Let’s look at the methods dealers employ to sell. Perhaps material is not selling online but perhaps it can be sold in other ways. For much of the past decade online listings seemed like tickets to success. Today it’s more complicated.
1. 1. Retail shop
2. 2. Shows
3. 3. Online listings
4. 4. Printed catalogues
5. 5. Electronic catalogues
6. 6. Direct offers
7. 7. Special Events
There are fewer shops, and more closing each year, but they can be effective. Location is important. Will Monie’s shop in Cooperstown, New York is in a community renowned for American history and the history of baseball. Offering visitors used, old and collectible books works well. Cooperstown is also an opera hub with an active theatre. For this audience the Monies provide opera ephemera and do well with it. For them the retail shop is a strong element in their success. It is also the door through which opportunities to buy arrive.
The open shop is often the used bookshop, the casual traffic more interested in reading copies, the used book as opposed to the rare book. Such material sells but prices are low. Ken Sanders, in Utah, recently shifted $100,000 of priced books into their in-store bargain bins. “They weren’t selling and now are.” Such retail is alchemy and genius but no one I spoke to says that, by itself, it’s enough.
Catalogues remain important. You may never buy a book, pamphlet or broadside from Garrett Scott of Ann Arbor, Michigan but his catalogues are great reading. Actually you will buy an item or two from time to time to ensure you remain on his mailing list. Many dealers think of their catalogues as lists of books. A few think of them as windows into other worlds and create phantasms. Catalogues are a function of three elements – material, description and price. Mark Twain could sell you a toad and you buy it because he described it as a future Olympic hopper. Of course, if you have great material you can be less inventive and still do very well.
Shows matter and dealers spend serious money to participate. For many dealers the business done with the trade before shows open is important. Others depend almost entirely on retail traffic. The number of shows has been declining but almost every dealer who does them ranks them highly. They are a source of hope.
For some dealers direct offers are effective. This approach is unevenly used, many ignoring, other relying, on it. For Ken Sanders of Utah it’s his best method of sale. Recognizing what is valuable and for whom is a rare skillset.
For many, if not most, dealers online listings are important if not so strong as in the past. Listing sites have not evolved as the world has changed and the market is now moving around them. They will be important again. Over the past five years eBay’s buy-it-now program has gained at their expense although many dealers seem embarrassed to be associated with eBay.