Special Announcements

by Craig Stark

#157, 5 September 2011

Science Fiction Editor Tim Doyle returns this week with Part III of Buying Book Collections 101 - actually, Part IIIa. Part IIIb, the final part, will follow in a few weeks. If you missed Parts I and/or II or want to review them, here are they are:

Part I

Part II

Tim's article reminded me of a recent experience I had attempting to buy a collection of books. An ad popped up on craigslist for a professor's library priced at $32,000. I don't always respond to craigslist ads that feature interesting books because many times you almost have to call before the ad appears - if you know what I mean. But a library priced at $32,000? Seemingly, this would put many other booksellers out of the running, so I called.

The professor's nephew was selling the library, and I arrived at his house about mid-morning. Boxes were stacked everywhere, filling a dining room and a living room, and after a few minutes investigating some of them, two things were clear: One, the professor's field of study had been psychology, and two, if the collection was worth $32,000, there had to be a $30,000 book hiding in one of the boxes. I took my scanner out of my pocket, and for the next 10 or 15 minutes, showed him in black and white what we were dealing with. I sensed that he wasn't convinced that he wasn't sitting on a gold mine and subsequently learned that he had previously found several textbooks that he had taken to a college bookstore and sold for considerable amounts - thus the high price for the remaining books.

Anyway, he suggested I look through the books in more depth, and meanwhile, he would go outside and drink a beer! I did find a few interesting items - some Ayn Rand books that were at least marketable, etc. - but nothing that would persuade me to offer him more than $1,000 for everything, figuring into this that I would have to move and dispose of perhaps 3/4 of the books there - and in any case I wasn't about to insult him with an offer. I would just tell him that I couldn't come close to meeting his price.

Of course, he insisted on knowing what I would offer him, and to make a long story short, by the time I left he was down to $8,000. An hour later he called with a "final" offer of $6500 and free delivery. But he wasn't done! More calls followed in the ensuing days, one to inform me that a bookselling friend/competitor had been there after me, apparently exhibiting much more patience than I had and even going so far as to organize the books into categories - though they couldn't reach a deal either. So it wasn't just the burden of educating him; it was being gamed by him too, even though he continued to drop his price. I stopped answering the phone during a party on Memorial Day. It seemed like the right time to put a lid it.

More and more I pass on stuff from "project" sellers now - i.e., where there's a great divide between asking price (because the seller needs to be educated) and what I will pay. As I set out to illustrate last week, there's something to be said for following the path of least resistance.

But is there something to be said for the opposite approach? Do you know who wrote this? "Push on, hit hard, follow through. That was my philosophy of success in business. It still is." You might be surprised to learn that it was one of the most successful booksellers of the 20th century. I'll reveal his name next week and, as a counterpoint, examine his approach.

Speaking of education, BookThink is in the business of doing just that. And speaking of craigslist, you might be interested in Gold Edition issue #59 - How to Buy Inventory on craigslist. Purchase it and other BookThink reports here.

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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