by Chris Lowenstein

#149, 11 October 2010

Why Write An Antiquarian Book Catalogue?

Accidental Antiquarian Series

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In recent years, we've all heard all about the intrusion of the internet into the reading, buying, and selling of books. Recent hype might have us believe that the old ways of selling books - the days of brick and mortar shops, of browsing for books, and of perusing antiquarian bookseller catalogues - are over. The virtual seller who sells books primarily on the internet, may have greater exposure and a variety of venues in which to list his wares, but he is also working in a bit of a vacuum and is less able to build a relationship with his customers. How can he reach the customers who will provide the best homes for his books? How will he build a reputation as a knowledgeable and known antiquarian bookseller when his books are listed among thousands of others whose business model is just like his? If he truly wishes to sell his books, the virtual bookseller must do more than simply list books for sale. He must build a brand.

There are many things an antiquarian bookseller without a traditional brick and mortar shop can do to establish and build a reputation as a knowledgeable dealer with good inventory. Invest time and effort into creating your own website, in addition to listing at the online listing services like ABE, Biblio, and Amazon. Set up a blog where, if you have writing skills, you can communicate with your customers on a regular basis and educate them about your field of specialty. Sell books at book fairs, the best place to meet customers and potential customers face to face. The hallmarks of a good antiquarian bookseller include demonstrated knowledge of the books he sells, selection of desirable books people can't easily find for sale anywhere else, and the ability to show others value in items they may have previously overlooked. If you don't have an open shop, there's one other way to let your customers know that you have these characteristics - the print catalogue.

Discussing the importance of catalogues in their book, Between Boards, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern wrote, "There is never anything elusive about a dealer's catalogue. If it is a good one, it will be its maker's earthly representative and hopefully remembered. A catalogue is a dealer's showcase. In it he displays his wares; parades his knowledge; offers his expertise. His first [and I would say subsequent] catalogue[s] is extremely significant. He has made his public debut before a critical group of connoisseurs. This, his first catalogue, occasionally becomes his hallmark, stamping him as a specialist in Western Americana, medieval arts and letters, or modern firsts."

Producing catalogues, whether regularly or occasionally, whether print or electronic, will benefit you and your business. Catalogues can help you distinguish yourself from the crowd. When I started to work on my first catalogue, I was long on enthusiasm and short on cash flow. I had no client list, I had no employees, I possessed only 25 books that might be suitable for a catalogue, and my "reputation" in the trade was as the stay-at-home mom who decided when my kids hit school age that I should, with no experience, start my own business and join the ranks of those who have decades of experience selling antiquarian books. In short, I probably couldn't have been a worse candidate for producing a quality print catalogue.

>>>>>Click here for page two>>>>

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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