Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2007 Issue

90,000 Books sell at Auction: Sold!

Zobel4

Sold! for $1,000 - a stunning price.


By Bruce McKinney

On October 6th, at JMW Auctions in Kingston, New York, the 90,000 + book inventory of scholarly and out-of-print materials of the Zobel Book Service was hammered down to Experienced Books LLC of Colton, California for $1,000. The sale attracted wide attention. Thousands of viewers online clicked through to read about the sale, to view the specially prepared video and in one case, to bid. That bid was made as the clock was winding down toward unsold. The winning bid works out to about $0.01 per book.

In the run-up to the sale there was wide ranging discussion among dealers and on blogs about it. Most people seemed to hope for but not expect a positive outcome. Following the sale, a second wave of postings discussed the outcome.

ExperiencedBooks.com, is an aggressive online seller. As recently as October 15th they were listing 479,305 items on Abe and 81,378 on eBay. As of the October 30th the Abe material had increased to 480,479 items, the eBay listings to 82,806. On eBay, about 14,000 items were recently listed for $0.99 and a few for even less. On Abe, the vast majority of items are inexpensive although a few are priced above $1,000. Their website is www.experiencedbooks.com., their eBay store http://stores.ebay.com?Experienced-Books-LLC, and their Abe listings http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&vci=50611312&an=&tn=&kn=&isbn

The auction came at a time when the book business is in transition. Increasingly it is understood that perhaps half of all books available on the internet today may never sell due to a combination of over-supply and increasing listing fees. In some sense the winner's bid is a bet that the trend toward free listings continues to develop. For low price and slow selling material free listing services may prove to be crucial long term.

According to one professional in the mass low end redistribution field, the game is in flux as new players are entering and others washing out. This leaves established services to potentially play an increasing role as more books move through the stages of potential sale from probable to possible to unlikely. The less likely to sell material will increasingly be handled by entrepreneurs [triagistas] who are more marketer than bookman. Their role will be essential and free listing services potentially the difference between success and failure.

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