Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bookseller vs Book Dealer

So what’s the difference between a bookseller and a book dealer?  This is more of a tricky question than one would imagine it should be.  Last weekend I was put into a position where I freely admitted to be being a book dealer.  I am a book dealer, someone who deals in books.  I don’t care who I sell too and as much as I enjoy selling wonderfully bound vintage volumes on obscure topics, I’m also happy to sell the latest Wilbur Smith to someone who wasn’t even aware that there was a new one.  There are lots of books in between these two bookends and I’d happily sell em all if I could.  If another book dealer wants to buy a book from me, go ahead, I’m happy to oblige as I do have a mortgage and some of those bills on my fridge sit there a bit longer than I’d like.  In a perfect world I would sell only those books that I love and really believe in… and then slowly starve.

After admitting to being a "book dealer", there began a tirade about low life “book dealers” by a “bookseller” here in Clunes.  I later admitted to also seeing myself as a bookseller.  It was at this point that I realised that I didn’t really know what the difference was.  I went home and seriously thought about this issue for a little bit longer than I probably should have.  What sort of stinking mess have I put my foot into?  Thankfully the internet, which is not just about cat photos (don’t look so surprised), was able to help, not so much with information, but with a lack of information, on a difference between the two.  The few bits that I did find were quite enlightening.

“When one uses the words “book dealer” to someone who is not in the business, what is often pictured is a poorly lit and cramped bookstore in the poorer side of town, with shelves sagging from the weight of too many dusty but beautifully hand carved leather wrapped collectibles. In the corner of the store is an over stuffed chair, with a goose neck lamp looking over the shoulder of the dealer, who sits and puffs on his pipe while reading. This well educated and well read, slightly grumpy (but in an oddly kind way) old timer is more at home with his books, and the store cat, than with customers. He knows that the customer really does not understand his books, and he hesitates to sell them - preferring to adopt them to a good home. He is as independent as his cat (maybe that's why he likes the store cat - they share a secret). When he does finally sell a book, it is for lots of money, and he takes great care in preparing the book for it's long and dangerous journey to its new home. Wrapping it in plain paper and tying a string lovingly around the package before passing it over the cluttered counter to the eager and very happy customer. His strong sense of independence does not allow him to ACT like he really needs the sale - even if he does.”  from IOBA Standard  

That sort of doesn’t really describe me… but you could say I lean slightly in that direction, even though I don’t have a cat and I don’t smoke a pipe.  OK… the more I think about it, it’s not really me.

There’s an interesting forum discussion at,
that deals directly with this question.  One “voice”, possibly one of the very few voices on the www tackling the topic,  suggested that,

“I think of book dealers as those who have a high knowledge of the book world, have huge resources at their disposal, contacts, years of experience, and tend to work at the high end market. They have a great love of books. Book sellers, may have the same qualities, but not usually. They are out for the all mighty dollar. They look at books as nothing more than a commodity- roll em in, shove em out. They're after volume sales and in many cases, price is not a consideration.”

… neither of which is really me and both of which I would like to do more of.

Another interesting reference that came up in my on line search was an article about well known book person, Larry McMurty in the The New York Times entitled “Secondhand Book Wrangler; A Pulitzer Prize Winner Is Also a Profitable Bookseller”.  Well that’s a fairly direct headline.  He’s a bookseller.  His opening lines in the interview were:
 ''I'm Larry McMurtry,'' he said by way of introduction. ''I'm a book dealer in Archer City.''

 Now that’s enough to confuse even this confused book… whatever I am.

The overall impression I got during my on line quest for an answer to this question of the ages, was that there is no difference.  A lack of any solid definition or difference between the two and a lack of further information on the topic, has lead me to this conclusion.  I asked a well known fellow book seller/dealer for an opinion on this matter… he always has an opinion.
I wrote:
“Had a heated discussion last night here in Clunes and without giving too much away, what is the difference between a "bookseller" and "book dealer"?  I look forward to your response.”
He wrote:
“None whatever.  You are obviously associating with idiots and/or wankers. No good can come of this. I suggest you stop talking to these people and spend your time listing books.”

Harsh but sage words from a master.

Finally, I found this definition of a bookseller:
“a dealer in books; a merchant who sells books” 
They also had a definition of a bookdealer:
“a dealer in books; a merchant who sells books” 

Yes, I deal in books and yes I sell books.  I sell books on a regular basis.  I sell all sorts of books to all sorts of people.  I love selling books.  My business card refers to me as a bookseller, but book dealer would also be appropriate.

I’ve written this blog entry partly as a reply to my “accuser”.  If he or anyone reading this would like to comment or direct me to further information, please do not hesitate.  A lengthy reply in the same spirit as this blog entry would also be great.  I will happily post it… with your references.

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