Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2004 Issue

Profit & Pleasure: The Bookseller as Publisher

Renee2

We recently reprinted George Witton’s Scapegoats of the Empire (1907) in all three formats


By Renée Magriel Roberts

Cape Cod, Harwich Port. About a year ago I was selling a very hard-to-find copy of Britt-Mari Näsström’s Freyja, Goddess of the North to a customer and found the book — how should I describe this? — sticking to my hands. You know the feeling — you’re happy to have the sale, but you realize that you’ll probably never see the book again. I expect that any closet bibliophile/bookseller who has ever dealt with rare books has had the same twinge, felt the same mixed emotions.

Profitability in our area of bookselling usually hinges upon locating truly rare books. There is always a buyer for these books, especially if they are in very good condition. It is always nice to stumble upon these titles at public sales, but with the proliferation of new and amateur buyers who are using the Internet, such finds are becoming ever more scarce. We routinely buy books to upgrade the quality of our inventory, but we see the cost of such investment steadily rising.

In any event, while handling that book on Freyja I experienced a bit of an epiphany: I realized that there were buyers out there who would certainly be interested in the book’s content, and would actually prefer a lower price to a first edition. The more I thought about it, the more attractive the prospect became — isn’t it a bookseller’s dream to have a monopoly on a particular book, as one would have if working with a live author? In the case of rare books, why not copy them before letting the only existing example out of one’s hands? In any event, we contacted Näsström, who (as it happened) had a revised MS in preparation, and we are now the publisher of her book.

For a bookseller selling exclusively over the Internet, the beauty of combining publishing with sales is also obvious. While publishers have to deeply discount books to distributors to get them in retail bricks-and-mortar stores, an Internet bookseller can sell the book at retail, while buying (printing) it at cost. And it’s like printing money; when you need more books to sell, you can just print them.

We made some other decisions critical to our particular clientele and product mix. We decided to focus on high-value scholarly non-fiction in areas where I had some experience, interest and familiarity — history, mythology, literary criticism, religion, the arts, etc, and avoid such fields as the hard sciences. We decided to avoid mass market areas, like popular novels, exposés, and mysteries — books that require a good deal of marketing to create demand. Because our space is very limited, we also decided to publish books in very small quantities, depending upon a higher than usual retail price, rather than having more moderate pricing, but much larger quantities to warehouse and handle. We are not quite print-on-demand, but we’re close to it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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