By Paul Mills
Specialist online auctions for rare books, maps & prints, documents, letters, ephemera and vintage photography: AntiquarianAuctions.com has been developed by Clarke’s Africana & Rare Books (ABA member) and over the past five years have run over seventy successful online auctions.
The internet has changed the rare book market for ever. The ABE, ILAB and other book sites have shown us precisely what is a rare book and what is not. Books we previously thought of as being quite scarce now appear in multiple copies on these sites. In effect what could be called 'static auctions' are being held with numerous copies of a title being offered at different prices. We have tried to address this by offering the serious book trade a way forward by providing an internet auction venue run by booksellers for dealers, collectors and librarians world wide. We hope in this way to provide a counterbalance to the established auctioneers. The trade has always had a rather strained relationship with the auctioneers and we believe that the strength and low costs of the internet has at last offered us a way to empower booksellers in the competition for stock and customers.
Auctions are held every five weeks and run for a week at a time. They start and end at fixed times, extended time bidding avoids Ebay-type auction sniping. Booksellers upload their books to the auctions directly fully describing and illustrating them. Dealers sell under their own names and upon conclusion of the auctions they deal with the buyers directly: They are meeting new customers. There are no interfaces and no additional fees and commissions.
Most important: There is no buyer's premium (premiums charged by auctioneers have grown steadily over the years and are now 25 % in some cases and should be challenged by the book trade). In comparison our fees are very low. $1 US per lot to list and 5 % commission on successful sales. This allows dealers to auction their books at low cost and to act as agents for private and institutional sellers allowing them to compete for stock with the auctioneers. As an organization ILAB has always battled to persuade the public of the advantages of selling directly to dealers (or through dealers) rather than being swayed by the blandishments of the auctioneers with all their publicity and hype. Now we have an additional way to sell our services. Sellers of books can sell directly to dealers or sell on commission or now use the dealer's auction system to sell books much more quickly and efficiently than the auction houses can, negotiating whatever commissions they wish.
By restricting our sellers to members of recognized trade associations we seek to maintain the highest standards of the trade and to give buyers confidence in the system so avoiding the pitfalls of the general internet auction sites.
Many dealers recoil from the idea of selling at auction although many put unsold or books
outside their fields into the auction rooms. Of course this can be an easy way of anonymously selling unwanted or surplus stock but it does not advance the dealer’s business in
any way. The auctioneer keeps the buyer’s name to himself so increasing his mailing list at the expense of the dealer, fees are high (when adding the seller’s and buyer’s premium together – up to 50 % in some cases) and he may even use some of the dealer’s expertise in cataloguing.
In the changed world of internet selling dealers need to be more proactive in their competition for stock and customers. Our auction system should be seen as another tool to sell books which in no way supplants what the successful dealer is already doing. It is an extra string to the bow.