Widening the Audience | Newberry

Widening the Audience

I don’t very often relate in this space the adventures the Newberry Book Fair has in online sales. Why should I publicize, after all, the things you don’t get to see in July? Sometimes, to tell the truth, the listings involve something you DID see in July, and somehow passed up, but in general, the online offerings involve things which are a little awkward at our Book Binge.

Our first really big, exciting sale online, now many years gone, was an entire run of National Geographic. The first twenty years’ worth—the rarest issues—were limited edition reprints, but the next hundred years or so were the originals, many of them still in their mailing wrappers, and most with their original map inserts. This filled about two dozen boxes, and would have been a nightmare to display in, say, the Collectibles section. We might have had to post a guard just to make sure no browser walked away with a map from a 1913 issue.

But through the magic of the Internet, we were able to find a customer who wanted the set to give her fiancé as an engagement present. (I hear he was astonished and thrilled by it.) And so our adventures began.

Sometimes I put things up for sale because it would just take too long to explain in person. Once upon a time, we received a book in which someone had left the $12.10 they won at the Kentucky Derby, along with the little computer printout that identified the race and the amount (not the horse they bet on, though.) On the theory that someone out there would believe it was lucky to go to the track with someone else’s Derby prize, I offered this online for an opening bid of $12.50. This, um, turned out not to be a winning ticket, and the $12.10 eventually went into the till at the Book Fair. If you had an inexplicable streak of luck with the lottery, maybe you got those bills or that dime in change when you bought that DaVinci Code.

Sometimes I think the market will be better online than on the premises. If we are given an extremely limited edition printing of a book about the genealogy of the O’Dudley Family (we have not; if you’re an O’Dudley, put the phone down) I will generally list this for sale out there in the Interwebs, feeling more O’Dudleys are out there waiting for a copy than will ever come past the Reference (Genealogy) section at the Book Fair.

Sometimes an item is a too small for me to want to risk it at the Book Fair (this postage stamp-sized book about a man who collected books on fleas) or too big (two pianos so far: a baby grand and a player piano). Sometimes, as noted, it’s something we couldn’t dispose of in July. One year, for example, our checkout crew opted to ignore the big boxes of shopping bags we had accumulated. Confronted, in August, with twenty big boxes of leftover bags, and no particular desire—or space—to store them, I listed THOSE for sale online, for a reasonable price and unreasonable postage (I’m not in charge of how much money the Post Office wants.)

Not only did these sell, making room for the following year’s accumulation of bags, BUT we got mentioned in a blog dedicated to “The Ten Weirdest Things For Sale on eBay This Week.” I think we came in ninth, but it was still recognition from the Greater eBay Public.

On rare occasions, we sell things which are purely abstract. For a couple of years, I would post for sale the opportunity to become the Major Sponsor of the Book Fair. If you paid the outrageous sum of money (I’ve forgotten, but there were five digits involved) we would name the Book Fair for you that year. The Powers That Were felt a little queasy about this, but they allowed it, provided I put a lot of wordage in about how no, you couldn’t call it the “Fred Flintstone for Alderman Book Fair” or the “Labor Day Mattress Sales Are the BEST Mattress Sales Book Fair.” No one bid, so The Powers That Were asked me to go back to dealing in signed books and player pianos. I cheerfully agreed to that. I would hate to do anything out of line online.

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