For many years, in addition to selling on the internet, we have exhibited at about 15 book fairs each year as members of the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association. This year, however, we have decided to take a partial break and are exhibiting at only four fairs. Two of these are still to come, namely York on 9th and 10th September and Edinburgh on 10th December.
The York book fair is the largest in Britain with more than two hundred exhibitors and is well worth a visit for the keen bibliophile. The books which we will be taking will, for the most part, be more expensive than our average internet stock and are not yet listed by us on the internet. We have always found it best to keep our book fair stock separate from our internet stock and we are continuing to do that this year despite attending fewer book fairs. Any of our internet customers who attend the York fair will therefore find fresh stock and we will be very happy to meet you.
I am pleased to say that after having been down for refurbishment for the past 2-3 weeks the website is now live once again. I apologise to any customers who have been unable to access it during that time. The site had been virtually unchanged for nearly eight years, which I imagine is an age in internet terms, and we have tried to give it a rather more contemporary look. It is also now housed on a new and much faster server. The search facility is not yet operational but should be available soon.
One area that we have tried to make as simple as possible is the ordering process. While we are happy to receive orders in any of three ways - by telephone, cheque, or through Google Checkout - we would be particularly happy to receive more telephone orders. To encourage customers in e.g. the USA or Australia to telephone us we have installed a clock which appears if the telephone order button is clicked and which gives the time in the UK. I have to say that if I am ordering a book on-line I find it easiest just to pick up the telephone and call the bookseller. I appreciate that may have something to do with my age (65 next month) but I hope that even younger customers might not mind speaking to an actual human being occasionally rather than clicking more buttons!
We have about 5,600 books on the new-look site which is very close to our highest ever number. I see that back in 2003 I tried to prove that there would come a point at which it would no longer be possible to increase the number of books on the site because the number sold would equal the number we were able to put on. All I can say is that it hasn't happened yet and I am beginning to wonder if there is a flaw in the theory!
Unfortunately our hosting provider allowed his security certificate to expire, resulting in us being unable to process credit cards on a secure server. This led to us removing the website for the last few weeks while we had a look around to find an alternative. We have chosen Google Checkout as it is simple to use, implement, and carries a good reputation. It means that you now only need to dig out your credit card details once before you can use it here and on thousands of other sites across the internet. It also means that we will no longer see your credit card details as the financial side of the transaction will be dealt with by Google.
Of course, if you do not want to use Google Checkout you can still buy from us by telephoning us.
I have always thought that the principal defect of the website was the absence of a search facility. However, we have at last installed a fairly basic, but hopefully adequate, facility. It is located to the left of the page. Rather surprisingly this came free of charge although we have had to accept some advertising. I hope this is not too intrusive.
A slightly belated Happy New Year to all of our customers. For most businesses there is some trepidation as to what 2009 will bring. With the UK in recession and the government apparently about to start printing money the outlook could not be much gloomier.
How is recession likely to affect the second-hand book trade? So far we can say that our internet sales have held up very well. In fact our sales for the last 3 months of 2008 were ahead of the same period in 2007. Two well-known English second-hand bookshops have also reported increased sales recently. Does this mean that people perhaps stay at home and read more when money is tight? Or perhaps they look to buy second-hand instead of new?
One factor in our favour is the weakness of the pound. We have noticed, especially since the start of the year, that a much higher proportion of our sales than usual are coming from abroad, particularly the USA. With the pound at less than $1.40 as I write our prices must be starting to look very cheap there.
Another positive factor is that most second-hand books are a "small ticket" item. It is the "big ticket" items like houses and cars which generally suffer most in a recession. Certainly during the last recession it seemed to be the very top of the second-hand book trade - the specialist dealers with very high quality and expensive stock - who suffered most.
So perhaps there are grounds for the majority of second-hand book-dealers to be, if not optimistic, at least not too pessimistic as we go into 2009. Or perhaps I am just whistling in the wind. I'll let you know in a years time !
It is a long time since I said anything here. Perhaps I am suffering from writer's block, or, more likely, there is a small hint of the reason in the last entry where I mentioned that I have become chairman of the Scotland & Northern Ireland region of the PBFA. This, together with the fact I am now managing three bookfairs in Edinburgh each year (not to mention trying to run our own business) means I am very busy (instead of taking life easier now that I am entitled to my Bus Pass!).
Second-hand bookshops alas, are continuing to experience difficult times with quite a number closing in the last few years. For some reason it seems to be my favourite shops which go to the wall. One of these was a superb little shop in Comrie which was run by Jim McMaster. Good second-hand bookshops take their character from their owner. Jim's shop had a very fine selection of high quality, mainly Scottish, books but its character came from the proprieter's comfortable armchair, the real fire burning in the grate, the good Scottish music coming from a radio and, perhaps, a glass of a good malt on a cold winter's day. It was the bookshop-as-bothy run by a man who is always willing to share his very considerable knowledge.
In March I was elected Chairman of the Scotland and Northern Ireland Region of the PBFA. The PBFA has been running bookfairs throughout the UK for over a quarter of a century. In Scotland we are holding eleven fairs this year with fairs still to come in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Forfar, Ballater and Aberdeen.
Although the internet is a wonderful tool for finding out-of-print books I hope there will always be a place for bookfairs in the selling of old books. Fairs have the obvious advantage that you can examine any book you may be interested in and discuss it with the dealer. Moreover one of the greatest advantages of the bookfair over the internet is the possibility that you will come across a book which you did not previously know existed. While the internet is ideal for finding the book you knew you wanted, the bookfair is the place to find the book you didn't know you wanted until you actually saw it.
Liz and I will always be delighted to meet any of our internet customers at bookfairs. We have listed all of the bookfairs that we are exhibiting at this year. In addition, if you go to the PBFA website you will find a list of all the PBFA bookfairs in the UK in 2007.
Towards the end of last year Liz and I paid our first visit to New Zealand.
We certainly didn't go there to buy books but through force of habbit (or something!) whenever we were in a new town we couldn't help checking out to see if there was a secnd hand bookshop.
Very often we were pleasantly surprised to find one even in small places.
In some shops we found nothing to buy but as often as not we would leave with one or two nice Scottish items and in one shop we came away with two boxes of books.
I certainly wouldn't suggest that anyone go all the way to New Zealand just to buy books but the possibility of finding good books at reasonable prices is one of the minor pleasures among many others that this fine country has to offer.
A few days ago David MacNaughton, one of the best-known figures in Scottish second-hand bookselling, died after a series of massive strokes.
Twenty years ago, on my very first day as a bookdealer, I sold books to him at the shop he then had near the foot of the Royal Mile.
Just three weeks ago I met him by chance in Edinburgh when we were both buying books in the West Port.
In between times I must have visited about ten different shops he had in Edinburgh, his shop in Berwick-Upon-Tweed and two of his houses in the Borders.
He also persuaded us to put stock into Byzantium in Victoria Street one Christmas where he had leased enough space for half a dozen bookdealers.
Many other book-dealers in Scotland had similar links with him.
David was an enthusiast who was always moving on to some new venture. For a time he seemed settled in Berwick-Upon-Tweed where his wife, Kristina, staffed the shop allowing him to get out and about searching for books which he enjoyed most. Unfortunately the local council put double-yellow lines along the street effectively destroying his trade.
His last move, after Kristina's tragic early death, was to the "alternative" book-town of Dalmellington. He was the only dealer left there as the so-called book-town collapsed around him.
David was a very good, honest, hard working, book-dealer with a sense of fun and a man about whom no-one ever said a bad word. The world of Scottish second-hand book-dealing will be much poorer without him.
This year saw our inaugural attendance at the Hotel Russel in London during the famous June bookfair week which is the main event of the book-selling calender in Britain each year. Until now we have never quite mustered up the courage to face the journey, in particular driving in central London. As it happened everything went very smoothly but we didn't find that the fair itself was any better than the September York fair, which in terms of number of dealers, is the largest in the UK. We did, however, do some good business with foreign, mainly American, dealers whom we would not otherwise have met so we are keeping an open mind about participating next year.
In June 2003 we said in these notes that at some point we expected to reach an equilibrium between the number of books we sold on the internet and the number of books being added to our website. There are signs that this is now happening. We have been stuck at about 4500 books for a few months now even though we have been adding as many books as ever. We would very much like to reach a round 5000 books on the site so we are expecting to be working extra hard over the next few months. On the other hand if we keep selling lots of books and never reach 5000 we won't complain too much !
The description of a book's condition - in particular whether it should be classified as fine, very good or good - is something that ought to be fairly standard but I am sure that it varies widely between dealers. For us a fine book must be just about as new. A very good book should have boards which are little marked, the spine lettering should not be faded and it should not be badly bumped or have other major defects. There may be some foxing or an ownership inscription but if so these should be mentioned. A good book is one which is not very good so the boards may be marked, lettering a bit faded etc. but again the worst, at least, of the defects should be mentioned.
When it comes to dustwrappers a fine dustwrapper should be almost as new in appearance. A very good dustwrapper may have one or two small closed tears and be less pristine in appearance but it should be complete (except that it may be price-clipped). A good dustwrapper may well have small chips and more substantial tears.
When a book or dustwrapper is described as fair or poor it is unlikely to be a pretty sight and so far as the book is concerned it will be essentially a reading copy rather than one for collecting.
On two or three occasions recently when we have described a book as being very good in a very good dustwrapper which is slightly torn at the top of the spine we have been asked whether the tear at the top of the spine refers to the book or the dustwrapper. As a matter of grammar it can only apply to the dustwrapper but perhaps in future, to avoid confusion, we will describe the book and dustwrapper in separate sentences.