Surviving the Literary Shakeout Means Turning to the Internet
BYLINE: By STACY COWLEY, Special to the Sun
SECTION: BUSINESS; Pg. 11
LENGTH: 686 words
DATE: March 1, 2005
The Internet is the best and worst thing that ever happened to the secondhand books business.
When Skyline Books owner Rob Warren opened his shop on West
18th Street 16 years ago, there were a half dozen similar stores nearby. The
glory days of "Book Row," the stretch of
"We sell a lot of books all around the world. We're certainly an international bookstore now," says Mr. Warren, sitting among the book stacks filling the corner that functions as his office. He doesn't sound entirely happy about the distinction.
Skyline is a survivor of the shakeout that's emptying the
used bookstore market: Its sales volume has stayed strong, and it has a
long-term lease with an agreeable landlord.
"I can see someday the door not even opening anymore - it would all be done on the computer, or by invite only," Mr. Warren said. "I hope it doesn't happen. The bookstore could become a museum."
Mr. Warren is fighting off that fate by running a store that preserves an old-fashioned feel, with the assistance of a small staff he calls the best he's ever had. Fifty thousand surprisingly well organized books pack the comfortably disheveled shop, and a portly cat named Linda patrols in search of patrons willing to offer her a lap to sleep on.
The atmosphere draws in customers like Kurt Brokaw, who
lives in the
Photography and design books are the best sellers, according
to Mr. Warren. Recently, Giorgio Armani staffers came through to pick out
thousands of dollars worth of rare editions suitable for Mr. Armani's library.
Skyline also specializes in African-American literature, beat literature, and
poetry - though poetry doesn't sell that well,
While most of the books on Skyline's shelves are ordinary secondhand copies selling for less than $15, the store always has a stash of treasures on display in the front. Currently, customers can look over a selection including an early French edition of "Ulysses," a signed first edition of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," a signed vintage paperback of H.G. Wells' "In Search of Hot Water," and a first edition of Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" - available for the bargain price of $6,000, thanks to the battered dust jacket.
Mr. Warren's best recent find isn't for sale. It's the first
edition of Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
the cult classic science-fiction novel that inspired "Blade Runner."
Mr. Warren plans to hold onto that trophy for several years, as he did with the
book he calls the greatest he's handled in his 20 years in the book trade: a
1925 first edition of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," complete with
the incredibly scarce dust jacket.
Years later, remembering the book still lights Mr. Warren up. "That's my favorite kind of day," he said. "When you're looking, and you see something you've never seen before."