Footnote to Publicity

I’m glad so many of you read that beautiful article in the Tribune. No, I do not ALWAYS carry two milk crates on my head, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

A customer came in and asked, “Hey, where are the books you priced too low that I can sell for hundreds of times the purchase price?” He said he was joking, but I could tell he had high hopes.

And somebody else asked me, “Well, what DO you do when you find out you made a mistake and priced something too low?” Ignoring the suggestion that Uncle Blogsy ever makes mistake–I am sometimes right incorrectly, but never wrong—I do have a standard procedure for such cases.

I cuss quietly to myself. Then I kick a cardboard box (used to kick walls, but cardboard’s softer). And then I sigh. And then I smile. Because even if a book does sell for less than I might have gotten otherwise, there is payback of a real and profitable kind.

Let’s say that I failed to notice that I had one of the rare copies of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood which contained the microchip which, when triggered by the right brand of cell phone, gives you clues on where to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant. (Or is that The Da Vinci Code? I get confused on the points in modern first editions.) I put it out for $1 and a book dealer who is on the alert snatched it up, took it home, and sold it for $500. (There’s actually a book on how to detect and exploit the weaknesses of booksellers to find underpriced books and make lots of money. I didn’t put it out for sale this year. You can have it when I’m done reading it.)

Let’s say, as well, that he might have cheerfully paid the Newberry up to $50 for that same book (dealers LOVE a 90% markup.) So he got a book for $1 that he was prepared to pay $50 for. This will stick in his mind for a long, long time.

So he will mark his calendar every time the Newberry Library Book Fair rolls around. In the back of his mind the refrain will run “I was lucky there once. Maybe it’ll happen again.” Every year, without fail, hope will bring him back to our tables. And he will buy books, hoping. In the long run, that copy of The Divine Secrets will pay back the $49, and more.

And that, cranberry cupcake, is one of the things that makes managing a Book Fair the perfect job for somebody like me. Even the occasional mistake pays dividends. If all of life were like that, we’d use emerald bookends on Preview Night. 

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