The Internet has had a dramatic effect on the prices and availability of antiquarian books. This is great news for the consumer but has required some serious thinking by all of us “old-timers” in the business (I started selling books about books in 1976).
What happens when you consistently sell David Randall’s Dukedom Large Enough for $45 for a number of years (fine in dust-jacket) but then go online today and find it being sold for $18 by other booksellers.
This scenario was starting to happen often enough that I decided to sit down one night (November 2009) next to a shelf of my books and analyze how my prices compared to those of other dealers. This process was accompanied by a bottle of wine, of course, to ease my work. I took each book off the shelf and compared it to the search result for that book using Vialibri.net (the best of the out-of-print search engines, in my opinion). I made sure I was comparing “apples to apples” by eliminating POD (print on demand) copies and making sure that the edition and condition were as close as possible. My test case showed that my copy was infrequently the lowest priced copy on the web, more often higher in price than a comparable copy, and sometimes was lost in a vast number of $1 to $5 copies of the same book.
I have always made a point of making sure that I price my books fairly, as long-time customer relationships are very important to me. I want my customers to know that when they see a book that I list, they can feel confident that a search for that book in the inventory of other dealers will show that Oak Knoll knows their business and understands the principles of supply and demand. Because this is my specialty, throughout the years I have seen more copies of books about books than any other dealer, making me, in a way, the arbitrator of the prices. I know what books sell well consistently and what books don’t, and I have priced material accordingly.
However, my analysis showed me that I needed to lower my prices for the majority of our books. But what would my customers think? How would they react to seeing books that they had purchased from me over the last year or so listed at a lower (sometimes significantly) price? Would they understand the dynamics of the new Internet market?
My first plan was to have a series of sales of material in the $75 to $100 range. I started posting sales on the Internet that offered a 60% discount on the group of books chosen. The sales did well, as everyone likes a sale. However, when I really looked at what was selling and what wasn’t, I found that the arbitrary discount being offered was much too much in some cases, much too little in some cases, and about right in a few cases. Back to my shelves I went (with another bottle of wine), and I spent a few days doing a thorough analysis of the books. As much as I dreaded the conclusion, it was obvious that I had to do a complete physical inventory and price analysis OF EVERY SINGLE BOOK IN MY INVENTORY (then currently about 24,000). It was an ugly thought, as it would take a huge amount of time to complete the process.
We can now fast-forward thirteen months to today, when the task is done! Every one of the books has been taken off the shelf, looked up using Vialibri.net, and had the price adjusted or re-affirmed. A side effect of this process of examining each book in the physical inventory was the dozens of interesting books we discovered that had become lost over the years. We also used the opportunity to make sure we took an image of the book for the website, as images give the customer additional confidence in the quality of the book.
What was the result?
14% went to $5. This section is the fastest selling section of the re-priced books
58% decreased in retail price with the average price decreasing by 51%
25% stayed the same
3% increased in retail price
We now have about 22,000 books for sale as many of the re-priced books have already sold. I’m confident that I can now announce to the world that shopping at Oak Knoll Books can be done with confidence in our darn good competitive prices.
Now go to our web site and see what I mean!
Bob Fleck, Oak Knoll Books
Ps: I have not had one person email me about all the prices changes. I think the consumer understands the massive change in bookselling caused by the Internet.