Selling National Park Publications

by Craig Stark

#16, April 12, 2004

A Brief Study

Understanding collector mentality is vitally important to successful bookselling - we've discussed this at length in previous articles - but all the understanding in the world won't advance your cause a single inch unless you also know what's collected. What's hot and what's not.

The problem is that this isn't the kind of information that's readily available. This question (or one similar to it) gets asked time and time again in forums: "What kinds of books should I be selling?" Almost invariably, the answer is: "Get lost." This response makes perfect sense to me in the superficial context of fair play. Why should anyone share insider information that's taken years of hard work to acquire?

In my opinion, however, booksellers who guard market information have it all wrong. The perception that the act of giving somehow diminishes us is diametrically opposed to what actually happens. Giving, as long as it's not calculated to get something in return, is an expansive force. The more one gives, the more one is able to give. Freely share a piece of valuable information with another, and two or more valuable pieces of information will pop up to take its place.

How can this be? Well, it's not only the information that's shared that's important; it's also the spirit that charges the giving. Give to another, and that person will likely be inspired to do the same for somebody else. Things also expand in a strictly personal sense. The very act of giving is figuratively equivalent to freeing a log jam in a river. Not only do the logs flow downstream and become available to others, but this also clears the river for additional logs to arrive from upstream forests. Things only work - life works - when there's flow. Attempt to hold onto the logs, and stagnant water builds behind them, becomes a sort of cesspool. Logs will decay in this medium.

Two kinds of giving apply here. Sharing information directly, and sharing the means of acquiring this information. Both will be the ongoing focus of BookThink's Premium Content. Today, as long as I'm already in the forests, I'm going to stay for a few minutes and talk about National Parks.

National Parks appeal to collectors, both historically and in a present-day sense. These are the jewels of the American landscape, the sites that stir us most deeply, draw us to them, so it's no surprise that publications pertaining to them evoke interest. Because the parks are largely tourist-driven, this is also a busy area. Publications to attract tourists abound, both those printed by governmental agencies and privately. However, if you pick your spots, you can profit handsomely by selling in this genre.

There are three keys here: vintage, illustrated and uncommon.

Vintage publications appeal in part because they're symbolic of what once was. Yes, the purpose of establishing parks was and remains an effort to preserve them, but sadly, many of them haven't been well preserved. Many have changed significantly, declined over the decades, primarily due to overuse, though some have suffered from natural calamities as well. Vintage publications present things as they were once, stand in contrast to what is now, and for some collectors offer an opportunity to dwell vicariously in a brilliant, virgin environment that's gone forever.

Illustrated publications will typically do better than those with no illustrations, unless historical detail is especially dense and otherwise difficult to come by. Also, photographs are usually preferable to drawings, unless the art work itself is collectible.

Uncommon publications, for obvious reasons, win the day here, but in this genre it's especially important because there are literally mountains of worthless or near worthless things available.

Now, with these things in mind, let's look at some specifics. Are some parks more collectible than others? Yes, definitely, and some of this is intuitive. If we were on Family Feud and asked to supply the number one audience answer to the topic of National Parks, what would it be? Yellowstone, I'd bet. Hands down. It's our first national park (established in 1872), our most heavily visited, and in many respects our most fascinating. Huge collector interest here.

Any more guesses? Well, renowned photographer Ansel Adams built a career on photographing Yosemite, so this seems interesting. The Grand Canyon? None more spectacular, so probably. But intuition can carry us only so far, and keep in mind that the most obvious answers also lead us to the parks that generate the most stuff - i.e., definitely some collectible things but a huge amount of junk as well. At some point we're going to need either more experience or a means of targeting less obvious parks and sub-topics within individual parks.

In today's Premium Content, I'll present a precise and efficient method for identifying these collectible topics, along with a few observations about National Parks flashpoints. This method, by the way, can be used for investigating nearly any collectible area. If used consistently, results will be nothing short of dramatic.

NOTE: Gold Edition replaced regular Premium Content on August 2, 2004. Learn how to subscribe.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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