The first thing to dawn on me (again) is that the prices of even nice books are being set by the people who know the least about them. Of course many established dealers (me included) have old stock that’s seriously inflated but, that aside, some of these new prices are still truly ludicrous. Having just finished the Akron book fair it’s clearer than ever that online pricing is crazy on both ends of the spectrum. Anymore even the better sites are so strewn with shoddy listings the pages look like fire sales. It seems to me these days that quality books don’t even belong on the third-party sites anymore. Their emphasis is on pricing – never mind condition, special attributes, research etc.. All they care about is moving the product. I’ve decided that unless a collectible book is extremely specialized it will never be introduced to the internet except on my own site. As hard as it is to get anything good these days I’m much less inclined to fork over high commissions on three-figure books.
I haven’t been out to any traditional book sales since last fall, so I’d sort of forgotten how they can make me as sour as an old pickle. This time even my favorite library accomplished it. The night of the preview for this usually good event we were third in line which was great except for one thing -- five seconds before the sale began the lights went out and it was canceled. That meant we had to haul back up there the next morning (far) in a monsoon, but at least we landed fifth in line. For awhile. After the scanner stampede not so much. It didn’t matter – I know that, but I am fed up to the eyeballs with rude, crass behavior which I can hardly relate to this profession. We ended up being the only people in the specials room, though a fat lot of good that did. The books were fewer in number, not nearly as desirable as in the past, and priced much higher than normal. I understand that the Friends need to make hay out of whatever they get, but that didn’t mean I loaded up. I bought just a couple things there and found one very good ephemera item in the regular room. On the way home we bought five books at an estate sale, one of which was better than the best from the sale.
Onward then to Bookstock last Sunday, a Michigan charity sale that can go either way. One glance and it was obvious that both donations and quality were way down while prices held steady. But that’s not what got me all riled up. The crowd was not nearly as big as normal and it seemed that most of those wielding scanners were newbies. Not only were they champion sprinters, but had no compunctions about mowing down competitors. On the bright side though, the feeding frenzy was short-lived once the reality of $4 (and higher) hardbacks hit like a tidal wave. They couldn’t fathom such a thing, especially after they’d paid $20 to get in! The good part was that after they’d rummaged through the tables and stirred up the stock they left behind a first American edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook from 1954 which I found lying face-up on a table.
But here’s some examples of what we overheard in line. It might help you understand why I am so disheartened by the state of online bookselling in 2013.