Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2011 Issue

A World in Transition:  Make me an Offer Please

Choices

"Make me an offer" will shorten the distance between auctions and fixed price listings.

Not so long ago the book business moved from paper to the net.  The online listing sites were appealing, the costs low and the opportunities attractive.  Initially for most the net was an incremental rather than replacement step and whatever other selling processes were employed they continued to be used.  Ten years later the transition is mostly complete and the success of the listing sites has become their undoing.  Today somewhere above 180 million items are listed and the era of perpetual under-supply has given way to transparent over supply.

Roughly 95% of material on listing sites is every day run-of-the mill useful, if not important, items.  Collectable material fits loosely inside the other five percent ranging from the narrowly appealing to exceptionally rare and valuable.  This material has always existed but only recently become widely visible. The outcome has been a slowdown in sales as more items compete for approximately the same number of buyers.   Collectors and institutions in turn, confronted with many choices, have generally narrowed their purchasing focus.  The depressed and uncertain economy has added to the misery, obscuring for some the underlying fundamental changes that no economic recovery will entirely resolve.   The issue of too much for too few isn’t going away; the field as it was is not the field as it will be.

  

In response both buyers and sellers have sought additional ways to transact, sellers to increase the probability of sale and collectors to obtain ‘market confirmation’ of value.  For this the auction process, subject to some caveats, has been the answer and auction volume, both at traditional venues and on eBay, has been strong.  This, in my opinion, is only the beginning because the volume of material yet to reach the market will require a staccato flow to bring availability and demand into balance, a process that may take a decade to resolve.  For listing sites this presents a challenge to remain relevant.

eBay has for some time provided a tool which if optionally offered by listing sites, will introduce auction-like bargaining into a segment of the market that needs a way to get buyers and sellers into discussion.  The days of the frozen listing, simple descriptions and fixed prices simply aren’t working well enough because, as it stands now, asking prices are frequently too high and sellers reluctant to cut prices without evidence it will increase sales.  Here is what eBay provides.

Here is a hypothetical example.  Nine copies of the same item are listed for prices that generally reflect condition.  The prices aren’t always logically sequenced but they together make sense.  Let’s say the range is from $450 to $900; the range in quality from deplorable to excellent and the patience of at least one of the sellers wearing thin.  The listing site adds an option to post on a listing in this example “Make Me an Offer” as well as search options for listings with this offer.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions