AE: Year 3, Day 1
AE, like the US capitol building in 1861, is a work in progress.
By Bruce McKinney
The internet these days is like a baby tiger: interesting and far less intimidating than it will become in the years ahead. AE enters its third year officially at 12:01 am PST on September 3rd. During the past two years we have come to know the tiger reasonably well. We look to the future with anticipation.
For those who do not know much about AE, the book and ephemera search and research site, I'll recount some history. The genesis of this project was the realization that books are easy to buy and hard to sell. Duh! For most collectors this is not a problem. They dabble in moderately priced material and neither they nor their wives and children [most collectors have been men but that is changing] expect their books to materially impact their net worth. For serious collectors however, and I'm among them, the value of their collection, the liquidity of the resale market and their knowledge and understanding of their resale options are important. And the more I looked at how the market worked the more I came to understand that the market wasn't working - at least from the collector's point of view. With no clear understanding of how this might be changed I simply decided that market clarity was an, if not the, essential ingredient that would help collectors and dealers by encouraging the market to a higher level of understanding. I believed then, and continue to believe now, that a more transparent and therefore logical market will bring the next generation of collectors into the market thereby increasing interest and raising prices.
To provide this clarity we have been building a remarkable database of bibliographical and priced records. On day one we had 151,000 records, most of them bibliographic. Today we have 811,744 and most are priced dealer and auction records. This is a growing and important source of information for book sellers and book buyers, important because it is the single best source of information of how a book has been priced (by dealers) and actually sold (at auction) from deep in the past right up to the current day.
From the outset the goal was to create an internet accessible electronic version of the bibliographic resources that are employed by the most sophisticated libraries, dealers and collectors for their research. Such resources are expensive to accumulate, take substantial space, are invariably slow to use and only infrequently employed. Until AE set out to do it, these resources had never been available as a single data source, fully accessible in a single search of what are quickly becoming, as AE enters year 3, two hundred fully documented sources. In a world where time is money this efficient, broad, fast, and inexpensive alternative to records on shelves and in human memory is finding its place in the world of books. Or so I have thought. From the beginning there was resistance from a vocal minority of dealers. They believed, and some still believe, that information in the hands of clients is dangerous. Two years later there is no evidence that those who buy books, whether they are dealers, libraries or collectors need to be uninformed [ignorant] for a bookseller to have a successful relationship with them. Quite to the contrary active informed buyers are becoming the backbone of the new book business just as they have always been the backbone of the traditional book business. In fact, prices are rising broadly because information empowers. Better information is positively correlating with rising prices.
AE: Year 3, Day 1
While many dealers embrace a more open market some remain concerned.
The sale of a book, in simplest terms, is an exchange for money and buyers have the right, and frankly if they buy in any substantial volume, an obligation to their families, to do so in a prudent way. When someone buys a car they check in various ways to determine the fair price. When you buy a CD, a coat or airline tickets you evaluate competing alternatives. For books there are listing sites, many of them. They very effectively present one side of the story, the seller's side: a faux market that displays only "offers." Because they display a variety of prices there is the mis-impression of a market. How long have these listings been up? How many copies have been sold at least on this site and ideally in total in recent years on many sites and in other venues? No collector and few dealers know. Because online listings don't age a five year old listing looks exactly the same as a listing posted for the first time today. If a house is for sale the first question you ask is for how long? Why is the answer to that question so important for real estate but systematically unavailable for books offered for sale? The answer is simple. These listings aren't a market. They become a market only when juxtaposed against market history generally and priced transactions specifically so that both buyers and sellers can see both sides of what today is a chasm. That is why we build the AE database of auction transactions and successful dealer catalogues. Information empowers. Unfortunately, for a minority of sellers it also frightens.
That said, there will be 75,000 to 85,000 documented book auction lots containing about 340,000 books posted on AE for sale during the 2004-2005 auction year. They will all be accessible using the free auction search. Every lot will be available for inspection 7 to 30 days prior to sale depending primarily on when we gain access to the information. When you come to AE there is, toward the top of the new home page [introduced with this issue of AE Monthly] and on the auction pages, a keyword[s] search of all currently posted lots. Type in the search box a term such as author name, title, keyword or place name. Within one second we'll show you every upcoming auction lot that contains your term and we'll highlight each reference. If the lot is of interest you can then click through to the auction house. If not continue your search. As sales are then completed we'll post the realized prices and leave them on the free site for 45 days so that you can follow any lot[s] of interest from first posting all the way to completed transaction. Then we'll add these transactions to the AED where they become part of the historical record. A subscription to the entire 800,000+ record AE database is still $10 a month. It's a useful tool for seeing the past and present market in a single glance.
In the AED we continue to streamline the search process. Today we offer a recently revised advanced search and a global [multi-field] keyword search. The Advanced screen allows searches in specific fields while Keyword searches find your term anywhere it appears in the all of the principal fields. Since spring we have been working with a new database structure that is both very fast and allows for infinite expansion. Keyword searches can form the basis of "collection building" and may be saved as wants lists and automatically posted to various venues.
AE: Year 3, Day 1
Progress always carries a price.
As traditional bookselling and the new world of book buying meet on the net it is now becomes possible on AE to footnote electronic selling presentations. Such footnotes are actually links to footnote files of bibliographic, dealer and auction records in the AED and every record is potentially useable for this purpose. In time such presentations will be the norm among the more sophisticated dealers and auction houses and buyers will respond favorably. This is simply treating customers as the intelligent people they are.
The website, as you have probably noticed, has undergone change. Our goal is to make the site highly intuitive. The menu now runs down the left side of the home page and every element of the site is accessible there. Both the free elements of the site, AE Monthly and Auction Search, are more transparent. The paid services are easier to find, faster and more intuitive. Descriptions have been rewritten and simplified.
The home page now contains a rotating window that randomly displays different advertisements in our display advertising section. AE Monthly's articles also randomly appear on the home page. If you missed an article perhaps you'll see it here and can simply click through to read it. We are also providing an easy search by term or keyword to find all AE Monthly articles [Archives] that may apply to your subjects of interest.
As has been the case since Day One we will be continuing to add features and revise existing ones as the year progresses. We hope you will take the time to try out the site's expanding capabilities.
On behalf of AE