Things keep changing.
I told I told you in an earlier post about my friend, a fellow bookseller a little older than I, who is sitting on thousands of maritime books – tailings of lots long since paid for – in which he has little or nothing invested. Being a sensible fellow, he wants to rid himself of these dregs before his wife throws him out or his heirs have him committed. He recently proposed a scheme whereby I sell the books for him and keep half the proceeds.
It sounded possible. It was certainly timely. I’ve got a lovely rare book catalog a-building, but it won’t come out until mid-March, after the New York Book fair. How will I pay for my whiskey until then?
Last month I ran a little test. I had quite a few of those low end kinds of books cluttering up my own life – perfectly respectable titles in which I had little or nothing invested. I cataloged and photographed these, and put them out as Maritime List 244.
Unlike most of my other catalogs, which tend to be haphazard efforts, I kept close track of the time I spent on this one – every phase, from pricing to cataloging to photographing to shipping. The numbers I came up with were encouraging. It took me a total of 30 hours to process, sell, and ship the books in this list. People came out of the woodwork for those low-priced books. Customers I hadn’t heard from in years! It was great fun and it sold 60%.
On the strength of these results I had my friend bring me 90 books of the sort described above. I then cataloged them (which wasn’t too difficult, since most of the titles were already in my database), repriced them to approximate or undercut the lowest Internet price for comparable copies (the loathsome “race to the bottom”), photographed each item, and put the whole shebang up on my website as Maritime List 245.
Mind you, this is not a heavy-duty list. They’re good, interesting books in decent condition and the lot of them total out at a little more than $10,000. Again, I figure it will take me 30 hours to finish processing and shipping this list. If sales are as I expect, my labor should net me something like $3000, or $100/hour. Nowhere near my rate for appraisals, but if my friend keeps supplying me with his books, the cash should keep flowing. Suddenly I’m a genius with a daring new concept. I’m selling low end books at bargain prices!!
Just like I was doing 35 years ago.
Only problem is, it’s boring as sawdust, as unsatisfying as chewing newspaper. By the time I had Maritime List 245 ready to go, I was ready to go, too.
Fortunately a whaling log
was coming up for auction at a little auction gallery in upstate New York, just east of Ithaca. Ordinarily I’d pester the auction company with questions, then leave a bid. But in this case I needed to get out of the house, so I hit the road. There were dealers to scout all along the way, and I figured I could make an old fashioned road trip out of it. So I got a couple of books on tape from our local library and hit the road about 6 am the following morning.
Ice in the Berkshires!
I reached the auction gallery by lunchtime – 365 miles later.
I hadn’t bothered to stop at any dealer’s offices or shops because, well, I was really enjoying just driving, in my head, in my car,
and listening to Patti Smith (yes, that Patti Smith) read Jo Nesbo’s dark, sad, Blood on Snow, a sort of Little Match Girl done in noir, narrated in Ms. Smith’s weary, depressed, Jersey girl voice.
I think if I’d actually read the book I wouldn’t have been as impressed. But enclosed in the deep, rich, bubble of that story, of her voice, well – I cried when it was over.
And it felt great!
So I popped Divisadero into the player. This is Michael Ondaatje’s fifth novel, and it’s an impossibly over-the-top Arabian Nights confection of stories within stories of impossibly tragic, sensitive, impossibly deeply feeling people. If I’d been reading it… I wouldn’t have read it. I’d have put it down within the first hundred pages. Impossible!
Sitting in my car, though, in the bubble of that story I was so profoundly moved that, again, I was on the verge of tears.
And somehow, back home that evening, after crawling out of the bubble 712 miles later, I realized I hadn’t seen a single dealer. All I did was look at the whaling log, make my assessment, leave a bid, and get back in the story. The auction took place a couple of days later, and I got the whaling log for a few hundred under my bid.
But the only books I scouted up were Blood on Snow and Divisadero.
Things keep changing…