TRADE LESSONS – a Guest Post From Zhenya Dzhavgova

This week begins what I hope will be a series of guest appearances by friends and colleagues whose brains I admire. First up: Zhenya Dzhavgova, well known to many of you as one of the brightest of the “Bright Young Things” recently profiled over at Nate Pedersen’s Fine Books Blog. As a younger dealer, just about a year into the business, Zhenya has many perceptive — and occasionally idiosyncratic — things to say about the trade. Sooner or later I reckon she’ll get up the gumption to go off and start her own blog; until then, I’ve welcomed her aboard The ‘Van to keep us apprised of developments in her career and of her continually evolving perception of where the trade is going. In future weeks, we’ll be hearing from some of my other friends – some private collectors, some librarians, and some who simply look upon what I do with the same sort of bemused detachment with which Americans watch cricket (or with which Brits watch baseball); which is to say, with no idea of what the hell I’m doing, but at least appreciative of the fact that I seem to be having fun.

So, without further ado, I present to you: my friend and yours, The Queen of Slavica, the Bulgarian Nightingale, Erstwhile Empress of the Eastern Bloc —  Zhenya Dzhavgova!

-LB

Yet another new era of blogging on Lorne Bair Rare Books’ site is about to begin. With Lorne being my colleague, friend, mentor, and altogether the guy-I-run-to-when-in-book-trouble and with Ashley Loga gone, he has asked me to fill in the gap. I have happily agreed and my first post will reflect on a subject I have often wondered about. To wit: a lot has been said about the priceless help and advice and encouragement we, the young book sellers, receive from the established dealers every single day. We are grateful for it and we never forget it. But what do they learn from us? Because I have been told they do – by the CABS faculty members and by Lorne himself on numerous occasions (though interestingly enough he has never elaborated on specific details). After discussing it with some of my fellow youngsters in the trade I am fairly sure we have managed to pinpoint at least a few of those lessons.

Computers and technology have been a curse and a blessing for quite a while now. I can just imagine the older dealers being irked by the necessity of switching from index cards and paper files to digitized everything. I can also see the small brick-and-mortar shops racing to compete with the Internet mega sellers. On the other hand, I can think of at least three young people in the trade who have managed to make the digital nightmare we grew up with appear fun and undaunting. Luke Lozier of Bibliopolis, Mika Babcock of Foreseeing Solutions,  and Dan Gregory of Between the Covers have combined their love for books and their tech-savvy brains to create stunning websites for booksellers, incredible digital photography for catalogs, and great databases. Their work is so good – I bet even the staunchest opponents of digitalization among the trade will have to agree with me. Being a computer engineer, I myself often try to help fellow dealers with technical questions. The truth, as I see it for the foreseeable future, is that the technology is part of the business and like it or not we have to learn to deal with it. And we youngsters are the ones who will lead the way in helping the trade to evolve and adapt.

And then there is creative specialization or to quote a fellow dealer: “There are popular late 20th century subcultures that remain to be tapped into.” Brian Cassidy has very interesting punk rock  and modern music items and I have my own Slavic languages materials, which though by no means new inventions, are still a somewhat uncharted territory here in the U.S. It is far easier for us, the younger ones, who grew up with the music, literature, and art of the last 20 years to dive into making them the focus of our business than for a seasoned dealer to switch his/her specialty.

Now I come to my personal favorite lesson – the one of zeal, and originality, and excitement, and pigheadedness, and a Don Quixote Syndrome. With the well established dealers shaking their heads and darkly professing the end of the antiquarian book trade, many of we younger dealers are getting outside the box and taking matters into our own hands. Josh Niesse of Underground Books near Atlanta has come up with the ingenious plan of launching a community crowd-funding campaign to save his small beautiful brick-and-mortar shop from being sold.  Kara MacLaughlin of Little Sages Books  has flown across the country  – twice – for the chance of working at major bookfairs. And I have hand-crafted every single cover for every copy of my new catalog in order to make it eye-pleasing and memorable. It is not easy when some friend or family member asks you: “It’s all cool to sell books and stuff but when you gonna find a real job?” and you want to throttle him; or when amidst a frantic day of cataloging and shipping you receive an email of the variety: “I know your book is very hard to find and in fact you seem to have the only copy and I really really want to have it but why is the thing $500?” and you want to cry…but we are in it and we do it. The book trade isn’t dying, it’s just evolving – and we’re the ones who will be taking it to the next place, wherever that is.  So hey, you old-timers: if you’re smart, you’ll be paying attention – you teach us plenty, but as we head into terra incognita there’s plenty more you can learn by watching us!

 

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