Some Advice for Booksellers, Russian Bookselling, Abe's Latest Top 10
By Michael Stillman
USA Today recently provided some advice for booksellers. USA Today is probably not where most booksellers look for business advice, and "Ask an Expert's" Steve Strauss may not fully understand the booksellers' dilemma his column displays, but there is still some worthy advice here. Strauss evidently took a look at Powell's Books, and was impressed by their size and service. Of course, virtually no one else can match their size, but service can be offered by anyone no matter how small.
The dilemma here is that the internet age and large volume of sales conducted almost anonymously on listing sites makes it difficult to provide service. In the days when all sales were one-on-one, it was possible to impress every customer with good service. That is not practical when many sales are made indirectly through a third party. Nonetheless, many sales, even internet ones, are still conducted one-on-one, and where there is a relationship between buyer and seller, no matter how small, Strauss' advice is worth considering.
He points to Powell's use of targeted email newsletters, focused on a buyer's particular interests, as an example of service. Amazon does this too (if you ever purchased from them, you are aware of this fact). This is an example of "personal" (though really impersonal) service that evidently impresses customers, as they have been doing it for years. Advises Strauss, find your customers interests, create emails that appeal to those interests, and be sure to use a subject line that will draw their attention. Not bad advice. And for those with much smaller businesses, you might want to take the time to create truly personal messages for your customers, rather than mass-personal messages. These may work even better.
An article from the Moscow News reports that there is an active, if somewhat unsophisticated antiquarian book trade in Russia today. It reports "dozens" of bookstores around Moscow carrying antiquarian books. One seller claimed "prices have not gone down at all," though admitting sales have dropped. One benefit of not making sales is that prices do not go down. Alexei Zubov of the Gelos auction house's rare books department is quoted "Anything is good if you can find it at a low price." Someone should introduce Mr. Zubov to AbeBooks. Both of those interviewed agreed that books not in Russian are mostly ignored by local buyers, creating bargains in foreign language books. However, before hopping on the next plane to Moscow, be forewarned that government permission is required to take any book more than one hundred years old out of the country. One suspects that could add a few unofficial fees to the price.
AbeBooks has issued its list of the top ten prices obtained among the hundreds of thousands of books purchased on their site during July. These, naturally, are the rarest or most collectible of books sold, and the list is notable for the almost total absence of American titles. Of course, European works can be collected by Americans, and vice versa, but perhaps this qualifies as incidental evidence that the book market may be more robust on the continent (and isles) than in the New World. Here is the list.