Changing Hats in the Book Business
- by Karen Wright
If they have a really good collection, I put the books online for three months. If they don't sell, I call on my friend at PBA and he looks them over and picks the books he feels will sell for the best price. I sometimes accompany the books to the auction and monitor them. I do charge a per diem for that, but it is reasonable and so far, this has been quite successful for my clients and for me.
I also do a lot of searches for book collectors, but I get very nervous about buying books online unless I spend some time researching the seller or buy from someone from whom I have bought successfully in the past. I live in a bookstore wasteland. There are no really good bookstores here, so I have to turn to the net or travel (which we do frequently) to do research at fairs and stores in "bookish" places.
I try to pay attention to the online dealer's personal pages. How long have they been online, are there many negative ratings? Is it really in "very good condition"? Do they understand the difference between fine, very good, and good? Is this seller competent to quote the edition correctly? Does s/he really understand how to describe a book? Do they know a book club edition when they see one?
When buying for a customer, I always try to email the seller and find out if their return policy is just hokum or if they really do take the book back if it is misrepresented. I have found that trying to send back a misrepresented book usually costs more in time, irritation, and money than selling it myself or pitching it into the bin at the Goodwill. But, I pay almost no attention to the fulfillment rates on the sales sites such as ABE and Alibris. First of all, they tend to make an uneducated buyer think that the seller is incompetent. They really have no bearing on whether the book seller is competent or the book is good or not, as far as I'm concerned. Unless one has state-of-the-art computer equipment and an inventory program that is automated, it is easy to forget to delete a book, to not delete it quickly enough, or, if you are busy, as most of us are, to not turn over inventory often enough. I have to delete by hand, so I'm familiar with the syndrome.
Above all, I keep really meticulous records of my customer's appraisals and consignments. I am mathematically challenged and Excel is a foreign language to me, so I have a good bookkeeper; consignment selling leaves a lot of wiggle room for a dishonest book dealer. In my years as a bookseller, I have only once run across a book dealer who was dishonest. I think, basically, those of us who are experienced and well trained are honest and care about books and our bibliophile clients.
What Bruce McKinney said last month about "...what often used to be considered unobtainable is now available in multiple copies..." is SO true. The trick is how to sift through the trashy books and find the ONE that is in truly collectible condition and will make my client come back again and again when s/he wants another book.