It sometimes comes to this
- by Bruce E. McKinney
A bookshop is the outcome of a million decisions. To open a shop and then what to sell are the early decisions that seamlessly lead to the turning on of the electricity, to the buying of shelves and a cash register. Signs are then posted or painted onto the windows, and if the zoning permits, perhaps something larger and possibly gaudier appended on the outside to attract the passersby. And then there are the decisions that will regulate and determine the everyday throb of the business. Will we be open from 10 am to 10 pm 7 days or perhaps 9 am to 5 pm 5 days? And what books will we put on the shelves?
The decisions about inventory will be crucial and success for a time, even decades, mask the small failures. Some books will be plucked from their just-arrived boxes to be handed to customers waiting for them. Others that sounded good in their descriptions, will slip onto shelves and over the decades make the painful trip from “just arrived” to “half price” to “make me an offer” and still never leave the building.
Bookshops in time change hands and when they do the person or persons buying will often share many of the characteristics that the buyers had a generation or two earlier. They are both part of the continuum of believers who, for the past five hundred years, have shared an absolute conviction in the power of the printed word. The notion that the transfer of ideas via the printed word might atrophy and decline or be transformed does not get a complete hearing in their court.
But ultimately it is public opinion and public preference that will determine, for the number of the younger willing to embrace the methodology of the older is itself declining - leading in some cases to the outright sale at auction of the residue of such shops that have not otherwise been transferred. We have seen this elsewhere and the outcomes are never pretty. The inventory that was always going to be the “retirement money” turns out to be the antibiotics whose expiry date is long past. Or so it seems.
On the 12th Bruun Rasmussen will offer at auction the entire remaining contents as a single lot of a shop at Studiestraede 10, Copenhagen. The shop contains 20,000 to 25,000 books, most in Danish, of literature and sundry related subjects. The retail prices of the inventory approach US$540,000 but as a single lot the auction estimate is US$18,000 to $27,000.
In the years ahead there will be many such sales and they will mark the nadir of the field. And at the same time many dealers will avoid these late career disasters by thinning weak selections from their inventory as they go and buying increasingly carefully going forward. As a result they will not be left with huge amounts of inventory to be sold for pennies because they discounted along the way. Nevertheless, such outright sales will for a time be almost common.
Whether as a bystander or a bidder such events as this auction are important for they recalibrate our hopes and aspirations. We'll be hoping for the best.
Here is a link to sale conducted by Bruun Rasmussen