Wikis, The Next Step
Wiki organizers control the subject.
By Bruce McKinney
Every few days someone sees past the existing world of books, manuscripts and ephemera into the new world of Wiki Bibliographies where material is grouped by relationship, context or connection to a specific collecting subject. Today, on listing sites, interesting and obscure material is stacked like cord wood, searchable by author, title or keyword but accessible only to those with deep understanding of their fields. For everyone else it's tough sledding. Wiki bibliographies resolve this problem by aggregating related material under single banners that permit collectors to review, in a few minutes whenever they choose, new listings in the bibliographies, Books for Sale and upcoming auctions. Wiki subjects elaborate over time into anthills of both the known and hither-to unknown that find themselves on the same page for the first time because their contexts match. There collectors can appraise the length and breadth of subjects, understand pricing and over time relative availability. For collectors this is the necessary antidote for the mind deadening millions of undifferentiated items on listing sites that require the patience of Job, the power of Zeus and the intelligence of Einstein to successfully navigate. That many collectors can do this says everything about them but nothing good about sellers. It's an unnecessary hardship, a huge barrier for the less-than-obsessed collector and the fundamental reason that new collectors are hard to find.
A collector, who can buy a ticket to a hockey game in a city two thousand miles away, book a hotel and make a dinner reservation - all in a few minutes online - is then supposed to be willing to figure out what is or isn't relevant to their collecting focus whenever they have time to devote several hours to it? We no longer live in a world where two hours can routinely be set aside to do for ourselves what a better-organized field would recognize must be done: simplify the collector's task.
These days the world shifts to Blackberries and Apple smart Phones because they hasten response, add convenience, broaden options AND save money. But talk to most book dealers and they are still using traditional handsets. The new collectors they are sure don’t exist are and they are buying more efficiently elsewhere. They are checking their emails, bidding at traditional auctions and on eBay, checking the status of a UPS and Fedex arrival, and sometimes even looking up material in the AED before bidding or buying. In this new world many dealers can't hear the dog whistles of the world of collectible books, manuscripts and ephemera because they are closed to its possibility. It exists and, on the other side of the eventual economic recovery, will dominate the new world of collecting. The world as it was will disappear. In its place efficient collecting will emerge, as clear as sound, as certain as death and taxes.
The new collector will employ Wiki defined subjects logic because they are as appropriate to broadsides, postcards, photographs and maps as they are to books. They don't prefer or exclude books. They simply accept that they are an important part, but not the only part, of the larger field of works on paper. Books, because they have been well documented, tend to yield few surprises while ephemera is mostly surprising. It turns out that subjects are far more complex than most bibliographies suggest and more interesting and economical to collect with the random and unknown added in.
Wikis, The Next Step
Every month new Wikis will go live
Beyond clarity and greater completeness, Wikis continuously gather relevant material so that collectors, at their discretion, can quickly bring themselves up-to-date whenever they choose to look. The time once spent searching can instead be spent evaluating. Said another way: Wikis make no demands. The collector always sets the pace.
For the dealer who lists material on a venue that matches every day against the Wikis, matches are created automatically. If the subject is President Garfield, and there is a Wiki on the subject, every stray item in time will find its way into the matches: campaign buttons and literature, his autopsy report, newspaper accounts, photographs and letters. Such diverse material creates a potential feast of possibilities.
This month we have introduced significant changes on the site. Gone is most of the complexity that went a long way to explaining why almost 20% of our research members have doctorates. In place of a menu that rivaled Adobe Page Maker for complexity is a simple list of seven categories listed on the side bar under the sign-in box that is also expressed as a pie-chart accessible via the pie-chart symbol on the tool bar. We believe AE has become seven functional parts: Books for Sale, AE Monthly, Upcoming Auctions, the AE Database and Premium Services, a ubiquitous Other and Wiki Bibliographies. Six months into their introduction Wikis now claim a slice of the pie chart. They will become important because they respect the collector’s time.
Wikis are prepared to match material from diverse sources whether it's on eBay or elsewhere but, for us to match such material we need to know it is appropriately described. Many eBay seller spam their listings to create matches and no collector wants to be bothered with intentionally phoney matches. If your listings on eBay are done professionally, we should be able to match them and welcome the opportunity to do so.
In the meantime we also provide an alternative service, Matchmaker, that acquires matches from across the net every day and makes them available for a two to three minute analysis that lets collectors understand daily flow of fresh material online. Wikis are the public part, Matchmaker the private alternative for accomplishing similar objectives.
The difference between them is that Wikis aggregate the market and thereby raise prices. Many collectors may think this unappealing but it raises the prices for everyone. Collectors have always been able to more easily buy than sell. Wikis create an open market for specific subjects by creating an easy way for hundreds of collectors to follow a subject. Hence, when sometime in the future a collector wants to sell he has a ready market to reabsorb the material he has prized over his collecting life. Such liquidity will support prices and encourage collecting interest. Liquidity has never been part of the collecting model. Via Wikis liquidity is assured.
Seen another way, at auction two or three bidders typically make a contest. In Wikis, in time, hundreds will be involved. Many will buy and prices find appropriate levels based on actual supply and demand, a major step forward from the arbitrarily set prices that today more often reflect wishful thinking than reality.