Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2015 Issue

Clearing the Backlog

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For Sale

Weakness at the lower levels of the rare book market is widely discussed.  The market tends to take solace from the continuing strength at the upper end while generally avoiding, for lack of a solution, the significant declines below $600.  I want to make a proposal.

 

At a guess some 99% of all rare and collectible books are worth $600 or less.  Ninety-five percent of these books, maps, pamphlets and ephemera are worth $150 or less.  They may once have been worth more but there are too many items and too few buyers to maintain current prices.

 

So how will the market adjust?  Were time infinite sellers could simply wait.  But time is not infinite and the number of items coming out is increasing.  Dealers are aging.  The material will have to be sold.

 

eBay has been an effective marketplace for all kinds of material but lower priced books and ephemera have never really been much more than an afterthought for them.   EBay is a money-driven business and inexpensive books do not materially move the bottom line.  Books simply aren’t a good fit for them.

 

So the 99% of books in the old and collectible category that need to enter the marketplace, though they may not be valuable, are nevertheless of some value to dealers and are interesting and occasionally important repositories of information for libraries and collectors.  They will be bought if the prices seem logical but because of the obvious inventory overhang [run some searches on Abebooks to see the number of copies in your collecting area that are available] these books tend not to sell - I think mostly because no one knows what they are really worth.

 

 

Recently an article in the Economist mentioned that eBay has been looking to move their book business from auctions to listings a la Abebooks.  I think I understand the business logic but for the old, used and rare book field this will be a disaster.  For eBay there is more money in listings and fixed price sales but there will also be many fewer sales and only limited market confirmation of current value.   For the field to clear this overhang we’ll need a low cost alternative approach.

 

At a guess at least 3 million such items need to change hands over the next 3 to 5 years.  The demographics simply will not wait because dealers, collectors and institutions will dispose.  They, by degrees, have to.  For institutions their priorities are changing.  For too many dealers the sun is setting.  For collectors, they are already making some purchases at auctions but have no equally easy way to buy at market-determined prices at the lower end of the market. 

 

They need one.  I propose:

 

A free auction listing service for RBH members who use any level of paid services.

 

Members can post very complete descriptions and photographs.  The seller guarantees that all information is correct.

 

Such items and their descriptions are then posted to a Subject to Sale Section

 

Each item will have a start price and it can be no more than 25% of fair market value [as established by eBay, Abe, or auction realizations]

 

An auction begins only when someone selects an item in the Subject to Sale section and makes the 25% start bid. 

 

The item then moves into the Up for Sale category and becomes searchable in the Upcoming auctions section. The sale then continues for 15 days.

 

A bidder may bid directly or use an outside service to bid into the item close.

 

All items would have a buy it now price and that price cannot be greater than $600.  This provision is to ensure that such material does not intrude on the fully vetted lots that auctions provide.

 

Once the sale ends the buyer pays both the cost of the item and the shipping.

 

The seller provides an unconditional right of return.  This right of return expires 10 days after proof of delivery is confirmed by the post office or other shipping option.

 

Support:  For sellers, items listed, items bid upon and sold, and items returned will all be displayed in a statistical analysis of each seller.

 

For buyers the number of lots purchased and also the number of lots returned will be shown.

 

There are no commissions.

 

The buyer will pay the seller directly and the seller reimburse directly.  The seller will know who the buyers are and the buyers will know who the sellers are.

 

I invite comment, suggestions and criticisms.

 

If we do not establish a mechanism for handing this material an important opportunity will be lost.


Posted On: 2015-10-01 06:35
User Name: battledore

Bruce,
Your idea is indeed a very clever and well-thought out approach to otherwise being smothered by low-priced inventory. And if I understand your proposal correctly, it is very generous of Rare Book Hub to offer its services in experimentally organizing this vehicle for alternative selling at no commission. We'd be willing to give it a try should you decide to go ahead with this project.

One other dilemma we have (which could use your thinking cap) is how to respectfully handle the sale of "remainder" book titles. During the past twenty-five years we have self-published (and also taken on USA distribution for) some very nice reference books and facsimiles of old and rare children's book titles, nearly all of which were produced with scholarly introductions. Perhaps RBH could have a separate Bulletin Board for subscribers to list by individual subject categories such types of books they have in large quantity, all fully described and in fine condition, offering to sell at 20% current fair market value with a minimum order of 5 copies per title. Once again the transactions would be between the seller and the buyer, and if the buyer has an indication of available quantity, he might make his own alternative proposal to the seller to buy everything. Currently remainder dealers pay a maximum of 5% (and often less) of current selling value which makes it almost impossible for anyone who nurtured a quality book through the press to go this route. But all of us should be able to live with 20% and the guarantee of selling at least five copies of a single title. So long as sellers are realistic and sincere in their approach to wanting this to work, then it should work. Awaiting your thoughts on this matter. Best wishes from the Hudson Valley.

Justin (Schiller)
Battledore Ltd


Posted On: 2015-10-01 10:54
User Name: tenpound

Bruce - The kicker may be establishing Fair Market Value for less expensive items. Asking prices vary widely on ABE, and low end material rarely appears at auction in individual lots. Unrealistic or greedy starting prices would put a damper on the process.
Greg Gibson, Ten Pound Island Book Co.


Posted On: 2015-10-01 13:51
User Name: chevalrouge

Regarding the establishment of fair market value I think the 25% limit on FVM as start price is fair enough, yet leaves plenty of leeway. This is exactly the sector of the market that I am most interested in; because of enjoyment at less than high prices, the variation of materials, and the availability of materials. Yet, I find it frustrating that so much is available in such wide ranges of price and quality.
Dale Waller


Posted On: 2015-10-01 14:31
User Name: LACPETER

This seems a very good idea. Please make sure you include the UK in the area of operation!
Best wiashes,
Lacpeter


Posted On: 2015-10-01 17:40
User Name: opendoor

Bruce, I like your idea and will participate if there is a easy one time upload process, that includes seller supplied pics and descriptions. After having listed thousands of books for 15 years, while running a b/m, I need a quick easy process.
Thanks, John


Posted On: 2015-10-01 18:01
User Name: moses2

Nothing ventured nothing gained I would give it a shot.


Posted On: 2015-10-01 20:17
User Name: ARBEAT

Bruce,an excellent suggestion.A little restrictive if you are in the UK,sales to the US come with a hefty postage cost.The same from the US to the UK.Would it be viable.???
I don't know how many members are based in UK.
My subject is the American West and the interest has petered out to almost zero.
Best Wishes and good luck
Alan


Posted On: 2015-10-01 22:21
User Name: thankful

Bruce,

Your suggestion concerning low-priced inventory is both generous and, I think, workable. I would go for it. One category in which I am strong is cookbooks. The expensive ones will sell readily. The lower end is problematic. They include many very rare and inexpensive items, but the cost of listing and selling is prohibitive. You seem to provide the answer.

Willis Van Devanter


Posted On: 2015-10-02 14:22
User Name: SASB

This is a marvelous and generous idea. Greg Gibson has a very good point. Undoubtedly some sellers would abuse the 25% limit and try starting prices of 50% or even more. And since Rare Book Monthly is making nothing here, they cannot afford to hire someone to vet starting prices. So....one possible solution. Have a volunteer committee that does vetting. If someone sees a book priced, in their opinion, above 25%...just let it go. If is someone sees a particular bookseller with multiple prices that seem high, then the volunteer vetting committee needs to look into it and if they agree the seller is using starting prices that are too high, the seller would be asked to remove the listing or lower the starting price.
Stan Shelley
Shelley and Son Books


Posted On: 2015-10-02 19:58
User Name: Fattrad1

Bruce,
Bruce,

You are making this issue far too complex. The majority of dealers adjust their prices on occasion, the prices are adjusted to comparables on Abe, RBH, Ebay and other listing services. As per Ebay, sellers often use the "make an offer" option, a haggled price is often reached. BTW, I have a degree in economics.


Posted On: 2015-10-05 11:12
User Name: ianhill

As I buy most of my books from ebay, I think this could be a great idea. My three concerns echo those of others, but I also have a suggestion.
1. I hope that this will be available to the UK as well as the US please.
2. Some dealers on ebay seem to be optimistic with their descriptions, there needs to be some way of ensuing descriptions can be trusted, maybe vetting sellers?
3. I have also seen very optimistic prices asked, and also fear that the proposed 25% is too easy to abuse. I also fear that some books will stay in limbo, un-bid on for far too long, clogging up the search for new and interesting books.

I suggest a slightly different auction system, whereby sellers can ask whatever price they like, but every day the price is reduced by 1% of its start value - so if it starts at $100, on day 2 it will be $99, on day 11 $89 and so on. If it hits a bottom reserve it is withdrawn. When someone bids, the auction starts with usual increments and end date, but at any point in the process there is a buy it now price of double the current bid price. This dropping price should ensure that inflated values are weeded out as it will eventually reach a fair price, and the buy it now price whould caution buyers against leaving it too long to show their hand hoping for a real bargain in case someone else buys it now. If the maximum start price is set at $300, then only in exceptional cases where there has been a bidding war before a buy it now would the $600 limit be breached. Maybe there could be a rule that the reserve price must be no more than 25% of the start price? Obviously all the percentages I have suggested could be tweaked, but I wonder whether this could work??

On a different note, pictures and descriptions make so much difference, and they are essential - it is one reason I prefer ebay to other sites. In this price range many of the buyers may not know they want the book until they have seen the pictures and read the descriptions - many buyers may not even know the book exists - so are reliant on the pictures and descriptions to realise that they want to buy it.


Posted On: 2015-10-05 19:13
User Name: liveauctioneers

Hi Bruce,

I think LiveAuctioneers has a perfect program for you. I feel that we cam definitely be a great partner to help you and your network sell you inventory.

Care to discuss? Email or call me, info is below.

Cheers,
Rohan
rohan@liveauctioneers.com
917-398-2202


Posted On: 2015-10-05 22:41
User Name: Fattrad1

Bruce, No problem exists.


Posted On: 2015-10-11 16:42
User Name: kenpa

Bruce
Your model is overall a good one. However it begs the question of how to find enough bidders. You are a very smart guy and should know, better than anyone, how to draw customers. But I see no mention of that.
The internet is littered with the bones of those who thought they had a better model than Ebay. Most recently 11 Main seems to have just about given up. It takes a lot of promotion to to generate sufficient excitement.
Relying on your current dealer listing model simply won't get it.
You have an easy upload system set up that works very well so that is a major advantage.
It is very encouraging that such a machine as Live Auctioneers has expressed a desire to partner with this. You would definitely need them and Invaluable to make it work well.
Certainly many dealers have an eye on the exits and disposing of cheap books is a problem.
I will follow developments with interest.
Poor Man's Rare Books


Posted On: 2015-10-15 14:47
User Name: LDRB

Your ideas are always of interest, thank you for being so proactive.
Two questions.
1) We already list on your site or items for sale, however, should we decide to only list certain items on this new service will are other items listed for sale be found when a search for a specific title is done? In other words does both the auction items in this proposal and the regular for sale item both get caught in the initial search?
I understand your proposal is based on starting the "auction" only when someone submits a bid for the auction listed items and they would go into the Up for Sale category and becomes searchable in the Upcoming auctions section. My assumption is thus the Upcoming auctions section is only items therefore searched.
2) Our items listed in your current Up For Sale section has been active and updated with the same description and 5 photos that are listed on other sites such as Abebooks etc however, we have not yet had one sale from the RBH to date. My question or concern frankly is does the For Auction concept take the focus even more so from the regular items offered and what are your ideas for getting the regular items more collectors view and sales? A free listing of books with subscription fee is great but with no results the added value is very little?
Again, thanks for being proactive and continue to provide fresh thinking and ideas. These comments and your responses can only help collectors and their want for better value, choices and selections of items.
Duncan McLaren
www.LDRB.ca


Posted On: 2015-10-23 15:27
User Name: almodad

Interesting concept. Seems worth a try. I'm not sure you should be teaming up with liveauctioneers, although if you're doing the vetting then that might solve some of their problems.
For proactive sellers, ebay can work very well. However, evidence suggests that the majority of book sellers are not proactive in the least, and stubbornly cling to their pricing regardless of what the market may indicate. Markets are efficient when given opportunities to act so. Book dealers too often fall into the trap of running museums, not efficient businesses.

Your idea is well worth a try and opens another avenue for efficiency of markets (and the possibility of deaccessioning hundreds of thousands of relics).


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