Two Generations in the Book Trade - Looking back with the dealer’s daughter
- by Susan Netzorg Halas
The Netzorg, Lopez & Hallam families c. 1950. Netzorgs top left, Susan on Ambassador Lopez' shoulder
There was also a huge shift in who ran the show. Specialty and antiquarian bookselling in the old days was 100 percent controlled by booksellers. But by the first decade of the 21st century the corporate techies were driving the bus. They became middlemen, controlling the access to the market, setting ever more complex and hostile rules for what could and could not be sold, how it was to be shipped and in what manner and time frame the sellers would be paid (if ever). Each year they took ever bigger cuts as commissions or fees.
The advent of huge databases soon revealed that many things that once were considered scarce were actually readily and cheaply available. In the new scheme of things many books lost their value. Prices slid sharply for most post- ISBN titles and are still going down.
As for actual bricks and mortar book stores, real retail operations with real books and actual employees, large chain or small independents alike withered and closed.
My dad died in 1996, a few years later my mom closed the shop. She sold the inventory to a specialty dealer in Oregon and my dad’s collection of Filipinana to a library in Manila. She lived well and continued to use the Cellar Book Shop name and reputation until her death in 2008.
The Netzorgs kept prodigious records. Not just slips, but correspondence, catalogs, and every other kind of imaginable documentation were all neatly typed and she saved and filed onion skin carbons. Their papers are now at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the special collections department. I’m not certain if they are accessible to the public, but they are definitely there.
In 1971 my mother wrote a long and detailed article for the AB (Antiquarian Bookman) about the Cellar Book Shop - then 25 years old. In it she told about its philosophy, clientele and history. If you’d like to receive a pdf copy of this article email me and I’ll send it along. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I’ve distilled some of the “old” book wisdom that I learned from my parents in Part II of this article which follows.
The New Book Wisdom
The “new” book wisdom changes every half hour with the whims and fancies of the new tech masters. Whatever is coming next is being cooked up by people who don’t actually know or care very much about books, only about their percentage of the deal.
That is where we as book sellers find ourselves today. As a group we are collectively wondering when or if the tide will turn, or which little new gizmo will make our venerable business permanently obsolete.
Where does it go from here? I’m not sure I’m the right person to provide that insight. I’m living on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where gas is $4.37 cents a gallon and the cost of shipping big things anywhere is going up every day. I’m having a better year this year than last year, and that in part comes from what I’ve learned by talking with many of you, the AE readers, and learning about your interests, experiences and concerns.