06 September 2010

The Great Book Glut of 2010

We are being offered far too many books. We still buy and are still keen on interesting and unusual books and great collections, but are having to turn away offers of many good books that formerly we would have bought. It is painful to turn books down but generally we have far too many and advise people to give them to charity or try Ebay or, at a pinch, a local dealer. This is a business where dealers will carry on buying even if they can't get into their garages, storage unit or warehouses any more -- accountants are perplexed, if we were selling fridges or footballs we would stop when we had bought enough for current demand. Only lack of money or space will stop most dealers and if you have money you can buy more space.

There has been an over supply for some years now but it has become a palpable glut in 2010. Occasionally people offer to let us have them for free, even to deliver them gratis. This can sometimes be a good plan but as the great Moe of Berkeley said--'...if you let bad books into a shop pretty soon the place fills up with them.' I sometimes wonder what happens to the books we turn down and worry that books will fill up every charity shop, flea market and junk shop and become as hard to sell as old VHR Videos (in one North London shop they have good videos at 10 for £1.) The comparison with the transition from LPs to CDs is more apt and certainly at that time huge collections of albums were sold off. A few observations on the glut:

1. Auction houses have become much more choosy. Some will not look at a book worth less than £500 and cannot raise a smile for anything worth less than £5000. Few now sell big lots and if they do they tend to make pathetic sums (with a few exceptions.)

2. An older more bookish generation is dying off or downsizing to homes and flats. Their heirs tend to keep very little and sell off the collections almost intact. Books are often regarded as a nuisance and some heirs are amazed that any money is offered at all. In the case of bland book club books, dull biographies, 'doublet and hose' history and fat dated remainders there are no offers forthcoming and owners resort to pulping, burning or the municipal dump. Even charity shops can be choosy.

3. Ebooks are having an impact, not at present vast but buyers and sellers are confused and see books in the main as a declining asset - we are undergoing what they call in California 'a paradigm shift.'

4. Certain categories of book are holding their own and even improving in value and desirability. Books that are uncommon on the internet or command high prices there are much wanted-expensively published scholarly works, abstruse books and those printed in small quantities. Collectables, signed books, limited editions, fine condition antiquarian books, modern firsts, rarities and trendy art books are all eagerly traded.

5. Meanwhile, ironically, the seller has become more knowledgeable about prices through the net and has higher expectations. Unless the seller is possessed of really good books he finds that no one wants them or offers are ridiculously low and he is condemned to wander the earth with the books looking for the prices seen on the internet.

6. Some glut reactions. Is the glut a bad thing? For the seller it is a problem. The buyer must be choosier, more wary and more careful with his or her money. Will it get worse? Undoubtedly. Will it ever end? Unlikely. Is it just you or are some dealers having trouble finding stock? Dealers are always complaining and many specialists are not overrun with the books that their hearts desire. However, I would be interested to hear of dealers who can't find enough decent stock for a second hand bookshop. They would have to be singularly charmless, mean or obtuse. Great stock is another matter.

7. Evidence? Personal experience, a ridiculous profusion of email offers, some quite tempting, some even leading to buys. Phone calls all day, lists and letters, anecdotal evidence, tales of bankruptcy, madness and mayhem. The lead indicator came in February 2009 with the great Bristol Book Barn free book debacle. Also a telling comment on library sales on this very site 3 days ago from a woman dealer, almost certainly Stateside (thanks Teresa) :'... book sales drive me crazy. I am always torn between going and not going though at the moment with the shop stuffed to the rafters and two storage lockers stuffed to the rafters and my house, well, dripping books out of the windows the offspring have threatened death and dismemberment if I go near any book sales.' It takes forbearance to stop buying books. One day at a time...

8. Lastly there are those riding the glut by listing 100s of thousands of cheap books and making money even on books listed at one penny (it's the postage--they like light books). These are mainly ISBN ( I Sell By Numbers) sellers who catalogue with a barcode reader and buy books by the pallet at breathtakingly low prices. These are held in vast warehouses ( the 'fulfillment' sheds are near Luton.) A long way from the rambling old second hand bookshop.


Andrew Hazlett said...

This is consistent with my own observations (and worries) in the U.S.

Just curious... what horrible occasions are those photos in the post from?

Bookride said...

Thanks Andrew--it is useful to hear it is the same in America. Possibly some parts of the trade are unaffected. The pics come from the free book 'sale' at the end of the lease at a book barn near Bristol. There is a link above (at 7), one visitor said: '"It's a shame the book barn is going, I don't like walking on the books, it's criminal." Nigel

Anonymous said...

I've been in the same boat for last 10 years,its a catch 22 situation,any books i can sell at £1.00 each ,sellers prefer to sell on ebay and not to me.

Any books i can't give away,sellers scream blue murder that they have carryed them all of a mile and then leave commets on internet sites,saying its no wonder bookshops are closing down as they have stopped buying.

Even pulping rubbish books,people leave behind,while " they go to drive the car out front ", is a problem as i have carry them or put petrol in the van to drive to a re-cycle bin.

Perhaps we dealers need to have a facebook page where we can leave brownie points for the sellers to show their friends.

Point 6. I have found good stock even harder to get,mostly due to travel costs,every week some house clearance chap asks the average price and ends up saying...
" Facking hell ! - it will cost me £20.00 in petrol,might as well bin them !"
Its the same problem with desperate relatives offering free books,often 10,000 of them - if they are beyond 20 miles,then the van & staff hire is more than the whole lot are worth.
Althought i still buy al least 100 books per week,but even sticking to evergreens like
Orwell,Steinbeck,Greene,Keats etc. i still have no room to display all our stock and if i pile em up,spolit little students moan that nothing is in order and prices too high (i.e. £2.00 for a 1950 penguin ).
Silly biz advisors say specialize in one genre - but that what hundreds of dealers have been doing for years,with the result that they just buy and sell to other dealers,no one ever reads the books,value drops if you open it.
One of the problems is i think,that punters don't enjoy browsing anymore,spotting something to read on the train back home,they all have a very little time and a short list and if you don't have any on it ,that week -then they don't visit again.
Passers by often don't even know what we sell,think its a mobile phone store or assume a public library and ask" where's the internet room ? "
I try not to let my despair show.

A point that's impossible to make on the sellers , is that the book itself does not have a value,the price is a measurement of the time & labour spent on it.Thus heavy books are worth less than thin ones,due to postage costs.

On a separate topic,Nigel,have you considered doing a entry on the Price Guide phenomenon,personally i regard that by the time a PG is on its 10th anniversary,then the
everyday trade in what they printing the prices for is pretty much finished.

Simon Patterson said...

Excellent post. It's good to read the odd state-of-the-union speech every now and then.

And, Anonymous, excellent response! Your point on the Facebook page resonated with me particularly as I've been secretly hoping for years that a social network of dealers and collectors would emerge (me being holed up up north). I run a site for this very purpose - to bring collectors and dealers together (I'm not going to hijack the post by telling you though!)

My experience is that the demographic is sweeping over to the younger generation(s) who are interested less in reading books and more in collecting (iPads are for reading, books are objects d'art - obviously). Few people are willing to embrace that and the evil transport mechanism of the internet. Many are vehemently against it. There's money out there - take a look at Taschen or that ridiculous blood-paper-Indian-cricketer book for evidence.

And finally, Price Guides. Another subject close to my heart. Could you expand on this - I'd be very interested to hear. Personally, my readers find price guides very useful - it gives them a rough idea. It makes dealing difficult though, but at the same time it can be used as just another tool - the pure variability of it can help. Working purely on prices for single books is just too risky, but aggregating to authors or subjects can certainly help. Fleming Up, T.E. Lawrence Down...

Edwin Moore said...

That fine poet Hugo Williams had a piece on trying to give books away to a charity shop in a recent TLS piece: he told the lady running the shop that one of the books might be valuable and she said she was more concerned at being able to exit the shop - the donated books were taking up so much space!

A real problem is that modern houses just don't have much space for books. Also there are all these daft housey programmes that encourage wifeys (of both genders) to see books as 'clutter'. It's not just books, it's older furniture - antique dealers will tell you that an object such as a nice roll-top desk they could have flogged for c. £1000 in the 80s will now fetch £300 - if it can be got through the front door.

Anonymous said...

crate em and send them to Kenya

Harry Shapiro said...

A disheartening read - especially as I am charged with the sale/disposal of about 5000 books from our library. This is the collection of DrugScope,the UK's main information charity on the misuse of drugs. It's a collection built up over 40 years covering just about every discipline you can think of - health, crime, popular culture, botany, anthropology pharmacology etc. As a charity which is always under financial pressure, I would like to sell the collection and ideally to one dealer as the admin of trying to dispose of this book by book would be a nightmare. Any thought welcome to Harry Shapiro. harrys@drugscope.org.uk

Unknown said...

Tom kiragu

I am great search for books being disposed by libraries for high school and colleges.

Any one have any info on the above.n Willing to pay for shipment. I am t
rying to stock our library.


Anonymous said...

Joseph (Yellow Kid) Weil, 100, Leding U. S. Trickster in '20s.
From Wire Dispatches

Chicago, Feb 27- Joseph (Yellow Kid) Weil, 100, the 1920s confidence artist whose con schemes netted him an estimated $8 million, died yesterday in a convalescent home.
For nearly three years, the fragile little man had been a welfare patient, living out his life on the memories of his heyday, when his canary-yellow gloves, cravats and suits, yellow calling cards and autos, yellowish red hair and golden whiskers made him an international figure.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would be foolish if I didn't," Weil told an interviewer last summer on his 100th birthday
. "I don't feel a day over 70. I still like to look at the ladies and take a sip of wine. I like to listen to the radio, but I'll be damned if I'll play bingo with the rest round here. It's a ripoff."
He said he had spent all his money "in high living and travel," tucking away nothing for his later years.
The son of a saloon keeper in a boisterous, two-fisted Chicago neighborhood, Weil worked as a young con artist n New York and Chicago.

Many Aliases
Wearing various disguises, he was known as Dr. Henri Reuel, John Bauer, Sir John Ruskin Wellington and Count Ivan Ovarnoff as he swindled his wealthy financiers and industrialists for more than 40 years.
He "retired" in 1941 after serving 27 months in a federal prison in Atlanta on a mail-fraud charge involving a phony oil-lease scheme.
Weil was a legend in his own time in the elite world of con artists. In his time he:
• Rented office space and hired lesser con men for a "brokerage office" though which he worked a bogus stock swindle for 20 years.
• Staged fake prize fights, seeded "gold mines" and promoted "talking dogs" who, of course, could not.
• Tried to sell Cook Country Hospital for $150,000.

Six Years in jail
For his successful life in crime, Weil paid with just six years in jail, although he said he had been arrested 1,001 times.
He liked to remember in his latter years about the good old days, remarking that times were never so ripe for young con men trying to get a start.
In an interview 10 years ago, Weil looked back on it all with fond recollection and swore, "Each of my victims had larceny in his own heart."
"I never fleeced anyone who could not afford to pay my price for a lesson in honesty. A truly honest man would never have had none of my schemes.
"The bankers are the biggest suckers in the world. They're always looking for an easy dollar. The big businessman or banker get so greedy for a good deal he forgets about safeguards.
"People are more gullible now than they ever were before in the history of the world. They get angry if you don't take them."
On his 99th birthday, he said he was tired of being wished many more of them.
"I have been hearing about heaven all my life," he said, "and I want to find out what the place is like."