Rare Book Monthly
Articles - October - 2005 Issue
Passing of an Era: Mary Ann Malkin of AB Bookman's at 92
The opportunity for individual booksellers to now post thousands of books for sale online spelled an end to the old model. Where you might have paid several dollars a week in the past to publish a book listing to the limited readership of AB Bookman's, the same money could post hundreds if not thousands of listings to the entire world online. The old formula no longer made sense. Once the internet grew from an obscure resource with a small number of users to something approaching the universally accepted medium it is today, there was no way AB Bookman's Weekly could compete for book listing dollars. Technology had passed it by. AB Bookman's figuratively shuttered its doors in 1999. The most important resource ever developed for selling books, the intenet, had made it irrelevant by the end of the century. Today, the AB Bookman's name has been resurrected as, of all things, a website by an Arizona company. However, this is a case of buying the rights to the name of the defunct publication, rather than a true continuation of what once was. The AB Bookman's of the Malkins is no more.
And so with the passing of Mrs. Malkin, we note the passing of her era, an era when the book trade was carried on in a much different way. Personal interactions among booksellers was the way in which most books were located, and Mr. and Mrs. Malkin's publication was the forum which brought them together. Today, books change hands through the impersonal medium of the internet. It is not for us to say whether this is better or worse. It is just different. Mrs. Malkin and her husband will be remembered for the prominent roles they played in the old way of doing business.
I am indebted to Terry Belanger, Director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, for the following corrections and additions, some of which already have been incorporated into the article.
Dr. Belanger pointed out that Solomon Malkin always shortened his name to "Sol." with a period when it was written, and his name so appears in issues of AB Bookman's Weekly.
When AB was first spun off from Publisher's Weekly in 1948, it was known simply as "Antiquarian Bookman." Starting in 1949, an annual supplement known as "AB Bookman's Yearbook" was published. Dr. Belanger reports that Mrs. Malkin told him people began referring to the magazine as "AB Bookman's" as a result, so that in the 1960s the name was changed to "AB Bookman's Weekly" to reflect the commonly used name. That explains the oddity of the abbreviated name "AB Bookman's Weekly," which, if spelled out, would be the rather redundant "Antiquarian Bookman Bookman's Weekly."
While AB subsisted primarily on booksellers' advertising, Dr. Belanger points out that the "books wanted" advertising was more important than the for sale listings. Here I will quote from Dr. Belanger's comments at length, because they provide an excellent look at the trade as it existed in the pre-internet days. He says, "what sustained the magazine over the years was its utility as a place where dealers (both new-book and used/antiquarian-book) running OP search services could advertise for individual titles wanted by their customers -- who were more likely to be readers than collectors. A good many -- perhaps most -- of these customers didn't know of the existence of AB, and didn't care. They simply gave the names of one or more desired titles to the search service dealer, and the dealer advertised for these titles in AB. (PW ran exactly the same sort of titles-wanted ads in its back pages until AB was spun off.)
"Look at any issue of AB in the earlier pre-Internet days and you can see that the bulk of the issues consisted of long lists of books being searched for, not books advertised for sale. Typically, a dealer running a search service advertised for titles at his or her own expense, and did not charge the customer for failed searches. Dealers with copies of these titles, seeing them listed in AB, sent quotes on postcards to the advertising dealer, and -- with these quotes in hand -- the advertising dealer consulted with the customer, saying (for instance) that a copy of a particular title desired was available in dj for (say) $10X, or without dj for $5X: the actual quotes would have been $4-5X or $2-3X. Dealers generally doubled the best quoted price, though I heard Robert Topp, owner of the Hermitage Bookshop in Denver, say at the 1982 Used/OP Book Seminar (where I was also teaching that year) that you couldn't make money running an OP search business, especially for cheaper books, unless you tripled the quoted price."
In addition to her personal collection, which is housed at Penn State University, Mrs. Malkin left her residual estate half to the Grolier Club of New York and half to the Rare Book School. Each will receive in the vicinity of $1 million. As. Dr. Belanger points out, "That's part of her legacy too." Another part of that legacy is the Malkin lectures on the history of the antiquarian book trade. Printed copies of some of these lectures are available from the Rare Book School website, www.virginia.edu/oldbooks/publications.shtml.