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The Independent Bookshop

by Admin on April 29, 2016

Independent Book ShopPresently, independent booksellers are growing. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores in the US has grown from 1,410 in 2010 to 1,712 in 2015. At the same time, the future of highly-capitalized chains, with their need for expensive, high-traffic locations seems uncertain. Barnes & Noble shrunk from 726 stores at the beginning of 2009, to just 640 stores in survival today.

Bookstores of the future may have to get more innovative with technology, which makes book shopping easier while expanding choices. New York City’s Shakespeare & Co., on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has seen some success by reducing the amount of space used for book displays and adding a café as well as the Espresso Book Machine, a device that provides on-demand book printing. Time will tell if this New York bookseller is onto something.

The history of bookselling along 4th Ave., in lower Manhattan, is well documented in Mondolin & Meador’s Book Row (New York, Carroll & Graff, 2004). Most of the shops described in the book no longer exist, except for Shirley Solomon (Pageant) still operating on 4th St, and The Strand which was moved by Benjamin Bass’s son to its current location, on Broadway and 12th Street. The Book Row, for those not familiar with it, included 48 stores originally.

Across the Atlantic, deep into the Latin Quarter of Paris, another legendary bookstore from the 1920’s and 30’s, is George Whitman’s Shakespeare and Company, which survived bombings, riots and other book shop closings. In the early days, the shop’s attractions included a slew of postwar writers, regulars, the store dog – Basketville and a menagerie of felines.

Today, booksellers have to mix the right ingredients in order to survive in the face of online sales and declining literacy. The fate of East West Books, Coliseum, The Oscar Wilde Bookshop, Partners and Crime of Greenwich Village, High Street book store of London, the 400 Borders stores, (of the once second largest US bookstore chain), and many more, are all victims of the century’s new trends. Providing comfortable places for people to hang out with their lattes and laptops while previewing books that they may later purchase on Amazon, does not provide for a profitable business model. Attracting customers through regularly scheduled events such as children’s readings with favorite characters, book signings by authors accompanied by artistic or musical performances, wine tastings, and movie showings becomes unprofitable gradually. Yes, running an independent bookstore in an expensive city can drive costs through the roof.

Mega bookstores, with tablet-carrying staffers that are quick to search for inventory and take one’s order without a cash register, whether on-line or in-store, are perhaps more efficient, but not necessarily cost effective. Privacy concerns and spam blocking discourage modern day marketing techniques that distribute coupons via smartphones or emails. There is no substitute for a strong on-line presence through its own website, other on-line marketplaces and social media.

The most common ingredient to successful bookstores, which are centrally located in major cities, is the existence of multi square-footage space dedicated to rare book collections. Rare books do not compete with e-readers or electronic editions, and are, by nature very limited in supply. Depending on the variety and depth of a store’s rare book collection, the customers may keep on coming.

With gasoline prices at more reasonable levels and large parts of some economies out of the slump we experienced a few years back, booksellers and book collectors are finding it easier to justify the cost of traveling further distances to some regional book fair or avoid mid-town traffic to visit an old and rare book establishment in the country. In fact, for this coming Saturday, it does not even have to be old and rare. The Independent Bookstore Day returns April 30 with more than 400 participating stores offering a few specials for all types of book lovers. You may even find me there.




The value of books determined by the Rare Book Sale Monitor (RBSM) is achieved by selecting comparable sales and adjusting the prices according to the differences between the comparable sales and the item being evaluated. RBSM comparative pricing is produced by adjusting the sale price of a particular title that is closely monitored, by accounting for any variation from the pre-established baseline. Every recorded sale is compared against a baseline set of data necessary for the valuation process to commence. When available, extra information may be incorporated as long as it is considered to be a positive or negative valuation factor.

The complete set of required descriptions includes:
A. Name of the author(s), artist(s), editor(s),
B. Title or subject matter,
C. Publisher edition, printing, impression,
D. Date published,
E. Binding (hardcover, wraps, leather, rebound etc.),
F. Signed or inscribed by the author(s), artist(s), and
G. The physical condition of the book including restoration.

In addition, any of the following descriptions are accounted for but not required:
H. Any marks, signatures, or labels on the item,
J. Reference source citing the item, and
K. History (provenance) of the item,

The factor by which each of these unique attributes affects valuation varies by the genre and sometimes by the specific title within the category. The following are a few generalizations that the RBSM recorded with statistical significance:

1. The scarcer a title is, the less significant the factor of edition/printing/impression will be. For example, for quite some time now sale prices for the first editions of J.R.R.Tolkien’s books have shown a steady increase. This market trend has now begun to widen across other editions of these same titles. This “Over-the-Top” effect is predominant in the cases of extremely scarce titles that due to exorbitant pricing are facilitating the sale of their second or third editions or other related publications.

2. Another factor that gets to be less significant as the book gets more scarce is the factor of condition. The condition of a book usually carries a great influence on its value. While physical condition and the extent of restoration have a significant effect on the value, it seems that collectors are less likely to turn down the opportunity to acquire some of the more scarce titles despite their less than perfect condition.

In order for the RBSM to account for these non-linear representations, in addition to the data attributes referenced above, the following ranking variables are also in use:

L. Scarcity (no availability, less than 3 comparables available, less than 10 available for sale),
M. Price Track (Super High, Very High, High), and
N. Sales Velocity (more than 1 sold during the last month, more than 1 sold during the last 2 months, more than 1 sold during the quarter).

While A & B are primarily measures of the availability or the supply of a particular title, C is a measure of the frequency that a particular title is traded. An increase in “sales velocity” has a short-term effect on pricing and it is interpreted by the RBSM as a “circuit breaker” in order to filter out impulse trading from affecting longer-term trends. Similarly, the price an item sold for in an auction carries by default, a higher sales velocity due to the fact that auction sales involve bidding duels.

The following representations derived from the RBSM algorithm serve as a quarterly indicator of sales traffic and the effect it had on the pricing of the corresponding author titles and the genre as a whole.


RBSM Genre 2016_1

RBSM 2016-Q1 by genre


RBSM 2016 Q1 Authors

RBSM 2016-Q1 by author



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