Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2015 Issue

Booksellers Respond To RBH’s “Clearing the Backlog” Article

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A number of booksellers felt the the proposal outlined in “Clearing the Backlog” was not needed or workable.

Last month, Rare Book Hub Monthly publisher Bruce McKinney posted an article titled “Clearing the Backlog” that has drawn a lot of reaction in the bookselling world. In his piece McKinney noted that while prices at the upper tier of the book world have gotten stronger, at the lower end the market is flooded and prices are racing to the bottom. By his estimate 99% of all rare and collectible books are worth $600 or less, and of that number his educated guess was some 95% were valued at under $150. By his own estimate there were at least 3 million items that he thought would need to change hands in the next three to five years -- and he predicted “for many dealers the sun is setting.”

 

McKinney went on to suggest a new system of selling in a modified auction format that RBH would set up and which would be open to its subscribers. He proposed that starting price would be pegged at “25% of fair market value,” and once the transaction was concluded the buyer would pay the shipping. Unlike other existing services such as Amazon, Abe, Alibris or eBay it would be free to subscribers - there would be no additional commission or listing fee charged.

 

Though the comments section of the article drew positive reaction, a recent long thread on one of the bookselling list-serves produced opinions that leaned strongly in the other direction.

 

Booksellers who commented ranged from those who sold a general stock of used books to some of the better known ABAA affiliated specialists. They took issue with McKinney’s proposal for a variety of reasons.

 

Chris Volk of Bookfever.com, an established online bookseller based in Ione, Ca. was one of the first to reply: “In a sense, I could be one of the booksellers targeted by this article,” she wrote. “That is, we are primarily selling in the collectible market, and 95% of the books we sell are $150 or less - and we have a lot of books!

 

“But I still find this proposal not helpful for a couple of reasons - the first is the assumption that most booksellers feel like they need to clear out the backlog and are willing to invest a certain amount of time and energy in doing so at bargain prices."

 

Volk’s reaction was not that she needs to cut her prices but rather “what I need to do is to change my mindset that if one is good, two are better,... and to stop feeling like we need to have in inventory ‘every title’ an author wrote.”

 

She also took issue with McKinney proposal that, "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]"

 

“Most books which sell for under $150,” she said, “have few if any auction results - and how does one even begin to determine the fair market value of something offered on ABE? The range of prices for a book which might be reasonably listed at $50-100 will often be from $1 to $500 - so who is going to say that $50 is FMV, or is it $5 if an ‘unsold’ copy exists for that price?

 

“I consider virtually all of our list prices FMV … - and I figure if the tail is long enough, we should sell virtually everything for roughly a net of 75% of list (20% commissions and fees, extra 5% to account for discounts, sales, etc). It is a rare day that does not include a sale of some books listed more than 3 years ago, or even more than 5 years ago.”

 

Like others she thought, “Doing a lot of work to sell a bunch of books for 25% of FMV sooner is not very appealing - even though I realize that, if the inventory were being liquidated, getting just ten cents on the dollar overall would be doing pretty good!”

 

Laurelle Swan of Swan’s Fine Books in Walnut Creek, Ca. wrote, ….” I am a subscriber to

the auction record service that Bruce provides and am grateful to have it as one, among many, tools to use in determining price." She noted, “there are multiple avenues in place already for selling our items, be they lower or higher in the pricing scale.

 

“I would rather see us put our collective time and energy into making those avenues - including ABE, the IOBA and ABAA websites - better known. Many of our customers who ask me for help in locating an item online are only aware of eBay and Amazon, and have never heard of the current options. These customers (not the experienced collector) are the ones likely to be looking for these ‘lower-priced’ items that apparently we are all looking to sell at fire-sale prices, and these customers will not be aware of Rare Book Hub either.”

 

In her my opinion even though the RBH data base provides actual prices realized on auction transactions, “it does not provide ‘SOLD’ prices, it provides ‘AUCTION’ prices. Sold prices, in my definition,” she continued, “are the prices a bookseller realizes when he or she sells his or her book, and agrees on a price with a willing, reasonable buyer.

 

“I'm sure we have all purchased items at auction if we feel we are ‘getting a good deal’ - by definition, this means that we feel we can sell the book for more. Otherwise the auction houses would only have retail customers bidding on their lots, not booksellers. I'm also sure that many, if not most, of us tracking auctions have seen items sell for far more than we believe is fair retail price.”

 

In her view, “Auctions are all about clearing the decks, not in ascertaining a ‘fair market value’ for the wares they are selling. … Let's not consider auction prices any true indication of fair market value, ” and she was one of several to observe, “We might not like someone else telling us what a fair market value is for our books.”

 

Vic Zoschak, of Tavistock Books (ABAA) in Alameda, CA also was less than thrilled with the proposal. He commented briefly, “I am a long-time subscriber to RBH, at the Octavo level, and ‘very much’ value the information that Bruce supplies on his site. However, what others may not realize is that at this subscriber level, my inventory is also offered for sale ... on RBH. Despite a subscriber base comprised of the ‘best colleges, universities, archives, auction houses, special collections and deep pocket collectors and dealers’, I do not recall ever selling a book through RBH. Not a one. Ever.”

“Where do his clients come from,” asked Luis Porretta of Luis Porretta Fine Arts in British Columbia, “to buy these collectible books when they have not been found on eBay, Amazon and all the other listing services?” The reality is that there are fewer people buying books and more people selling books and this is a trend that has resulted in a falling turnover for most online book dealers the past fifteen years. Another venue selling books with a new plan is not going to change this reality.”

 

A Massachusetts specialist in books on science, technology and engineering who preferred not to be named thanked McKinney, “for once again creating a lively discussion, and for finding creative ways to market RBH. “But,” he asked, “don't all these basic mechanisms exist today? And in forms that we can all use, as much and as often as we want? We already have quality sites: TomFolio, Biblio, IOBA, and ABAA among others. These sites have "vetted" dealers, inventory, guarantees and descriptions.

 

“Any dealer can reduce venue pricing now (or list stock on eBay, send it to auction, offer sale lists to fellow dealers and customers, etc). Does anyone think the overhang exists simply because existing sites aren't offering material as effectively as they could?

 

“The real reason the "overhang" exists is supply has outstripped demand. One major contributing factor is the crippled traditional feeder system for new buyers and dealers (bookstores and tradeshows).

 

“The fun (and essential) part is to find new buyers. With new customers our less expensive material becomes a key resource to cultivate eager new minds. Improving the feeder system is the real fix.

 

“I would love it if a third party could do this work for me (us). But without significant levels of funding how likely is it that RBH could pull enough new, currently unknown customers into the fold solely by creating a new lower-cost venue?

 

“It is far more likely,” he thought, "that this proposal would cannibalize some of our existing sales by encouraging us to move our stock there, take away 75% of our retail price, and sell to the same buyers we already have, albeit at a better price. It really just kicks the bucket down the road a bit.”

 

His suggestions for improving the situation emphasized, “Focus on marketing, not on cost. Passive bookselling is not a strong strategy anymore.”

 

Though most of those who wrote did not think the proposal was needed or workable, there was at least one exception: Kenny Parolini of Vineland, NJ who sells online as poormansbooks.com wrote, “I make about one sale a year but it more than pays my $400 RBH fee. The listing is free with some subscriptions.”

 

To read the article “Clearing The Backlog” by Bruce McKinney that provoked these comments click here.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Nebel, Carl. The War Between the United States and Mexico. New York, 1851. $270,000 - $300,000 MXN / USD $15,000 - $16,666
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Nebel, Carl. The War Between the United States and Mexico. New York, 1851. $270,000 - $300,000 MXN / USD $15,000 - $16,666
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Bolaños, Joaquín. La Portentosa Vida de la Muerte... (“The Portentous Life of Death”) México, 1792. $50,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,777 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Tratado de Paz… entre la República Mexicana y los Estados Unidos. (“Treaty of Peace… Between the Mexican Republic and the United States”) 1848. $80,000 - $90,000 MXN / USD $4,444 - $5,000
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Fabregat, Josep Joaquín. Vista de la Plaza de México… (“View of the Square of Mexico”) México, 1797. $60,000 - $100,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $5,555
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel. Invitación al Coronel Narciso de la Canal… (“Invitation to Coronel Narciso de la Canal…”) 1810. $170,000 - $200,000 MXN / USD $9,444 - $11,111
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Gálvez, Joseph de. Real Cédula de Erección de la Compañía de Filipinas. (“Royal Notice of the Creation of the Company of the Philippines”) 1785. $40,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,222 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Colección de Constituciones de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (“Collection of Constitutions of the United Mexican States”) México, 1828. $50,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,777 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Ruelas, Julio. Poemario Manuscrito Ilustrado, Dedicado a Lorencita Braniff (“Collection of Illustrated Poem Manuscripts, Dedicated to Lorencita Braniff”). 1903. $60,000 - $70,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $3,888
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Espinosa de los Monteros, Juan J. Aviso de la Junta Soberana al Público (“Notice of the Sovereign Meeting to the Public”) 1821. $60,000 - $80,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $4,444
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Constitución Federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos... (“Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States”) México, 1824. $140,000 - $150,000 MXN / USD $7,777 - $8,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Alcaraz, Ramón. Apuntes para la Historia de la Guerra entre México y los EU (“Notes on the History of the War between Mexico and the United States”). 1848. $40,000 - $50,000 MXN / USD $2,222 - $2,777
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €
  • <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest Hemingway's Typewriter Used to Write "A Moveable Feast", Impeccable Provenance From His Biographer A. E. Hotchner. $50,000 to $100,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Samuel Colt, "The Gun that Won the West": 3 Signed Patent Items for "Revolving Cylinder Guns". $40,000 to $50,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Jack Kerouac's Own Typewriter From His Estate Used to Write His Very Last Book. $18,000 to $20,000.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Rare Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence Printed in 1848. $15,000 to $18,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Superb Tchaikovsky ALS to Napravnik, 4pp on "Mazeppa". $12,000 to $15,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Wounded Knee Massacre Same Day Eyewitness Account by Participant, "the 7th needn't be ashamed of today's record". $10,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> F. Scott Fitzgerald Signed Gordon Bryant Portrait -- Finest Known. $8,000 to $9,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Neil Armstrong ALS on NASA Letterhead Regarding His X-15 Flights. $7,000 to $8,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> M. Gandhi Letter: "the life span of human beings is preordained..." -- Fantastic Spiritual Content. $7,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> "Damn the torpedoes!" Riveting 24pp ALS of Admiral Farragut's Steward Describing the "Battle of Mobile Bay”. $6,000 to $7,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Abraham Lincoln Signed Order to Suspend Execution. $5,000 to $6,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Napoleon DS Featuring Imperial Eagle and Enormous Great Seal Appointing Norman Politician Baron of the Empire. $4,000 to $5,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.

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