The Americana Exchange Database: Two Million and Counting
By Bruce McKinney
The AED, the historical database of books, manuscripts and ephemera reached two million full text records a week or so ago. This database came on line September 3rd 2002 with 151,000 records, 2/3rds of which were the 29 volumes [106,000+ records] of Sabin's Bibliotheca Americana. In the sixty-four months since, the AED has grown by about a thousand records a day. Initially the records were primarily historical and often drawn from important bibliographies. Today more than 70% of all records are auction descriptions and realizations for sales that have occurred over the past six years. In 2002 AE began with coverage of just 36 auction firms. Today AE covers 147 auction houses in 16 countries: France, Belgium, United States, South Africa, Australia, United Kingdom, Italy, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. As a public service AE provides unlimited free unified searches [at the top of most pages] of all material upcoming at documented auctions around the world.
The growth of the AE [D][atabase] has come at a critical time for the works-on-paper trade as the on-mass movement of dealer inventory records from store, shop and home computers onto the listing sites has created a frenzy of ever increasing listings, slowing sales and softening prices now exacerbated by the global economic downturn. The tougher selling environment has forced sellers and encouraged buyers to look beyond asking prices to auction realizations for a better sense of where public demand is. This is what the AED provides.
The rise of such online public record systems is bringing 'market accountability' for 'works on paper' into view, a concept generally unknown to the book trade but one widely accepted in most fields. The argument once, and occasionally still, made by booksellers that no one should buy books as an investment is rebutted by the thousands of collectors who today buy material but shun the illogically priced in favor of items that are both consistent with their collecting goals specifically and investing goals generally. The dominant generation of collectors, now in their sixties, gives way to a computer savvy 'next' generation that pushes and parses information effortlessly to quickly divine appeal, rarity, availability and price and then decide whether to inquire, acquire or negotiate. The current economic downturn masks fundamental changes in the business that no recovery will undo. This is a generational moment and the AED an essential tool for both buyer and seller to understand current value. For buyers it's confirmation, for sellers credibility. The next generation of collectors now increasingly moves to center stage. Traditional collecting, of course, continues but at a declining rate. To the many sellers who believe the field is in decline we say it's in a transition brought by collector demand for a more efficient marketplace. The good news is that there is a market, it's just not as high in many cases as sellers have hoped. In time it will go higher again, born on the wings of thousands of new collectors that are drawn to an increasingly transparent market.
In the AED several tools are provided to manipulate data. Because price-data ages we provide an algorithm that adjusts selected results into current valuation. For cataloguers we provide a link to identify frequently used terms in selected records because visibility on the web depends on matching terms and catalogs needs a quick tool for building response. Premium service members have additional options to "save to Matchmaker" as a recurring automatic search of over-night postings to the web as well as to create footnote files of historical records to illustrate rarity, value and provenance.
As the AED operates on a just-in-time basis all auctions, once completed, are priced and added to the AED for immediate retrieval. Click here to sign-up. It's $14.75 by the month, $141.60 by the year.