Bottom Feeders Rule
But while the high end had bright spots and robust moments, the year really seemed to belong to the low end and bottom feeders as prices continued to erode and mega-listers and penny sellers undercut values.
Though this writer only got to the U.S. Mainland once in 2012, here in Hawaii the departure of Borders left a big hole. As of today, the island of Maui has only one B&N bookstore selling new books for a population 140,000 residents plus an estimated 35,000 upscale visitors a day.
Trying to fill the gap the local Friends of the Library group stepped in to offer not-for profit retail operations for used books in two shopping centers. This expansion was made possible by the abundance of vacant retail space and the desire of the malls to “have a bookstore.” The FOL here now has three retail outlets where donated books are priced from 25 cents to a few dollars, with most retailing for under $10. Widely popular in the community these shops are run entirely by volunteers who have the level of expertise that could be expected from an all-gratis operation.
Low End Retail
This writer, in the antiquarian book trade since the 1970s and on-line since 1998, sold at retail only once during 2012. That was a low end school rummage sale in November where all the stock was donated.
At least a thousand volumes came in the door. Most of them went right back out again at prices between 25 cents to $1. The highest price book, a 1943 Japanese-English dictionary published in the U S during wartime, went for a stellar $3.
Many of the books donated were religious and spiritual with an emphasis on Christianity. Religious books were also the sale’s bestsellers including bibles, bible stories, concordances, pastoral advice, lives of the saints, hymns and inspirational texts by the yard.
Besides religion other popular bargain basement categories were kid’s books, text books, language and reference volumes. At those prices there was no shortage of buyers. Vintage media did surprisingly well, that included old format video (VHS), CDs, game disks, language instruction, DVDs, and especially vintage LPs on vinyl. Despite the fact that many of the buyers did not own a turn table many still purchased records.
As a regular contributor to AE I enjoyed writing a story every month. The best response from AE readers came from an April story titled Tips from an eBay Power Seller, which was based on my own experiences. E-Bay tips.
2012 was a bumpy ride
This eBay power seller made it through the year, but it was a bumpy ride. My money is on 2013 to be better. It would not surprise me if some form or retail returns. People miss the book buying experience. But who knows if it will be called a bookstore, or if there will still be new physical books offered for sale for very much longer.
However, the desire to collect, sell, buy, trade and exhibit, albeit in a much revised form, seems to still be alive and well, if not exactly flourishing.
Reach AE writer Susan Halas at firstname.lastname@example.org