90,000 Books sell at Auction: Sold!
Sold! for $1,000 - a stunning price.
By Bruce McKinney
On October 6th, at JMW Auctions in Kingston, New York, the 90,000 + book inventory of scholarly and out-of-print materials of the Zobel Book Service was hammered down to Experienced Books LLC of Colton, California for $1,000. The sale attracted wide attention. Thousands of viewers online clicked through to read about the sale, to view the specially prepared video and in one case, to bid. That bid was made as the clock was winding down toward unsold. The winning bid works out to about $0.01 per book.
In the run-up to the sale there was wide ranging discussion among dealers and on blogs about it. Most people seemed to hope for but not expect a positive outcome. Following the sale, a second wave of postings discussed the outcome.
ExperiencedBooks.com, is an aggressive online seller. As recently as October 15th they were listing 479,305 items on Abe and 81,378 on eBay. As of the October 30th the Abe material had increased to 480,479 items, the eBay listings to 82,806. On eBay, about 14,000 items were recently listed for $0.99 and a few for even less. On Abe, the vast majority of items are inexpensive although a few are priced above $1,000. Their website is
www.experiencedbooks.com., their eBay store http://stores.ebay.com?Experienced-Books-LLC, and their Abe listings http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&vci=50611312&an=&tn=&kn=&isbn
The auction came at a time when the book business is in transition. Increasingly it is understood that perhaps half of all books available on the internet today may never sell due to a combination of over-supply and increasing listing fees. In some sense the winner's bid is a bet that the trend toward free listings continues to develop. For low price and slow selling material free listing services may prove to be crucial long term.
According to one professional in the mass low end redistribution field, the game is in flux as new players are entering and others washing out. This leaves established services to potentially play an increasing role as more books move through the stages of potential sale from probable to possible to unlikely. The less likely to sell material will increasingly be handled by entrepreneurs [triagistas] who are more marketer than bookman. Their role will be essential and free listing services potentially the difference between success and failure.
90,000 Books sell at Auction: Sold!
These books await their next chance.
In this type of mass listing business more recent publications are easier to handle than older ones. Software that scans and populates data fields based on ISBN numbers can convert an unsold book into a listing in a few seconds. ISBN numbers were introduced in the 1970's. Over the past year, marketers of large volume, low price material have increasingly employed this software not only to create the online listing but also to automatically set prices a penny lower than the lowest listed price for the same item. When multiple sellers employ the same strategy the potential for their prices to "race to the bottom" is theoretically possible. Some listing sites, to avoid this issue, now require a minimum price. Abe, for example, has a $1.00 minimum.
Adding to the complexity is the type of material that the Zobel Book Service handled: scholarly and out-of-print. The print runs of scholarly and out-of-print materials have always been relatively small so generally there may not be an abundance of copies available. On the other hand, there may also be fewer potential buyers as the material is dated. Old books get old, scholarly material may simply get out-of-date.
For those listing this material on line, the variable is time and the bet is that cost of "time" will fall further. This isn't the book business that most people think of when they think about selling books but it will play a crucial role in the dispersal of huge overstocks for at least the decade to come.
We tried to contact the buyer for an update on their plans. They contacted Mrs. Zobel after the sale but have not been in contact since.
The immediate challenge for Experienced Books will be organizing and transporting the material. According to Google there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the trip will take only 1 day and 17 hours. The bad news is that it is 2,778 miles. Google doesn't mention who the drivers are.