The AED: useful in tough times
For both sellers and buyers book history matters
By Bruce McKinney
Paid members of AE know what the AED is. It is the Americana Exchange online Database of more than 2.15 million records for books, manuscripts, and ephemera. It is available on this site and is the single largest search for such information on or off line. There are other ways to obtain approximations of this information that are free. The easiest of these are the large public databases of material listed for sale: Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris and many others that specialize in older, often rarer material such as the ABAA, ZVAB, and AE's Books for Sale. There are also eBay's fixed price listings. These sites reflect seller aspirations that are sometimes grounded in fact and in other cases drawn from thin air. On most listing sites there is a group of listings for the same book, a variety of asking prices and conditions, and an implied market valuation that simply emerges from the range of prices.
For less expensive material on such sites the range may be wide but if decent copies show up within a consistent range and the price is moderate, buying can be an easy decision. But when the material is priced from the low hundreds and up it's often worthwhile to compare asking prices to auction realizations. The difference can be substantial.
Such curiosity, whether it's to establish listing prices or to fuel an informed negotiation, is what prompts sign-ups for the AED. Members join for 10 days for $15, $22.50 by the month or $185 by the year.
The information is transforming. Hopeful valuations based on asking prices on the web often, but not always, vary substantially with realized prices at auction. Auction prices are real money rather than real hope. Material posted at auction of course does not always sell and it's important know how often this occurs. The AED includes both sold and passed lots along with their descriptions and estimates. Over the past seven years 75% of all lots have sold although the percentage recently, while we are in the downturn, is hovering below 70%. Nevertheless, most of the time material at auction usually sells.
By comparison, material on listing sites tends to sell slowly. By some estimates the percentage of collectible material selling is around 10% a year. If then, the purpose of valuing material is to make Grampa happy with a high, but essentially unobtainable estimate, a glance at listing sites, particularly the highest asking prices, will do the trick.
Actually selling that material is another proposition altogether as you'll learn quickly enough if you contact auction houses to consign. They won't only look at the listing sites. They will also look at auction history and because they want to sell material, not just try to sell material, they will expect the consignor to accept a low reserve if they accept the consignment.
A typical example will look like this:
We'll assume that title A is a collectible book in excellent condition. Three similar copies online are priced $800 to $1,200. In the AED an identical copy sold in 2007 for $650 and another in 1995 for $250. That book, if the auction house accepts it for consignment, will be estimated $400 to $600 and reserved at no more than $200. It will probably bring $450 in the current market and may well be the only copy of that title and edition to sell this year. A year or two from now two of the three copies on listings sites will still be for sale. The other copy may have sold for a lower price or may simply have been withdrawn. If it does sell online, the consignor may only net 85% of the selling price depending on whether a site charges commissions. Fees run from 0 to 20%.
The AED: useful in tough times
A book's history is part of the story
In the future both sales history and current listings will be on the same page. Listings will also be time stamped as in "first posted for sale November 8th, 2007 at $750, repriced in October 14th, 2008 at $600." When then juxtaposed against auction records the cash market and the listing market will resume their traditional relationship of 7-10. That is, a $1,000 book on line will sell for about $700 or thereabouts at auction.
During the current downturn however such information is not on the same page. So while auction realizations, posted day after day, have fallen to 50% of online listing prices generally and are continuing to adjust to changing market conditions, listing prices are only beginning to adjust. As this occurs online sellers are dividing into two camps. Some are reducing prices to reflect the current weaker market. Others are holding their prices in anticipation that the economy, and by extension the market, will recover. For sellers looking to adjust, the AED is a quick snapshot of current valuation. For buyers it is the quick way to confirm if current offers are reflecting current conditions. This is important to know because there are exceptional values being offered but they are mixed in among millions of yet to adjust items and prices. The courage to buy is often born of confidence in both the quality and value of the purchase. The AED provides the pricing history to justify that confidence.
The AED, for 2008 alone, includes more than 220,000 lots offered at auction. If they sold we provide the price. If they did not we provide the estimates which weren't reached. Because we also include all documented group lots the total number of items offered at auction in 2008, was 460,000. In total, the AED includes more than 2.15 million full text records covering four million items.
If you need reality and a high probability of sale your quest for a transaction begins by understanding the market.
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