Rare Book MonthlyNew Letter
Letters to the Editor
. June 01, 2007
Letter addressed to Bruce McKinney re. exiting the bookselling business
About 20 or so years ago, you purchased some items from my one and only Western Americana catalog, sent out under my dealer name of Katonah Book Scout. Having retired last year after 25 years of
labor in the Book Boneyard, er, Vineyard, as a generalist, I found this issue of especial interest. It coincided with my own feelings about the present and future of the antiquarian field and the uncertainties of new directions.
One subject that you might care to examine more thoroughly is the difficulty of selling one's inventory
and when to start on such a project. A case in point: I decided in 2005 to move from Westchester to Florida and knew that I could only take about 2,500 of my 13,000 books to the southern climes. That started the juices flowing. With the aid of an organizer, it took me about a year to clear out 44 years' worth of living detritus from a family of six starting with the rafters of the attic and concluding with the garage, which on my side resembled a bookstore, having floor-to-ceiling shelving on three sides. By October the household was sufficiently clear of "stuff" to put it on the market. It was soon sold with a March, 2006 closing scheduled.
I had planned to sell much of my stock at half-price or less at the four antiq. shows I had signed up for. That Fall, New York is Book Country was cancelled forever. I did well at the other three shows but still had huge numbers of books to dispose of. Many boxes of books that had been stored at the back of the garage and unopened for several years, I discovered were mildewed; out they went into a big dumpster. Some books I had boxed but not noticed their suspect basement smell were rejected by my local library; more fodder for the big dumpster. Pretty soon I had a huge dumpster filled with books that it broke my heart to dispose of, but the movers were coming in March!
Then I called in some dealers and felt as I did when I had started twenty-five years ago, i.e. at their mercy. My own collection in the house I culled through about four or five times, donated much of it to the library and boxed about 55 cartons for shipment south. The books were warehoused for a few months while I had bookshelves built for them. Now whenever anyone comes into my house, they are amazed at all the books I have. In the adult communities down here, the decor is immaculate: nothing out of place, the dining room table perpetually set for the perfect dinner party (which is pretty ironic, since many people don't cook much any more.) I turned my dining room into a library with a big easy chair & reading lamp and a library table
with ephemera and books displayed. I guess once the bookseller, always the bookseller.
The point of all this: without a storefront, one must start selling off one's stock years before one retires. For my specialty, Black Americana, I was told that the auction market was a bit slow and to hang onto the highlights of my stock. I called Alibris and wanted to send a lot of my stock to them, but was informed they were no longer accepting large holdings for consignment. The dealers I called in all wanted to cherry-pick, to which I eventually acquiesced.
After reading this issue of AE, I see I was wise to retire last year as the book shows and a few catalogues were my primary sources of income. I might try the ebay route for some of my better material and ephemera.
The video of the Gold Rush show was both nice and disheartening. I can look back at it during these retirement years with nostalgia but the dearth of collectors or customers reminds me of all those dreary Sundays
where we would have nobody to talk to but ourselves and one can take only so much bookseller bulls..t,
I feel confident that the tide will turn again but when and in what direction is anyone's guess. The New Age
and Sci-Fi trend is certainly robust and History is making a lovely comeback. Therein may lie the solution.
Anne Lange, nee Katonah Book Scout
. June 01, 2007
It is incredibly saddening to see the closing of libraries in economically disadvantaged counties of Southern Oregon. Fascinating that a whole swath of a Pacific Northwest state has chosen to eviscerate its future because it believed that the Federal Government wouldn't really hang them out to dry.
Of course this is the same state that continually funds its higher education below much poorer states such as Mississippi, and sees no reason for funding a State Police force at less than half of the level they maintained 20 years ago.
Still, they are destroying their future, and that of their children. Maybe they'll wake up, but I doubt it.
Anonymous June 01, 2007
re: Roberts' article on UPS
I'm reading this article with great confusion. UPS is United Parcel Service. USPS is United States Postal Service. Either the two are somehow mixed up in the article or the USPS is being referred to as UPS. I'm wondering why an editor didn't catch this. Other than that, it appears to be an excellent article.
This is a bit confusing and counterintuitive, but what happens is that UPS picks up packages at your location and delivers them to the post office for you. How does this save you money? UPS takes your package to a post office closer to your ultimate shipping address, but charges you less that the post office charges to take it that far. As an illustration, if the post office charges $1 to ship a package within state A, and $3 to ship it from state B to state A, UPS would pick up your package in state B and charge you $1 to ship it to a post office in state A for delivery to your customer. In both cases, the package is ultimately delivered by the post office, but in the first example, you pay $3, but by having UPS carry it part of the way as in the second example, you pay $2. These numbers aren't actual cases, but this is the principle.
. May 05, 2007
Thank you so much for the article about Susan Heller. Though our backgrounds differ, and I'm just a "johnny-come-lately" on the book scene, her current situation is mine. I have specialised in children's books, and trading online only, I have only 4,000 that must go before I retire to my village. Everything is waiting on dispersal of the books.
I haven't moved quickly on them ; I'm off to a book fair shortly, where perhaps I'll find a possible buyer. I think they would fit splendidly into a large bookshop, where they would make an excellent children's section. I think one asset of my books is that they are all listed on a database.
I began business in the US ; then returned home, first to Sydney, then Melbourne. We've seen good days and bad together.
Hoping to have found a solution by June 30 (end of the financial year).
All the best,
. May 04, 2007
Thank you very much for your extraordinary coverage, including your filming of the Frank Streeter Sale! It was an especial pleasure for me since I attended at least one part of the sale of Thos. W. Streeter's auction years ago.
With best wishes,
Clare Van Norman
. May 04, 2007
Hi, Bruce -
Thanks for another highly interesting newsletter. Your report on the F.
Streeter auction was beautifully written, and the video was a delight. Not
having been in Christie's auction room since the advent of internet bidding,
I found the addition rather startling. But then, the book biz is rather
startling all around these days.
I won't say that the trade is steeped in despair as yet, but a lot of the
hopefulness is waning. Change is inevitable I guess - good or bad doesn't
matter (and the point of view does when making judgments) - it's still
I think I appreciate your very skillful writing as much as the news and
perceptions that you convey.
My compliments again,
. May 03, 2007
re: Post Offices Changes
Thanks for your comments in Americana Exchange. I think, after 53
years of selling books by mail, that this is a revolutionary point in
the changing of our postal system, no longer an evolutionary one. From
the founding of the postal system until very few years ago, it was
believed with the authors of the Federalist Papers, that an informed
electorate required special treatment in the dissemination of knowledge.
No more. In fact, an informed electorate in today's climate, would be
considered a threat to our leadership.
Noah's Ark Book Attic
. May 02, 2007
Comment re: Post Office Article
There were a couple major errors in this story.
Media Mail will continue, at an increased price, but
it will continue.
Air M-Bags will also continue, at an increased price
and with no Surface M-Bag service, but Air M-Bag will
Both according to the USPS website:
. May 01, 2007
I enjoyed reading the account of the Frank Streeter auction - one reason for high bidding from the UK of course is surely the weak dollar. A couple of years back the rate was oscillating around $1.60, now it's as good as $2. However, as around 25% of my abebooks sales are to the States, I am not very happy about this!
. May 01, 2007
Michael Stillman quite rightly criticises the use of management bollockspeak in his piece on Froogle, but then goes on to say "So far, Google has leveraged its search engine to support advertising."
I'm afraid that I speak only English, and this use of 'leveraged', which appears again further down in the article [and everywhere, in all the financial newspapers] conveys absolutely nothing whatsoever to me.
Keep up the good work.
Writer's Response: You are absolutely right. I, too, have been reading too many financial newspapers. "Leverage" is a noun, not a verb, despite my attempts to change its nature.
. May 01, 2007
Dear Mr. McKinney,
What an excellent email report boosted by video and so informative. My interest is really modern first editions but I am sure that as I click here and there I will be learning more and more. Keep up the good work.
I run a very different kind of business (selling new and old conjuring-related items to performers all over the world) and I shall take a leaf from your book (no pun intended) by adding video clips in amongst my text..
Inspiring and so well done.
. April 04, 2007
Dear Mr McKinney,
I always enjoy the AE monthly newsletter and I do hope that it reaches a wide audience. Subject matter seem to most always be interesting and relevant to the book field at all levels.
This month's write up on the SF Anarchist (?) Fair and the future and relevancy of libraries was especially thought provoking. The video was excellent and I am positive there's a 60 minute documentary in there somewhere, which I leave to you and PBS (or A&E, et al to work out the details). The point is that I'm encouraging more of this. (Yes, I know you've done other videos, which I have enjoyed much. Keep that up!!) Okay, so the perspective of that particular pool of interviewees was skewed, but they always are in one direction or another. Nevertheless, it's important for these voices to be heard and it's instructive for the book world to hear them.
That's it. Just a big thanks and I, for one, would enjoy more of it!
- John Pinkney
Editor's Note: This article may be seen at the following link: Click here.
Anonymous April 02, 2007
Fascinated by article on Memories. Man's ability to record and recall must be one of the factors differentiating him from amoeba. However the ability to use technology is great but the ability to recall is being prejudiced. For instance how many have data stored on CPM data disks and have no means to read them. Even NASA cannot replay many records from the moon shots because of the storage media deterioration and or loss of machines that can read the data. Clay tablets and hard copy print has survived because the media is preservable and man can read. The problems of sorting are soluble - readability and media preservation can be solved if it is tackled now.
On a related topic. Looking at some current computer games and simulators I am struck by their realism but how will future generations differentiate between the truth and simulation?
Thats enough philosophizing for first thing Monday morning.
I enjoy your newsletter.
. April 02, 2007
I very much appreciate your Monthly Newsletter. It is enlightening, the right mix of book, collector and American specific articles.
I haven't bought anything from you...but I keep looking for the right item for my collection.
Editor's note: AE doesn't sell books. We post listings from booksellers in "Books For Sale," and from auctions in the auction search. However, these are all independent sellers and AE is not involved in nor receives commissions from any sale.
. April 01, 2007
re: Memory, the next frontier
It is indeed wonderful that average people can save all kinds of easily accessible information. I concur that the advent of the computer and electronic data storage is as significant as Gutenberg's momentous invention.
But beware: CD's begin to deteriorate in two years. Within 5 years nearly all have some loss of data. (Check this out. I cannot recall exactly where I saw this authoritatively printed.) A direct hit by an airplane, truck, lightning bolt, saboteur, tsunami, or ???? could wipe out trillions of bits of important data on a server. Remote back-ups are vital. Urge everyone to store their valuable data in at least two quite different places. Many server sites do this already. But we should have a routine for assuring ourselves about it.
Love your articles.
. April 01, 2007
re:Libraries on the Brink: A topic at the Anarchist Book Fair
Tell anyone who reads, the AE is THE source of information monthly.
. March 05, 2007
I read your recent article on Americana Exchange about the set of Bigelow's Botany you bought in New Paltz from an auction of Esther Bensley's possessions. I read that with great interest because I'm the bookseller from whom you bought, via Ebay last month, an old photograph of a graduating class in or around New Paltz. The town name and a photographer name were the only identifiers I could find on the photo's matting. I dated the photo about turn-of-the-century, based on period clothing. And I wondered about the young people in the photo, who they were, and what became of them. For as long as I had it, I thought it an interesting photo.
After reading your article, and learning of your history and knowledge of New Paltz, I'm hoping you can help unravel some of the mystery about the photo. Could Miss Bensley have possible been one of the young students in the photo? Or could she have been their teacher? Any information you could share would be appreciated, just for curiosity's sake.
Thanks for writing that article - I enjoyed it.
. February 02, 2007
You may not remember me, but we met about 6 months ago at The Seattle Book Fair. My name is Matthew Casey DeLoach. I am the 27 year old young collector and dealer of rare books that you interviewed on the subject of what interests me as a young collector. I enjoyed your recent article and dealer interviews on the same subject. With the increase of amateur sellers on line, one too many online buyers have been burnt by faulty descriptions, inaccurate edition information, and fake signatures. Hence, the new generation of collectors being trigger shy when it comes to dropping big money on line.
It is very next to impossible to stop the wave of change in the collecting market. New collectors are going to continue to buy online and the best a traditional shop keeper can do is learn to master the online method of selling the same way they became masters in the old days. I agree, online shopping can never compare to the experience of treasure hunting in a traditional book shop, nor can one gain the knowledge that talking to long time sellers can provide. This is very sad, but it is an age of convenience. It is much easier to click a mouse from your computer than it is to search the shelves of local bookstores (not to mention the selection is infinitely more extensive). I am very confident that online selling will not hurt the trade, rather, elevate it to a whole new level. We are encountering the same problem with the internet that Gutenberg's Press encountered. Were not the scribes at the time fearful of almost the same thing we're fearful of now? But look at what that invention did for bookselling. The internet should be used as a tool for progress, not as a virus that will eventually kill the industry.
The old expression "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" comes to mind. The return of the true professional is what the online market needs to reclaim it's glory days of $25,000 book deals. Let the old sellers go online and pave the way for the new generation so the new collector can once again learn to buy with confidence. After all, the net is an unlimited source of information and should not decrease book knowledge, but rather increase it.
With Warm regards,
Matthew C. DeLoach
Editor's Note: The article to which Mr. DeLoach refers, "Where is the new book collector," may be found at this link: Click here.
. February 01, 2007
I read Americana Exchange with great interest this morning. Lots of good stuff in there.
With regard to our top 10s, thanks for featuring them...
There seems to be a ceiling as to how much someone will pay for a rare book on AbeBooks. $65,000 is the top price ever. We generate plenty of sales over $1000 on a daily basis. Sales in five-figures are much rarer.
There is, of course, a limit to how much someone will pay on the internet for a book they haven't seen or handled. They may have seen bookseller-provided images but they'd still rather see the book in the flesh if they are considering paying such a substantial sum.
And that's fine - we accept that. We also know that the high-end booksellers list books priced at $100,000 and much, much higher on the site. They know that they're not going to sell them through AbeBooks but it tells collectors out there that they have them. We suspect those high-end listings drive buyers into their showrooms and bookstores. I hope that is the case. We like to think we sometimes play a small role in some major rare book transactions simply because AbeBooks has been used as an advertising medium rather than ecommerce platform.
Anyway, it was a good read this morning.
Several things going on at AbeBooks.com
We have just launched 2 new rooms - one for Science Fiction and one for Fantasy. There's an interview with Barry Levin.
They are aimed at collectors, hardcore sci-fi/Fantasy fans and people with a passing interest in the genres. We get all sorts coming to the site so we're trying to provide something for everyone.
Also we've been previewing the California Book Fair for some time now - http://www.abebooks.com/docs/RareBooks/California-2007.shtml
And we've taken a look at collecting movie scripts - http://www.abebooks.com/docs/RareBooks/movie-scripts.shtml
PR & Publicity Manager
Editor's Note: The article referred to in this letter may be found at the following link - Abebooks' Top 10
Flo Silver February 01, 2007
The "live" interviews are a wonderful new feature for AE. You are "on top" of the pulse in the out of print book business whether by catalogue, auction, book fairs, and/or internet. We all appreciate the most up to date information on the current trends in this business.
Flo Silver Books
. February 01, 2007
The video interviews are terrific! I've already watched every
minute. Kudos to all involved, including the booksellers - very
entertaining, informative, and fun!
Hope to see you at the fair!
. February 01, 2007
Your piece wondered about music in silent film (item 26) Silent films were never 'silent'; they always had music, back then played live.
Editor's Note: This comment relates to the February 2007 review of James Pepper's catalogue. Click here.
. February 01, 2007
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the interviews.
From a collector's viewpoint I found it really interesting.
Editor's Note: This comment relates to the interview (including video clips on page 3) "Where is the New Book Collector" in the February 2007 issue of AE Monthly. Click here.
. January 05, 2007
I have been using your free services and appreciate the AE Monthly articles. I read every one. I also especially appreciate the convenience of the upcoming auctions calendar. I just signed up for XE.com on the basis of your recent article. I had been looking for such a foreign exchange aid. I thought that perhaps it was time for me to subscribe...but I really don't need all the resources the expensive subscriptions offer, since I am only a small private collector.. . So I am sending you my gratitude for the information you are sending me, and please let me know if you ever have a sort of "associate" membership.
Abigale December 06, 2006
I have just received a book for christmas. The problem is, it is very old and I am afraid of it falling apart. I really do not know were to look up such a treasure. Could you give me some info?
Graded Classics Series: Poems and Tales, Poe. Published in 1911. B.F. Johnson Publishing Co. Richmond Virginia.
Any information would greatly be received.
If your are looking for value, we suggest going to www.abebooks.com and using their Advanced Search to try to find other copies of your book. Abe has the largest number of copies of old books being offered for sale, so there is a good chance your book may be offered by someone. This does not mean that their price is an accurate reflection of value (frequently the asking price is too high), but it may provide a ballpark estimate. In the case of your book, we could not find a match. However, we would not expect a high value for it. First of all, this is a much later printing of some Poe works, evidently meant for school children. Such books rarely are of significant value. B.F. Johnson was evidently an early 20th century southern publisher, and some of their southern history works are of interest and some value. The school books seem less so. There are a number of other of their "graded classics" offered, and generally they bring from a couple of dollars for those in mediocre shape, to low double digits for those in good shape.