Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2007 Issue

All Quiet on the Western Front: Abe Holds Its Summit


Abe is back on track after a year of controversy.

By Michael Stillman

What a difference a year makes. When Abebooks held its last summit the previous February, the battle lines between site and sellers had been drawn; revolt was in the air. Mandatory credit card processing and the size of the associated fee had led to threats of open rebellion. As a book-related site, we were inundated with angry emails, though we have no connection to Abe. Booksellers spoke of picking up and walking out on Abe en masse.

A year had gone by when Abebooks again held its February summit, this time in San Francisco to coincide with the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. This was a smaller summit, with international and technical issues taking precedence. Gone were the confrontations and rancor. Our mailbox was empty. No one spoke of boycotts or desertions. So much has changed.

We asked Richard Davies, Public Relations and Publicity Manager for Abebooks, what took place at this year's summit. He noted that it went well. "It seems that many booksellers were expecting some sort of significant announcement at the summit, but the event was simply intended to develop better working relationships with sellers and discuss how we can work together more productively." From what we have heard, that goal was reached. As often as we heard last year that the summit was meant to relay decisions already made, not to listen to sellers' input, the consensus seems to be that this year Abe was listening. There appears to be either a change in attitude or a change in impression, and either of those signifies a major step forward in the relationship between Abe and its sellers. This is a positive development.

Representing Abe at the summit was Hannes Blum, CEO, Shaun Jamieson, sales and accounts manager, and Maria Hutchinson, antiquarian accounts manager. The latter is particularly significant as while Abe has always moved large volumes of used books, antiquarian and rare book dealers have frequently felt pushed aside. It can be difficult to sell antiquarian material on Abe as buyers are reluctant to spend a large sum of money on a book sight unseen and without discussing factors such as condition with the seller. Abe appears to be moving back in the direction of greater customer-seller contact where necessary to facilitate a sale. Abe seems to recognize that most books can readily be sold online, but at the higher end, it can be difficult. They may now be more willing to accept that they will not make a commission on these sales, but are willing to provide the connection between buyer and seller anyway as part of the service they provide for the monthly fee. This too is a positive step toward making the site more valuable to the antiquarian seller.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
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    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
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    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.

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