Web Catalogue: Premium Subscription Pt. II
Web Catalogue reads like a catalogue, works as a research document.
By Bruce McKinney
The printed paper catalogue is perhaps, next to book dealers themselves, the most resilient element in book selling. Of course it's true today that perhaps 1,000 times as many books are displayed electronically as are ever catalogued in printed catalogues but this does not accurately reflect the relative importance of the printed presentation. Literally, for centuries, the cognoscenti have tucked themselves into bed at night with the great catalogues by the bedstead, their minds freed to consider the pleasure and significance of owning material that comes to life as it is described by the great book sellers of the era. To read such material is to share in the significance. Even today, with the dealer under subtle pressure from ever higher printing and distribution costs on the one side and the always improving and the expanding internet instant-and-everywhere-at-once presentation model on the other, great catalogues continue to be produced. Succinctly stated, the bedsteads are still piled high.
This month we offer an alternative to the paper catalogue: an electronic version we call Web Catalogue that is a part of any AE Premium Subscription. It provides an appealing presentation with links to sophisticated visual and historical data that help both seller highlight significance and collector organize, display and share material as it is acquired. It represents a softening of the line between catalogue and collection and is explicit recognition that a new selling - collecting model is emerging. For the seller it is a significant advance in presentation that carries, embedded in its DNA, recognition that the collector will be an active participant rather than simply a passive purchaser. Interest is a function of involvement and this approach encourages participation by providing collectors the tools to challenge their imaginations. In this way the next generation of great collectors will emerge. Say it this way. Information is the bedrock of the new collecting and the underlying rule is "Push the envelope. Pursue information to its ever-extending limits." A seller provides it; the collector researches it and in some cases buys the material.
What exactly is Web Catalogue? It is at first glance an electronic catalogue that can be read in the form and format of paper catalogues. [Link to catalogue]. It is of course more flexible than paper. Text can be revised and errors corrected. Distribution is essentially free. Each traditional description links to a more detailed record. Here there are images and footnotes. Each element is a pop-up screen that allows, even encourages comparison. [Link to detail page] The seller of course controls the presentation. When the buyer is also a Premium member the full selling presentation including images and footnotes can be transferred to the collector's collection. Then only the seller's name, date and price paid need be added to create a complete and permanent record. In time all collections are sold or gifted and reconstructing purchase records then becomes essential. Here, as you build a collection or an inventory using Web Catalogue your dollar basis is captured. At the end of the year you can run reports. How much did you spend? What did you sell? It's here.
Web Catalogue: Premium Subscription Pt. II
Full details with links to images and footnotes
There are of course links. Images are an essential aspect of old books and we provide a provision for two images and more are possible if and when there is a need. Open one and drag a corner. The images increase in size. There is also a footnotes link which extends the resources of the AED directly onto these listing pages. Bibliographic, dealer and auction history can be selected and attached in a few moments as interactive records. The person who then reads the listing can see all material you provide including footnotes right down to the last word of text. Building and sharing these files is a matter of membership but anyone can read them if the member publishes them on the net. Because these records are in electronic envelopes you can see the material initially in outline and a click later in detail. A collector will read an entire catalogue all the way to the last word but read only the files that are of interest. Total material for single items may run to fifty pages but to the uninterested it's just a description because they don't enter the item's files. It's very clean and efficient.
Why is this information important? Many records, even older ones and sometimes particularly older ones, suggest an item met the "collectible" criteria of particular dealers and collectors in the past. If it has also sold at auction multiple times this too is important. All priced records from the past ninety years are automatically adjusted to current valuation using algorithms that reflect changing value and volume. To eliminate the vagaries of the unusually high or low price we instantly total and average all related transactions. It is still only a suggested valuation but the fraction of a second it takes to see it is time well spent. In the footnote files you build in Web Catalogue such valuations are automatically applied. In a field that is deeply steeped in history the history of books is right at your finger tips.
Then again, you might think all you need to do is study the listing sites today to understand value but you will notice over time that the listing sites are evergreen. Every listing is fresh today - even if it has been up for five years! What you need to know are transaction values because they provide a basis for informed opinion and that's what the AED is primarily. When you look to buy a house no one asks for the history of "listing" prices. No, we all need to know what they sold for. Later we may ask for an appraisal. On AE we provide both history and synthetic current valuation, a good alternative to a full narrative appraisal.
Because so much material is moving into the market every day, and is increasingly accessible, prices [but not values] have recently been falling. This may last for another five years. Because there are currently more books than buyers there is the illusion that material is plentiful. Think again. In Hong Kong in the late 1960s refugees fled China with only the clothes on their back and collectible coins in their pockets. For a few years the market was awash in extraordinary rarities and they sold for low prices. Today this material is again unobtainable. Today we live in a unique moment where emerging technology is releasing rare printed material into the market by the boxcar. Once gone, prices will rise. For those who collect today the opportunity is unique and will be gone in a generation.
Web Catalogue: Premium Subscription Pt. II
Footnote details are interactive.
In Web Catalogue, in addition to providing logical and extensive presentation for selling, it becomes possible to post for research and discussion the accumulated records as a catalogue or catalogues that are searchable on the net based on every single word of text in the descriptions. This is the interesting and useful information that search engines constantly seek. This particular example is an academic collection of the printed works of Joel Munsell of Albany and it is an interactive presentation. The contents of this catalogue continue to develop every month and, with each change, the online presentation changes. It and other dealer/collector/academic presentations will in time be linked to library, research, and association sites. Web Catalogue simplifies the process opening extended access to thousands of dealers and tens of thousands of collectors. Private collections, that have long suffered from an inability to be shared and appreciated, may now be linked to any relevant site. For institutions, accepting such links is a way to support and encourage serious collecting and forge relationships that may someday bring a portion or all of the material to them as a gift. Both institutions and collectors need these relationships and this is an effective way to create book related communities electronically. Many dealers sell books as possessions but the best collectors own them as elements of intellectual life. Universities and associations should play an important part in these elaborating intellectual possibilities. Clearly both sides have reason to want this.
Book collectors tend to be older. They were not born to the computer and using it is often a trying experience. Today the median age in America is 35 and most book collectors blew out the candles on that cake some years ago. They need clear visibility and understandable software. They also need communication and an exchange of views. We and others will provide software. We alone provide comprehensive across-the-market day-to-day overview. Libraries and institutions may provide the leadership and mentoring; dealers material and perspective.
In stepping into this opportunity collectors will need to experience the day to day flow of material relating to their chosen subject for several months as it emerges on the net in MatchMaker to understand the process and gauge the relationship between price, condition and provenance. On the net you get to see it all but nothing prepares you for what you'll find. Your experience will inevitably be unique.
Web Catalogue is intended to meet the needs of the collector to accumulate, document and share; the researcher to evaluate; and the dealer to document, describe, upload and broadcast. It potentially serves all these requirements at the same time and permits individual record selection. A member can have 1,200 books listed for sale on Abe, Alibris and Zvab, and an active collection of 800 items of which 150 are part of a linked collection that an institution is including in an online presentation. When the collector adds a new item to the collection the institutional collection becomes 151.
For those who find this approach to book collecting and book selling of interest we encourage you to sign up for Premium Subscription for a year. The basic (Octavo level) cost is $240 and includes continuing support by email and telephone. If you are an existing member, log in to upgrade or if you have a question email me directly at email@example.com. There has never been a better time.
[Link to catalogue]