From the Editor

by Craig Stark

#3, 6 October 2003

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and yes, we're going to look at sales today - again. How they are.

The question is (and historically has been) asked repeatedly on dozens of book forums but perhaps more now than ever. Are the answers any different lately? Based on an informal and hopelessly flawed survey we conducted during the past few weeks, not really. Many sellers complain of slow sales; others that it's tougher to make a buck now than ever before; a smaller number report that business is good, even great. Nothing new here. We would have observed approximately the same ratio of poor sales to strong a year or two ago, and in any case, only so much can be read into anecdotal reports. Since the holiday shopping season is almost upon us, perhaps we should just not worry about it and enjoy the ride?

It's always interesting to observe that complaints of slow sales are much less often heard from dealers who specialize in rare, antiquarian and collectible books, the kinds of books that demand more knowledge and experience to sell. If there's trouble, it's in the low-dollar game, and if you're playing it - well, we think there may be more trouble ahead. Lots more. If the warning signs aren't visible in book forums yet, we think they soon will be. In our first article, "The Great Flood," we'll discuss why we believe that current trends in the used book market do not favor sellers on the low end, and before all hell breaks loose, this might be a good time to upgrade your inventory and begin to seek higher-dollar sales.

Anybody who has started down this road, however, knows that the trip doesn't take place on level ground. It isn't simply movement from one place to another, say, by changing the venue you're selling in or doing any of a number of other superficial things that may affect your sales in the short run. Things happen at warp speed online, and many such advantages gained are soon lost. No, it involves climbing, seeking to learn more about what it is you're selling - books. The more you know about books, the higher the ground you'll be standing on, and nothing you can do as a bookseller will separate you from other booksellers as dramatically and permanently as acquiring knowledge. This is your escape route from the coming flood. This will ensure your survival.

The first leg of this journey takes us to the dense, sometimes hopelessly tangled jungle of first edition identification. Hacking through jungles is never much fun, but in our second and third articles, "First Edition Boot Camp" and "Basic Edition Identification," we'll offer the knowledge and tools to make it easier. Next month we'll discuss the actual process of identification in detail.

Today, as promised, we're launching two new pages - First Edition Identification, a resource which, when completed, will include designations for thousands of English-language publishers; and BookSearch, a page containing links to dozens of the most useful book search sites we can find. Ultimately, this will be a huge resource that will enable you to find almost any book available for purchase on the Internet.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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