Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stubborn No More

Years ago, when I had an open used bookshop, I advertised it as a speed-bump on the information superhighway. In my short-sightedness I could not envision this future, where I would be - and am - sitting in front of a machine typing words onto a screen and sending them off into the virtual ether. I could not envision the wonderful facility for the book trade the internet would provide. I was stubborn.


I was uncomfortable around computers, and I could not find any interest in the old doss-filled screens. I smugly quipped that I was a Neo-Luddite.

No more. A basic, and felicitous sea-change occurred. Happy day!

Recently I ran into an acquaintance I had not seen for some years.

"Oh what are you doing?" he queried.

"I'm selling books on line", I replied.

"You?!" he leaned back in not-so-feigned amazement.

"Aren't you the guy who used to advertise your store as being a speed bump on the information super highway! Slow down, pick up a book and relax, you always used to say".

I had forgotten about my old ad. Well, not really - I just didn't want to admit I had been so short-sighted.
..... Speed bump ..... I remembered fondly the picture accompanying my old ad, of a young woman slumped in a garden chair reading a book ... a tall glass of ice tea and a stack of books sitting handily on the table next to her. Leisure, blessed bookish leisure.

"Say, you know, I still feel that way about reading. Who wants to read a book on the run? But now I'm no longer wearing blinders, and even though I no longer have an open shop, thanks to the internet and the creative genius of thousands of people, I am still able to sell books. Only now I'm selling to the entire world. Being on the computer does not mean one has to relinquish leisure".

Selling via the internet is considerably different than selling from a walk-in store, but some of the fundamental things remain the same: customer service, inventory, booking for new stock, the satisfaction of being surrounded by the things one loves. What is new is the awareness that our virtual store fronts on a global Main Street, rather than Main Street, in The Obscure Tiny Village, Tucked Away in Some Distant Corner.

In the old shop I would buy a book, clean it up, assess it, price it and shelve it .... then await a customer, hoping all the while that, 1) Someone would spot the store, 2) decide to enter the premises, 3) actually find the book amidst the many shelves, and, 4) pick up the book , peruse it and decide to buy it.
All of this is essentially the same, with of course the likelihood of much greater virtual walk-in traffic.

The biggest difference, as far as the daily routine for selling is that now we must take great care in describing the book. This is the foremost task: Since customers cannot handle the merchandise and physically examine the item, we must ensure that our customers can determine exactly what we are offering. Thus nice, clearly written descriptions, and sharp, clear pictures. This is time consuming, but one side benefit from such intensive descriptive activities is that we have become much more aware of the actual contents of the books we sell ... as well as their history, facts about the authors, connections with other books and the greater world. What was always a daily learning process has evolved into our own mini-biblio-university. I used to think I was pretty well-versed in book lore. Now I know those forty years selling books were just an apprenticeship ... a prelude to the present.

Now, in partnership with Missus B, I continue my eduction, knowing that each new day will bring new information, new knowledge ... new adventures of the mind ... and , hopefully - new customers and friends!

Signing off for now, Cheers! - Josiah Booknoodle

Brothertown Books at ebay