Rare Book Monthly
Articles - September - 2004 Issue
AE: Year 3, Day 1
By Bruce McKinney
The internet these days is like a baby tiger: interesting and far less intimidating than it will become in the years ahead. AE enters its third year officially at 12:01 am PST on September 3rd. During the past two years we have come to know the tiger reasonably well. We look to the future with anticipation.
For those who do not know much about AE, the book and ephemera search and research site, I'll recount some history. The genesis of this project was the realization that books are easy to buy and hard to sell. Duh! For most collectors this is not a problem. They dabble in moderately priced material and neither they nor their wives and children [most collectors have been men but that is changing] expect their books to materially impact their net worth. For serious collectors however, and I'm among them, the value of their collection, the liquidity of the resale market and their knowledge and understanding of their resale options are important. And the more I looked at how the market worked the more I came to understand that the market wasn't working - at least from the collector's point of view. With no clear understanding of how this might be changed I simply decided that market clarity was an, if not the, essential ingredient that would help collectors and dealers by encouraging the market to a higher level of understanding. I believed then, and continue to believe now, that a more transparent and therefore logical market will bring the next generation of collectors into the market thereby increasing interest and raising prices.
To provide this clarity we have been building a remarkable database of bibliographical and priced records. On day one we had 151,000 records, most of them bibliographic. Today we have 811,744 and most are priced dealer and auction records. This is a growing and important source of information for book sellers and book buyers, important because it is the single best source of information of how a book has been priced (by dealers) and actually sold (at auction) from deep in the past right up to the current day.
From the outset the goal was to create an internet accessible electronic version of the bibliographic resources that are employed by the most sophisticated libraries, dealers and collectors for their research. Such resources are expensive to accumulate, take substantial space, are invariably slow to use and only infrequently employed. Until AE set out to do it, these resources had never been available as a single data source, fully accessible in a single search of what are quickly becoming, as AE enters year 3, two hundred fully documented sources. In a world where time is money this efficient, broad, fast, and inexpensive alternative to records on shelves and in human memory is finding its place in the world of books. Or so I have thought. From the beginning there was resistance from a vocal minority of dealers. They believed, and some still believe, that information in the hands of clients is dangerous. Two years later there is no evidence that those who buy books, whether they are dealers, libraries or collectors need to be uninformed [ignorant] for a bookseller to have a successful relationship with them. Quite to the contrary active informed buyers are becoming the backbone of the new book business just as they have always been the backbone of the traditional book business. In fact, prices are rising broadly because information empowers. Better information is positively correlating with rising prices.