I’ll try to buy a book at auction once or twice a year, just to keep my hand in it, so I don’t forget how to buy online. And it helps, in this new digital environment, to have online book scouts who will send me links to tempting items. Just like in the old days, when they’d show up at my shop with a box of wonderful or not-so-wonderful stuff, except now it’s all online, and the option is no longer whether or not to buy the items from the scout, but simply to arrange the terms by which the scout might be repaid for tipping me off to his find.
Of course, all this depends on my ability to actually come into possession of the item at hand, which means I have to execute a successful bid, which means there are entire categories of items that are out of my reach, because rich people have decided that such collectibles are a good place to stash their dough and, to them, the difference between, say, $10,000 and $25,000 is negligible. So that $10,000 whaling log, that I used to be able to snag for $7,000 or $8,000 if I was lucky, now goes for $25,000… over and over, with such regularity that I don’t even bid on whaling logs – or similarly glitzy items – anymore.
No, the goods now must be obscure, difficult to understand or put in context, or so impossibly niche as to be uninteresting to rich people.
Thus it was that I guy with whom I’ve done a good deal of business over the years, and with whom I frequently swap information, sent me a link to a stash of half a dozen 18th century books pertaining to naval and military medicine. In this case, he wasn’t expecting a finder’s fee or a piece of the action. In fact, after I’d won the lot, when I emailed to thank him, he told me he’d forgotten all about it.
Point is, I did win the lot – and at a price that would allow me a modest profit.
It wasn’t until I got the box home and took a look at the final invoice that I hit upon the title for this week’s blog, because those were the exact words I uttered when I examined the details. Are You F*cking Sh*tting Me?
The buyer’s premium was 30%.
The internet might be our friend, but auction houses never were. And, in combination with the internet, they have destroyed traditional book selling.
They’ve managed to convince the buying public, particularly the highest end of it, that they, the auction houses are the only fair, honest, and transparent market. This, by unspoken contrast, suggests that we, the book selling community, are slippery dealers at best, outright crooks at worst.
I’ll spare you the “I hate auction houses” rant, and simply point out that their annoying high-toned bullshit, coupled with their refusal to back the integrity of what they sell, has been immeasurably worsened by their predatory greed.
30% Buyer’s Premium.
Are You F*cking Sh*tting Me?