What's Up and Coming with West Coast Bookstores?
He had an interesting comment about Powell's Books in Portland where I worked for seven years. He wondered how they could still thrive and buy huge lots of books and bookstores in the Bay Area. He surmised that, "A third or more of the books they buy they probably already have 20 copies of. They do a lot of online selling, but it's hard to believe they are competitive online as they don't describe condition." Steve noted that he phones them first before he buys and has a clerk go and get the book in hand. "One time when I called about a Winston Churchill series book I saw online it turned out that it wasn't even the right book, the publishing date they listed was before the book had even been published. The other time they had a rare California county history book with a picture on the website. I called to order it and they told me the picture online wasn't for the copy they were selling, the one they had was not the one they advertised."
Last question was: "Do you think you will stay in the book business until you drop dead?" "Oh yeah, I'll always be in it," he replied, "I may retire but I'll still stay in it in some way."
On down the rows of booksellers, I caught up with Bea and Peter Siegel, a mother/son bookselling team from Walnut Creek, California, who are moving to Corvallis, Oregon. Peter is all ready there, but Bea, his mom, will be moving up soon.
"I intend to be in the book business 25 years from now," said Peter when I asked him if he was planning to stay in it. "I'm concerned about where the new generation of buyers and sellers will come from every time I do these shows. I started scouting books when I was 12 years old. I've been in the business off and on for forty plus years, the last fifteen with my mom. We were in Santa Monica and did fine with my old customer base and institutions which I still have, but I'm not seeing a lot of new customers and not a lot of new blood and new money coming into the book business."
"How much of your business is done on the Net?" I queried. "About one-third," he said, and when I asked if he priced from the Net he said, "Very rarely. I don't pay that much attention to internet prices, rather I trust my own experience. It counts for a whole lot more. If I sell a book several times for $125 but see it on the internet for $75, I still price it at $125 because for me it is a $125 book and I can sell it for that. When buying, I do pay attention, though. For instance, when I'm pondering a book on eBay and look it up online and find a comparable copy for $25, I don't bid $75." "Makes sense to me," I said.