Icon of the American Space Program. <i>A Complete Set of Schirra’s Flight Log Books (1947-69).</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> A fine pair of daguerreotypes, one a black nurse holding a white baby, the other the white parents. Maryland, c. 1853.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> The Internet. (COMPUTERS.) CERF, VINTON & KAHN, ROBERT. <i>"A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication" in IEEE Transactions on Communications.</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Anne & Margot Frank's copy of <i>Grimm's Fairy Tales</i>, in which Anne wrote her own and Margot's name, circa 1940. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Albert Einstein, group of 4 letters Signed to Helmut L. Bradt regarding Bradt's emigration to the U.S., one bearing Nazi censor ink stamps, 1939-40. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Archive of items from Ludwig Bemelmans to producer Mary K. Frank, concerning <i>The Street <br>Where the Heart Lies</i>, 1959-62. <br>$10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Archive of correspondence to<br>Edwin A. Van Valkenburg from President Theodore Roosevelt and members of his family, 1913-21. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Oscar Wilde, manuscript notes panning a book on book collecting, circa 1886. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b><br>John Hancock, partly-printed document Signed as Governor of Massachusetts, Boston, 1781.<br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Franz Liszt, Autograph Letter<br>Signed to Carl Gille, Rome, 1869. $4,00 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b> Joseph Conrad, photograph Signed and dated, 1918. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 5:</b><br>Two Guns White Calf, photograph postcard Signed with his pictogram, 1929. $800 to $1,200.
  • Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, 8 June 2016, New York
    Bonhams June 8: ARISTOTLE.<br>384-322 B.C.E. De animalibus <br>US$ 300,000-500,000.
  • Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 18. Blaeu, <i>Nova et Accuratissima Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula</i>, 1660.<br>Est. $14000-$17000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 20. Pitt, <i>Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula</i>, 1680. Est. $9500-$11000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 65. Ortelius, <i>Americae sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio</i>, 1571. <br>Est. $6000-$7000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 84. Bailleul, <i>L'Amerique Divisee en Ses Principales Parties</i>, 1752.<br>Est. $19000-$22000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 99. Sayer & Bennett, <i>The American Military Pocket Atlas</i>, 1776. <br>Est. $10000-$12000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 269. Reid, <i>Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia</i>, 1796. <br>Est. $2750-$3500
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 291. Carleton, <i>Map of Massachusetts Proper</i>, 1801. Est. $12000-$14000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 378. Keulen, <i>Pas Kaart vande Noord Oost Kust van Cuba en d'Oost Kust van Florida</i>, 1695. Est. $3250-$4000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 651. Ptolemy/Fries, <i>Tabula Superioris Indiae & Tartariae Maioris</i>, 1541.<br>Est. $3000-$4000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 688. Wit, <i>Nova Africa Descriptio</i>, 1660.<br>Est. $2750-$3500
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 706. Ortelius, <i>Maris Pacifici</i>, 1589.<br>Est. $8000-$9000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 727. Audubon, <i>Least Stormy-Petrel</i>, 1836. Est. $1400-$1700
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 741. Bordone, <i>Isolario</i>, 1547.<br>Est. $16000-$19000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 747. Teesdale, <i>A New General Atlas of the World</i>, 1835. Est. $2000-$2750
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 752. Colton, <i>Colton's Atlas of the World Volume I and II</i>, 1856.<br>Est. $2500-$3250
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 760. Prevost, <i>Histoire Generale des Voyages ... Tome Quatorzieme</i>, 1757. <br>Est. $2400-$3000
  • <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 131. After Karl Bodmer (1809-1983) Pehriska-Ruhpa Aquatint. $1500-$2500
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 212. Catlin Snow Show Dance Hand Tinted Lithograph No. 14. $1000-$2000.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 213: Hurlimann After Bodner Saukie Fox Indians Aquatint. $500-$1000.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 226: After Karl Bodmer. Dance of the Mandan Indians Aquatint. $1000-$1500.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 281: Karl Bodmer (1809-1983) Massika and Wakusasse Hand. $750-$1500.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 244: After Catlin Nah-To-Toh Pa Lithograph, Plus Another. $300-$600.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 305: History...Indian Tribes N. America, McKenney & Hall, 3. $3000-$5000.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 316: Catlin, George, "North American Indians," 1841, 2 Vols. $500-$1000.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 284: Catlin, George, "North American Indians," 1926, 2 Vols. $200-$300.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 285: Coleson, Miss Ann, "Among the<br>Sioux Indians!" 1864. $500-$1000.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 289: Heard, L.V.D., Sioux War and Massacres, 1865, First. $400-$800.
    <b>Dirk Soulis April 30:</b> Lot 288: Life of Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk, 1834. $400-$800.

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