No doubt all booksellers come to a point when they reconsider their business models. If the model has been working well, it may be tweaked. If it hasn’t, it may be drastically modified or even abandoned.
I find myself at that stage now, teetering between a major revamping and a total abandonment of my bookselling business. Fortunately, once that decision has been made, the two options can be attempted sequentially.
In either case, I need to disburse a lot of stock, but what should go and what should stay? To stay, for now, are all my books about Milwaukee and Wisconsin history, my books about horses and possibly about other animals. That is where I want to spend my attention. If, in the end, I decide to close up shop completely, many of those books will return to my personal library.
Ah, but all the others, purchased from anywhere and everywhere because I thought I could sell them — they all need to be reconsidered. They do sell, slowly, from my website, all but the fiction titles. I know there are specialty dealers who can make a go of first edition fiction, but I don’t have enough of the good quality stuff to attract a steady customer base, so my lovely fiction languishes on my shelves. Not only is it lonely and unappreciated, but it takes space away from other kinds of books that I’m much more interested in.
As with most of my big decisions, planning for this one began at my kitchen table, with a empty notebook page in front of me, and a steaming cup of coffee beside me. I have just under 1000 books cataloged. If I want to be out of the book business in a year, I need to get rid of about 100 books a month. If I don’t want to be out of the the business entirely, but decide to concentrate on my specialties, then I should still divest about 100 books a month, but I’ll stop before they’re all gone.
Now eBay has made my job easier. They are offering 50 free auction listings per month, and fixed price listings at $0.05 each. I can give these books one more chance to find their buyers, and if they can’t make the connection, off to the donation box they go!
I will be ruthless. I will be cold hearted. I will ignore that small thrill that runs through me when I pick up a Fine/Fine first edition, that sensual heft of a well made book in its smooth, unrumpled jacket that feels so right in my hand. I will stifle my affection for book as artifact, something to be loved and appreciated because even the most modern edition represents centuries of learning, of craftsmanship, of civilization and the incredible gift of preserving the product of the human mind in concrete form.
Away they will go, the ones that don’t sell! Unless, perhaps, I haven’t read them yet.