Herd on the Street
Every day at least five new book sellers register to sell and begin to list books. This is roughly 2,000 new sellers joining the selling community every year. Roughly, for every book seller, it takes 25 to 50 book buyers to join on the buy-side to keep the buy-sell equation in balance. This means that for book prices to remain at the current level 125 to 250 new book buyers need to join the buying community every day. While there is no way to know precisely how many new buyers join the electronic world everyday it is obviously less than the number needed to maintain market equilibrium. My anecdotal experience is that prices are falling. Every seller has a different attitude about their books and their pricing but I have seen much larger discounts on the net this past year than I ever did before. If more books are being posted than there are buyers to buy them this is going to inevitably happen.
The number of ways to sell is also increasing. There are now about twenty listing sites on line. ABE is by far the largest but the cost to develop such sites is apparently not a significant barrier to entry so they continue to proliferate. Book search engines such as Bookfinder and Addall list no books themselves but check many listing sites for specified titles thus obliterating the significance of listing site brand names. With them you specify the title. They look in various places.
The strength of the online listing approach for the seller is to provide ample time to realize the highest price. It comes with no guarantee of a sale but asking prices are typically higher than comparable auction realizations. For collectors the listing sites provide the opportunity to browse and shop 24/7. You can focus on books when you want to focus on books and you can still negotiate when there are several copies available. Because there are (may I say temporarily?) more books to sell than there are buyers to buy them books coming online often find their brothers and sisters there to meet them. Separated at birth, many titles are reunited on line, where booksellers are surprised to find that every family in America has two copies and wants to sell them. Buyers, seeing this, instinctively know they are not looking at a collectible title and often turn away. Nevertheless, for many books, the internet is an excellent way to sell. It just isn’t the best way to sell every book.
The seventy-six traditional book auction locations we cover go a long way to provide market liquidity and price validation for the better books. But they aggregate markets, attracting buyers by their implied promise to provide concentrations of worthwhile material. They can not be slipshod in their selections which mean they will often be unwilling or unable to accept material. They provide an important outlet for resale but their capabilities are finite in a world of books that appears infinite. What they sell has limits, but within these limits, their realized prices are the best indicator of present value. Auction realizations are the cash market.