MatchMaker: the keys to book collecting
A recent MatchMaker find: Old Ulster. A complete run.
By Bruce McKinney
When you step into a bookstore, visit a bookseller's show or venture onto a selling site you are hoping to find something. Experience has taught you not to expect to find exactly what you want and often you aren't entirely sure what you'll accept. Collectors are compromisers. If you say you are looking for a specific edition of a certain book in perfect condition your spouse does not need to hide the checkbook. That book is not going to be found so quickly. Some collectors however will instinctively accept a second edition or rebound copy. For them the impulse is to "buy" more than to "collect" and their collection simply the accumulation of impulsive purchases. All book collectors want to buy something sometimes and if they don't find what they really want they often end up buying what is really available. AND then they'll hide it! If confronted they might say "I just wanted to buy something" or "I had an itch." In this way book collecting can become a poor investment. But this need not happen because satisfying, efficient collecting is becoming easier. Let me tell you how.
The difference between an unfocused collecting commitment [others may call it something else] and the efficient, cost effective pursuit of that which interests you is simply the difference between focused and unfocused effort. If you are a genius, you can, as Frank Siebert did, simply remember every book you ever see. Or if you are the reincarnation of Wilberforce Eames you'll simply remember every line of every book you ever read. But I'm not, and chances are you're not, a bibliographic polymath. So we employ tools and a new way of thinking about book collecting. Consider this. The sky on a very clear night may show a million bright stars. Okay, you can find the Big Dipper but that doesn't make you an astronomer. You instinctively know there is a lot to understand about astronomy. Books are the same way. For a moment let's peek at the night sky of old and used books. It's ABE [www.abebooks.com]. There you'll find sixty million stars. Or look on eBay. Every minute of every day eBay auctions are ending and others are beginning. ABE is as big as the Pacific Ocean. eBay runs as fast and as relentlessly as the Colorado River. And then there is the world of traditional book auctions. Here the flow is slower and deeper. This past year there were 279 documented auctions. Subscribe for their catalogues? Absolutely, but you can't read them all. You'll need a staff of three to do that, a warehouse to store them and it still won't work because it's too slow.
MatchMaker: the keys to book collecting
I found this historically significant Catskill imprint on ABE using MatchMaker.
For dealing with each of these market alternatives there is a deceptively simple solution. We call it MatchMaker, our premium service, and it begins to function automatically when you define your collecting interests in words and phrases. Every day we'll automatically queue up all yet-to-be-compared listed books on eBay and in traditional auctions and look for your terms in the full lot descriptions of each new listing as they are posted. How many is that? It appears to be between 25,000 and 40,000 new listings every day. And from the first moment on we'll remember the copies we show you and not repeat them unless you request it. Think of yourself sitting in the reviewing stand at the Inauguration Day Parade. We'll march every new listing by your terms and when there are matches we'll flag them. Then, once a day, we'll send you an email with a report of your matches over the past 24 hours.
Understand this for what it is: an efficient solution that let's you spend your available time looking at, rather than for, material. All you then need to do is, like a Roman Emperor, to give the thumbs up or thumbs down. You may want to make an immediate purchase but more likely you'll investigate further. You will see many matches in the coming months and become familiar with the pace and pricing of matches. Soon you will begin to buy.
How do I get started? It begins with access to MatchMaker. Sign-up links are provided at the end of this article. If you are already a Research member contact us and we'll arrange a trial. But understand what you are doing. You are climbing to the pinnacle of Mount Everest and you are stepping into the future of book collecting. You will not be going back. Here is why.
In MatchMaker your keywords and phrases are going to be searched against eBay and the traditional auctions and the combined results are going to be emailed to you once a day. Come to the site if you want to but it won't be necessary to stay on top of emerging availability. Okay, you're busy and for several days and have no time to keep track of what is going on. The matches simply accumulate in your MatchMaker category accounts and, if you are going to be away for a while, you can even turn off any module and or reduce the period your matches are retained. On/off: it's very easy. Soon you'll be signing in 2 or 3 times a week to track the good ones. On eBay the auction never ends.
Now there is one more step to take: creating a match file for ABE. To search on ABE we need to build a list of titles. Keywords don't work when there are sixty million listings. When searching listing sites, you need to be specific. You can use the AE Database of one million bibliographic records to help you uncover broad categories of material which can be copied into your MatchMaker account to use as your search basis. Alternatively, you can simply enter titles yourself. Now let's run some searches in the AED that encompass your collecting interests. In a matter of minutes you build a highly professional, comprehensive list of titles on virtually any subject. ABE here we come!
MatchMaker: the keys to book collecting
An eBay find via MatchMaker for $6.02.
Overnight we are going to take the material you have identified in your wants list[s] and compare it to every listing on ABE. The first day will be big. Any accumulated listings on ABE that are matched will be posted on Day one. After that, only new matches will be posted. This wants list[s] [you can create more than one!] will also be matched against traditional auctions unless you deselect this option. Thus for traditional auctions you have two ways to obtain matches: keywords and specified titles.
You'll quickly see in the ABE matches a pattern. There generally won't be many [after the first day] but you will find material you can immediately buy. And the longer you run matches against ABE the more clearly you'll understand what is truly rare. This will fine tune your buying judgment.
On eBay you will learn to quickly sort your matches, deleting most and following others to their conclusion. You will master the basics of your account after some trial and error. And you will come to understand the type of material you can expect to find on eBay. It is frequently different from ABE listings with a stronger emphasis on ephemera. Within the regular auction world the pace will be slower. Your keywords will find matches but the auctions may be far away, the houses often unfamiliar, and the estimates sometimes steep. It will take a higher threshold of interest to begin bidding at these auctions but it will happen. Experience will make you a bidder.
Looking ahead, using this focused approach, you will start to buy 20 or 30 items a year. You used to have an itch and it turns out you were feeling frustration. You couldn't buy in a focused logical way before, so when you could buy, you may not have bought well. Now you will. And it won't be terribly expensive. You'll run into sellers whose listings appeal to you. If they are on eBay you'll bookmark them. If they are on ABE you'll begin to exchange emails and phone calls. At the very same time you are becoming knowledgeable you are also developing judgment about the quality of the sellers. By that time you are well launched. As a collector you will have become serious and the world of books will lie before you. In time you will begin to think about what, if you do this for twenty years, you'll do with this collection which is certainly going to become one of the best of its kind as you, along the way, become an expert in the field you have chosen to collect.
An Octavo membership covers MatchMaker and is $25 a month or $240 by the year. Its worth, in helping you build a focused and valuable collection, is priceless.