Two Generations in the Book Trade - Looking back with the dealer’s daughter

- by Susan Netzorg Halas

Susan and Pete in Hawaii, circa 1985.

Being a Bookseller was not Plan A  

I did not intend to become an antiquarian dealer. I intended to be a writer or an artist (my degree was in Graphic Arts), or even the wife of a rich man who could support my increasingly upscale taste in books, prints, maps, photos and ephemera.


In the early 80s I was for a time a very small publisher with big ambitions.  To put it charitably I was ahead of my time, to put it truthfully I was not a success. To put a good face on it - it was Hawaii; it was warm, small and friendly. How far can you fall if you’re already on the ground?


By the end of the 80s I was indeed in the book business and earning a good part of my living from it. Early on I had some good - even some spectacular - sales using the tried and true method – a post card with a quote and a specialty catalog to a select list. I never had a shop. I always sold by mail and phone and like my parents strictly by appointment.


Back in those days I sent a copy of one of my Prints Pacific catalogs to my father. He sent it back by return mail filled with marginal notes pointing out all the errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. He added his own comments in his small neat handwriting. Obviously there was (and still is) room for improvement.


I stuck to it and I did get better, but never attained their level of expertise. Came the late 1990s and the business changed dramatically with the advent of the internet. I bought a slow clunky computer with a dial up modem. My brother told me about Interloc and later ABE. He pointed me toward the Biblist and I found eBay on my own. The new era was at hand.


Enter the internet

The first few years on the internet were exciting. The internet made bookselling an entirely different occupation. One day we were a small cozy little group of dealers who knew and had always known each other. The next day it seemed as if at least 100,000 new vendors had joined the fold. Most of them knew very little about books. Almost overnight book selling transformed from an honorable but esoteric occupation, to a cutting edge tech-driven way to make money for zillions of newcomers.


Sites like Amazon, ABE, Alibris, eBay all were attractive to a mass audience. These venues expanded exponentially and with that expansion came the deluge both of physical things – the books – and not far behind came a host of new ways to present what had formerly been printed content such as Google books-on-line, the eBook, Kindle, or Nook, which some say will soon replace the traditional book entirely.