Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2015 Issue

Old Books On-line, The Words of an eBay Bookseller

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Vincent Pannequin

Vincent Pannequin is a professional bookseller who closed down his physical bookstore, Dioscures, in 2013 to sell books exclusively on eBay.fr. A good move, as the last year of exploitation had been quite disappointing. Nowadays, his pseudonym Amaterasu55 (more than 3,000 sales and 99.8% of satisfied clients) is known among buyers, as his selection of books from the 18th and the 17th centuries is regularly updated with interesting books in good to very good condition. Though a touchy topic among booksellers, eBay is one of the best places to buy books in France. Indeed, the offer is important and the prices usually reasonable. Far from the “eBay craze” of the early years—when common books sold for unexpected prices— the market has regulated itself. But eBay.fr has just changed its classification and it might cause an important change in the business.

 Vincent Pannequin, when did you start selling books on eBay? I had an eBay account, Amaterasu55, before even opening my physical bookstore in 2002, but I was only buying with it. The name comes from a trip in Japan. “Amaterasu is the goddess of the Sun and “55” is a lucky number. At first, I only sold incomplete or defective books on eBay, those I couldn’t list in my catalogues. It took me a few years before I decided to sell nicer books.

How is the market on eBay today? The eBay market is good, better than a few years ago. But on the other hand you have so many new sellers, who list hundreds of books. As a result, the site is overcrowded and the good dealers are losing visibility.

What’s the difference with a physical bookshop? Ebay still has a very bad reputation among a few “regular” booksellers in France. How would you explain that? There is less and less difference. Of course the buyers can’t touch the books, but pictures make up for that. And I may add by experience that sometimes I prefer not to be in a bookstore to avoid unfriendly colleagues (laughter). Joke aside, I have the feeling that the book collectors who buy on eBay also go to the bookstores. And I think that eBay doesn’t have the very bad reputation it had few years ago when many booksellers saw it as unfair competition. Now I think they see eBay as a place to buy books between two auctions.

You told me that eBay is a touchy subject. Why? Maybe that was an old reflex...But somehow it is true that “regular” booksellers do not like to be known as buying on eBay. Maybe they consider it a less noble way to do business. But it changed a few years ago when some of them started to sell their stock on eBay under their real names, and that was a small revolution

What do you think of faked sales, or “disguised reserve prices”, on eBay? It does exist, I won’t deny it; but it is usually so obvious that you can see it right away. And I honestly think it doesn’t happen more on eBay than at physical auctions, where so many books are being sold over and over again...

It seems like prices on eBay are far lower than in “regular” bookshops. Do you agree? Do you think some books belong on eBay while others should be sold elsewhere? Yes, I do agree but only for the most common books, which booksellers refer to as the “small books.” For the others, I’m pretty sure that they sell for very good prices, such as the 1762 edition of Lafontaine’s Fables by Les Fermiers Généraux, which is always an eBay star. But for sure, books costing dozens of thousands of euros are not the most salable there, and I wouldn’t propose them myself. But it is a personal opinion and I know some dealers who do not hesitate; good for them, they are bold enough to do it.

It seems like eBay is growing less efficient as far as selling old books is concerned. Do you think it will stop being an interesting selling point one of these days? On eBay France, which in my opinion is the most important eBay place for rare books, I didn’t think it was less efficient until recently. Yesterday, the 13th of October, eBay France decided to regroup all rare books in a unique category and it is clearly a regression. (Indeed, it’s no longer possible to select books by centuries. Consequently, one has to go through hundreds of “books printed before 1900” before finding a book from the 18th century. Many buyers and sellers are currently urging eBay.fr to go back to the old formula but the website is not known for paying much attention to its users – editor’s note). This is no good news, and they took the decision without consulting anyone. I know a lot of people are already complaining as books have become quite hard to locate now.

What is your recipe to have a “good sale” on eBay? I always try to give the best description possible, or at least to point out all defects so that when the buyers receive their books, they think they look better than described. And of course I download a lot of pictures for each book; and good ones. I don’t mean artistic but informative ones. It takes a lot of time, but it is necessary in order to build a solid reputation.

What are the required skills for an eBay bookseller compared to a “regular” one? I do not think there are more or less skills to work on eBay.

You’re based in Ireland today. Is it a matter of taxes? Is it still interesting when you probably have to “import” your books, and then ship them back to France—with more expensive shipping fees? Nothing to do with taxes: my companion is Polish and was already working and living here; that was my main motivation. Life is less stressful here so I have no regrets. I do import most of my books from France, indeed, but it has become quite cheap and easy to work with online sites that discount couriers. For example a 20 kilos parcel costs 30€ only. Shipping fees are more expensive for my sales, yes; but the quality of my books makes up for it and buyers know it.

Is France your main market? Is it a specific market? France is my main market, indeed, as I mostly sell books written in French. It includes de facto Belgium and Switzerland. It is a specific market in the way that France is the place in the world where you will find the most book auctions—a few ones every day—and the largest number of book collectors. But eBay France attracts collectors and booksellers from all over the world and the USA is my second best market.

What do you think of Paypal? Paypal is a very useful tool as you are paid instantly but it has quite a cost (4 to 5% of the sales and shipping fees). And the downfall is that their customer service almost always sides with the buyers when there is a problem. They advertise a warranty for the buyer but it only consists of taking back the money from the seller.

What could eBay do to be more efficient as far as old books are concerned? EBay France should come back to the old system they had with sub-categories, where you could properly list your books. But if they come back to it—and nothing is sure, since they are well known to ignore their customers—they should clean all the rubbish like magazines or cheap modern books, that pollute the “rare books” section.

Thibault Ehrengardt


Posted On: 2019-08-13 08:41
User Name: joshuadollar

yes i agree


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>A Record Breaking Season</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> <i>The Book of Mormon,</b> first edition, Palmyra, NY, 1830. Sold Sept. 30 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Vincent Van Gogh, <i>Homme à la Pipe: Portrait du Docteur Gachet, Evening,</i> etching, 1890. Sold Nov. 2 — $161,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edward Ruscha, <i>Stains,</i> title page, one of 70, signed, 1969. Sold Nov. 9 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> John James Audubon, <i>Carolina Parrot, Plate 26,</i> hand colored aquatint, 1828. Sold Dec.9 — $137,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edmund Dulac, <i>The Snow Queen,</i> watercolor, gouache, pen & ink, 1910. Sold Dec. 16 — $125,000.
  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>26 January 2022<br>Printed Books & Maps,<br>The Sinclair Hood Library of Archaeology,<br>The Charles Tomlinson Poetry Library</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Biggs (Thomas, Hope, Theodore C & Fergusson, James). <i>Architecture at Ahmedabad, The Capital of Goozerat,</i> 1st edition, London: John Murray, 1866. £3,000 to £5,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Daniell (Thomas and William). <i>Oriental Scenery. One Hundred and Fifty Views of the Architecture, Antiquities and Landscape Scenery of Hindoostan,</i> 6 parts, 1812-16. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Hamilton (Sir William & Pierre Francois Hugues d'Hancarville). Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Hon.ble Wm Hamilton, volumes I & II only (of 4), Naples, 1766-67. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>26 January 2022<br>Printed Books & Maps,<br>The Sinclair Hood Library of Archaeology,<br>The Charles Tomlinson Poetry Library</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Moore (Lieutenant Joseph & Captain Frederick Marryat). Eighteen Views taken at & near Rangoon, [1825]. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Williamson (Captain Thomas & Howitt, Samuel). <i>Oriental Field Sports; Being a Complete, Detailed and Accurate Description of the Wild Sports of the East;</i> 1st edition, London, 1807. £5,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Knoop (Johann Hermann). <i>Pomologia, dat is Beschryvingen en Afbeeldingen van de beste zoorten van Appels en Peeren, Fructologia …,</i> 3 volumes in 1, Leeuwarden: A Ferwerda and G. Tresling, [1758]. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>26 January 2022<br>Printed Books & Maps,<br>The Sinclair Hood Library of Archaeology,<br>The Charles Tomlinson Poetry Library</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> North America. Wyld (James), Map of the Colony of British Columbia and the British & American Territory West of the Rocky Mountains, Including Vancouvers Island and the Gold Fields, 1858. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Pocket Globe. A Correct Globe with the New Discoveries, circa 1785. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Wales. Morden (Robert), Twelve 'playing card maps' of Wales, circa 1676. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>26 January 2022<br>Printed Books & Maps,<br>The Sinclair Hood Library of Archaeology,<br>The Charles Tomlinson Poetry Library</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Society of Dilettanti. <i>Antiquities of Ionia,</i> 5 volumes: 1821, 1797, 1840, 1881 & 1915. £3,000 to £5,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Churchill (Winston Spencer). <i>The People's Rights,</i> 1st edition, 1st issue, London: Hodder & Stoughton, [1910]. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Jan. 26:</b> Paz (Octavio). <i>Blanco,</i> 1st edition, limited numbered edition, Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz, 1967. £500 to £800.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br> Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana<br>Online<br>Now through January 25, 2022</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Audubon, John James. The "Wild Turkey" manuscript — capturing one of the nation's most iconic symbols of unity. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> (Flag) — Commemorative Thirteen-Star Flag. Pre-Civil War, Thirteen-Star Flag of the United States, from the collection of Charles Kuralt. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Fitzgerald, F. Scott. <i>Tender is the Night</i>. First edition, presentation copy, and a former mystery. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Audubon, John James. The "Wild Turkey" manuscript — capturing one of the nation's most iconic symbols of unity. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Salinger, J.D. <i>The Catcher in the Rye.</i> A strikingly fresh first edition of Salinger's essential novel. $20,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Whitman, Walt. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> “America's second Declaration of Independence” — signed by Whitman. $150,000 to $200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> [Dylan, Bob]. Some of the earliest known professional portraits. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Y-Worth [Yarworth], William. <i>Cerevisiarii Comes: Or, the New and True Art of Brewing…</i> A rare and early English work on the art of brewing. $5,000 to $7,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> RUTH BADER GINSBERG’S PERSONAL COPY OF THE 1957-58 HARVARD LAW REVIEW, HEAVILY ANNOTATED BY HER.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> RUTH BADER GINSBURG’S TEXTBOOK FOR HER “CIVIL PROCEDURE” CLASS AT HARVARD, HEAVILY ANNOTATED BY HER.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> RUTH BADER GINSBURG’S TEXTBOOK FOR COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL CLASS ON JURISPRUDENCE, HEAVILY ANNOTATED BY HER.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> HONORARY DOCTORATE AWARDED TO RUTH BADER GINSBURG BY SMITH COLLEGE, 1994.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> A COPY OF JUSTICE GINSBURG’S ARTICLE, “WOMEN IN THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY,” SIGNED AND INSCRIBED BY THE JUSTICE TO SENATOR NANCY KASSEBAUM.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> A COPY OF SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR’S ARTICLE, “THEY OFTEN ARE HALF-OBSCURE: THE RIGHTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE LEGACY OF OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES,” PRESENTED TO RUTH BADER GINSBURG.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> A DELUXE EDITION OF ANTONIN SCALIA’S MAKING YOUR CASE: THE ART OF PERSUADING JUDGES, FROM AN EDITION OF 2000, SIGNED AND INSCRIBED TO RUTH BADER GINSBURG.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> A FIRST EDITION OF SONIA SOTOMAYOR’S <i>MY BELOVED WORLD,</i> SIGNED AND INSCRIBED TO RUTH BADER GINSBURG.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> A FIRST EDITION OF AL GORE’S “THE ASSAULT ON REASON,” SIGNED AND INSCRIBED TO RUTH BADER GINSBURG.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> <i>BELOVED</i> BY TONI MORRISON, SIGNED AND INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR TO RUTH AND MARTIN GINSBURG.
    <b>Bonhams, Jan. 19 – 27:</b> A FIRST EDITION OF GLORIA STEINEM’S “MY LIFE ON THE ROAD,” SIGNED AND INSCRIBED TO RUTH BADER GINSBURG.
  • <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321). <i>Commedia.</i> Venezia: Vindelino da Spira, 1477. Estimate: € 40.000 - 60.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> DALI, Salvador (1908-1989) - William SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616). <i>Romeo e Giulietta.</i> Milan: Rizzoli, 1975. Estimate: € 25.000 - 35.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> MALVASIA, Cornelio; MONTANARI, Geminiano. <i>Ephemerides novissimae motuum coelestium.</i> Modena: Cassiani, 1662. Estimate: € 8.000 - 12.000.
    <b>Il Ponte Casa d’Aste, Jan. 25:</b> JANSSONIUS, Johannes. <i>Atlantis majoris quinta pars, Orbem maritimum [Novus Atlas, volume V: carte marittime].</i> Amsterdam: Janssonius, 1650. Estimate: € 12.000 - 18.000.

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