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13 November 2006

Using Books Weblog » Slash and Burn

Using Books Weblog offers a blog that strikes at the core of what Cheap Pricless Editions has been trying to express in some key posts with which we started the blog off so recently. Even the steady participants commenting on posts at Using Books are seasoned bookdealers. I'll be watching that blog with interest . . .

"I’ve been to enough Friends of the Library sales that I’m not usually surprised by the agressive tactics some dealers use to get an edge. But I was stunned by what I saw at the Friends of the Kirkland Public Library’s book sale on Saturday.

I arrived half an hour before the doors opened, earlier than I’d planned. There were a dozen people in line, most of them dealers and book scouts who I recognized. One group of four dealers were chatting together over the stacks of postal tubs they’d brought for hauling books.

A few minutes before opening, the sale’s organizer stepped out of the library (accompanied by a uniformed police officer) and explained the rules of the sale. Dealers should fill one box, he said, then pass it to one of the volunteers before starting on another box. He passed out some labels for people to use on their boxes and went back inside. The doors were opened in short order and everyone rushed into the small meeting room where the sale was being held. Then in a carefully organized fashion, the four dealers who I mentioned before each scooped up a boxload of books from the choice non-fiction tables and shouted, “Full box.” They handed off their filled boxes and, barely glancing at the spines, dumped the next pile of books into their next four boxes. “Full box!”

I’d say that at least two-thirds of the sale’s books were claimed within three minutes. It was entertaining."

The Slash and Burn post continued for several paragraph and so did the comments made by readers, fellow bloggers and bookdealers. Here is the comment I posted:

For neophytes in the used book business like me, I began writing up my own 'take' on the business being described in the post and comments here. Nobody mentions price above, but at two charity booksales I went to since last August it was the low, low prices being charged for high and low quality titles that really struck me.

The bookstore I work in has stuck itself in a cost-price bind by advertising $3.50 postal charges when these are higher for practically every order online. The owner keeps complaining about 'postal zones' here in Canada, where rates rise for deliveries in some byzantine system that's hard to fathom.

I don't like the carping about those who 'know books (33 1/3 rpm vinyl could be tossed in there as well), versus the experts'. In my humble observations to date I observe everybody at every level of the book trade constantly looking up prices and offers online. If they use a cellphone or a keyboard, what is the difference?

I photographed the McGill University Booksale last month. There were 'pickers' lined up along one corridor with their boxes and bags in cached piles. Nobody I witnessed used a scanner device of any sort. Canadians may be more polite (as in waiting in line early), but the first insider stories related to me by my mentors in this business were about miscreants WHO DO swipe "treasure caches" of competitors' at these booksale venues . . .

. . .a scene like in some empoverished countries flashed in my mind with a 'picker' hiring a 'native' lad to watch his books while he picked more . . .

To my mind, this bookdealer business will always have some who survive on low-margin profits for popular items versus those who survive on higher margins for rarer titles. And as the higher margins are squeezed by our ubiquitous Internet connectivity, the rare book dealers feel threatened, justifiably insecure about the whole technology.

November 13th, 2006 | 10:20 am

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