Skip to main content
ILAB Newsletter 61 (printed) | | ILAB Newsletter 61 (printed)

ILAB Newsletter 61 (printed)

Published on 14 Sept. 2013

ILAB Newsletter 61, February 2009

Editorial by President Adrian Harrington

I trust everyone had a good Christmas and New Year. As ever, it’s over too quickly, and we emerge from the holidays to the reality of a global economy in meltdown. It may already be affecting many of our affiliates. My experience of previous economic downturns/ disasters, is that books are remarkably resilient. However, the marketplace that remains when the recovery finally comes is often different. So we start 2009 with great challenges. The Hong Kong book fair will probably be the first test of the market in these difficult times. It may be a little unfair to use Hong Kong as an indicator as it is only in its second year and is uniquely a seat of capitalism and open markets as well as a portal into China. As a result of last year’s Hong Kong fair, and the hard work of the organisers, a Chinese Association now seems highly probable as well as a South East Asia Association. Of course there are challenges here, China does not have a reputation as an open market, although that is changing and we will have to tread carefully whilst giving every encouragement.

The fairs in general seem to have become more important to many of our dealers. With many dealers no longer having shops or public outlets the fairs are the only real chance they get to meet new customers and to see what other dealers are doing. At the Boston book fair, I managed to distribute some 300 copies of our new directory to the public. It is only by highlighting the excellence of our dealers to the collector at events such as this that we can hope to educate buyers as to where they should be shopping. Elsewhere in this newsletter you will find an article by Gordon Hollis. He raises many good points, but as organiser of the Olympia book fair in London, I have to say that I don’t agree with all of them.

In the last newsletter, I reminded you that it is you the dealers, through your National Associations, who are in charge of ILAB. In Madrid one President declared that he was unhappy with the way that the election to the committee had been run. An official complaint was made and I have responded to that in full. I am hoping that my response will be published in that National Association Newsletter. If anyone is unhappy with the way that ILAB is being run I would hope they would make suggestions to their National Association for improvements. These suggestions, if approved by their National Association Committee can be brought to the president’s for approval in October, in Vienna.

In Madrid there was another problem: As you know Rockingstone resigned as ILAB Webmaster, leaving us with a problem to solve. He subsequently reconsidered his position and has declared a keen interest to bid for any future ILAB contracts. Rockingstone’s decision opened a lively debate about the future of our website and database. Tom Congalton is now heading up our Internet subcommittee and the ideas are certainly flowing. I am confident we are now heading towards the right solution, and you will be hearing more about our plans soon. Some of the thinking is quite radical and needs to be explored fully before we proceed. I will be meeting with Jelle Samshuijzen sometime in the New Year in Amsterdam. I hope also to meet with other interested parties in the near future so that we have clear information on which to base our decision making. As a result of this we should have firm proposals for the Presidents in Vienna.

Richard Thompson continues to develop his excellent insurance product for those dealers around the world who feel that they need such a specialist service (for more information, go to

Additionally, I have encouraged Tom Dupre, of the firm Creative Computing, to bring his much loved cataloguing software up-to-date. Some 300 dealers have been using this software for the past 12 years with few complaints. A number of Countries have expressed an interest in this development and Tom is hoping to have a soft launch of his product at Olympia in June. Subsequently a demonstration will be given to the presidents in Vienna.

Each and every day your committee exchanges some twenty or so e-mails. If you have any questions or queries or complaints regarding ILAB please feel free to e-mail me. May I conclude by wishing you good business despite difficult circumstances in the coming year.

Opinion: The ILAB Bookfairs - For all members or only the wealthiest?

Gordon S. Hollis (Golden Legend, Inc., ABAA)

Thirteen ILAB bookfairs are held annually: in Australia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the U.K. (Edinburgh, London, Chelsea,) and the U.S.A. (California, New York, Boston). Occasionally, bookfairs are held in Italy and in Japan, and there is also a semi-annual ILAB bookfair in conjunction with the ILAB Congress, in a different location, the last being in 2008 in Madrid, Spain. These bookfairs have been instrumental in the 50 years since their inauguration in fostering trade between nations (the original purpose), for putting the names of ILAB members before the public as dealers with integrity and experience, and for creating an atmosphere where exhibitors could learn by seeing more experienced dealers, by examining merchandise which was new to them, and by interacting with collectors of greater or lesser experience, all of which could help them to grow their businesses.

Today our bookfairs should be even more important than ever before with the loss of our “book rows” on 4th Avenue New York, Charing Cross London, the Kanda area in Tokyo, and even the impervious 6th arrondissement of Paris. Without bookshops on the street, our booksellers have no easy way to meet collectors. While it should be obvious that ILAB bookfairs present the best of all possible venue for meeting collectors, and for publicizing the wonderful variety of fine, antiquarian booksellers in our association, it is surprising to realize that only a fraction of our 1894 member exhibit in them. In fact, only the California bookfair in San Francisco draws significantly more than 10% of the ILAB membership as exhibitors. Just as surprising some ILAB bookfairs attract less than a third of the members of their own chapters. At the prestigious New York Antiquarian Bookfair, only 27% of the members of the Middle Atlantic Chapter of the ABAA exhibit. While it is obvious that not every dealer wants to go half a world away to a bookfair, and it is likely that some members of a local chapter do not wish to go to a bookfair even in his own city or state, the low turnout at the present bookfairs indicates that our association is losing a useful, if not critical, opportunity to bring our booksellers before the public. The purpose of this article is to account for the changes which have caused the lack of inclusivity at our bookfairs. The article will then make some suggestions how we can change our bookfairs so there is a larger participation among dealers and particularly among their own chapter members.

Looking at the ILAB bookfairs of today, it is possible to see two distinct types: the regional and the international. While some ILAB bookfairs, like that at Amsterdam and Chelsea in London and Australia have a regional aspect to them with exhibitors mainly from their own ILAB chapters, others, like the June London bookfair, the San Francisco and Los Angeles venues of the California ABAA bookfairs, the Paris and the New York Antiquarian bookfairs, are international in scope. At these international ILAB bookfairs millions of dollars worth of merchandise can change hands. In London and New York it is possible to see great books from a first edition of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium to the sumptuously bound colorplate books of Gould’s hummingbirds, to multiple copies of Arthur Rackham special editions, as well as, the most valuable of modern first editions where collectors look for tiny flaws in dust jackets. The same is true in Paris, with the substitution of French first editions from Rabelais to Sartre and beautiful Livres d’artistes of Matisse, Miro and Picasso with their bindings by Bonet and Martin.

Looking back, things were different. In the 1970s most of the items brought to bookfairs were early printed books brought by antiquarian booksellers along with the scarce outof- print titles and “better” books brought by general dealers. These books formed the majority of objects found at any ILAB bookfair around the world. Next most popular was the book as “object”: the finely printed and illustrated book, books appreciated for their beauty or design rather than for their texts. Also in evidence was a small number of books considered valuable as treasures, the kind listed in Printing and the Mind of Man or in the Grolier 100 series. These can be called the “high spots.” Also in evidence, especially in England and the United States, was a small but growing number of valuable first editions by modern authors.

Ben Weinstein of Heritage Bookshop Los Angeles remembers that in the California bookfairs of the 1970s and 1980s, when the emphasis was then not on modern books and twentieth century first editions the way it is now, but on early or antiquarian books and fine press books. A few dealers like John Howell brought block-buster or “high spot” books, but Weinstein remembers this as the exception. Heritage itself, at the outset of its illustrious career, brought rare and fine books in $100-$200 range and felt the ABAA bookfair was an important place to upgrade inventory, meet new collectors and learn the book trade.

Somewhere along the line the business of antiquarian books changed dramatically and drastically. Two important events helped fuel the change: first was the decline in interest in early books coming alongside the rise in popularity of modern first editions and high spots. Auction houses, like Sotheby’s in the Alfred Taubman era, attempted to go directly to collectors by creating glitzy catalogues which were striking compared to the austere Goodwin sale of first editions in late 1970s. Booksellers were quick to follow suit.

The other event was the rapid, almost meteoric rise of the on-line databases, which almost overnight took over the role of the out-of-print bookseller as primary supplier. Where buyers used to go to bookfairs around the world to find books that were unavailable at home, now a click on Vialibri or is all that is necessary. Now 17 different databases are indexed on Vialibri, including those in Germany, France, the U.K. and the U.S.A. This change has decimated the out of print bookseller. The entire out-of-print business has moved from the bookshop to the internet.

The impact of these changes on the bookfairs have been immense. Gone is the general out-of-print and antiquarian bookseller. Gone are most of the specialists, including those in costume, technology, military history, 18th century literature and in a variety of other subjects. Regional booksellers are gone from all but regional bookfairs. With new booksellers not coming into the field, the fine press dealers have become fewer in number, and in many cases grayer in the temples each year. In their place have come front rows and center aisles where prominent booksellers exhibit $100,000 first editions and “high spots.”

Why so few exhibitors? While it is clear from the ILAB Bookfair guidelines that our bookfairs are meant to include all members, one clue to the changes in our bookfairs comes from a confusing clause in the ILAB bylaws that has allowed for the ascendancy of the treasure book aspect of the book trade at the expense of others: bylaw 4.18 STAND ALLOCATION: “the arrangement of exhibitors is too important to be left to chance and most now support the view that allocation should be made at the discretion of the committee, which will naturally wish to represent the trade at its best and in all its diversity” [Italics mine]. The ascendancy of the high-spot and treasure book dealers has been fostered by local bookfair committees that have also selected bookfair locations that are designed to show off the “best” dealers to a particular type of collector, at the expense of the diversity of the ILAB. This has created an international bookfair circuit that is not affordable to many of our own booksellers.

It is fine for a bookseller to carry great books, high spots and treasured first editions. It is completely acceptable for one’s own business to become a “boutique” of treasures if one wishes; it is quite another to make a “boutique” bookfair when 90% of the ILAB, and in some cases 70% of your own local organization, do not attend.

The overall costs for some bookfairs like the New York, London, Paris and even the Los Angeles version of the California ILAB bookfair have escalated, up to $7-10,000 or even $15,000, for exhibitors. While bookfair venue and hotel costs should be carefully controlled by the bookfair committee in order be affordable for the exhibitions, some bookfair committees seem to care little about keeping costs low. A bookfair with extremely high costs cannot possibly represent the diversity of the membership within the ILAB. If only those with the most valuable books can afford to exhibit, leaving out everybody else, the bookfair system becomes exclusively the province of the wealthy. If wealthy boksellers with the high spots and valuable first editions come to be defined as the “best” of the book trade, then the outcome is predictable.

The Paris Bookfair is taking the “boutique of treasures” idea very seriously with its move from the Maison de la Mutualite to the Grand Palais. The September 2008 ILAB Newsletter reports some “spectacular higher end sales” at Paris and a general sense of well-being among its 157 exhibitors, a full third of which are from outside of France. At Paris general booth prices (not the “luxe” booth, which see below) range from 2,500 to 4,400 Euros, before 20% for VAT and ILAB fees. The organizers, with a sense of elegance in mind, have indicated the ideal number of exhibitors to be only 160 of our 1894. However, according to Mme. Coulon, the committee would certainly make room for additional exhibitors. Obviously, the overflow would be placed in a way that would not diminish from the lustre of the “prestige” booths at the front of the bookfair that will cost €27,000 (before VAT) and measure 36sq meters.

The London ABA June bookfair booth costs £1800 to £5000 depending on size and location. The publicity triumphantly notes “The ABA Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia is one of the most prestigious and exciting events of its kind and is one of the major highlights of the London season. Over 150 of the world’s leading dealers are brought together under one roof offering the ‘crème de la crème’ of what is on the market.”

Obviously, the ABA bookfair committee is more concerned with quality than quantity. The only problem is that one person’s idea of quality is not another’s. We are all the “world’s leading dealers.” Very often the explanation of ‘crème de la crème’ leads to a narrow and exclusive vision of well-known high spots, that are not rare in any numerical or antiquarian sense, like a first edition of 100 copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses or the edition of 35 of Rouault’s Cirque de l’étoile filante, or Boswell’s Life of Johnson, 1791, or Arthur Rackham’s Peter Pan portfolio, or even a Shakespeare folio or Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Our great treasures end up not rare at all, just expensive.

The United States has three annual bookfairs in four venues. The New York Bookfair held at the Armory at 68th and Park Avenue offers a single booth at prices between $5, 300 to $10,500 depending on booth location. The ABAA New York bookfair liason John Hellebrand explains the prices: “In NYC we do not have any more room to expand the fair. The number of booths is limited... We are hostage to the armory because there is no rental space nearby of a similar size. The location is also one of the best and the fair would be diminished [visitors and hence money spent] were we to move the location...” He adds “NYC is viewed as a premier location. We do attempt to make the fair accessible to all of the membership. The costs are beyond our control.” One wonders if the Armory is the only venue, or is it just the “premiere” venue.

The Middle-Atlantic Chapter of ABAA, that sponsors and plans this bookfair, sends the lowest number of local exhibitors in the entire ILAB to its own bookfair, 35 of 138 members, or about 27% of its own chapter. When asked if he was concerned about the low participation of local members, Hellebrand takes an almost flippant view, “I cannot judge ‘motives’ - it is impossible to know the mind of others. Price? Maybe. But then there is the convenience factor too, i.e., NYC is difficult to drive in and out of, tough security measures on the street, etc., some do not like the city, some do not do book fairs at all, and so it goes.”

A case may be made that the New York Bookfair committee has made its decision to attract wealthy dealers from the entire ILAB to the bookfair at the expense of their own ABAA Middle Atlantic Chapter members, who have become priced out of their own bookfair. The situation is not going to be changed by the governing board of the U.S. association, the ABAA. Tom Goldwasser the ABAA bookfair chairman states “decisions about the location and style of fairs, pricing of booths, etc. are made by the Chapter book fair committees.” For another comparison of costs and it can affect bookfair participation, look at the two California bookfairs, one year in San Francisco, the next year in Los Angeles. San Francisco’s California ILAB Bookfair is at the Brannan Center which is a mile or so away from its downtown, not within easy walking distance nor bus lines. Still San Fracnisco is the only ILAB bookfair with significantly more than 10% of ILAB members exhibiting (244 exhibitors have signed up for the 2009 bookfair), with well over 50% of its own Northern California membership in attendance. Prices range from $1,500 for a regular booth to $2,000 for a large one and $2,500 for the largest. Although some complain about the cavernous Brannan Center, 6,000 people attend the event.

The Los Angeles venue at the Century Plaza Hotel had 180 exhibitors in 2008. Booth prices are $3,600 for a regular booth and $5,000 for a larger booth. The L.A. Bookfair in 2008 brought 3,000 visitors. The current bookfair Chairman is Michael Thompson. When asked if he would try to expand the bookfair to bring in more exhibitors by lowering booth prices, his response was, “LA has always prided itself on having an attractive venue with suitable accommodations conveniently located. We are asking the finest dealers (and customers) from all over the world to visit us, and I, for one, don’t want to invite them to a lesser fair. The cost of life continues to go up. So what else is new?”

Actually a lot more could be done than Thompson suggests. The Los Angeles venue could open more exhibit space, that is at its disposal, it could reduce the size of its large 10x15' booths or it could even move to the inexpensive and limitless Convention Center downtown. I am in a position to know because I was both ABAA Chapter president and the bookfair committee chairman in 2004, when the bookfair moved to the upscale Century Plaza Hotel. I chose this exhibit space for its central location and its entire floor of useable space, including two large ballrooms. I felt that we could attract many more exhibitors than at past Los Angeles bookfairs because we had more space for them to exhibit. Overall, I thought that the Century Plaza’s huge space could allow us to lower costs by attracting more exhibitors.

I am afraid that it will not work out that way. Apparently the LA bookfair committee sees Los Angeles as an “international” bookfair like New York, London and Paris. Thompson states that he does not want to bigger bookfair: “The problem with the ‘open to all huge fair’ idea is twofold: we haven’t yet found a venue in LA that is big enough AND one that is attractive enough for the buyers that we want to see to come to. They don’t go to swap meet venues!”

In conclusion, bookfairs should have a crucial role to plan for the ILAB in the future. While the exhibition of our treasured heirlooms and valuable first editions is important, it is equally important to present a realistic view of the antiquarian book world. Books are the basic “stuff ” of intellectual life, with millions of volumes bought and sold by our booksellers around the world.

We also need to focus on the role of all our booksellers, not just the illustrious. Defining just what “greatness” means is always a difficult, shifting business. Until we as an association can come up with a way to honor those members who have excelled in their philanthropic or academic contributions, in the admiration they arouse in others or by the wealth that they possess, then we had better avoid taking any preferences at all, since the ILAB is democratic at heart. As a result, “prestige” locations should be abandoned, because they go against the spirit of the ILAB, and against the bylaws as well.

The heart of the ILAB is the antiquarian bookseller with his own expertise. World wide, our members have very little in common with one another except for our skill, experience and knowledge. It is not books but booksellers that offer value. Some countries have a printing history going back thousands of years; some begin with the modern era of Gutenberg, others not until the the 17th century. Books popular in Singapore do not readily sell in Canada; books on Byzantium do not find ready buyers in Korea. But our love of books, our integrity and our expertise unite us, wherever we are.

Note: Gordon Hollis has been an ILAB member since 1984. He was on the ABAA Board of Governors from 1992-94, President Southern California Chapter 2004-6. Gordon has attended at least 40 ILAB bookfairs and exhibited at those in Tokyo, Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, Boston, New York, and London


4TH ANTIQUE BOOK FAIR, MOSCOW, Central House of Artists
November 26-30, 2008

Norbert Donhofer, ILAB Committee

Past-President Michael Steinbach, Eric Waschke from Canada, and I had met the young Moscow bookseller Alexey Lukashin during the International Book Fair in Madrid. Alexey had told us that he and some other Russian Booksellers wanted to found an Association of Antiquarian Booksellers of Russia in the nearer future and Eric, who had visited some 30 bookshops with departments of antiquarian books in St.Petersburg and Moscow earlier this year encouraged him to do so. We had also learned that there would be another edition of the Antique Book Fair, the 4th, at the end of November and I had offered to fly to Moscow and visit this fair. That’s what I did and a short flight of 145 minutes with OS 601 brought me to the Russian capital on Friday, November 28th. As this was not my first visit to Moscow I knew very well about the chaotic situation of traffic in and around the city but not even the driver of the Grand Hotel Marriott at Tverskaya Street could bring me into town with his brand new Mercedes in a relatively short time – it took us more then two hours. It was too late to see the Fair on Friday but there was enough of time to walk along the Tverskaya Street, which is obviously the Main-Road of Moscow, down to the Kremlin and the Red Square where I met a very good friend of mine. He is Ukrainian and one of the best booksellers of this area and we had excellent dinner and a fruitful discussion about – guess what – antiquarian books.

I left early on Saturday to meet Alexey in front of the Central House of Artists at Krymsky Val (the Garden- Ring) near the Krymaskaya embankment, close to the river Moskva and just opposite of Gorky-Park (remember Lee Marvin as Jack Osborne in the movie in the eighties). There was a crowd of approximately 2000 persons queuing up at the entrance – the entrance fee was 45 rubles (= 1.50 ) - but Alexey brought me into the Fair without any delay. The antiquarian section was inside of the 10th Non/Fiction – a huge book fair with hundreds of exhibitors from some 22 countries – but they had a large room for themselves with security at the entrance. 23 booksellers had displayed their books in the rather modern stands – comparable to stands at Stuttgart or Berlin – with glass-cases and wooden bookcases. The fee for a stand of 6 square meters for the five days was approximately 2000 . The books that were displayed were in rather good condition, nearly all booksellers had prepared descriptions of their books, and prices were indicated on the descriptions. Of course, the material was very “Russian” but some booksellers had also brought European books with them. Amongst the best Russian books was a complete set of Nikolai Kutepov’s set “Tsarskaya okhota na Rusi (The Imperial Hunt in Russia)”, St.Petersburg, 1896-1911, in four volumes, a fine copy of the “Description of the Coronation of their Imperial Majesties the Emperor of all the Russias Alexandre III and Empress Maria Feodorovna in the year 1883” (in Russian), St.Petersburg, 1883, first editions of Russian literature (Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Gorky, Griboedov, Pushkin), modern first editions (Akhmatova, Averchenko, Blok, Erenburg, Fedin, Maiakovskii, Mandelshtam, Pasternak, Sologub), translations from European writers into the Russian language (Dickens, Balzac, Genlis, Hugo), Guide- Books to Moscow, St.Petersburg, Minsk, Kiev, and other cities, travel-books (these mainly on the expansion of the Russian Empire to the Caucasian countries, to Siberia and the Far East, and the Black-Sea area), children’s-books (as usual in bad condition), and religious books. One bookseller (Russian Avantgard of 10-30s Gallery) had brought some fine books and pamphlets on this theme, another one (“Zlato” – Gallery) had shown some excellent posters of the 30ties and 40ties, and Biblio-Globus had displayed some very rare maps of Russia. About 50% of the exhibitors were fully equipped with computers and large screens were they showed an endless sequence of books from their stock with pictures and descriptions.

A rather remarkable event was scheduled at 1.15 p.m. this day. Since the beginning of the Fair 54 rare and valuable books had been displayed right in the middle of the Fair. The owner of these books, the Moscow based bookseller Anatoliy Borovkov, had organized an auction with these items. I don’t know if this was the first Book Auction ever held at Moscow but the interest of both the Media and the Public was enormous. The auction started with a delay of 15 minutes because Anatoliy was interviewed by a TVreporter (this could be seen in the local evening news). Well, the auction was not the big success he had hoped for – only eight or nine titles were sold. It was not the quality of the books – 5 first editions of Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (amongst these the very rare first edition of “O nachalakh geometrii”, printed at Kasan, 1829-30), first editions of Pushkin and Tolstoy etc. – it was the very high estimates why these books remained un sold, and I can also imagine that people do not want to be seen when buying valuable books at a public auction. However, this auction brought a lot of people to the Fair too.

On the last floor in the huge Central House of Artists the organizers of the Fair took the opportunity to show for the first time the important private collection of E.D. Breev, a Moscow Book Collector. In approximately 25 glass-cases some 300 books of a very high quality and in excellent condition were displayed. The spectrum of the shown books was a wide one: Russian literature in first editions, documents of the Revolution, early Socialistica, some early- printed books, children’s-books, posters etc. Although this exhibition was built up on the last floor and the visitors seemed to be tired the interest in this exhibition was great.

The Russians love books – no matter if old or new – but for many people the income is simply too low to afford rare and valuable books. Nevertheless the larger part of approximately 50.000 visitors of this five days lasting Book Fair have also visited the antiquarian section and I am absolutely sure that the interest in old, rare and valuable books will develop soon. The booksellers of the antiquarian section distributed lots of business-cards, catalogues, flyers, they explained the value of the books with patience to the visitors, they were friendly and polite and for me it looked like as many of them were satisfied with this Fair. Of course, one of the problems of the Russian booksellers is the lack of knowledge of foreign languages. Some words in English, French, or German and that’s it. It is only Alexey who is perfect in English and German. However, I think that we, the ILAB-Booksellers should do everything to encourage our Russian colleagues to step forward, and if they really want to build up an Association of Antiquarian Booksellers of Russia we should give them every thinkable assistance and welcome them in the ILAB. We should also keep in mind that Moscow is the largest European city with some 14 Million inhabitants and that Russia itself is simply a huge country with approx. 150 Million inhabitants. Eric and I will continue our visits to Russia and our next trip to Moscow and St.Petersburg is scheduled for June 2009.



N. Marsh, ILAB Executive Secretary

You will find hereafter the motions which were approved at the General Meeting held in Madrid on 7th and 8th September 2008. The complete minutes containing the details of all the discussions are to be found on the booksellers’ only section of the ILAB website.

• The minutes of the General Meeting held in Paris in September 2007 were approved.

• The President’s, General Secretary’s, Security Chairman’s and Treasurer’s Reports were approved.

• The following motion, put forward by the ABA, was approved : That the ILAB should appoint a sub committee to prepare a detailed written brief and invite proposals for one central database of stolen and missing items accessible to all reputable organisations.

• The following motion, put forward by the ABA, was approved : That, in order to ensure proper understanding and therefore to achieve maximum benefit, all communication about Congresses, Book Fairs and other events shall always be checked by a native speaker to ensure that the translation into the ILAB languages is both accurate and appropriate.

• The officers of the new committee were unanimously elected:
President: Adrian Harrington

Vice President: Arnoud Gerits
Treasurer: Poul Poulsen
General Secretary: Paul Feain

• Tom Congalton and Tsukasa Maeda were unanimously reelected as committee members

• Ulrich Hobbeling and Norbert Donhofer were elected as new committee members

• Revised travel allowances for committee members were unanimously approved

• The budget as proposed by the Treasurer Poul Poulsen was unanimously approved; it includes, among other expenses, a renewal of the Google Adwords campaign and promotional material for ILAB.


Technology and the Future of the Antiquarian Book Trade

Dan Gregory (Between the Covers Rare Books, Inc., ABAA)

Presented at the 2008 ILAB Congress, Madrid

Presidents, Committee Members, and Colleagues. I would like to congratulate the Asociación Ibéria de Librerias Anticuarias for organizing and hosting their first ILAB Congress. And I thank them for the opportunity to speak to you today. When Tom and Heidi Congalton invited me to join them here at the Congress, I happened to be reading Aristotle’s Children, by Richard Rubenstein. It reminded me that Spain is a very appropriate setting for a discussion of the evolution of the book because of the celebrated role that Spain has played in that history. Here in Spain, shortly before the dawn of printing in Europe, the works of ancient Greece were rediscovered. Writings of Aristotle and Euclid that had been lost to Europe for hundreds of years after the fall of Rome were saved. And most inspiring was that this reclamation of text and this renaissance of reason was accomplished through the multicultural Spanish climate of the 12th Century. Perhaps the world today would be a better place if more people recalled that Spanish era when Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars worked in mutual respect and cooperation. Here in Spain, then, as now, Amor Librorum Nos Unit - the Love of Books Unites Us.

Amor Librorum Nos Unit - we are united in our love of books. But what is it about books that we love? I believe our appreciation of books is two-fold. As readers, we love the stories that they tell or value the information that they share. We appreciate the careful or elegant combination of words. We value good writing that relates new, interesting, or informative experiences to us. We rely on authoritative, professionally edited and fact-checked sources in our nonfiction. In fiction, we love the soaring of the imagination, the escape from our lives into the lives of others, and writing that teaches us more about ourselves. All these elements that we value as readers are an appreciation of books as vessels of text. To readers, a book derives its value from its content. For many readers, this kind of device I’m holding in my hand, Amazon’s Kindle - an electronic book reader, is the future of books as text. How do I know this? A Spanish poet told me so. Last night I was reading Elisa Ruiz Garcia’s article “The Book in Late Antiquity: An Intimate Object of Desire” from Bibliofilias, the lovely volume produced in concert with this Congress. In her article she wrote of the Roman poet Martial, a citizen of the Roman Empire but we should also remember born here in Spain, and she explained Martial’s appreciation of the development of the codex. She quotes his joy in being able to hold in a single volume both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and his appreciation that all one hundred and forty two books by the historian Livius could now fit “on sheets of vellum of scant size.” Readers have always appreciated the ability to hold an increasing amount of text in progressively smaller containers. The printed book as we have known it for many centuries is marvelous in this regard. But the book continues to evolve and if the past is any indication, readers will adapt to this evolution and continue to appreciate more text in less space.

However, in addition to being readers, we are also antiquarian booksellers. To echo the excellent points made so eloquently last night by Michael Steinbach, as booksellers we love to hold books. To feel their weight, to appreciate their binding. We love the smell and texture of the paper. We love the tactile sensation of turning the pages. We value the illustrations, the typography, and the design. All these book qualities that we value as booksellers are an appreciation of books as objects. When we think of the noun “book,” it is as a singular “thing” in our minds like “tree” or “automobile.” But books are actually two things in one: the traditional book is simultaneously both a text and an object. I believe the future of books and bookselling is an inevitable diverging of these two properties. Again history, and specifically Spanish history, tells us so. Last night Dr. Julian Martin Abad, in his history of Spanish collectors of incunabula, told us that by the 17th and 18th Centuries those collectors stopped writing in their incunables. The books had ceased to be primarily valued as text, and became primarily valued as objects.

As booksellers we see the separation of books as objects, and books as text, when we examine why people buy the books they buy. I believe the worldwide book market divides between customers who buy books they want to keep as a permanent part of their library or collection, and customers who buy particular books to read them, to use them, and then once read or used, to discard them. There is an antiquarian book market, and a used book market. The market for used books is enormous. In 2004 in the United States consumers spent over two billion dollars on used books. Their average price was under $20. But for the bookseller this market, while large in terms of the number of books available and purchased every day, has been evaporating. I believe the same technology that allowed this market to mushroom to its present size will also very soon destroy the profession of selling used books. I realize the potential destruction of the market for relatively inexpensive used books is probably of little direct consequence to most of the dealers in this room. But as Presidents of your respective national associations you also have a responsibility to your national members, many of whom derive their income from the buying and selling of inexpensive books.

At present there are literally many millions of books that can be purchased for just a fraction over the cost to ship them. I think there are two types of businesses that can afford to underprice the conventional bookseller. The first business is the non-professional hobbyist. This is someone who can afford to offer books at the lowest price because their daily livelihood does not depend on selling books. They have other means of support. The book owner who has little interest or investment in his books to begin with, the small town library with extra book donations to get rid of, the retired person who enjoys scouring flea markets and places no value on his time -- these people can all afford not to run a profitable book business. Consequently, they have driven prices of readily available books down over the past fourteen years. The second type of business that can afford to sell books for a dollar, or even a penny, is the so called “mega-lister.” These are profitable businesses, because the people who run them have invested in the technology, and the efficiencies of scale, to make them profitable. I would like to take a moment to share with you the inner-workings of such a business that I have observed first hand. Suppose your business is in the United States, for example, and you want to ship individually purchased books to your customers and actually make a profit on the small difference between how much Amazon pays you to ship the books and how much it actually costs you to ship the books. In order to lower your own costs and make the highest profit on the shipping charges of Amazon, you need to ship your books via what is called bulk media mail pre-sort. Among the conditions to qualify for this especially low shipping rate is that you must send out at least 400 packages a day using this method. That means the bookselling company must sell at least 400 books a day that are domestic orders. And presumably the company would have to sell at least another 50 to 100 in order to have a safety net or buffer. Working backwards from this goal of selling at least 500 books a day, the company must have a very large inventory of books priced extremely competitively. They can not afford to price books at the average price, they must underprice their competition on a book-by-book basis in order to ensure that they obtain that minimum of 500 orders. Furthermore, in order to be profitable no employee, that is to say no living person, can spend more than a few seconds with a book. Maximum, machine-like efficiency must be used at every stage of the book’s “life-cycle” in the company’s inventory. That is, in acquiring the book, in cataloguing it, in shelving it, in locating it when it sells, and in packaging it for shipment. Each and every one of those steps must be facilitated by machines as much as possible. Books must be treated as commodities on an assembly line if they are to be sold profitably for a penny. But it can be done. It is being done. It may not be bookselling as we envision it. Imagine selling books where the goal of your business is for you never to touch or see your books. I’m sure to most of us that is exactly the opposite of what we want to be doing. But this kind of hyperefficient mega-listing business performs the basic function of selling books to customers and so, although it lies at the very far end of the spectrum of bookselling, it is indeed part of that same spectrum to which we belong.

So we have two types of used book sellers, enabled by new technology to sell used books for almost no cost to the customer. We have the hobbyists, with no overhead and no labor cost, and they number in the many thousands in the United States alone. And we have a few companies, probably not more than a hundred or two worldwide, that use technology to sell books for pennies and eek out a profit in their volume, which is very considerable. The combined efforts of these two types of used booksellers is such that the current market price for many millions of books is almost nothing. The average working bookseller, one who needs to make a profit but does not run a large bookselling factory, cannot compete in selling these books. The present and future markets for used books are delights to buyers, and very bleak for sellers. However, if you are exhibiting here at the feria del libro antiguo, or you exhibit in Paris, or London, or New York, or Los Angeles, none of my dire predictions matter very much. Right? If you are selling incunables, or fine press publications, or scarce and desirable first editions, or any of the kinds of antiquarian books that sell for hundreds of dollars, or thousands of dollars, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, then the future of the used book is not of great concern. So finally, what is the future for antiquarian book selling?

First, the future of antiquarian bookselling is not by selling through third party sites that take a percentage from each sale. That may be the future that those companies hope to see, but their interests are not our interests. To me, those online listing sites are not places to sell books, but rather places to meet new customers. And if you look at your relationship with those listing sites in this way, their fees become much more palatable. But you have to work at it to make this conversion from merely selling individual books online, to actually meeting valuable customers there.

I think a great many booksellers have allowed the Internet to make them lazy. They have become passive sellers. They cast their books out on the Internet and then they just wait for orders to come in. And the revenue of those orders is diminished by fees and commissions that the bookseller’s partner, the large listing company, can change whenever they wish. So I believe the appropriate response of booksellers to the simple fact that large companies operate in their own financial interests, is to regain one’s independence from these companies. And that is what we have tried to do at Between the Covers Rare Books.

I want to share with you some facts and figures about the income of Between the Covers Rare Books. Our book sales can be roughly divided into five sources: 1) printed catalogs; 2) quotes to customers, which are either phone calls, emails, or printed quotes; 3) our own website; 4) bookfairs we attend, most importantly the ABAA fairs; and 5) sales made on the Internet through third party vendors such as ABE, Amazon, Biblio, Barnes and Noble, and of course the ABAA and ILAB sites. In descending order, this year at Between the Covers the greatest portion of our sales income, 39%, has come from private quotes to customers. 23% has come from printed catalogs. This year 18% of our sales came from our own website, while 11% of our sales came from third party Internet vendors. Finally, 9% of our sales came from book fairs. We all know it costs money to make money. In addition to purchasing our inventory, there are other expenses to each of those sales sources I just enumerated. There are expenses to printing catalogs, and expenses to developing and operating our own website. But we can control, manage, and budget those expenses ourselves. We can adjust how much we spend on our catalogs and our website, both in terms of the actual production costs, and in terms of the labor costs. So the portions of revenue fully under our control, that is catalogs, private quotes, and our website, represents a full 80% of our income. I am very proud of this - these ratios and percentages were no accident. Two years ago it was 45%, last year it was 60%, and now it is 80%.

How did this change come about? How did we progress in just a few years from relying on other companies to provide over half our business, to relying on those other companies for only a tenth of our business?

As an initial step, four years ago we invested in a more comprehensive inventory and customer database, a program tailor made for our needs. Among the reasons for this investment was so that we could analyze our business and better understand where our sales were coming from. Between the Covers Rare Books has been in business for several decades, but in the past few years we have been better equipped to study the sales trends within our own business because we invested in the ability to tag and track different types of sales. I think most of our colleagues in the American book trade would consider Between the Covers Rare Books to be a successful book business. And I believe we are a successful book business. Before I go further, I must state that I believe the preeminent reason Between the Covers Rare Books is successful is Tom Congalton’s book-buying acumen. Tom is a very good bookman, and we rely very much on his ability to continuously acquire good books for our inventory. We all know it is much easier to sell books if you have good books to sell. So that part of our business, the most crucial part of every antiquarian business, is something I never have to worry about because Tom takes care of it, and has done so since he formed the company in 1985. So instead I worry about the other end of the business, selling the books. And this is where we have effected some very deliberate changes in the last few years in response to the Internet, and in response to the bursting of the Internet bubble.

First, we have actively concentrated on our institutional customers. This was a consumer base about which we paid only half-hearted attention as recently as five years ago. But since then, we have dedicated more of our office workforce to researching the holdings of libraries and quoting institutional customers. These efforts have paid great dividends.

At the same time we pursued our second major initiative, which was to very actively attempt to convert every single instance that we sell a book to a new customer into a repeat and long-standing relationship. Many booksellers look at the Internet as a venue for selling individual books to individual customers. They often lament that every sale they make on the Internet through a search service is what we call in America a “one shot deal.” We look at every sale we make on the Internet through a search service as the first of what we hope will be many transactions with a new customer. I admit, often my optimism is not rewarded. Often we never hear from that customer again. But we try hard to convert that sale into a long-term customer. Last month I met Hannes Blum, the CEO of ABE, and I listened as he rationalized the fees ABE charges partly by explaining, “We bring you new customers.” In other words, ABE expects you to take that initial sale and turn it into something more durable. I have no problem with ABE, because I can cite numerous customers who first found us through ABE, and then subsequently made multiple purchases directly from us. I believe this should be the goal of every bookseller who sells on third party sites geared toward collectors. How do we at Between the Covers accomplish this?

To start, we include one of our print catalogs with every purchase. When possible, we include a subject specific print catalog. The more specialized the book, the greater the likelihood that we will have subsequent sales. To give an example, a few years ago Tom was called to look at a collection of Western Americana. Although we primarily deal in literature, it was a nice collection and Tom purchased it. We created a catalog of the collection and sent it out to our mailing list of regular customers. But our regular customers were primarily purchasers of literature. They ignored the catalog and it sold poorly. Next we put the books on the Internet, where they were found by collectors of Western Americana. With each purchase we included a copy of the subject catalog. With great frequency these first-time customers called us upon receipt of the book and ordered several additional books from the catalog. At present we have approximately twenty different subject specific print catalogs to include with orders. And of course we use print material, such as bookmarks and coupons, to steer people toward our website. And this, finally, was the last of our major initiatives in the past few years. The other day I spoke with David Szewczyk of the Philadelphia Rare Book and Manuscripts Company, and he observed that today a dealer’s website is analogous to open shops of yesteryear. I think he was absolutely right. And I think most dealers, including many major dealers, miss this. Most dealers treat their websites as if it were their business card, and nothing more. Most dealers have websites simply because they think they should have a website, and their lack of interest and direction is readily apparent on their sites. Most dealers have not asked themselves the questions “What do I want to accomplish with my website?” and “How exactly am I going to accomplish that?”

The analogy between dealers’ websites and open shops is very helpful. Although I am going to speak about how this analogy can be applied to the website for Between the Covers, which is naturally the website with which I am most familiar, if you look around the Internet you will see that there are several booksellers who have applied this same principle in their own ways, and in complete independence of each other, and yet they all have created very compelling and successful sites. So, for example, the Philadelphia Rare Book and Manuscript website is very much like a large building with rooms divided into different book subjects, but with large measures of spontaneity, serendipity, and personal selection thrown in. The website of David Brass features a frequently updated blog, so that it is rather like dropping in and having frequent chats with a bookseller.

Rockingstone’s site for Oak Knoll Books is a marvelous example of how to create a well organized and dynamically driven book site for a large inventory. And of course this is only a small sampling of North American examples. Booksellers from many other nations are no less inventive, and are similarly exploiting the potential of the book shop / book site parallels. This morning Mitsuo Nitta shared with us one of the most attractive and impressive examples of this parallel that I have yet seen, on his Yushodo site (at So what are some of the elements of a good book shop that can be exploited as models for a good book website?

A shop must have a good location. On the Internet location means optimized visibility by search engines. And by search engines I mean Google. To give a specific example, earlier this year we reprogrammed our site so that each book in our inventory had its own webpage seen by Google, and the title of that page was the title of the book. This gives us a great deal of visibility when people search for that book in Google. Currently about two thirds of our web traffic comes from Google. I want to speak about Google a little more, but first I would like to continue examining the parallels between websites and open shops.

An open shop needs an attractive storefront window. Similarly a bookseller’s website homepage should be lively and engaging. It should invite customers to come in, to spend time browsing, to make a purchase, and to want to return in the future. Like a good storefront window, a bookseller’s website should display a sampling of inventory on the very first page the visitor sees. And this sampling of inventory should change frequently. The design of a bookseller’s website should be consistent with the image the bookseller wants to project, but it must also be attractive and original. It must convey the bookseller’s identity and personality. Very few bookseller websites accomplish this. Most, including the sites of a number of major dealers, are horribly boring. They look very much alike and they are completely devoid of personality. Nothing about them invites the visitor to actually go deeper within the site.

Like any good open shop, a bookseller’s website can and should contain a backroom. One of the ways our website offers the equivalent of a backroom is to show recently acquired inventory for a month before it appears on third party websites. That is, customers can see more of our inventory on our site. I do want to note, by the way, that we extend the first month stock exclusivity to ILAB and ABAA as well so that we purposely contribute to the unique value of visiting and Returning to our website, we have an even more exclusive backroom, if you will, in what we call private pages. These are web pages featuring inventory quoted to particular individuals. They are password protected, they are not linked to the rest of our website, and they are not seen by Google or the rest of the Internet. This can be very effective. Last year, for example, we sold a $30,000 archive using this method.

If you are familiar with Between the Covers catalogs you know that we try to illustrate every book in color. If you are familiar with commercial printing then you know that fullcolor printed catalogs are very expensive to produce. On the other hand, it costs virtually nothing to put color pictures of books on the Internet. And it is very easy to do. I teach the basics of rare book photography in about an hour at the annual Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminars. Photographs of books bridge the physical distance between sellers and customers. Not only do they help convey the condition of the book, but I believe photographs of books reinforce the fundamental reason collectors buy antiquarian books. This reason, as I stated before, is that collectors value books as physical objects. A photograph of a book works subliminally as visual proof to the customer that the physical object exists, and that they can own the physical object. Photographs or scans of books contribute very immediately to sales of books online. On a dealer’s own website, in particular, there is no limit to what the dealer can accomplish if he wishes. That is why, on the Between the Covers website, we show a photo for every book in our inventory. That is approximately 70,000 books with photos. Furthermore, we have extended my enthusiasm for book photography and created live, three dimensional models of over a thousand books in our inventory. On the screen the visitor to our website can view those books from any angle. Although the rotating book feature is proprietary to Between the Covers, all booksellers should remember that on their own websites they need only be bound by their budget and their creativity. They do not need to confine themselves to constraints found on other book websites. And in terms of budget, we spent less money on our website than we spend on 9 months of printing catalogs. But before we spent a penny on the website, we had planned it all out and this, I believe, saved us quite a bit.

Bookseller websites should be both searchable and browseable. They should serve the needs of both customers and booksellers. I say needs of the customer because most customers come to a website looking for something specific, and a bookseller should meet this need by having a comprehensive and easy to use search option. I say needs of the bookseller because we have inventory that may or may not be what the customer is looking for. The challenge to the bookseller is in selling books that the customer did not previously know he even wanted. This can be difficult, and we find printed catalogs are very good at this. But we try to accomplish this on our website by recommending books at every turn, particularly as part of our search results and when a customer is looking at a specific item. If a visitor is viewing the details about a particular title, on the edge of the screen we’ll show them other books by the same author, or other books on the same subject. We don’t want to distract them from buying the book they were searching for, but we also hope that on our site, as in a real bookstore, one book will lead to another and then another.

Finally, it is vital to offer more than simply a search of one’s inventory. Particularly if the same books can be found just as easily at some third party website, where the customer will have even more options. You must give Internet buyers a reason to visit your site. At Between the Covers we offer illustrated bibliographic reference information. We offer articles on rare books. We even offer literary video games. Even if they do not make a purchase during their visit, we want people to have a positive experience at our site. We want them to remember us and return. And we want them to tell others about our site.

Also, we are very careful and deliberate about the information we give out on the Internet, and consciously choose how it differs from the information we give out on our website. I believe far too many experienced dealers are careless in the manner in which they share their expertise. You are both ethically bound and professionally committed to accurately identifying and describing the books you offer for sale. But there is a big difference between saying a book is a first issue, and saying a book is a first issue with “Wolf ” for “Sheep” on the first line of page 53. The first is how we would describe the book on ABE or Amazon, and the second is how we would describe the book on our own website and in our catalogs. There is a difference between identifying an issue in a book description, and explaining or interpreting the issue point in that same book description. Why do we make this distinction?

You are the world’s experts on antiquarian books. You all worked very hard for many years to gain your expertise. Why are you giving it away for free every day on the Internet? I encourage you to strike a balance of information. You should be dispensing just enough information online to convince potential customers that you are an expert and a professional. You should not be educating your competition. By competition I don’t mean your colleagues in this room. By competition I mean the owners of books who are not professional booksellers but think, because of the information they found online, that they can identify, catalog, and sell the book themselves and eliminate our trade. ABE empowers them. eBay empowers them. Amazon empowers them. Please do not empower them yourselves by giving out valuable bibliographic information unnecessarily.

Online book descriptions do not need to be as bibliographically detailed as printed catalog descriptions. They only need to convey enough information to convince a legitimate customer to either make a purchase or to contact you for more information. Remember, when you explain the details of an obscure issue point in a printed catalog, as most of you have done for decades, that information may be seen by a few hundred people, and perhaps only a dozen or two will actually file the information away for future use. But if you explain the details of an obscure bibliographic issue point in your online description, that information is then available at any time, forever more, to anyone in the world who is interested. On the Internet, as the saying goes, “you can’t unring a bell.” I implore you to be judicious in the content you provide. More information to interest potential customers, less information to educate competitors. You might, for example, describe a book as being in the first state, per a certain bibliographic reference work, without explicitely explaining what consitutes that state. That subtle difference, if carried out by a large portion of ILAB members, would I believe go a long way toward ensuring the strength and necessity of our profession in the future.

Earlier I mentioned that about two thirds of our website traffic comes from Google. And I have also belabored the dangers of having other companies controlling your profitability. So I am not entirely happy that we are dependent on Google for our traffic. But I am happy that 100% of that traffic is organic. By this I mean we pay Google nothing. Currently we do not invest in Google Adwords. And although Google is a private company than can change whatever they want about their search engine whenever they want to, they will probably always strive to help web users find relevant information. So rather than trying to “buy” our way to the top of search engines by either paying for placement or trying to “trick” Google into ranking us highly, we built a deep website with a tremendous amount of content. Google, and web users, value this content, and so the more unique information we put on our website the higher we rank. In this way I hope we have to some extent immunized our site from the vagaries of search engine optimization.

Many booksellers treat their website as though it is a byappointment office, with a bland exterior and a locked door. Many booksellers expect their visitors to convince themselves to collect and buy books. I encourage you to treat your website as an exciting open shop. Then you can direct your new customers to your website after they have purchased your book from a third party vendor. If you do these two things you will gain more customers who will make subsequent purchases directly from you, so you will not pay listing fees or commissions, and more of your sales will be directly under your control. There are a number of companies that specialize in making interesting websites for booksellers, among them Rockingstone, Bibliopolis, and Foreseeing Solutions.

Earlier I spoke of my enthusiasm about digital text and my belief that one day electronic books will become a conventional part of literate society. But that day is not here. Similarly, antiquarian bookselling on the Internet, despite being a dozen years old, is still very immature. In my own experience, books above $5000 or $10,000 do sell on the Internet. But they sell on the Internet with much less frequency than those same books sell through print catalogs. Books sold on our website average four times the price of books we sell elsewhere on the Internet, but books sold on our website still average only a third of the price of books we sell through our catalogs. So while our Internet sales grow every year, we still derive more of our income from print catalogs and private quotes. Ultimately the progression we strive for is from a random on-line purchase, to more expensive and repeat purchases through our website, further on to even more expensive repeat purchases through our catalogs. Each element is a key component in a larger chain that we have deliberately constructed so that we take control of our profitability and minimize the role that other outside companies have in our revenue.

In conclusion, the future of Internet antiquarian bookselling is certainly not with companies like ABE or Amazon. They don’t know anything about antiquarian books themselves, and they don’t own antiquarian books. We have the knowledge, and we have the books. So the future of Internet antiquarian bookselling lies in our hands, because the future of all antiquarian bookselling lies in our hands. Large Internet companies reach many millions of people, but they are less valuable as ways to sell individual books, and more valuable as tools to meet collectors. The Internet is a good place to sell some books, but it is a better place to meet customers. The important customers are not one-time buyers, but collectors and institutions, a much smaller group representing bigger and better sales. The web is a tool to reach them and to sell to them, but it is up to the bookseller to make those sales, not to wait for them. eBay and other sites popularize collecting, so the challenge for ILAB and its national organizations is to educate consumers. We must educate them that the most knowledgeable dealers and the best books are ILAB dealers and their books. And we must educate them, individually or collectively, that the best books are bought and sold off the Internet. And I am confident in predicting that the best books will always will be bought and sold not online, but offline.



The ILAB Insurance Scheme is an Insurance Policy provided through Richard Thompson Insurance Brokers, which has been created specifically for members of ILAB to protect your requirements and particular needs.

The benefit of such a scheme is to generate gross insurance premium by the collective - so that as long as the scheme as a whole generates profit, your individual insurance rates will remain constant.

Why should you join the ILAB Insurance Scheme? With the ILAB Insurance Scheme you can be sure that you have the very best insurance in place.

Lower Premiums - Insurance premiums offered to members of the Scheme are cheaper

Regulation of Premiums - as a individual you will not be penalised for making one off claims

Quality of cover - the covers written by Richard Thompson Insurance Brokers are based on 30 years experience in insuring fine art

Covers include:

1. Theft cover and cover for shoplifting
2. Full retail/sales price settlement
3. Broad wordings for the definition of stock
4. World wide book fair attendance insured
5. Insurance for sending stock anywhere in the world
6. Cover for stock damaged whilst being restored, rebound or worked upon
7. Deletion of the average condition
8. Depreciation included for loss in value to items following damage
9. Pairs and sets insured at the full value of the set
10. Cover for the purchase of stolen and fraudulent books where the title is defective
11. Cover for losses from unattended vehicles
12. Stock insured whilst at auction houses
13. Books held on consignment, in trust or on commission automatically insured
14. Buildings Insurance
15. Business Interruption Insurance
16. Money cover
17. Shopfront and Glass cover

With ILAB Insurance Scheme cover you can go about all your business safe in the knowledge that insurance is in place.
For more information, please contact : Richard Thompson Insurance Brokers, Telephone + 44 (0)1483 890 930, or check the website:



N. Marsh

30 January 2009

This study was undertaken between November 2008 and January 2009.

The ILAB Directory printed in September 2008 was used as a reference. It lists 1,819 affiliates.

Any changes within ILAB that have taken place since compiling this directory in July 2008 have not been taken into account.

The purpose of this study is to determine ILAB dealers’ behaviour towards the Internet and to help the ILAB Committee determine how best to serve the affiliates and the national associations.

I have tried to determine which dealers have:

- their personal website
- their personal website with a search capacity. However, it was impossible to determine whether the search engine used was their own or an external one. We know, however, that 96 dealers use Rockingstone’s.

I have also looked into which dealers subscribe to commercial databases, and if so, which ones. The following databases were looked into:

a) the national associations websites for the USA
Votre for France for the Netherlands for the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden)

b) the commercial websites
Abebooks (worldwide)
Books & Collectibles (Australia mainly)
Antiquariat (worldwide)
MareMagnum (Italy mainly)
Prolibri (German speaking countries mainly)
Zvab/Choosebooks (worldwide, but mostly German speaking countries)
Biblio (mostly in the US)
Bibliophile (mostly in the US)
Biblion (mostly in the US)
Bibliopoly (worldwide, high end dealers)
Galaxidion (French speaking countries, but mostly France)
Livre-Rare-Book (French speaking countries, but mostly France)
France Antiques and Maxibooks (France and Belgium) PBFA (mainly in the UK)
Uniliber (Spain)
IOBA (one dealer only in the US)

It should be remembered that in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland as well as in other countries, some of the dealers only sell books through auctions and have no need of search facilities or databases. Some dealers, also in those countries deal mostly in prints and have no need of databases either.

1,661 affiliates (91%) out of 1,819 have an email address. We might be able to assume that 9% of the affiliates are not interested in the internet.

The following figures show that a majority of ILAB affiliates (64%) participate in at least one book database. If this figure is compared to the number of affiliates who have an email address, the ratio climbs to 70%.


The following tables (in the printed version) show a breakdown of the participation in the various commercial databases and the number of dealers subscribing to one, two, three or more databases.

To summarise:

- 380 dealers list in one database
- 317 dealers list in two databases
- 200 dealers list in three databases
- 250 dealers list in four or more databases

953 dealers (52.4% of total, 57.4% of those with an email) have their own URL address with a personal website. Very often, the website is quite elaborate. Of this number, 501 dealers have a proper search engine available on their website. As I said, I have no means of finding out whether the search engine is one of the commercial databases that they use. The 452 affiliates who don’t have a search engine on their website often link to a search on one of the commercial databases they subscribe to. Some of them also have catalogues with a text search available. Such a search was not counted under “web sites with search engine.” Compared to the study undertaken two and four years ago, this one shows an obvious trend: dealers realise that having their own website with a search possibility allows them more freedom to show their personality and their specificity.

More interesting still is the fact that 64 dealers - 12.7% - of those with a search engine on their personal website have not subscribed to any commercial database. This means that over 1,200 (73%) of our affiliates have books listed somewhere on the internet.

To finish, 157 dealers among those who have a personal website without a search engine (but possibly with text search in their catalogues) have also chosen not to subscribe to any database. This means that 221 of our dealers (13%) having access to the internet choose deliberately not to subscribe to any existing database.


© 2009 International League of Antiquarian Booksellers

The ILAB Newsletter is published under the auspices of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. Send your letters and submissions to:

ILAB Newsletter
c/o Tom Congalton
112 Nicholson Rd
Gloucester City NJ 08030
United States of America

Editors Tom Congalton & N. Marsh
Design Dan Gregory

ILAB Committee 2008-2010

President Adrian Harrington Great Britain
Vice-President Arnoud Gerits Netherlands
Treasurer Poul Jan Poulsen Denmark
General Secretary Paul Feain Australia
Committee Members
Tom Congalton United States of America
Norbert Donhofer Austria
Ulrich Hobbeling Germany
Tsukasa Maeda Japan


The Newsletter is published in English and French, the official languages of the League. However, national associations that would like to translate and distribute the Newsletters in other languages may upon request receive a computer file with the text of the Newsletter by contacting the editor at the following email address:

ILAB members are reminded that their ILAB membership card will gain you free entrance at all ILAB sanctioned book fairs. In some cases, such as at the New York Book Fair, because of the charitable preview to Benefit the Special Collections of the New York Public Library, members may not gain entrance with their card until the fair is open to the public.

  • share