Auction Trends Updated: Reality
Declining prices have begun to stabilize
A week ago we updated the auction trend charts. They tell an interesting story:
Auction Trends Charts
December is almost always a positive month for book auctions. The best material often comes out in the fourth quarter and it’s bound to achieve high prices even if the outcomes are less than some consignors hope. The median price increased $20 from the October low of $342 but was still well below the $378 median a year earlier. As the 12 Month Moving Average of Median Auction Prices chart shows auction realizations are still caught in the downward trend that dates from February 2008.
The change in Year to Year Change in 12 Month Moving Average however also suggests that the downward trend is leveling out as the difference in year to year comparisons by month is moving back to zero. Before the chart can go positive it has to first escape negative year-to-year comparisons. This aspect looks better although these year-to-year comparisons are getting easier because last year was a weak year. This year’s comparison is still negative but approaching “net no change.”
The sell-through rate remains mired at 68%, an unhealthy level that’s about 7% below the average of the past ten years. This suggests that reserves and buyer willingness to bid are probably about 10% apart. Said another way the minimum prices buyers are willing to pay are, on average, about 10% below current low estimates. Consignors would do well to listen carefully to their auction houses if they suggest lower reserves. Sending something into the rooms means the consignor wants to sell. Not selling in 2011 and trying again next year doesn’t appear, based on the trends, to be a moneymaking strategy. Too much material is in the wings. The selling venues are going to get crowded.
Auction Trends Updated: Reality
A low sell through rate is an uncomfortable sign
One factor affecting sales is price conformity. One dealer suggested they felt pressure from other dealers to maintain pricing parity even though sales in their under $1,000 material were slow. They wondered aloud if there is a solution. There are in fact two answers. The first is - dealers are posting, in some cases under assumed names, their slow selling material on eBay and at traditional auctions hoping to close it out. The second is - our strategy for pooling interested buyers with sellers to create a sense of immediacy based on aggregated interest and our statistics on probability of appearance. Both approaches are going to be employed because they are both going to work. Our approach will achieve better outcomes for the seriously rare and outright important material. The disadvantage for dealers is that anyone can offer their material in this way. They get to sell but they don’t get to control or constrain the market. It will be fair and the outcomes natural, not contrived. Given that dealers have been trying to control prices since Gutenberg first announced that the ink was dry, there will be resistance that will perversely limit availability and thereby raise realizations for those who begin to sell in this manner.
All items in the Americana Exchange Database, Books for Sale and Upcoming Auctions now include tracking links. It’s free to anyone. When you first click to TRACK you’ll be prompted to sign-in because we can’t report matches if we don’t know your email address.
In the coming months we’ll begin to show the tracking interest by each item, and automatically notify those who have expressed interest as well as those who post. This will help to regulate what is an unruly and inefficient market and help to answer the question one dealer recently asked. “How do I sell my book for a fair market price without undermining other dealers who have the same book and are probably asking too much?” The answer is that you offer those items to those who express interest to buy them and then you negotiate.
It is also possible to be proactive in other ways. On AE we are working to increase realizations by providing both more information and images to an ever-larger audience. Both PBA and New England Auctions included images in their recent auctions and it will only help. Dealers are encouraged to do the same. It’s encouraged and there are no incremental costs.
So the trends continue to suggest decline even as the charts are beginning to flatten. Recovery for pedestrian rarities seems unlikely anytime soon. There’s too many of them and every indication that large quantities will change hands in the next ten years because so many of these hands grow frail. The only solution is to reestablish interest in collecting. Tracking is our approach and it’s free. If we are wrong it costs you nothing. If it works you owe us nothing. From the beginning I have been an advocate for collectors be they individuals or institutions. This I think is a better solution than sneaking the material onto eBay under assumed names.