If you are like me you probably have accumulated a few hundred or perhaps a few thousand books that have aged significantly. I am referring of course, to inventory ageing rather than years since publication type of ageing. Why are these books not selling? These are rare books without any flaws, quite scarce in fact, without missing pages, water stains, writing, library markers etc. Granted they do not constitute major trophy books and are not by famous authors or have attractive decorations, drawings by famous artists and so forth; but they are definitely marketable. It takes a significant sum of money to maintain a larger inventory and I would rather not have to hold on to them for a prolonged period of time.
Part of the reason why such books are slow to sell or remain unsold, lies in the behavior of collectors that dominate today’s rare book market. The majority of collectors today are individuals rather than institutions that collect high spots and do not specialize in a particular subject extensively. We the sellers, on the other hand, get to specialize our knowledge in order to be able to add value to our collection and be predominant in our domain of specialization. Hence, the disconnect. Once the high spots in a particular area of specialization are acquired, what is left is a lot of the inventory that is hard to move.
While the Internet along with its huge marketplace capabilities has immensely improved liquidity, the bulk of the transactions conducted online are for low end items in the $1000 and under range. Today thanks to the Internet the majority of the rare book business is conducted in the United States even though the buyers are internationally located. The Web has also improved the ability to price compare and deliberately undersell other listings thus improving market efficiency. Higher priced items usually require personal contact and the confidence of the buyer. If your unsold books fall into the low end bracket, it is important to examine your online offering to ensure maximum exposure.
The rarer the book the more price becomes a matter of opinion. Books that are saleable do not stay in stock because collectors will pay any price for something they want. Price, when it comes to books that are not easily saleable is what we are concerned with here. If such a book has been in the market for more than 3 years and is still unsold then it is time to re-visit its valuation and pricing. Try to take into account shifting interest in specific genres. Our Rare Book Sale Monitor has captured some of these shifts that took place during the last two years. For example, strong areas from twenty years ago such as Exploration & Discovery may not be as sought after at present time.
Take into consideration the mood of the market. An optimistic market signals to hold back and be patient for a while. How long, depends on whether the optimism has been in full force for quite some time and whether it shows signs of deterioration. If the book had a fair timeframe exposure during booming times and did not attract interest then it may be a good time to re-evaluate market alternatives.
Consider your performance as a seller in general. If you are relatively new to the business and are concerned about repeat customers, be patient. It takes time to develop reputation and stature that leads to strong private repeat sales. In today’s rare book market, collectors are without loyalty to any particular source and are rather casual in their approach to purchasing. For the nascent buyer to attain the confidence level to become repeat buyer it would take personal contact which is hard to do without owning a brick and mortar store. Book fairs are an alternative approach to providing personal interaction with the buyers. Keep in mind that at book fairs sellers are as much looking to make sales as seeking buying opportunities and contacts.
In summary, try to identify your slow moving group of books and reassess their online exposure as well as your pricing strategy while taking into consideration market conditions and your performance in general. Be bold, the electronic world is rapidly changing the traditional market place and there are new areas of opportunity that are still undervalued and bound to be the high spots of tomorrow.