No bookfairs to scout or participate in this weekend. Maritime List #204 is in the can and ready to go on line. (It’ll be on the tenpound website Monday – a collection of reference books about Melville and Moby Dick).
Maritime List #205 has been written and sits on the shelf awaiting photographs, and I’ve even got our poor old gallery building across the street cleaned out and ready for demolition next week.
The storage containers are filled to bursting.
A perfect opportunity, this Sunday afternoon, to indulge in a little wool gathering.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about IOBA – the Independent Online Booksellers Association. I joined this group a few months ago, and was quickly drafted to head up their Membership Committee. I was happy to take the job because I thought it would give me a broader look at the contours of the book trade.
And indeed it has.
Lurking on the IOBA listserv got me hooked also on the Bibliophile Group listerv, a private subscription discussion list ($30 annual membership fee). Both these venues have provided a wonderful opportunity to learn about aspects of the online culture to which I never would have been exposed.
I had no idea, for example, how pervasive the phenomenon of “phantom listers” had become. These are guys who use specialized software to scan titles and prices of books offered for sale by legitimate booksellers. The phantom lister will copy the description but raise the price and wait for an unwary customer. When they get a purchase order (This doesn’t happen often, obviously. But phantom listers can offer hundreds of thousands of titles since they don’t actually own or have to handle any of the books they list.) the phantom buys the book from the original lister and has the lister drop ship the book to the customer. Aside from obvious problems with delivery, shipping, and price-gouging, phantom listers are parasites. They undermine the fiscal health of the entire trade. The open discussion and education provided by venues like the IOBA or bibliophile chat lines is the best way to combat them.
Then, there’s this email, typical of an entire genre of such discussions on IOBA and Biblio:
“Although the most recent version of Ubuntu will be somewhat demanding (but will run on anything that can handle Windows 7 and on most computers that can run XP or Vista) there are other versions that will require fewer resources, like Lubuntu, or be more familiar to Windows users, like LinuxMint… It’s also very easy to keep a version of Windows and install Linux side-by-side, booting up to whichever version is needed for a particular task. Linux can see and use data files on a Windows partition, although Linux partitions seem to be invisible to Windows… I’ve had Windows and Ubuntu dual-booting for over a year now, but since I found that I could convert my very old Pegasus email files to a different format that Claws-email-for-Linux can read I find that I rarely boot up Windows.”
I have no idea whether this fellow makes $1500 a year selling used books, or $150,000, but I’m fairly certain that Lubuntu and LinuxMint are not in my computing future. However, it’s nice to know that such a high level of technological sophistication is available to me. Next time I’m contemplating the purchase of some new and inscrutable gadget or piece of software, I’ll feel comfortable asking this gang for their recommendations.
Sure, there are a lot of $15 books being offered, and heated debates about mailing bags and postal insurance – the kinds of newbie concerns I had myself 35 years ago, and have been listening to ad infinitum ever since.
But that’s OK, because, along with this chatter, I’m hearing about various ways these newbies have discovered to help their bricks and mortar operations survive. I’m learning how people scout booksales with hand scanners and price comparison software. I’m learning about constantly evolving Internet marketplaces like Amazon and the increasingly sophisticated sales tools and fulfillment options they offer.
True, not much of this pertains directly to my rather specialized business, but IOBA and Biblio have provided a window into what scholar, poet and historian Michael Suarez refers to as the ecology of the book trade. Dealers, collectors and librarians, from the biggest mega-institutions to the smallest hole-in-the-wall operations, each have distinct roles. It’s a system in which each part relies on the others. “The ecosystems of book history.”
That’s what IOBA has to offer an old-timer like me – a splendid view, and access to a broad international range of dealers, business models and viewpoints. I’m happy to report that more and more veteran dealers, members of organizations like ABAA or ILAB, are joining IOBA’s ranks, and I suspect that they’re enjoying the same benefits.
More importantly IOBA serves as an educational resource for newer dealers. In my brief tenure on the Membership Committee, the majority of applicants have been people at the beginnings of their bookselling careers. IOBA provides one-on-one mentoring if required, and a wealth of other educational resources. Through its code of ethics, IOBA also presents guidelines and standards for the “right” way to do business.
In a lecture a few years ago Bill Reese lamented the demise of bricks and mortar shops - not for nostalgic reasons, but because these were the places where new dealers learned their trade. “Despite a fancy education,” he said, “I learned most of what I know in used book stores, and I’m sorry to see them go.”
In this new world IOBA can serve that educational function. They’re helping us keep our “ecosystem” robust and healthy, and they deserve our support.
Next week: Report on Papermania and the incredible stuff I bought there. Also - the hazards of counting chickens.