Rare Book MonthlyNew Letter
Letters to the Editor
JK March 31, 2010
Bookfairs, like open stores but (at least as of today) unlike the internet, have the disadvantage of requiring the charge of sales taxes.
Bookfairs, like any other sales channel need their, customized marketing.
However, to promote a sales channel, here bookfairs, is it advisable to do this through discounts? Wouldn't it be better to promote the value added? The value many of our customers see is in connecting with the seller and seeing, touching, handling a book of their interest. For us, the value of a fair is similar, i.e., to connect with our customers and learn more from and about them, in addition to connecting with other sellers. Do we like the instant gratification of a sale on the spot, sure. Is it critical in our business model, no. Many (outside) industry trade shows don't anticipate selling the cars they have on the floor but to generate interest, market a brand, forge selling or buying arrangements, etc.
The suggestion is to rethink what we expect from bookfairs, e.g., the quick sale, potentially at the cost of a discount, or a possibility for continued and improved interaction and education of customers and booksellers alike. If a seller wants to offer books at a certain price, potentially lower than through other channels, that'd be their choice.
The "achieve better fair results with discounted prices" is the normal request of a salesman being able to sell better (fairs) at lower (book) prices.
How can fairs be more attractive to individuals though? Let the sellers do their job but make their lives easier with presenting them with more, qualified prospects.
An endless list of opportunities comes to mind, e.g., educational sessions about the trade, on-site/live auctions, combination with events such as antique road show, etc.
If the value of a book is there, it shouldn't be offered at a lower price but sold as such. If the value is NOT there, then there's another set of issues to be addressed.
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Note from the writer
I'm not focusing on the value of material. I'm focusing on the audience for it. In a more perfect world every good book will find a home but this is not the case today. Institutions and collectors have choices. I would like to see them incentivized. In this way shows may prosper.
Duff March 01, 2010
As a visitor to many Los Angeles ABAA fairs over the past 25 years - starting with those at the Ambassador in the 1980's - the "hotel" business model is moribund. The entire affair was old and the material on the shelves was extraordinarily expensive. Not only were there few bargains, there was limited stock of moderately (
We all like fairs - sharing a common interest in books, the book arts, collecting and the like. The anticipation was exciting and the fair full of discovery. Now however it is clear that for the dealers the cost of a booth, transportation, hotel, food, etc., has made these biennial events ridiculous for all but the well to do on both sides of the glass case.
Unfortunately there just aren't that many of us willing to plonk down $2,000 - $5,000 for a book. This is especially true when it is doubtful a collector will see a return "of" that investment when the future of the book trade seems so precarious.
When this is combined with the a finacial model that requires dealers to "swing for the seats" in the hope of selling two or three expensive books, the decline of this selling model is complete. It has systematically caused the thinning of the collector audience and potential erosion of a collector base.
I believe book fairs can survive, but the business model - not just the venue - must be changed.
First, leave the hotels and old conference centers behind. Second, align with other, popular events - e.g, Los Angeles Festival of Books at UCLA - which draw a ready made audience to a central geographic locale. Third, make sure the inventory is priced in a way that invites readers to look and consider buying beautiful books, not gasp at prices that represent for most of us a mortgage payment. Finally, make sure you get a bunch of dealers who are under 40 years old and have a solid general stock - it doesn't have to be every dealer but enough to make readers in the 20 - 35 age range have some in the trade to identify with. [It also makes for a more diverse and intellectually interesting group of sellers for veteran fair attendees.]
These, or variations on these themes, need to be implemented immediately and not two or three years from now when if all accounts are reasonably accurate book fairs will be footnotes of history.
. March 01, 2010
Stillman article on Google case
Mr. Stillman's article assumes everything belongs to the people and he is
representing the people. So I die and no immediate persons come forward to make a
claim. Ergo the individuals rights to property, land, money, copyrights etc. once
you are deceased and no one steps forward to stake a claim, are gone.
Lets hope the Judge in this case does not allow such a simplistic answer.
And as for all those greedy businessmen lets clean them all out and let the kind
considerate politicians and little, poorly paid media people take over. I am sure
they will spread all that is good around and not take anything for themselves.
The Grand New World of Socialism.
The current law actually is as you describe: if you die and no heirs step in to claim your property it will escheat (I believe that's the legal term) to the state. Your house will not be left abandoned and unused for all eternity. If no one with a right to it makes a claim, the government will take it. It makes no sense to allow the resources of this world, be they real or intellectual property, to be locked away from the living because the previous owner died and no heir claimed the property.
As for the "greedy businessmen," I'm not sure the point here since this essentially is a case of one set of businessmen, primarily Google and its allied publishers and authors, versus another set, Amazon, Microsoft, and other publishers and writers. The government's role is more that of referee, and my belief is that the government needs a new set of rules so that it can play that role of referee in a way suitable to the times. If the government is the evil, and its involvement is "The Grand New World of Socialism," which I presume is something bad, then Google will be free to do whatever it wants with these books and all others. After all, copyright law is government intrusion in the free market, which would otherwise allow anyone to republish any other person's work at will with no compensation. Copyright law is in effect socialism in action, but, in my opinion, good socialism, like social security, public schools, national defense, public highways, police and fire protection, etc.
oldbkshp February 03, 2010
Re: Recycling packing materials.
One of our favorite book wrappings was not mentioned in the article. Living in a retirement area as we do, there are lots of Estate Sales. We buy unused rolls of gift wrap for pennies and use it for wrapping books for shipping. (We turn it inside out so if the Media Mail package is inspected, we won't be suspected of misusing the Media Mail.) I have gotten some amused emails from people who received a book in birthday paper on their birthdays!
. February 01, 2010
The Fate of Libraries
I read the article called "Printed Books vs. E-Readers: We're Ready to Make a Call"
By Michael Stillman and I agree with it. But I have a question for you, does that
mean that libraries will eventually no longer contain printed books (except in their
rare books section) and end up simply having kiosks for patrons to search for and
download electronic books onto their PDAs?
Writer's Response: While I'm not necessarily predicting a 100% change any time soon, I do suspect that this is essentially where we are going. I recently wrote about a high school library that is doing precisely that, though I think it is more a case of accessing texts on computer terminals rather than downloading to electronic readers (click here). These kids will only know electronic texts in libraries. Even at the college level, experience with my own children indicates they rarely use the printed word, though constantly access the electronic word. And, as more people read books electronically, it will become financially difficult to justify printing books that are not bestsellers. Then, as fewer books are published, everyone will have to learn how to use electronic readers, and in turn will become more comfortable with the technology. I'm an avid newspaper reader, but as online news has stolen marketshare from printed newspapers, they have become smaller, and as they provide less news, I have to go online to find what used to be available in print. It's a cycle, and I believe it will (is) happen to books, to the point that printed editions will become a small part of what future libraries will offer.
canadense January 24, 2010
AE Top 500 Auction Results For 2009
You write "Topping the list for most appearances were George Washington and Charles Darwin, with seven each. All of Washington's listings were for manuscript items, all of Darwin's for editions of the same book, On the Origin of the Species."
I take a rascally kind of pleasure in catching the all-too-frequent misnaming of Darwin's magnum opus: On the Origin of Species.
Did you spot the difference?
Writer's Reply: This book comes up so often that I absolutely know the correct title does not have that second "the." Nevertheless, I still manage to write it the wrong way. I looked back at my past articles and it appears I do it wrong 50% of the time, even though I know better. I am appropriately chastised and humbled for my inexplicable and inexcusable mental laxity.
. January 05, 2010
re: In The News: The Political Leanings of Rare Book Users
I read this article with interest but was surprised that you were surprised
at the results of the survey. I am surprised that so many people declared
themselves conservative or middle of the road!
Obviously, I have not read the whole survey but here are some points based
on my observations as a University professor for five years in the US:
1. In America today an unfortunate consequence of the political system is
that "conservative" has become synonymous with "Republican" and "liberal"
with "Democrat". The former represents the censorship, capitalism and a
threat to "traditional" humanities subjects, the latter open to the sharing
of information, a more *socialised* outlook, and a liberal attitude towards
education for education's sake.
2. The majority of academics declare themselves as left of centre (i.e.
liberal or left of liberal) [whether or not they actually are in practice is
entirely another question!]
3. Those most likely to utilise rare books are faculty members in the
humanities - historians, literature professors, language teachers. I am
fairly certain if a survey were taken, then their political prejudices would
reveal that, in comparison, to faculty in other areas they are more likely
to be left of centre.
4. An education which encourages young minds to think critically,
creatively, intelligently is most likely to have a substantial measure of
"traditional" subjects (and hence faculty), for example: English,
Philosophy, History, and, of course, Classics. This type of education is
most likely to be considered more left-leaning in today's commercialised
higher education environment and the types of colleges which teach it
(liberal arts colleges for the most part) likely to attract left-leaning
faculty who care less about financial rewards or other incentives and more
I have not read the whole survey but a sample of 550 faculty from 350
colleges (less than 2 faculty per college!!) may also not be very
representative of the way individual collections are used in comparison to
others. It also strikes me that the element of the survey you have chosen to
light on is overly schematic and not particularly sensitive to way people
actually live their lives (rather than their perceptions vis-a-vis their
Alex Nice Ph.D.
Senior Research Associate, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
. January 03, 2010
Thank you for your wonderful site and great newsletter.
. January 01, 2010
Dear Mr. McKinney:
I browse each monthly electronic journal usually reading articles on the changing book trade. Obviously the manner in which all of us obtain information, including that from books, is radically transforming. The success of these articles would be improved if there was more analysis. Why, for instance, did the sale of your material for $3.4M lead to a conclusion that the book trade is "holding its own"? I didn't recognize a single title in an area entirely obscure to me.
I have never paid more than $500 for a book and don't see how the sale of some 16th century title in Italian/Latin/French, etc., has any rational relationship to a collectible book I purchased 5,10, 15 or 20 years ago.
Anecdotally, my experience in 2009 is that dealers have priced items as if there has been no changed circumstance and that an active, competitive market demand still exists for this material. Yet I find that in the overwhelming majority of "collectible" books sit on the "electronic" shelves year after year after year without price reduction. In other words, I appear to be one of two individuals who might be interested in the subject [books on music - as distinguished from musical manuscripts/letters/autographs], both of us being unwilling to pay the dealers price when there is essentially no market when the time comes for us to pass these books along like you just did.
The point: how is a collector of my interest - who does not have $100,000, let alone $3.4M for a collection - relate your experience in any relevant, meaningful way? That synthesis would make your interesting experience more than just a "story".
Thanks for sending me your monthly journal. I'd probably be more inclined to subscribe if the annual cost was substantially less. That's not to say you should lower the price, I just can't see how my collecting interests would be served by paying an annual price of $180. I'd think $75 a year would probably prompt an annual subscription. [Although it is probably a fiscal distinction from a marketing standpoint that makes little difference.]
A writer's note
This article, on the auction itself, was simply an 'experience' piece. What is it like to sell a collection, in this case with low reserves?
I think the sale confirmed continuing support for premium material. I believe this because the reserves were low and most items sold with multiple bids. This however says nothing about other price ranges of material, most of which are in disarray because asking prices remain high and buyers unconvinced.
As to your frustration with what you believe to be over-priced material we long ago developed Matchmaker to provide direct access to fresh material as it comes to market. I use it to collect material on the Hudson Valley. My annual budget is $20,000 and I rarely spend more than $15,000 while buying appealing [and rare] material almost every week.
Finally, in a separate piece in this month's AEM, Collecting: A Changing Perspective I write about the changing approaches to collecting. It's possible to buy great material reasonably if you approach the task differently.
bltent November 01, 2009
Dear Mr. Stillman,
In your article "Book Prices Tumble Amid Cutthroat Competition" is the following sentence
"The last we saw, Wal-Mart had inched their price down another penny, to $8.98. Among the new releases offered at this incredible price are books by Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Barbara Kinsolver, and - oh my gosh - Sarah Palin."
Would you clarify the "oh my gosh - Sarah Palin" part of your statement? What do you mean to imply?
All of the others are familiar to us as names because they are great writers, though we know little about them personally. Most people probably wouldn't recognize any if they tripped over them. Ms. Palin is the opposite. Almost everyone would recognize her on the street and we all recognize her distinctive personality, but none of us has a clue whether she can write.
. September 11, 2009
As an online book dealer [ABEbooks and Alibris] and a faithful reader of your AE Monthly columns, I'm happy to say my husband, Fred, and I will be at a vigil Wednesday night in Quakertown, PA. Fred began a website several years ago called www.socialsecurityplan.org. He's now a retired newspaperman after 48.5 years in both weekly and daily newspapers in the Philadelphia area. He also has a blog www.fwdpost.com that exposes the tentacles of the lobbyists in government. Interesting reading.
. September 01, 2009
Very much enjoyed, agree with and support your point-of-view. Always have.
Am very much trying to tell the story but not sure how successful I am at it but will continue with helping collectors collect.
Trying very hard to absorb, understand and practise some new thinking.
Thank you for doing what you do.
. September 01, 2009
AE: A Perspective on Seven Years
A congratulations on your vision and hard work.
. September 01, 2009
AE @ 7
I just wanted to drop you a note of congratulations on seeing AE turn seven. Seems like only yesterday that you began, doesn't it? I always find things of interest in every issue and look forward to its arrival - like clockwork - on the first of every month. Great job!
All the best,
Ellen S. Dunlap, President
American Antiquarian Society
. September 01, 2009
re: Remarks on healthcare debate
Good for you for expressing your opinion on this mutilated subject. Even
better for urging true reform. I am a very political person of the decided left,
and I converse often with fellow dealers. I find the majority of them to be
well-informed and clearly democratic in sympathy. There are a few surprises
and even some really ludicrously unrealistic stances. One dealer lamented
thusly: "Since most customers are Republicans, dealers should be
Republicans too." What if most collectors were Druids? or Babylonians? or
Thank you again for your opinions and thank you for AE Monthly!
. September 01, 2009
Great column on healthcare. Did you email this to any organizers? Is something already in the works? It infuriates me that so much of the rage against the new plan is based on lies and myths that now a majority of Americans believes. The ignorant and gullible public should bear a lot of the blame as well...
Manhattan Rare Book Company
. September 01, 2009
Full agreement on your Health Care commentary
I am in full agreement with your Health Care commentary. Anthem has raised more than 500% in the last 15 years.
What's more, my wife is a British citizen and we are offended by the lies and deceit perpetuated by special interests who intend to bankrupt the country before Wall Street. The NHS has its problems, but its billing system won't kill you before any illness one may have.
For any assistance in hearing your voice, please let me know.
Mt. Gothic Tomes and Reliquary, LLC
P.O. Box 3048
Crested Butte, CO 81224-3048
. September 01, 2009
Sunday morning commentary
I've put your commentary on my Facebook page. Thanks!
Tomorrow evening, I'm participating in a vigil in the square at our county courthouse. Things are happening; we don't make the national news. Maybe if we brought bazookas?
. September 01, 2009
Well Bruce you have done it now ... not too smart in my way of thinking.
Your millions on the national mall will be in support of NO government health program, we are the United States of America ... and are not socialistic country (though we sure are trying to get there) There are plenty of health care options and much public support for those that can not afford insurance. You are so so wrong when you say that the organized protests this month are paid for ... I make little, like much less than you. I take time away from my job and business to protest this usurping of power, I care much more for my country than I do for myself ... this is why I do it. Millions have given there lives to make this country what it is, and now folks like you (with a forum to shout from) are attempting to destroy what many of us have worked so hard.
Remember it is already against the law for anyone to be turned away from health care, there is no need to go to the wasteful (and soon to be bankrupt) Medicare system.
Personally your view on books are fine, but your intelligence and thoughts about Medical care should stay between you and your congressman. This little editorial could and should cost you business. I don't give ya a dime and now am damn proud of it.
Proud Member of IOBA
PS - I know this is rambling, I'm off to an actual job to pay my way in this country ... no time for trivial pursuits and elegant language. The people have finally risen and you will see the true power of America this fall, and very likely in 2010.
. September 01, 2009
65% of Americans are satisfied with their insurance plans and they don't give a damn about
Our moderate Republican president refuses to talk about the moral issue of health care as a business.
He is incapable of saying I will RAISE taxes to cover the increased cost. Rather he fudges this point
which is seized upon by sane Republicans. Forget the looney right.
Would you organize against Obama for failure to use his bully pulpit to educate?
. September 01, 2009
Bravo, I applaud your article, and hope it draws great support.
I know, I'm a Limey bastard who enjoys good health services for me and my family. But it has been dismaying to read the heated exchanges from the big pharma lobbies and the insurance people, especially as most of it has been simply untrue.
You have probably seen most of what follows, but in case you haven't, here are some arguments in your support:
Obama's movement for change in the US is at risk of collapsing -- in large part because of lies about healthcare in the UK!
It's incredible, but Obama's health plan, and with it his entire Presidency, could be derailed if big corporations and the radical right manage to convince Americans that the NHS is a nightmare rationed service that refuses to treat patients and abandons the most needy, such as Stephen Hawking, without care.
We need a huge popular outcry to show the truth -- how proud and grateful we are in the UK to have a public healthcare system that works, despite its imperfections. Sign on to the message to America and forward this email -- if enough of us sign, we'll cause a stir in US media and help change the debate:
US healthcare is run by large corporations - it's the most expensive in the world, but ranks 37th in quality, and 40 million Americans can't afford any care at all. It's an awful system for people, but corporations make enormous profits, so they're fighting to keep it. If they win and Obama fails, the Democrats could lose the Congress in elections next year. If this happens, progress on every global issue is endangered, from climate change to the war in Iraq.
We have no time to lose. Industry lobbyists are ramping up their smear campaigns right now to make sure the Obama plan is dead on arrival when Congress meets in September. Americans are hearing a constant barrage of propaganda that the NHS is a nightmare. Let's say it ain't so below:
The NHS isn't perfect -- but it works far better than the US system. Let's stand up to the lies, and help save Obama's movement for change with the truth about the UK's healthcare system.
Brett, Ricken, Benjamin, Alice, Graziela, Paula, Paul, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team.
. September 01, 2009
I couldn't disagree more, but I certainly respect your right to your opinion, just as I respect the right of the opponents of the current bills being talked about. I don't think the folks who are advocating against a government run health care system are anything but genuinely concerned that the government can not begin to handle a program that equals one sixth of the economy, and no doubt, more, as time goes on. For openers, where are the additional doctors who are going to treat the alleged fifty million currently uninsured? I know fifty million is an exaggerated number but that's the number the proponents like to use because it sounds more dire. We know that in reality, there are a goodly number, probably thirteen to fifteen million illegals who aren't even supposed to be here, another fifteen to twenty million who can afford health insurance but feel they don't need it; the actual number of those real uninsureds apparently being about thirteen million. I think the non-partisan CBO puts the price tag of the plan at trillions of dollars. That's awfully expensive to insure an additional thirteen million. I would think there could be some way to insure those folks who genuinely need health insurance far more cheaply. No, I think this is not so much about health care, but about politicians making a power grab. For years we have been moving ever closer to socialism and this would be a real coup for those folks hoping for that reality.
The seniors, who are largely the ones protesting the loudest against the bill, have every right to be afraid. Obama admits that some three hundred to five hundred billion will be taken out of medicare and medicaid to help fund the new program. And I have read authentic accounts of the abysmal service in countries where universal government run health care exists. The real secret is that there will have to be rationing eventually. The government will run the private insurance companies out of business, because it doesn't have to make a profit, it only has to keep taxing us to pay for it. Soon, the government will be the only entity in the health insurance business and I hate to see what that will look like. Why would we suppose that a bunch of politicians, many of whom have been feeding at the public trough for years, never having to show a profit, never having to meet a payroll, and generally running our county into astronomical debt, could possibly run a massive health care program effectively? You and I both have seen far too many examples of their genuine ineptitude in practically every phase of government to expect any thing different.
One other point, in which I lean toward the side of the privately owned health insurance companies. You don't call your automobile insurance agent or your homeowner's insurance agent and ask for coverage after you've had an accident or after your car or house has burned. And you can't insure your life after you've died. They would be pre-existing conditions, and so far as I know, the health insurance companies are the only ones that are expected to pay for those. When something already exists, it's no longer insurance, it's maintenance. I don't see how a for profit business could be expected to operate under those conditions, knowing they're going to pay hundreds of thousands dollars in care for the last six months of a terminal patient's life for the monthly premiums it will collect. Again, there needs to be some form of pool for folks with pre-existing conditions. I'm not willing to let them die through no fault of their own. But another facet of this is that folks with all sorts of conditions, pre-existing and otherwise, have to be treated when they go to any hospital in America. My son works for a hospital and tells me that they regularly treat patients with no insurance knowing they are not going to be paid. It's the law. Not only do they have to treat them for the emergency which brought them there but they must test and examine them and treat them for any other condition they find.
One other point, in passing, I have never understood why it is the responsibility of one's employer to even provide health insurance in the first place. An employer should provide a salary and a pension for x number of years of service, but how did we arrive at the point that the place where you work has to provide your health insurance? After all, you're at work about a third of the time and at your leisure the rest of the time. Most folks who get sick, or are hurt at work, will be covered by unemployment compensation.
There are many reasons I oppose the bill, one being that there is no mention of tort reform which accounts for a good portion of our health insurance premiums, about 300 billion by current estimates. Of course, we know why that hasn't been addressed. Look who the trial lawyers support.
But the most basic reason is that I don't want the government in any more aspects of my life than they already are and I can only imagine the bureaucracy that's running a program of that size would entail. One of the proposed bills mandates that a patient's tax returns could be examined to determine if they qualify for whatever treatment. Another bill calls for abortion to be covered. Being a pro-life person, I want to see fewer and fewer abortions and I certainly don't want my tax money to be paying for them.
The government couldn't handle the Cash for Clunkers program, a mere drop in the bucket, percentage wise of the almost unfathomable amounts of debt we will be placing on our children and their children.
I am sorry you have to pay so much for health insurance. Mine is relatively cheap, and at age 71, I hardly ever use it. I have been very fortunate and I might add, very health conscious.
I have sympathy for those folks who are genuinely hurting regarding this issue, but there have to be many better options than those I've seen so far from the Democrats. I've seen some from the Republicans, parts of which seem fairly reasonable and not nearly so expensive, by a long shot. But you'll never see the Republican proposals in the mainstream media, of course.
I think this was a good discussion for you to start, and I suspect you will generate a lot of buzz, pro and con, which I think is a good thing.
Larry Dean, Legacy Books.
Anonymous September 01, 2009
The last thing I need is another ill-informed diatribe on health care from those who support a president who is destroying the country.
. September 01, 2009
Subject: Your health care comments
I am very disappointed that you used your AE monthly as a platform for political advocacy.
Yes, you're entitled to share your view. But in an otherwise well-focused and enjoyable publication, your item on health care reform was out of place and obviously an attempt to foist a specific message upon an audience not expecting it. I feel like I received SPAM mail, or as if an uninvited guest has invaded what has been a pleasurable sanctuary to visit.
Certainly some, if not most, of your recipients will respond favorably. But some won't. I wish you hadn't felt led to foist this matter upon your readers. It's so out of character with the contents AE Monthly has provided for so long.
Jan August 01, 2009
In addition to the rare books sold by UCSF, a group of Old Master prints, some of them very fine, were put up at auction in April at Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco as well.
The state of New York is making it illegal for university museums (and presumably rare book libraries) to sell their collections to raise money for the university.
Ed. Note: To clarify the material sent to auction this spring were Durer engravings, not books.