I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS), a week-long intensive course on all aspects of bookselling, last month thanks to a scholarship from the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America). The course was held at Colorado College and was taught by a faculty of ten people (but only one woman), including several rare book dealers, a couple of special collections librarians, an internet bookseller, and Terry Belanger, University Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia, who started Rare Book School. The faculty were very generous with their time and knowledge, happy to answer questions, and even spent the lunch hour each day continuing the discussions begun in the classroom. They were paid an honorarium of $500 to teach for the week, which was jam-packed with information ranging from the technical (websites, databases, photography), to the somewhat academic (how to collate a book from the hand press era -- well, that was academic to me, because that's not the kind of book I have handled), to personal stories of how each faculty member found their way into the world of books. The experience of spending a week with around forty other booksellers was fun and worthwhile.
I have to say I was initially wary of the word "antiquarian," as the books we sell at Pistil are not rare, though we do have some hard-to-find titles. "Antiquarian" doesn't necessarily mean books that are particularly old, rather it refers to books that are collected as objects, rather than books to, say, read. Antiquarian booksellers sell to collectors rather than mere readers; for instance, they might sell modern first editions that are valued for their pristine condition and/or provenance.
One of the faculty members, David Prendergast, of Stick Figure Books, actually has an online bookselling business, whereas the other bookseller faculty only make 10 to 20 percent of their sales through the internet. David Prendergast himself referred to his business as "commodity bookselling," which made me think of widgets. I personally think that books have the most inherent value when they are read and used.
Two points emphasized many times during the seminar were the importance of specialization, finding a specialty and learning about the books in that field; and "active" as opposed to "passive" bookselling: for example, cultivating customers and selling to them via book fairs and print catalogs, rather than only listing passively on the internet. We carry a general stock at Pistil, but we do have areas of emphasis that are largely a result of our physical location here in the lovely state of Washington: Northwest regional history, Native Americans, natural history, do-it-yourself.
Inspired by my CABS learning, I created a list of 50 books on the theme of "The Birds and the Bees," some books on nature and human nature, and today posted the list to the Ex-libris listserv, which is used by librarians and booksellers. I was hesitant to post there at first, after watching the list (okay, lurking) for a few weeks and seeing antiquarian booksellers post their lists of books in the hundreds to thousands of dollars price range, but screwed up my courage and did it. As a result, I received one order from my list this afternoon, for a $35 zine, and one inquiry from a blogger asking if she could link some of my images on her blog: Awesome Archives.
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