Posted By DMB

It mostly didn’t work like that. The world has changed, and I got a taste of how extreme the changes in what I thought I knew all about have affected my world.

First, the passionate young collectors didn’t pour in because they no longer exist in my experience. This to my mind is the crucial and most disturbing aspect of the disappearance of the city’s used bookstores. For without used bookstores how do young natural collectors learn they are collectors? It is in used bookstores where, by buying general used books for reading, that beginners start to educate themselves to build a significant library. All collectors begin there too. Without those natural schools the young have no territory to learn. And no guides to lead them, for that is the social function of the missing used booksellers.

What I did get were the usual bargain hunters who only ever came to my yearly sales and now only asked why the books were only 50% off when at the last sale they had been 70% off. These people never mattered to the trade, so this was neither unexpected or bothersome. But the missing young dealers who should have been there to enhance their own futures, that did bother me. Three or four showed up, bought a few books and left.

Some of my regulars came and during all this we sold several quite large sections of various genre sections to a few institutions. We sold our entire children’s section to an institutional client, a sale which was necessary and happy in that it was one of our oldest and best clients, but painful in that children’s books has become my favorite area and one in which I have been buying heavily for quite a while. With the major discount it meant that I lost not only my entire favorite section but sold a large percentage of it at what I had probably paid for it (now you can see why booksellers have a reputation as incessant whiners, nothing pleases them). But at least it was one of our favorite institutions who is delighted with their coup and will continue to pursue the subject so in the end everyone will benefit.

But the sale didn’t improve with the increased discount scale; it degenerated. I had several older regulars who were in most days, smart collectors who plucked out real sleepers at 70, 80, and finally 90% off. At 90% off I started buying my own books my disillusionment and despair now severe.

At one point I got so irritated at the lack of perception by my customers, especially the young dealers that I started rating the books I bought myself. It went like this – at 90% off retail. I retained:

$250.00 books = 28 at $25.00 each
$200.00 ‘’        36 at $20.00
$150.00 ‘’        62 at $15.00
$100.00 or less = 293 at $10.00 or less each.

These figures differ from the October 13, 2017 blog because before I made my final decision I again looked at my books carefully and added books I had ignored the first time. Of course, with the increases maybe I’m just admitting I also have lost the “scout’s eye” on which all real booksellers depend.

Where were any people with the eye? I kept all those books, all books I had pulled off the shelf not knowing their prices but because their aspect meant I would have checked them in any store. I was left disillusioned, not just at the public but at the young dealers.

I’ve been amassing more evidence ever since, the details I now see that I overlooked earlier, ten times as depressing as they had been. I now see that the state of the trade is so much worse than I had imagined. Just by studying the missing stores I had concluded things, but I now see that the trade is even changed from the days when I started. Since Debra is now mostly in charge perhaps my increasing disillusionment is not so relevant, but as I see more and more of the newer and younger dealers who ignore or simply aren’t aware of what I always thought was central to all book collecting and dealing, I came to realize that not only will my business in the near future be very different to what I built over 50 years, it’s only relevance to me will soon be the name. In spite of the fact that it will be run by someone who I trained for 30 years.

So, I can only guess at how other businesses will be affected.

I shall have much more to say later on these subjects for the implication seems to expand daily.

And the end of my sale. After a depressing couple of weeks at 90% off, rescuing my own very good books, I had to decide how to end it with some 4 or 5 thousand good books remaining. I thought of sending out a last notice announcing free books (I was getting very close to my legal deadline) but it was too depressing. I knew what to expect. All those pure bargain hunters who never considered actually buying a book would stream in when they were free. The last time I’d done that on Queen Street, I’d had colleagues up the street phoning me to complain that people were bringing them my free books to sell them (this after begging free bags from me to carry them). I decided these people were not getting my books. I called a few of the young dealers who had come to the sale and told them to come in for free books. (One young dealer who I called didn’t return my call and missed out entirely. I wonder if he ever wonders why I called him.)

The young dealers arrived and took bags of free books and I felt better they were going to real book people. Then I called an old friend long in the trade who I suspected might be having difficult times in the current situation and gave them the remaining 3,000 to 4,000 books. These were still very good books, it should be understood – for years I’d had no room for dross or cheap used books. Many were modern first editions in the $45.00 to $70.00 range, bound French books, much Canadian literature, now in the doldrums, and modern but interesting general literature – like the pretty leather Collins Classics, leather Everymans, and pretty gift type books, handsome full leather odd volumes from 18th century sets and such things.

I found my instincts were right. After the initial pain at seeing so many very good books go out the door, I found I felt really good. Not only had I saved my books from unworthy people, I had helped some friends. But mostly I had respected the books. And as always, I soon forgot those books and started buying more. For the flow never stops and the surprises and pleasures of the new discoveries never ends. Which is what bookselling has always been and always will be.

NOTE: Please forgive the repetition between this blog and the October 13, 2017 one. I’d like to give a reasonable explanation, but the truth is that I’d forgotten I’d written the previous blog. I never look at my website, it’s true, but still… This from a man who when young considered himself to have the best memory of any bookseller in Canada. To add to that I must explain that the difference between the figures in the two blogs was that I found another stock of previously pulled books which I’d also forgotten. Perhaps it is better that Debra is taking over. You will note I’m sure that the sentiments in both blogs are the same. 

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