Rare Book MonthlyNew Letter
Letters to the Editor
. February 01, 2008
re: An Unhappy Story: A Deal Gone Bad
Bruce. I found your tale about Ebay very interesting. My experiences with the site
almost exactly correspond.
I have one negative feedback from a bookdealer in Toronto. The tale is as follows:
I bought a folding Marcus Ward card and when it arrived the fold was partly
detached. I e-mailed the seller to tell him and neither asked for a reduction or a
refund or even inferred that I wanted one. I got a grumpy reply stating that it was
fine when sent so I must have done it or it happened in transit.
It would not have been possible to tear in transit so I posted a neutral feedback
and the message 'condition less than description.' I got a negative feedback with the
rebuttal 'item was described photos prove it damage in transit would avoid in the
future.' Apart from the fact that the photos did not show a crack in the hinge as
they were face on, this reply seems excessive for my temerity in mentioning the fault
and posting a neutral on receipt of an arrogant and grouchy response.
The moral of the tale is to be very very careful of the feedback one posts
regardless of how in the right one is.
. January 03, 2008
Dear Bruce and Staff:
A Happy New Year to you all for a great job of keeping us informed. It's always a pleasure receiving your monthly newsletter.
Tyson's Old & Rare Books
. January 01, 2008
re: Great Homosassa Hassle
Suggest you warn unfortunate against including first class matter with books shipped. Better that be an email form letter. Delivery confirmation is a good idea. Insurance requires a 30 day waiting period. Am more glad now that I quit selling on Alibris.
. November 05, 2007
re: Streeter Sale
While I do recognize the total of over $3 million as a total, I have a mild comment about it being the "record" auction.
4,000+ lots over 3 years in 1966-69 dollars were indeed impressive, and I did use some of the Streeter catalog references in the 70's.
However, my father, William Hanzel, did sell 373 lots in one two-day auction in September of 1973 for a net (no buyer's premium back then) for $893,000.
I remember carrying 4 Washington letters to the photographer. It was still a trade business back then ~ Newman, Nebenzall, Fleming, Hamill & Barker (now there's a book story), Seven Gables and others.
I do still wonder where Washington's letter Fitzpatrick vol. 28, page 303 ended up ~ it reminds me every now and then to re-read and re-think 3 times before I send a serious email, and I talk about how writing in 1785 could be both well-thought and in good penmanship, since delivery was rather slower than we are used to.
. November 05, 2007
Ken Leach Obituary
That was a wonderful send-off for Mr. Leach! You have a real gift for writing.
I didn't know Ken Leach personally, but many of my best Americana passed from me to him through a third party and then on to who knows. But these transactions got me through some hard times.
. November 01, 2007
Surely you know that ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number? When you say "ISBN numbers" you're actually saying "International Standard Book Number Numbers".
This is not the kind of error one expects to see in your publication.
. November 01, 2007
Your new monthly newsletter rec'd today is surely one of your most interesting, if not THE most interesting one I've read. I especially liked your Wessen/Ohio article, and your fine description of Ken Leach and his career. There are a number of others that fascinated me also, but I thought I'd inform you of my interest.
Clare Van Norman
. November 01, 2007
re: Ken Leach
You write: "Mr. Leach was an outsider of sorts. The Antiquarian Bookseller's Association of America [ABAA] of his era was dominated in New England by George Goodspeed, himself a prickly character, and Ken was never offered membership."
I question your statement "Ken was never offered membership" in ABAA. One is not offered membership in ABAA. Anyone can apply. Ken Leach certainly could have applied. Perhaps what you meant to say was that he was not encouraged to do so (by the likes of a George Goodspeed), or that he did not feel he would be comfortable among the membership. In fact, a considerable number of tributes to Ken Leach have been posted on the ABAA discussion list.
member ABAA ILAB
Mr. McKinney's Response:
I only mentioned the ABAA to in part clarify Mr. Leach's embrace of the AAS and this to in turn explain his extraordinary generosity towards them.
dan November 01, 2007
Thanks so much for AE Monthly. The changes in the book market over the past few years have been bewildering. It's enlightening and comforting to read how other booksellers are coping with these changes.
. November 01, 2007
Your articles are always erudite and worthwhile and your 'Red Stars over ABE' is no exception, but I think you are letting them off the hook somewhat.
Please find below a copy of my article to be published in the next issue of the IOBA 'Standard'.
The ABE Bookseller Ratings Deception
How on earth can it be that that David Brass Rare Books, a well respected ABAA antiquarian book dealer in California of over 40 years experience is rated by ABE as a 'One Star Bookseller', yet obviously inferior re-listers such as Anybook , Best Bargain Books, Bargain Book Stores, etc., with their millions of low-grade boiler plate listings polluting the ABE site are rated as four or even five star booksellers?
The answer, of course, is that they are not bookseller ratings at all, they are simply 'Fulfilment Ratings'. But the presentation and the implication of the wording is that it is an overall quality of the bookseller that is being assessed by a 'caring' ABE.
Anyone from the outside world looking at 'Bookseller Rating' would assume that it meant the overall quality of the bookseller - the quality of stock, the expertise, the quality and honesty of descriptions and the quality of service. Therefore a five star bookseller is better than a three star bookseller and so on. We all know the many reasons why ABE have chosen fulfilment as the criteria and 'Bookseller Rating' as the purposely misleading title - and they are all selfish to ABE, rather than for the good of their customers. Or for you.
Is there anything we can do about it? I think there is.
For a number of years now (i.e. from when ABE started going bad) we have given our customers information on which listing sites do and don't charge commission and how much.
We do it via a give-away leaflet in the bookshop, via a 'tail' on the emails we send out and via the booksearching information page within our website. A number of other bookdealers have joined us in these efforts, which is very helpful.
And it is working. Over the past three years our web-based sales have risen by almost 100%. Direct sales and sales through non-commission sites have risen dramatically over this period, but ABE sales have remained stagnant and have therefore diminished significantly as a proportion of our overall web sales.
So, slowly but surely customers are learning about, and don't like, the extra charges and are beginning to understand that if they go direct to the seller, or through non-commission sites, they will make significant savings.
I believe that the ABE Bookseller Rating needs a similar approach and to this end we have introduced Booklisting Site Ratings to our website:
Just as ABE chose the criteria that suited them (fulfilment) and chose to call it 'Bookseller Rating' rather than 'Fulfilment Rating', we chose the criteria that we felt were most important to us and our customers: quality of listings and amount of commission charged.
The main purpose of this article is to encourage others to follow suit. Feel free to copy or link - you would be doing your customers a service. Your own version can be completely different from ours, with extra sites added and others removed as each bookseller chooses. And with your own criteria and awarding of stars.
If you have a blog, then blog it - Steve Gertz of David Brass Rare Books and friends are already hitting back:
and others are on the way.
As I write, I can almost hear the moans:
"What's the point? We'll never beat the big sites."
If that is your attitude, you deserve to be fleeced. Collectively we have the power to force change. True, it cannot be done head on as booksellers are notoriously difficult to gather behind a common policy, but if enough sellers take action of this nature, a slow erosion takes place and one by one customers are weaned away from the high charging sites. And once they leave, they rarely go back. Education, education, education.
"Why pick on ABE? Alibris does the same thing."
True, although they at least have the decency to give it a more honest title. ABE probably get more criticism because they were once the best book listing site on the web and were built up by that quality and the promotion of the participating booksellers. So every adverse change, of which 'Bookseller Ratings' is only the latest, tends to fuel the sense of betrayal that many booksellers feel. In any case, the Booklisting Site Rating is aimed against all the high charging sites, not just ABE.
Get it clear in your head: ABE are a listing site. They own no stock, so are vulnerable to better or more economical listing methods becoming available, be it Google or a new player emerging. They have taken the conscious decision that bookseller loyalty and support is unimportant compared with making money. Like Amazon, eBay and Alibris, they have found that taking a percentage of the stock of someone else, is very profitable.
Make no mistake - they are right. The path ABE have taken is considerably more profitable than the previous model, but the downside is that it includes the seeds of their eventual destruction. As they have no loyalty to the booksellers that helped create them, those booksellers need feel no loyalty to them and if a better listing method comes along, they will desert ABE in droves.
Meantime, the best that the independent bookseller can do is to keep on supporting the independent sites such as ABAA, IOBA and TomFolio, and in the UK, ABA. PBFA and IBookNet. Give them price preference as they don't charge commission (or uplift your prices to the commission charging sites). Give your new listings a two or three week start on their sites. Promote their qualities and integrity whenever and wherever you can.
And keep spreading the word about commission charges and Booklisting Site Ratings!
Stuart Manley, co-owner, Barter Books, Alnwick, Northumberland, England
Nialle October 03, 2007
I wish to take a quibbling issue with this month's article about "The Declining Value of Inventory." Notwithstanding my respect for Mr. McKinney, I do feel that there was perhaps a slight excess of gloom prior to the final paragraph, to which I would propose a potential solution.
It is quite true that internet prices are falling everywhere. It is also quite true that this has been caused, in part, by widespread use of what Mr. McKinney kindly calls "triage software." If fifty thousand booksellers use such software to stay a penny below market, all books not on current bestseller call will shortly list for a penny, and the bestsellers will follow sooner than later. Automation is a convenience of our age, but as our friend Aldous Huxley (among others) warned, it is a tyrant when given free rei(g)n. One of the adjustments the market will require is a change to more responsible use of such tools, which will be achieved as the sellers in question discover that they are barely netting pennies per book. Natural selection will follow.
But does this mean that the books themselves are worth only the highest low price? It is true that, for example, James Oliver Curwood novels have a high mass to airfoil ratio, figuratively disabling them from flying off the shelves. Likewise, self-help books more than six months old and unkempt book club editions can do nothing but inflate Abebooks' already misleading listings-available count. But I submit that this is the challenge of our profession: If we find the market flooded with an oversupply of books of true merit, we ourselves must create demand, which we can achieve by selecting our inventory and marketing it as intelligently chosen elements for a discerning reader's collection.
This can mean anything from having a staff picks shelf for recent fiction to printing esteemed, regular catalogues for a select class of buyers; tipping our hands quietly to share bibliographies we have compiled over lifetimes of experience, or simply making time to know our customers' tastes and some appropriate clusters of authors who have similar styles or themes. Mr. McKinney, of course, knows better than I do the value of a well-written catalogue. And every bookseller knows at least as well as I do the importance of having a consistent quality of books to retain a consistent customer base - consistent quality both in terms of the physical objects, books, and in the content thereof. But let us not forget that we, too, are assets of our establishments. Our knowledge is worth more than triage software prices.
Do our customers know this? And are we keeping in mind that collectors are created in the cooperation of willing customers and working booksellers?
In the immediate term, it is true, the average listing price of Curwoods, Psychology 101 2nd Edition (1982), and even the last four Harry Potter novels must fall as low as the listing sites allow. Were postage rates not so ridiculous, this might have allowed those of us with open shops to select some inventory at wholesale or better prices, and indeed, I think it likely that penny listers not already wholesaling to bricks and mortar shops will, of necessity, find ways to do so - even unto aggregation, as unlikely as that may sound - as the individual customer resistance to media mail rates rises. There will also come a point at which the online boom will bust, and only those who are able to market their skills as booksellers will survive that bust, with the eventual result that the survivors won't have to worry quite so much about being underpriced by thrift-shop-to-hall-closet microdealers.
But better yet, I would suggest, there is an incredible opportunity in the marketplace right now for us to demonstrate that we can cater to individual tastes even better than the cola companies with their fifty-nine varieties. Individual tastes will shape the upcoming market, and as we offer that most individual of commodities (okay, with the exception of the latest Jane Austen ripoffs), we have the chance to encourage and perhaps even to shape individual tastes. Are we teaching young people what makes a book worthwhile, inside and out? Are we introducing them to our old friends, Homer, Tolstoy, Alcott, Yeats? And are we helping them to collect, within reasonable budgets? Mr. McKinney's math is quite right; if the ratio of copies to buyers is high, the price will fall, but if we inspire the collectors, this ratio will reverse in proportion to the number of private libraries we help to create. In fact, I rather think that has always been a part of our role in the world.
Respectfully, and with hopes that Mr. McKinney will not much resent my incessant invocation of his name,
The Haunted Bookshop
Iowa City, Iowa
. October 01, 2007
Your "I have a dream" article was great. I hope Sony heeds you (and their competitors as well)!
Adobe Book Collection
. September 01, 2007
The article on Madeline Kripke's dictionary collection was wonderful. Thanks very much.
San Antonio, Texas
mrussell August 02, 2007
Dear Bruce McKinney,
Thank you for the series of articles, they are a great source of information to myself, also to my Aunt who has written her doctural dissertation and several books. Keep them coming!
. August 02, 2007
re: Issue of dates in print-on-demand books
Last year I raised the issue of the date of print-on-demand books here:
. August 01, 2007
re: Abe Listings
I noticed some ABE booksellers listings for literally every search result.
It is extremely unlikely anyone would actually own all these books in stock.
I am informed that some seller listings now replicate others, buying the cloned listing to fulfill the higher priced orders. My enquiry about this to ABE was ignored with form email.
Such listings clog search results and diminish actual book dealers from selling. ABE listings already suffer from poor book descriptions and amateur sellers that offer book club as first editions.
It is becoming harder to sell rare or first editions on ABE as that company focuses on reading copies hoping to rival Amazon. These cloned listings can only annoy alert customers and cloud their confidence in ABE.
. August 01, 2007
re: Doctoral Dissertation
As a copyright holder myself, I have great sympathy for Ren? Magriel Roberts.
ABE's arrogant attitude towards almost everyone is the reason I refuse to list there.
If one reads ABE's current seller contract, they state that they are responsible to no one. The only thing ABE's owners are interested in is the fees they collect from both sellers and buyers.
Kathryn Ashe Bookseller
bjramer August 01, 2007
Commenting on a New York Times article recently, by Harriet Rubin,
concerning CEOs who collect rare books, one of our colleagues wrote the
A glance at Harriet Rubin's web site is not reassuring: "In her
bestsellers [sic] The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women, Harriet Rubin
defined the tactics by which young women seeking success can get what
Which returns one to our trade and "publicity." I received in response
to my first posting a very detailed account of the prices asked for
ORIGIN (by Charles Darwin) chronologically, over the last many years,
from a thoughtful colleague. Had that history appeared in Rubin's
article, our trade's daily exercises might have been better understood.
Moral, I suppose: choose your journalist, lest ye be chosen. Customers are so advised also.
Bruce J. Ramer
Experimenta Old and Rare Books
New York, NY 10075
Telephones (212) 772-6211 and 772-6212
Fax (212) 650-9032
bookphil August 01, 2007
I've often praised you for your tremendous reports. Now I cringe under you undecipherable explanation of eBay...I wonder who gave up after the first 2 paragraphs?
Maybe if you wrote those figures and bids and no showing bids and...IN COLUMNS??? we might understand.
I know I'm not getting senile, but at my peak, I could not have understood how secret bids are secret until the jump over the suckers who are JUST WATCHING THE BIDS SHOWN!
doesn't it sound a little........................
Incidentally, I used to read every article, but in this moving/selling mode, I haven't the time..just kept noticing you were out WEST. Thought it was a long vocation...so I guess in your many writings you explained why you had left steamy, freezer OHIO!
Bookphil August 01, 2007
Why on earth did you not ask about the most annoying problems. They cost us today! allowing the $1.00 paperback (whose owner makes 300% on postage. WHY DIDN'T YOU ASK WHY THEY MAKE BUYERS CRAWL THROUGH THESE THOUSANDS..AND..EVEN WORSE, THE books printed by request...worse? maybe not. At least it allows the buyer to see he can have a grand, maybe beautiful volume instead of a crunched facsiila.
I bet millions are screaming ..ABE STOP THIS STUPIDITY. Why waste their time and hours rolling through 200 paperbacks to get to a hardcover/
Solution. Easy. As everything else is parsed..put this as an option...Paper..& facsimila!
HELP..IT KILLS AND TAKES AWAY THE JOY FOR ME TRYING TO FIND A BOOK.
AND DONT SAY THEIR ADVANCED SEARCH DOES THAT..I PUT IN FIRST EDITIONS AND GET PAPER that has no written comment of being a first!
One of their oldest customers...n.bridgeman
. July 01, 2007
Respectfully submitted observations on young readers:
Dear Mr. McKinney and co.:
I'm an avid reader of the AE monthly and find its material well-researched and well-balanced, as well as timely. I did wish, however, to express a little concern about some remarks toward the end of this month's article about the Abebooks survey about young readers and booksellers. While I'm aware of the demographics reported by various institutions, I feel that it is important not to dismiss the younger generation as gadget-toting consumerists, or as a market sector for textbook sales. They are a generation much starved for attention and encouragement from their elders, and I can attest that such attention and encouragement quickly produces the readers and collectors desired, especially when the books offered are affordable.
Like most booksellers, I came to the business from another profession, but unlike most, I purchased my used book shop when I was 26. I set three goals for the business: to expand certain favourite sections (literature, poetry, philosophy, Irish history, etc.); to optimise online listings and to create a website; and to bring in as many younger customers as possible.
In the ensuing years, I have built up a strong community, including dozens of children under the age of 14 whom I know by name and tastes, and many of whom, with the encouragement of some wonderfully supportive parents and myself, have begun to read the Brontes and Austen, Kipling and Stevenson, Dickens, Twain, Richard Wright, Verne, and contemporary Nobel winners, too. One 13-year-old prodigy has even acquired a taste for Borges and Calvino. Far from being an endangered species, these voracious young readers needed no coercion and only a little pocket money and some unscheduled time to become acolytes of the literary canon.
Others, aged 17-22, with finances drained by ruthless textbook prices, with little free time due to the necessity of working 40-60 hours per week while attending college part or full time, came for some affordable escapism and have since formed both book clubs (they are head-over-heels for Jasper Fforde at the mo, especially the Shakespeare bits) and writing clubs, some producing truly promising fiction.
Are they collecting? The younger ones are, avidly, as much as their allowances permit. The college set collect good works in cheap editions, though they snatch up older Modern Library volumes with their holiday gift money. One is working on assembling a library of Hugo and Nebula winners in book club editions, assiduously purchasing plastic jacket sleeves to protect her investment. Another is taking lessons in binding and repair from the nearby Center for the Book so that, when he can afford a sadly disbound Dore Don Quixote I have tucked away, he will be able to mend it himself.
What marketing techniques have I used? None, save word of mouth. What promotions have I offered? None, save low prices on some old Grosset and Dunlaps or Signet mass markets. What has made this effort a success? Well, perhaps luck, and perhaps the benefit of my shop's location in a university town; definitely some goodwill built up by the shop's prior owners, and definitely the local availability of paperback classics; but I would submit that a principal element has been talk. Talk between readers, who are invited to share seating or to meet for board games or to play our piano and thus have ample chances to meet like minds, and talk between myself and the readers (and parents, where applicable) about what's good, what's critically acclaimed, what's based on something, what's like something else, what's relevant to modern life in expected or unexpected ways, and what offers a window to the past or future, or a concept of interest, or a bit of insight, or a sense that the reader is not alone, that there have been other people or at least other characters like the reader.
I've never had to ask them to turn off their cellphones. I've never had to wheedle them to try a new author. I've never felt that the few who have iPods or laptops value these things above books. I see only that they crave trust and interest, maybe a little offhanded mentorship, and a good story, which (yes) they know comes in little bound volumes rather than in boxes that bee-bee-bee-beep.
The chief trouble is that they don't know where to begin. They know names like Dumas and Tolstoy, but they want to hear which I liked best and why, and which I think they would like best given what they have enjoyed before. They want a little history and science, too, and they love a little gossip about the authors they've selected, or a little teaser ("There's a character in this book who reminds me of your friend So-and-so, but the comparison might not be obvious...."), or a few funny anecdotes about film adaptations failing to be as good as the original. They want the sense of community that can come with reading as much as they want the books themselves.
Really, all they need is a little free time, a little spending money, and a few well-placed recommendations. They like a little personal attention and a sense that they are recognised by the staff and welcome in the shop. They worry that they won't have time to read the treasures they've found, and that makes them worry about whether to spend the money, but they can't help feeling the desire to have the book at home so that they can savour it at leisure.
Rather, in fact, like the rest of us, don't you think?
. July 01, 2007
I read your article this month re: the POWERSNIPE tool for Ebay. I have used it for about 7 years and have found it to be quite reliable. To your knowledge does POWERSNIPE have any advantages over ESNIPE?
Stephen A Goldman Historical Newspapers
Both services offer free trials. eSnipe charges a percentage [1% or thereabouts], Powersnipe a fixed fee of $59.95 or less. The easy math suggests if you are winning $6,000 a year of eBay lots Powersnipe is cheaper, if less than $6,000 eSnipe is a better deal. The key is to withhold bids until the final moment. How you do it is simply a matter of personal preference.
. July 01, 2007
I've been a subscriber to Americana Exchange's premium services for half a year now. I do admit, I've been waiting for the newest issue of your articles every month - Eg. your evaluation of search engines, Google Booksearch etc.
This month's issue is a blunder. I'm afraid, this isn't good enough.
How can a bad article on the very basics of sniping at Ebay possibly make it to the final version? The only reason (but still unacceptable reason) is that this was a paid advertisement for the sniping service.
Unfortunately several other articles are re-warmed gossiping from earlier issues.
Undoubtedly you are facing the challenge of serving two very extreme populations: the ones who have shied from Ebay and Ecommerce and the heavy techies.
Maybe a third section - Articles, Reviews, and new: (3) "Gossip from inside the industry" and (4) "Techbasics for Newbies" could help overcome the frustrating experience of reading your articles without any relevant information.
As I'm neither shy nor a heavy techie but simply a collector from overseas who has done his homework (yes aged 45+ as is strangely mentioned on every occasion in your articles),
would you please consider serving the ones who have done homework too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It goes without saying, that my feedback is most probably not directed to Bruce but to the staff responsible for your newsletter.
yes 45+, PhD, BlaBlaBla, etc
Mr. McKinney's response:
Thank you for your patience. Your high expectations are appreciated and we strive to meet them. We are, even as we serve the traditional collecting community, working to identify the next generation both to ensure continuity and a market for older collectors' material.
We try not to be too focused on the technical side of the trade but it is where innovation takes place. The world changes. We can neither deny the change nor protect those affected by it. We are doing our best to report it.
This month the article on San Quentin is, in my view, the most important. I spent 80 hours preparing it. It looks at material in the way the next generation does. If it seems unfamiliar it's because we are going through a sea-change in the approach to collecting. It is complicated.
Editor's note: AE has no relationship with nor has ever received any advertising from PowerSnipe. The article represented the writer's personal opinion.
. July 01, 2007
Loved your article on sniping and eBay. But esnipe can be cheaper. FYI.
. June 06, 2007
My compliments and thanks to Michael Stillman for his excellent review and overview of the Forbes sales.
I agree completely on the dimishing number of large, choice collections in our Americana field. Specialization seems to be the watchword of so many collectors these days, rather than comprehensiveness, which may have become too expensive! And many collectors seem to have a short "collecting life" unlike Malcolm (60 years or so) or Frank Streeter (40 years or more).
In any case, thanks, Michael.