Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stewardship - hand-selling books in the internet age

Prior to our association with Wendling, Stuart Ng Books was a boutique mail-order business selling out of print titles.

Stuart had managed a Crown Books, but bookselling grew out of his interest in book collecting, not retailing. For many years, Stuart and I attended book fairs, collecting books in various genres, and getting to know a coterie of book dealers.

In general, booksellers aren’t business people. Most of the old school book dealers came to book selling after retirement from traditional jobs in industry or academia. They had pensions and benefits and liked books. Book selling allowed them to make a little pocket money and cover their expenses, but they didn’t need to make a living at it. Bookselling was an opportunity to travel in the book world, acquire books and exhibit at book fairs.

These were the people who became our mentors as we transitioned from “real jobs” with regular hours and benefits to the roller coaster life of self-employment. We thought we making a lifestyle choice. We had no idea at the time the level of risk we were taking. We were shockingly na├»ve about the realities of running a small business.

In the pre-internet era, book fairs and book stores were wonderful opportunities for serendipity…. You might arrive looking for a specific book, but you learned much more from what you found by accident on the shelf, or better yet, what you were introduced to by the dealer.

Stuart was schooled in these traditions…. Hand selling books, and looking for opportunities to expand a library, not just fill it, by learning in depth about books and artists he never knew about before.

With the arrival of the internet, that era of book collecting and book selling has disappeared. Now there are fewer book fairs. Many of the small brick and mortar used book stores have closed.

Our goal at Stuart Ng Books is to bring you the best of hands-on bookselling traditions in the internet age.

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