Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2003 Issue

Analysis: Is the Internet Making the Book Fair Obsolete?

New York Book Fair


These factors are or were:
  1. The Weather: Trivial as it may seem, it rained torrentially and relentlessly in New York on Friday, the first full day of the fair. This downpour understandably reduced the gate. The New York City mass transit system is no thrill in the rain, and it is nearly impossible to get a cab in a downpour. The Armory’s World War One-era air ventillation system didn’t help either.


  2. The War: It should come as no profound surprise that the War in Iraq and uncertainty in the Middle East have projected many people into a sort of walking depression. This is particularly true in New York City, where security measures are everywhere visible and many people remain concerned about future attacks.


  3. The Economy: Our formerly robust market is now in its third year of downturn and feels even worse when contrasted with the extravagantly successful 1990s.


  4. The "Hidden" Factor: The Conversion of Book Sales to the Internet: The biggest change in the used, rare, and antiquarian book business in last 25 years has been the emergence of the internet as an increasingly effective way to buy, collect and sell books. Since 1996, there has been a steady conversion of the used, rare, and antiquarian book business from the dealer to collector model to the less restricted internet sales model. Each dealer’s internet experience is different. Our own recent surveys suggest the conversion of the book business from the one way dealer-collector model to a two way listing to buyer model is well underway.
To obtain some perspective on these factors I contacted 26 dealers in the Americana field, some well known, some not yet as famous, some present at the show and some absent. I asked these dealers for their opinions about these factors, and asked those present at the fair to rate the impact of these factors on the book business at the fair itself from 1 (no impact at all) to 10 (extreme impact). I asked them to extrapolate from this book fair experience and from the four factors cited the current state and future direction of the book business, particularly as regards the role of book fairs. What follows are the answers to these questions, as given by various dealers. (They were contacted after the fair, by telephone.) This is by no means a scientific survey: it is somewhat random in nature and methodology, although we did make a concerted effort to include both larger and medium-to-smaller booksellers, with a fairly equal geographic spread. But it does seek, in its way, to understand what is happening in the rare and antiquarian book business and it further seeks to divine a consensus about its future.

Rare Book Monthly

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    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
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    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
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    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Catch-22, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961, first edition, first printing, first issue dust jacket, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
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    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, London: John Murray, 1818, in four volumes
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  • Forum Auctions
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    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
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    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.

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