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by Craig Stark

#74, 7 August 2006

It's difficult for me (and I assume for many of you as well) to put a human face on any of the major bookselling venues. Of course, you and I know that there really are people behind the scenes, but if occasional email announcements of fee adjustments, etc., or the even more occasional and usually brief interaction with customer support are the only instances of communication you experience, aren't you left with a more or less cold feeling? I am. If I close my eyes and try to visualize, for example, eBay, nothing really comes to mind other than a shapeless corporate monolith. Or Weird Al Yankovic singing "eBay.". Does this affect how I approach (or don't approach) things when problems arise or questions need to be answered? Sometimes, yes, and distorted perceptions are the culprit.

BookThink introduces a series of interviews with major bookselling venue spokesmen today that we hope will redress these misperceptions. Certainly our first interview will. Media Editor Catherine Petruccione recently spoke to Alibris' Director of Direct Marketing and Sales A.J. Kohn, and A.J., in my opinion, was extraordinarily candid and thorough in addressing some hard questions that I know have been on many booksellers' minds. I think you'll come away from this with a much different understanding of Alibris - and a decidedly more human perspective.

Also today, Pamela Palmer's Top Ten on eBay - June 2006. What's noteworthy about this month's list is that it contains a book that you may have seen mentioned in BookThink's forum last month: Tom Doak's The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. Some weeks before, BookThink's History Editor Bill Klimon had sent me a link to a recent Wall Street Journal article about it. Here's an excerpt:

"In the book, Mr. Doak reviewed the design features of more than 800 courses, from little-known links to some of the world's most famous and exclusive courses. He gave each a ranking of zero to 10 on what he called the Doak Scale. A zero, Mr. Doak wrote, is 'a course so contrived and unnatural that it may poison your mind.' But a 10 is 'nearly perfect.... If you haven't seen all the courses in this category, you don't know how good golf architecture can get.'

"Mr. Doak never imagined it back then, but the book has become a cult classic -- a haven of bluntness in a sport that is often so clubby that it rarely criticizes itself. Its fame stems in part from the fact that only about 13,000 copies were printed back in the '90s and the book has been out of print for years. Due to the scarcity, available copies of the most recent edition are going for as much as $350.

"But while Mr. Doak's strong opinions resonate with golfers, they also have put him in somewhat of an awkward spot: Mr. Doak is now a high-profile part of the establishment he once unabashedly critiqued. And it's that reality that keeps him from reprinting or updating the sought-after book."

Yup, all the ingredients for producing a cult phenomenon - and $350? Not anymore. Try $1225 on eBay! (NOTE: Final values have recently cooled to $600 to $800 - still sort of hot to the touch.)

A reminder: If you're interested in gaining access to the actual auctions that produced these numbers, write me at editor@bookthink.com and I'll add you to our free Top Ten Item Numbers subscribers list.

Finally, my first month buying inventory with BookHunt is now under my belt, and here are the results:

Books purchased: 52

Cost of acquisition (final value plus shipping): $619.82

Estimated resale value (conservative): $2800.

This was accomplished using only two search queries, both relatively simple, and since I had BookHunt running in the background while I worked on other things, my investment of time was modest indeed - I'd estimate less than 3 or 4 hours for the entire month. Also (and this is about as cool as it gets), I purchased a 19th century book on sťances for less than $30 that not only didn't come up in any venue searches but also failed to make a single appearance in the WorldCat database - that is, an international library search showed no copies in libraries whatsoever. Rare? I'm beginning to think so. Also, the above $2800 reflects an estimate of $100 for this book, but I suspect it will do far, far better.

The point of this is that BookHunt, with somewhat limited used, produced potential profits of over $2,000 in 30 days, and these are books that I know from experience will sell. Had I devoted more time to it, I'm certain I could've purchased enough inventory to replace all of my June sales. Interested? BookHunt is only $19.99, and this price includes free upgrades. Also, if you're less than savvy about the techniques of online buying, consider purchasing BookHunt bundled with BookThink's 4-part series on how to buy inventory online. More information here.

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