EUREKA BOOKS (est. 1987)

426 2nd St. Eureka, CA 95501. Map It
(707) 444-9593
      

Bookselling

Legislators Run from Their Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Law

January 7th, 2017  |  by  |  published in AB1570, Blogs, Bookselling

You know a law is bad when the legislators who sponsored it pretend it never happened.

That’s what has happened with California’s new autograph law. (AB1570) The bill’s author, Ling Ling Chang, lost her bid for the state Senate and is no longer in office. But a number of her co-sponsors are still in the legislature.

Here’s what they publicly say about AB1570.

Cristina Garcia (D). State Assembly 58th District and the Democrat that got the law passed (nothing gets passed in the California legislature without a powerful Democrat behind it). Nothing about AB1570 on her website. Her staff told me Ms. Garcia was “too busy” to work on fixing this law.

If you oppose this law, let Member Garcia know about it on Facebook (@cristinagarciaad58) or Twitter (@AsmGarcia)

Joel Anderson (R), State Senate 38th District. On his list of legislative “achievements” as Senate co-author.

If you oppose this law, let Mr. Anderson know you don’t think it’s much of an achievement on Facebook (@senatorjoelanderson) or Twitter (@JoelAndersonCA)

Catharine Baker (R). State Assembly 16th District. No mention of the law on her website.
William C. Brough (R). State Assembly 73rd District. No mention.
James Gallagher (R). State Assembly 3rd District. Nada.
Tom Lackey (R). State Assembly 36th District. Zilch.
Benjamin Allen (D), State Senate 26th District. Zippo.
Tom Berryhill (R), State Senate 8th District. Not a peep.
Janet Nguyen (R), State Senate 34th District. Silence.

 


Not a Coincidence: The Easton Press Has Stopped Shipping to California

January 4th, 2017  |  by  |  published in AB1570, Blogs, Bookselling

neil-gaiman-easton

Sign our Change.org petition to repeal this law.

The first consequence of California’s terrible autograph law: the Easton Press has stopped shipping signed books to California. On January 6, we obtained the following statement from the Easton Press, sent to a California collector:

Unfortunately, a law recently passed by the California legislature has made it prohibitively expensive to sell autographed collectibles to customers in your state. The law apparently was written with good intentions to deter sellers of counterfeit celebrity signatures.  However, it was written so broadly that it has added many layers of bureaucracy for legitimate sellers of signed merchandise, like Easton Press.

We are not the only booksellers who are outraged by this law and we are hopeful that the California assembly will hear these complaints and amend the law to provide an exception for the sale of signed books.  If this occurs, we will reach out to you immediately to offer you our signed editions.

California’s new law governing the sale of autographed items requires, among other things, keeping copies of Certificates of Authenticity (COAs) for seven years and printing the address of the signing author on the COA.

A few of the authors affected: Neil Gaiman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carol Burnett, and many others.

Please sign our Change.org petition. We need your support to convince the legislature to change the law.

More on AB1570.

This post has been updated several times to add additional information.


AB1570 in Plain English

January 3rd, 2017  |  by  |  published in AB1570, Blogs, Bookselling

AB 1570 is a law regulating the sale of signed items in California.

This is a lay persons interpretation and should not be considered legal advice (Life tip: don’t take legal advice from a blog). Read it for yourself.

Who Has to Comply with the Law?

  1. Autograph dealers
  2. Art galleries
  3. Auction houses
  4. Anyone who consigns signed items to auction
  5. Anyone with “knowledge” of signed items, such as professional booksellers and antiques dealers
  6. Anyone offering signed items for sale online (this part is debatable as the law is badly written).

What Kind of Autographs Are Covered?

Anything signed by a “personality” and sold by anyone listed above for more than $5.

What is a personality? The standard dictionary definition is “a person of importance, prominence, renown, or notoriety” or “a famous person, especially in entertainment or sports.” At Eureka Books, we’re defining it as anyone with a Wikipedia entry.

However, the standard legal definition of personality is basically a person: “the quality, state, or fact of being a person.” The Legislative Counsel’s summary of the bill seems to imply this definition, explaining that the law applies to “all autographed items.” (Legislative Counsel’s Digest, paragraph 4). So if you are cautious, everything described as signed should be accompanied by a COA.

What Do You Have to Do?

  1. Issue Certificates of Authenticity, meeting specific requirements, with each signed item you sell for more than $5. The most problematic requirement is the listing of the name and address of your source for the autographed item

COAs must include:
a.    The dealer’s true legal name and street address
b.    A description of the item and the name of the person who signed it
c.    Purchase price and date of sale (an invoice can be substituted for this)
d.    An express warantee of the authenticity of the item
e.    The specifications of the edition size, if part of a limited edition
f.    The item number, if any, from the edition (this must also be included on the invoice)
g.    A notice of whether the dealer is bonded
h.    Last four digits of the dealer’s resale certificate number
i.    An indication of whether the item was signed in the dealer’s presence, and if so, the date, location, and the name of a witness to the signing.
j.    If the item was not signed in the dealer’s presence, the name and address of the person from whom the item was acquired.

Copies of COAs must be kept for seven years. For a bill written by Republicans, this is a particularly ridiculous paperwork requirement for items worth $5.

2. Post the following sign at your place of business (if bricks and mortar):
“SALE OF AUTOGRAPHED MEMORABILIA: AS REQUIRED BY LAW, A DEALER WHO SELLS TO A CONSUMER ANY MEMORABILIA DESCRIBED AS BEING AUTOGRAPHED MUST PROVIDE A WRITTEN CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY AT THE TIME OF SALE. THIS DEALER MAY BE SURETY BONDED OR OTHERWISE INSURED TO ENSURE THE AUTHENTICITY OF ANY COLLECTIBLE SOLD BY THIS DEALER.”

3. If you exhibit at a show principally devoted to signed items, such as art shows, you must make sure sample COAs are on display at the entrances or you are legally prohibited from exhibiting (see section F of the law).

How Can You Avoid This Law

  1. Don’t sell too many signed items
  2. Don’t represent yourself as an expert. Preface comments about signatures with “I’m no expert, but…”
  3. Avoid statements of facts about signatures, like “Signed by the artist on the lower right corner.” Statements of fact suggest knowledge and if you have knowledge, you’re covered by the law. State, instead, “Appears to be signed by the artist…” or “Signed ‘Jane Doe’ in bottom corner.” Note the difference between “Signed ‘Jane Doe'” and “Signed by Jane Doe.” The first is a statement of fact; the second is a conclusion.
  4. Don’t consign signed items to California auctioneers.

What Do Fair Promoters Have to Do

If you organize a book fair, comic book convention, or art fair where signed items are sold or where autographing sessions will be held, you must:

  1. Issue the following notice to exhibitors when they sign up:
    “As a vendor at this collectibles trade show, you are a professional representative of this hobby. As a result, you will be required to follow the laws of this state, including laws regarding the sale and display of collectibles, as defined in Section 1739.7 of the Civil Code, forged and counterfeit collectibles and autographs, and mint and limited edition collectibles. If you do not obey the laws, you may be evicted from this trade show, be reported to law enforcement, and be held liable for a civil penalty of 10 times the amount of damages.”
  2. Display sample COAs at the entrances.
  3. Post in every booth a sign reading:
    “SALE OF AUTOGRAPHED MEMORABILIA: AS REQUIRED BY LAW, A DEALER WHO SELLS TO A CONSUMER ANY MEMORABILIA DESCRIBED AS BEING AUTOGRAPHED MUST PROVIDE A WRITTEN CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY AT THE TIME OF SALE. THIS DEALER MAY BE SURETY BONDED OR OTHERWISE INSURED TO ENSURE THE AUTHENTICITY OF ANY COLLECTIBLE SOLD BY THIS DEALER.”

Repeal California’s Terrible Autograph Law

January 3rd, 2017  |  by  |  published in AB1570, Book Collecting, Bookselling, Feature

gaiman-easton-small

Here’s my New Year’s resolution: Repeal California’s terrible new autograph law.

Sign our Change.org petition to repeal the law.

The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board called it the worst of the 1000 bills passed in 2016, referring to it as “one truly horrible law” and writing, “This bill never should have passed. The Legislature must fix or repeal it immediately when it resumes business.” So let’s get to it!

As a fitting cumeuppance, the author of the law, Ling Ling Chang, was defeated in her quest for re-election. Here are the bill’s sitting co-sponsors:

Cristina Garcia. State Assembly 58th District. Downey area, Los Angeles

Catharine Baker. State Assembly 16th District. Walnut Creek / Pleasanton, East Bay
William C. Brough. State Assembly 73rd District. San Clemente area, Southern California
James Gallagher. State Assembly 3rd District. Chico, Northern California
Tom Lackey. State Assembly 36th District. Lancaster / Palmdale, Southern California

Benjamin Allen, State Senate 26th District. Santa Monica / Beverly Hills, Los Angeles area
Joel Anderson, State Senate 38th District. Escondido / El Cajon, San Diego area
Tom Berryhill, State Senate 8th District. Fresno area
Janet Nguyen, State Senate 34th District. Santa Ana area, Southern California

[More blog posts on AB1570]

Top 7 Reasons to Repeal AB1570

1. Most Californians Are Harmed
Nearly everyone in California has a signed item in their possession: a signed book, a piece of art, or perhaps a signed baseball from their childhood.

Under AB1570, when a California consumer sells a signed item worth $5 or more to a reputable dealer, to an art gallery, or via auction, the consumer’s name and address must be included on a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) accompanying it.

This requirement is both an invasion of privacy and represents a danger to the seller, as the COA provides a literal road map for potential thieves.

The law offers not accommodation for items sold to dealers before the law went into effect, thereby retroactively changing the expected privacy of previous transactions.

2. It Partially Repeals the Landmark Reader Privacy Act
The Reader Privacy statute prohibits booksellers from revealing the reading habits of their customers unless compelled by a court order.

AB1570 now requires some booksellers to disclose the reading habits of customers who sell, donate, or otherwise dispose of signed books. The autograph law unintentionally weakens the Reader Privacy Act.

Michael Risher, a lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, told the New York Times, “The law is an invasion into privacy and should be amended.”

3. The Law Exposes the Very Consumers It Intended to Protect to Lawsuits
For purposes of this law, a “dealer” is defined to include California consumers who sell signed items at auction (Dealer includes … “persons who are consignors … of auctioneers.”)

Any consumer who sells a signed item through an auction house is a consignor and therefore by definition a dealer. When a dealer fails to supply a COA, they are subject to civil action under AB1570.

4. It Compels Auction Houses to Reveal Their Consignors
All auction houses are covered by AB1570, whenever they sell a signed item. In addition to requiring a COA from each consignor, AB1570 requires a second COA from the auction house itself. This COA must include the name and address of the source of the item (the consignor). This provision would cover estate auctions, auction sales of signed artwork, signed books, or signed entertainment memorabilia.

Confidentiality of consignors is a tenet of auction houses. The New York Times recently quoted a representative of Bloomsbury Auctions as saying, “one of the fundamental cornerstones of the auction world is our client’s privacy.” Not anymore; not in California. This puts California auctioneers at a distinct disadvantage.

 5. New Bookstores Seem to Be Covered By the Law If They Sell Online (and they all do)
Many aspects of AB1570 are maddeningly vague, but this is the single worst sentence in the single worst law of the year:

Dealers, to whom the law applies, “includes a person engaged in a mail order, telephone order, online, or cable television business for the sale of collectibles [signed items].” (1739.7(a)(4)(a)).

Rewording it: This law applies to anyone engaged in the online sale of signed items. So, if a new bookstore holds an author signing and then offers the signed books on its website, it is engaged in the online business of selling signed items.

There is a temptation to read “engaged in business” as primarily in the business, but engaged is, in fact, a much lower threshold, that is met with even a small volume of business. Businesses primarily engaged in the selling signed items are covered by other sections of the law, so presumably the legislature meant to extend the law to a much broader group of online sellers.

It should be noted that once someone meets the definition of dealer that all signed items sold by that business must have COAs.

6. Seven Years of Recordkeeping Is Ridiculous for a $5 Item
Dealers are required to keep copies of the COAs they issue for seven years and they are required to issue COAs for items priced at as little as $5.

7. AB1570 Hurts Book Fairs and Art Shows
Out-of-state dealers are required to comply with the autograph law when exhibiting at shows in California. Show promoters are required to notify dealers that they are subject to legal action for failing to comply. Already, this law has caused two dealers to cancel participation in the 50th Annual California Antiquarian Book Fair. The law will also deter out-of-state art dealers from exhibiting in California. This will ultimately hurt collectors.

 


Local Books Sale Saturday

November 22nd, 2016  |  by  |  published in Bookselling, Eureka Books, Feature, Local Authors

Indies_First_250x150

This Saturday, November 26, join us for the nationwide IndiesFirst celebration. We’re having a sale with 20% off all local books and books by local authors. Plus, we’re having a free drawing to win signed books, like Writings on the Wall, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Hochschild, and many more.


A Reply to The Scrivener and the Seattle Review of Books

October 5th, 2016  |  by  |  published in AB1570, Blogs, Bookselling

bookselling-still-legal

Phew! That’s a relief.

That is the headline from earlier today in the Seattle Review of Books, which published a critique of the hue and cry raised over the new California law governing signed items, including books.

The post claims that “the law blog Scrivener’s Error sets that bookstore straight,” asserting that AB 1570 does not apply to bookstores.

As the owner of “that” bookstore, I feel the need to respond.

In the first place, my post was headlined, “Your Signed Books and Artwork Just Got Harder to Sell in California [emphasis added].” My main point is that the law requires me to give your name and address to the buyer of any book you sell me that happens to be signed. The law applies to everything over $4.99. If you sell anything signed at auctionyou have to provide a certificate of authenticity to the buyer. If the item turns out to be a fake or you fail to provide at COA, the buyer can sue you for ten times damages, plus court costs. Before this law, the auction house provided authentication services and stood between you and the ultimate buyer. Not any more.

This law covers anything signed that sells for more than $4.99: used paperback books, signed first editions, greeting cards, paintings, signed prints and photographs, signed glassware, etc. Virtually everyone in California has items that meet that definition, and everyone’s stuff eventually gets sold, either voluntarily or by their heirs.

The Seattle Review of Books and Scrivener’s Error are correct that the new law probably doesn’t apply to general bookstores. I never claimed it did.

What I said and still maintain is that for some of the largest and most important independent bookstores, the law could hamper their ability to host author events. That opinion comes from Bill Petrocelli, an attorney whose wife runs Book Passage, one of the most important bookstores in California. They depend heavily on book signings and could qualify as dealers under the law. Unlike the previous law governing sports collectibles and art multiples, which had no enforcement provisions, this law calls for ten times civil damages, a number that can quickly attract frivolous lawsuits.

As for the law applying to Eureka Books, we are subject to its provisions because we are “experts”, or so we are informed by two different legal counsels. The law therefore applies to everything we sell that is signed.

The issues are complex, but if you want to take a deep dive, complete with sources, please read on.


Your Signed Books and Artwork Just Got Harder to Sell in California

September 26th, 2016  |  by  |  published in AB1570, Blogs, Bookselling, Feature 2

John_Hancock_Envelope_Signature

Background on AB1570, a new law covering autographed items in California

More on AB1570 here.

On September 9, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB1570 Collectibles: Sale of Autographed Memorabilia into law.

The law requires dealers in any autographed material to provide certificates of authenticity (COA) for signed item sold for $5 or more.

The idea is to crack down on fraudulent autograph sales. “That sounds pretty reasonable,” you are probably thinking. I, too, can get behind the motive.

Unfortunately for you, the consumer, the legislators never seem to have considered that buyers of autograph material eventually become sellers of autograph material.

Let’s say you like to go to author events and get books signed. Eventually, your shelves fill up, and you want to trade books in at a shop like Eureka Books.

Guess what? Remember that Certificate of Authenticity that sounded so reasonable? Well your name and address has to go on the certificate of authenticity because I (as the person issuing the COA) have to say where I got the book. This applies to signed books, artwork, and any other autographed items you own.

[If you are concerned about this legislation, which goes into effect on January 1, 2017, please contact your state legislators]

Maybe you’d like to sell that Morris Graves painting you inherited. You send it to an auction house, where it sells for $40,000. Good for you. But did you supply a Certificate of Authenticity? What? Why do I have to issue a COA? What do I know about authenticating Morris Graves paintings?

Guess what? AB1570 requires YOU, as the owner of the painting, to guarantee its authenticity. And you don’t issue the COA? You can be liable for TEN TIMES damages, plus attorneys fees. Call it a cool half mill, because you didn’t know you were supposed to issue a COA.

Maybe you decide to sell it at an auction house outside of California. Good luck, because if the person who buys your painting lives in the Golden State, the law still applies.

Consumers aren’t the only ones significantly affected by this law.

Consider bookstores that do a lot of author events. Let’s imagine that Neil Gaiman does one of his typical massive book signings in February for his forthcoming book, Norse Mythology. Say 1000 people show up and buy books at $25.95. The bookstore either has to issue 1000 COA, or risk being sued for $25.95 x 1000 x 10, plus attorney’s fees. Call it $300,000.

Is it any wonder that many of California’s best bookstores are very worried that this law will make it much harder to hold book signings and other author events. The legislature and the governor apparently had a similar response, because the law was passed with almost no discussion.

Please contact your state legislator.

Sources
“Your name and address has to go on the certificate”: Section 1739.7b(8) says the COA must “Indicate whether the item was obtained or purchased from a third party. If so, indicate the name and address of this third party.”

“Why do I have to issue a COA?”: Section 1739.7a(4)a:  “Dealer includes an auctioneer who sells collectibles at a public auction, and also includes persons who are consignors or representatives or agents of auctioneers.”


Girl Waits With Gun, Now In Paperback

July 4th, 2016  |  by  |  published in Bookselling, Feature 3, Local Authors

girl waits with gun facebook graphic for ad

It’s no surprise that Eureka Books’ bestselling book this year is local author Amy Stewart’s first novel, a book based on the true stories of three sisters beset by criminals who fight back in a surprising way. The events in the acclaimed Girl Waits With Gun take place in 1914-1915 in and around Hackensack, New Jersey. GWWW (as we’ve taken to referring to it) is now out in paperback and it makes a perfect addition to your summer reading list. And if you read it now, you won’t have long to wait for the sequel, due out on September 6.


Why We Don’t Celebrate Banned Books Week

June 23rd, 2015  |  by  |  published in Books, Bookselling

 

[Used without permission. Get your Banned Books Week Swag here.]

[Used without permission. Get your
Banned Books Week Swag here.]

Why We Don’t Celebrate Banned Books Week.

Every September, the American Library Association (A.L.A.) celebrates Banned Books Week. Thousands of libraries and bookstores put up displays of banned books like Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, and Ulysses. Eureka Books never does.

This year’s list (permalink here) of the most frequently challenged books, compiled by the Office of Intellectual Freedom (the A.L.A. unit with the most Orwellian-sounding name), include Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, Persepolis, and A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard. The reason these books have been challenged are drugs, sex, and language. Homosexuality, racial slurs, and political viewpoint are other common reasons books are challenged. Challenges are mostly made by parents and community members concerned about books available in libraries and taught in schools.

Did you catch what I did?

I started out talking about “banned” books and then I switched to “challenged” books. Book banning is easy to oppose; challenges, a murky concept as described on the A.L.A. website, are less black and white.

It’s a common ploy, using banned and challenged interchangeably. Pay attention next time you read an article about Banned Books Week. Look at the A.L.A.’s website for the same bait-and-switch maneuver.

Even David Goldenberg, of the myth-busting FiveThirtyEight blog, did it with his recent post, We Tried—And Failed—to Find the Most Banned Book in America. [I attempt answer Goldenberg’s question about the most banned books in America here.]

The reason Goldenberg failed was that the A.L.A. won’t show anyone the data used to compile the list. He finally settles on And Tango Makes Three as probably the most challenged book in America (note the switch, from banned to challenged!). Tango is a picture book about a true story of two male penguins who adopt a baby chick at a zoo. It’s challenged as a gay-lifestyle parable. Really, I’m not making that up.

But here’s the thing, despite being the “most challenged” book in America, Tango has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and has been translated into many languages. This year, look for a 10th anniversary deluxe edition.

Wait a minute. A bestselling banned book? Isn’t that an oxymoron? How can a banned book sell so well?

Here’s how, and it’s the reason we don’t celebrate Banned Books Week at Eureka Books: The books are promoted and sold as “banned” books, and readers are encouraged to “celebrate the freedom to read” by buying and reading them. The clear subtext is to encourage a feeling of superiority (“I read banned books”) among those of us (me included) with liberal, left-leaning sensibilities.

But superior to whom? To conservative parents who don’t want their children exposed to four-letter words or to the real-life horrors  Jaycee Dugard suffered during her 18 years of captivity.

You or I might disagree with those opinions, but I suspect few parents would object to a high school library turning down a donation of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Explicit S/M sex scenes probably aren’t appropriate for 14-year-olds.

So if we aren’t going to expose our children at publicly funded institutions to every kind of printed matter, then there have to be standards (spoken or unspoken) about what is and is not appropriate. Discussions and even disagreements about those standards are appropriate topics for parents, schools and libraries to engage in. [Amy Stewart, a co-owner of Eureka Books, weighs in with her perspective as a writer.]

While certain books do get challenged regularly, very few of them are actually banned at the local level. Even if a book is removed from one library or school, it’s not as if the book cannot be found nearby. After all, there are millions of copies of the 2014 top-challenged books in circulation.

I support freedom of expression, but I won’t use Banned Books Week to belittle the heart-felt concerns of people whose political and social values I don’t share. I don’t think they are right to try to remove most books from schools, and I am glad they almost always lose their battles (and they almost always lose).

Ironically, the people who challenge books may have the strongest belief in the printed word—books are so powerful to them that they have to fight against them. That sentiment, even if applied in a questionable way, always gives me encouragement in the day-to-day slog of keeping a bookstore alive and thriving.

**

NOTE: In all fairness, it’s entirely possible that a headline writer came up with the title of Mr. Goldenberg’s 538.com blog post, but it’s a perfect example of how “challenged” books get confused with “banned” books.

 


The Economics of Used Books, part 1

December 17th, 2013  |  by  |  published in Blogs, Bookselling, Serendipity

bookstore-pic

The first of an infrequent series of bookstore economics

Due to the number of spam comments we receive, we’ve had to turn off comments, but feel free to visit our home page and send an email.

A couple of years before he died, Peter Howard of Serendipity Books, in Berkeley, was hired to appraise a small, general used bookstore in the greater Bay Area. Peter had appraised other bookstores and liked to use that platform to express his views of bookselling. The result is a rare look inside bookstore economics, with the conclusions and observations of one of the most knowledgeable, respected (yet simultaneously disliked), and successful booksellers in the trade.

The shop in question, which I’ll call Ye Olde Bookshoppe, had been open just over seven years at the time of the appraisal. There were two partners. When Peter visited, the store had 45,000 titles in stock, about evenly divided between hardcovers and paperbacks. What follows are extracts from the analysis section of the final appraisal.

Start Up

The partners had been involved in bookselling in various forms for ten years. Together, they pooled $5000 in cash, plus 15,000 books acquired at an average of $1 per and 10,000 books acquired for $2,000. “20 cents each!!!” writes Peter. So 25,000 starting books acquired for $17,000, mostly at garage and estate sales. Their average retail price was $7.

Walk-in Traffic and Internet Sales

“Ye Olde is a general used book store catering to the walk-in public, humble and modest readers, and scouting dealers,” Peter wrote. “The bookstore is not heavily patronized nor sustained by university faculty or students. There is no separate section for selling rare books or first editions.”

“Ye Olde’s rent increases every year. They are forced to gross more every year, though market conditions for open-premises used bookstores HAVE NEVER BEEN WORSE SINCE THE END OF WORLD WAR TWO” (emphasis in the original), due to the Internet. “More than 50 similar booksellers in the Bay Area have closed recently, only one has opened… Booksellers with 20,000 good and valuable books go home, put them online in one or two years, and average $25,000 or more in profits. No overhead. Ye Olde’s owners cannot go home. One cannot sell $7 books online and earn a living and support two families….Ye Olde serves its local, not very academic, middle-class neighborhood only. At the minimum price of long hours and endless scouting. And they have kids.

“The 3000 books Ye Olde has listed online, selling for an average of $40 (when sold), are locked in the back room, and are falling over somewhat from lack of attention, though they are in numerical order by computer listing, rather than by any other useful order (by subject, by author). They sell only one or two books each day.

“These 3000 books are not available to the public. Ye Olde does not have enough space, money, or staff by which they could both offer books on line and yet house them in a manner so that they are simultaneously available to curious walk-in traffic. It is the worst of possible situations, not the best. [In a random sample], there were cheaper copies online of all but one of the online books surveyed. The time and effort expended in putting these books online resulted in a tremendous waste of money. Moreover, the books online are locked upand cannot be seen by walk-in customers who would happily pay shelf price because most walk-in customers do not comparison shop at used book stores.”

Book Buying

When a partner is not working, “he spends his discretionary time scouting for books that he might sell for more than he pays. There are no other stores that sell for prices averaging less than Ye Olde. Therefore they must scrounge flea markets, benefit auctions, thrift stores, house calls, over the counter purchases. They cannot buy books from other book stores.”

Here are Ye Olde’s financials. All numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand

Year Rent Overhead Books Bought Gross Sales Cost of Goods Sold Ending Inventory Taxable Profit/Partner Actual Take-Home
1 27k 9k 27k 96k 34k 19k 13k 11
2 28 8 31 100 29 23 17.5 15.5
3 29 13 37 123 37 27 22 20
4 30 15 42 140 41 29 27 26
5 32 18 43 156 42 32 32 30.5
6 33 21 60 196 59 33 41.5 41
7 35 26 59 204 57 35 43 42

Note: The actual take home is less than the taxable profits because Ye Olde invested some of its profits to growing its inventory. Actual take-home is per partner, so in year 7, the two partners each made $42,000.

Commenting on Ye Olde’s financials, Peter noted that bookselling is a “trade that takes a lifetime in which to master little, suffer much, and on the average, earn less than any union laborer.”

Cost of Goods Sold

“The only variable in an honest book business is the estimated cost of books sold,” proclaimed Peter at the top of the section on inventory. “Cost of books sold is computed either by the coding and recording of the cost of every single book (Serendipity’s method) or by equating the cost of books purchased with the cost of books sold in a fiscal year. Ye Olde records the cost of books sold on an annual basis as the amount of money spent on books that year, and report that figure annually on federal tax returns, to the truth of which they swear. This method is allowed by the IRS, especially when the average price realized is small and steady records are maintained of checks written, deposits made, bills paid. Their manual bookkeeping is extremely hard and time-consuming work.”

Ye Olde had a very low cost of inventory, averaging just 29% of sales for the first seven years.

Profits and Margins

“The more expensive the book, the greater the profit in absolute dollars, if not the greater ratio of cost to selling price. Ye Olde pays 29% for books sold (less the cost of books UNSOLD). Simply enough, they make $7 on a $10 sale, before overhead. But dealers who pay 80% instead of 30% and who average $50 a sale, instead of $10 per sale, make $10 profit. Most antiquarian booksellers average 60% for cost of books sold, making $20 gross profit on a $50 sale.

“Ye Olde is at the very bottom of the food chain that is the book business. They sell the cheapest, least profitable type of book, and only that type of book, and have absolutely no means by which to get ahead, except by inching forward, their success depending entirely upon long hours (read: good health, lifetime commitment); the willingness of others to sell them books at the cheapest values in the book business; a rent that does not interfere with their ability to pay based on their gross; yet a large enough space to contain an endlessly growing stock.

“Almost all dealers leave a portion of their profits within their business, in order for their businesses to grow. Ye Olde struggles to increase their inventory a bit every year. This means taking less money out of the business. If the business does not grow and the inventory increase, Ye Olde will fail.”

“Inventory is the stock of material for sale, and the cost to the bookseller of that stock. Ye Olde buys books by check and with cash…. Ye Olde records sales with a cash register and in a salebook daily under lock and key, entering by day and summarizing by month, distinguishing between taxable and non-taxable (dealer) sales. The account book is maintained in pencil and appears absolutely straightforward. Single entry bookkeeping, manual. Currently $200,000 in annual sales. Two employees gross $100,000 per annum each.

Each partner works an average of 3.5 days per week in the store, often until three or four hours after closing.

Bottom Line

Peter’s conclusion, at the end of the appraisal: the store is worth $35,000 – the value of its inventory, at cost, even “though it is worth less than its cost….The cost of used goods does NOT REFLECT the value, as COST is likely to be too generous, and does not take into account the number of books residual in inventory that have declined in value, and have been repeatedly de-selected as candidate purchases by customers. Ye Olde must constantly remove books for which they paid money because they have not sold, making room for new arrivals that might have a better chance of selling. Yet booksellers’ stocks, so long as they remain on the shelves, may not be depreciated, legally.

“A business may have goodwill of value, calculated by the cost of replacement to the relevant community: e.g., a new barbershop (find one that will give you a shave with a straight razor!!) or a new hair salon. There are startup costs to recover, there is value in having “good deed” foot traffic (sponsoring ball team, donating to local fundraising auctions, internships underwritten). Dentists and veterinarians sell their practices and get a little more extra for the good will of their good name and their patient lists in the community. The notion of good will having value is NOT APPLICABLE when the good will is dependent upon “key man” personality or depth of friendly knowledge, or in the circumstance that the businesses has no likely future beyond the present owner. Used bookstores are always representative of and extensions of their independent owners’ personalities and utterly dependent upon their specific knowledge, non-transferable, earned over a lifetime.”

Next up (when I have time!), some comments on the conclusions herein.