David Aronovitz, The Fine Books Company

well ladies and gentlemen viewers we are taking this round of interviews at the new york international antiquarian book fair at the South regimental armory in New York today is April 14th and our first interviewee is David arana vitz is that correct pronunciation but none of its is fine in this time of fine books of a Minnesota no not at Minnesota Michigan yes okay Rochester Michigan yes okay tell us a little bit about your background David family what your mom and dad did if they worked siblings take us up through college time that you were young n etc I was born and raised in detroit michigan or the very northern border of Detroit my father was a furniture salesman and he was born in Middletown Connecticut I think he moved to Detroit when he was 3 with his eight siblings my mother was from Brooklyn New York and met my mother when their family moved here at much later in the 20s my mother was a housewife raising two kids two boys myself the oldest and my younger brother Michael who is now deceased my father was a furniture salesman I went to mumford high school and and then I went to college and I had them agarran an undergraduate degree in psychology of Wayne State University and a master's degree in psychology at the University of Detroit I use none of those to make any money but I you know I think school if someone says what what is the university teacher i would say college taught me two things who taught me how one way to find out information and then it company something that no one under 35 years old has any idea what it means and that's the phrase delayed gratification that's what school taught me I remember I remember going from eighth grade on a burner elementary school and Detroit norther party tried to Mumford high school which was a student body of 4000 a very famous school in Detroit and my horizon widened greatly about my I got new friends and I couldn't have noticed that some of these new friends who lived maybe a mile away we're living in much bigger homes ain't no one father might have been a doctor wife an attorney and blah blah blah I said oh this is interesting perhaps all things are not created equal after all and that's my background on the background from regarding books he's probably stems from my I guess my potential stereotypical boyhood and by that I mean between the ages of 8 and 15 I collected baseball cards comic books and coins and I was damn good at when I reached the age of 15 I stopped collecting those things but kept them and I had nothing to collect and then in between graduate school undergraduate school took a year off and I was a postman in Freud Michigan and I was making money for the first time and I hadn't collected anything for six years and I needed something to collect and I for some unknown reason started collecting lamps and and found the fascination with whale oil lamps which if you're from New England that makes sense but if you're the Midwest it's quite peculiar quite peculiar about being a peculiar kind of person anyway and then after about a year I stopped there and in 1976 after I had graduated school I again was found myself with a kind of interesting job I had two friends who own the boutique stores head shops and they and I just finished my degree and I didn't want to go to school further two three more years and get a PhD and not find a job because also my graduate degree at University of Detroit there were people walking through the university who I've ever seen before the last four or five months I was there and say excuse me back i said but who was that oh that's dr. Greenberg he's from someone so universities looking for a job and I just saw the handwriting in the wall and I said I don't know what I don't want to do this anyway these two friends of mine said we are starting a business in which we will whole sale and manufacture a cult sterling silver sterling silver sterling silver jewelry do you want to join us I know nothing about jewelry I do not think about business as a chair so that was in the mid seventies and then I now had money again I was married and I was making some money and I needed something to collect desperately I looked around the house and I just a lot of paperback books I said boy what would we like to collect bugs what is that about and maybe caught first editions as a matter of fact what is the first edition I have no idea what it is anyway I found out and I was able to buy the things that I wanted to buy were most apparently available through mail order catalogs and so I found out those people who were issuing catalogs of the things I wanted to buy and that's all I started 1976 the very first book i bought i still have it was a sign presentation first edition of issue wells when the sleeper wakes i still have that i bought it from one of our members here at lloyd curry you keep it as a memento it's part of my collection now which is quite good i should say i remember being told that it's not fair to collect books and sell them that you're you know you're harming potential customers whether offering these things and i said i understand that's our percent wrong and so I was able to play both ends against the middle extremely well yeah one of the field well I don't know I didn't know that and that but I did find out something to say one of the few i do find out something since i become became a member the ABA back in 1987 is that I thought that my road to to being a book dealer was quite common and my road is from being a book collector who became a book dealer but i find out that apparently is really not that common most people work for somebody yeah i was going to say did you ever have the experience of having a practice with anymore I just went directly into your own business elsewise I say with perhaps foolish pride that I have no mentors never did never never had anybody who remembered okay and if somebody said if somebody said how do you account for your supposed success I can look them right in the eye and say I have no idea sort of happened it just happened what was your how was your transition from the traditional way of selling books to the internet way of selling books I just open internet presence absolutely I back in nineteen eighty-four about my first computer which i still have which actually is elisa which was this tremendous dog that was the first macintosh yeah when i bought it when they were just giving away for a thousand dollars of just giving them away as a matter of fact we have every computer i ever bought and they're all they're all max but so i was issuing catalogs for a long time the 1984 came around and i started using my computer to make those catalogs instead of typing them up and then with the advent of the internet i mean i could see it coming i can see that that would be the best way to sell your items and so I embrace that and i'ma stop selling and stop issuing printed catalogs which most likely was a mistake but so be it so later on the internet yeah right from today's of interlocked yeah and before and so that's I think that's over 20 years I think I've I'm sure I'll that's been it's a good for you and I just saw that that was the way the future I think I think it is we don't notice a marvelous double at Short you know that the bummer is well let's talk about the good thing the good thing is now you can sell books or somebody to Madagascar right I mean bad without any of them ever the downside is is now you I used to travel a lot I still use of travel a great deal i traveled to every continent except antarctica there's no reviewing business into a tourniquet and and in the united states i went to many many places and you know most of the booksellers then the internet came you now had wide number of bookstores a set of X and you never heard of those people why so the downside is is that I've got so many more people selling books and you don't know who they are and you have no idea if they have any training in books at all you don't know whether they when they say it's a fine copy that might be a good copy or when it's a first edition might be a book club you have no idea and in them and this is an unfortunate problem because if someone were to the fact I've had many debates with someone like Ali chair and none of them happens to see it my way and I don't get it the fact of the matter is to me if there was a book that you dealt with for a long time and there was always be three or four copies available and now there's a hundred on the internet the fact that is if there's a hundred internet in ninety of those people you never heard of a normal don't know what they are then in fact when they say it's a first edition and it's fine maybe it's not and the only way to do that to find out of course which is not practical to buy all the copies and then see what percentage of factor totally incorrectly described so when people say the books are actually more common now I say wait a minute baby that's not true maybe the person described in this book is totally wrong so but it makes a tricky interesting way to look at it it makes a very tricky for the new collector who has no idea whether he's about to purchase a book from someone who's been in business for 30 years or three days it's true but that's the way it is it's waiters and you know do you have a home page that does business in other words what is your home page my home page is actually directed to my page at the ABA a website okay I actually I have a website that was developed by a 14 year old kid your years ago years ago and it now is really dysfunctional however if all I meant to use it for which to send an email to all my customers since it's a in such-and-such a date go to this website and you will see a new catalog however that's all ahead and so now it's it needs fixing badly well yeah if you want to keep up with the Joneses yeah so what procedure you said you'd you stopped doing catalogs so you don't mail out catalogs as you once did yeah that's pretty direct people to your site that's new catalog that's good so approximately what percentage of your business is done through the internet and what percentage of your business is done to other needs i would say i would say probably ninety percent through the internet maybe ten percent it through shows you know if he won't gain an open shop of any cab silly not know i need the ability to work in my underwear all day and not like address it's a great way to work as a matter of fact i recall on a trip to austin texas for a convention one day my wife and i stopped in a restaurant to have breakfast in louisiana and this woman sided conversation with me and we started talking about work and I said you know I walked to work every day for 30 years rain or shine and she was really impressed but she didn't know that it was a 25-yard Germany for my bedroom into the office I have a 14 journey almost bedroom to my office but I don't recommend it for everyone well and it it's a different story um one of the things that that often I ask people is not only about their internet presence or how they were able to get into the internet and figure out how to how to make it work is that it seems to me that buying and selling books has become both easier and harder because of the internet and I think you've touched on it a little bit but you look expand a little bit more on why you had decided that your catalogs will be on the internet and not be mailed how was it bad or a good decision I think it would have been wiser to do both I think because there's but I started at the switch long time ago many people didn't have a computer or didn't know how to use one or weren't even anticipated riding one I so I'm probably overall was probably a mistake but I don't I don't regret it now I think it's you know it's the books that one can locate after the internet and before are the same but the problem is is that they cost more now because more people are supposedly even more knowledgeable about it so I've always found in a race to the bottom it's a race to the bottom with common books yeah but isn't that the that's isn't our economy based on or lose everything is a race to the bottom is that I'm not an economist I do I'm sure I'm sure not Oh talk a little bit about some of the people who you came into contact with as a young bookseller he started off you said in like nineteen seventy-two 36 but I'm sourcebook really young bookseller you said you traveled a lot you did this that you did that what are some of your memories of of those first ten years as a as a bookseller people you met the places you went to things that you may have found disappointments that you come across that's how many that much time do here well just I'll catch you off when I said too much I I made frequent ventures into Ohio took trips maybe lasted as long as a week and I used to tease many bookselling friends who said where do you get those wonderful books I said well I go to a secret place just south of here it's called Ohio and because it was wonderful pickings them and so I met a lot of different people but I don't I can't think of any of them in a sense that they you know affected my direction or what I was doing I was so naive about the economy i'm going to call this i recall this vividly I was so naive about the Academy that I went to Los Angeles for the first time Oh California for the first time looking for books the books were much higher priced at all what what now why is this you know cuz I'm from the Midwest word that's you know the prices they are reasonable but it was it was a my mind blower was a real wake-up call and so I might have actually even upset somebody when I said you you know do you really sell these books at these prices but really stupid they say well that's probably an honest thing to say but it maybe not you should miss right but but but you know if I feel the same way sometimes but the fact of the matter is if I am from a certain part of the world and go through another part of the world and notice that the prices are different and or higher I have more information and knowledge in the person who sells high and has never been through the part where they're low and so what would that person say if they came through in this case the Midwest and say blaze prices are really low how do you sell out these little prices easily but it's also a cultish California is a little bit different than oh yeah that's of the country yeah yeah yeah so I you know I met a lot of I put a lot of people I'm gonna have a lot of British bookselling friends in 1984 there wasn't there was a member of the ABA ABA london contingent who is no longer a member but he and I befriended each other the phone calls and me purchasing things from his catalogue in his name was David may you I don't know if you remember David may you or not and so in 84 when I went to the UK for the first time I had three sponsors that he had David may use was kind enough to poke me up with his family and London for the first week and I arrived there the very same day his wife gave birth to their first child oh you know opportunity yeah so is his first child and myself arrived in London on the same day oh and then I had a week and then another way had a customer friend who an unfortunate is now deceased and he was he invited me to stay with him in Edinburgh for a week and that was spectacular then I had another friend who was a writer and in Duncan lunin who wrote a lot of nonfiction who I found out here a lot of books and slowly a lot of books lose me all his own his own library and he was my sponsor in Glasgow for a week and that with my first trip to the UK or actually Europe for that matter and I certainly have been there now 20 times and I've been to skate Olivia five times so I know a lot I know a lot of these people they remain you know friends and acquaintances some longer and stronger than others and lots of fun memories of that as an offshoot I guess because this is a question you probably won't ask me but I like Eleanor Hearn I found myself I think it's perfect Eleanor and fuller brush when i joined the same exact same time and well we didn't notice about each other but i found myself having a strong interest and offers first books and i'm sure that there's many people who do that and after searching them out and fighting them and loving it i was very fortunate to discover two of them that were unknown unknown to anybody one was Robert box first book there there was ring Mariners first of all and it was exciting I think that's the most exciting thing a bookseller could do I discovered something new but but after doing this I said to myself one day is it as a wait wait wait wait the first book an office first book is not necessarily his or her first appearance in print right it could be a magazine so I thought those out and that was exciting because wonderful things that I Rapira magazines of course parent famous novels have been serialized the magazine so I love that and then I defended some of these authors not being a shy person and so I published I published 18 books and and and many of and what happened was the first three years when I what i did is i published my own short stories i did 100 copies i inscribed him to my best customers and gave them out of the end of the year and of course when you do your own work I needed some kind of name of my press that was suitable so i used the pretentious press and then after the three of those i asked them isaac asimov whether he would mind doing one and my head my idea was to print his first published work which was in 1934 from his high school his brooklyn high school and he said yes and that that was a very interesting time because other authors that I met followed suit arthur c clarke ray bradbury gene wolfe philip klass roger zelazny these are all science fiction authors that I I became acquainted with and friends with from missing somebody or two anyway the wonderful thing about these people is that they sign all these booklets that I produce the 14 and I am no money that were exchanged hands they were Marvel some of these I gave them as many campuses they wanted to use your printer at about 85 they usually take 10 and they give me the rest and I never asked for money for them and you know I gave them out to my best customers it was a win-win situation for everybody oh yeah and and then I published four books commercially and those I sold house they do um three are sold out and the fourth the horn I still have a few copies left so they were your publishing venture apparently with some somewhat successful yeah buddy I what are you doing only 85 copies it's you know shouldn't be that hard at hope well you're right Bob so when we were talking before you sit down we talked briefly about book fairs I know that you do a lot of book fairs how many books do you do in the course of it I get in here we've slowed down considerably we used to do I think the most we used to do seven or eight which is not a tremendous amount right but we're so now what are you down then I'll be a three me before you do the major ABA a fair so do you do any local fish I do the well this year we did new yorky California and for a two-year hiatus and there are two local book fairs in Michigan and Lansing that we do yep and I go there to buy books yeah not to sell on but the bar yeah but still you participate which is no sure this is something as we're getting closer to its the end of our little chitchat what I frequently ask people is how do you see the future of our trade here we are it's 2012 the Internet's been around for a while a lot of booksellers is still here how does the trade look to you if you had a crystal ball 10-15 years into the future what do you see just 10 or 15 years into a future yeah because I don't think most of us is going to be around after that actually I actually don't see the species lasting beyond 2050 myself yeah really but um well I think the book cometh are certainly people who are booksellers who are just selling used books in general I mean they're do their due people who sell collectible books is what you're speaking about it right you know kids won't certainly younger people today are bombarded by electronic devices never part of our childhood and so their attention is drawn in so many places at the same time that's really hard I you may remember that I mentioned that in the chat line that the pasadena book fair we saw the first edition of PG Wodehouse to a fourteen-year-old girl that was really amazing that's that's quite spectacular it was think about it was incredibly spectacular but not because of anything I did and she just happened to walk in our boat with her grandmother but was the first collectible book she ever she ever purchase it $175 the cheapest book we had at the fair but i think that's that's a false positive i mean i think that was a really a very honest service yes so i'm thinking people will be collecting books as objects but i think that happened beyond 20 years now and i think that the important books you know what is a book it's a it's often a compilation of ideas and you know and and these are the origins of ideas and the origins of thought and i think the word first is a really really potent word in the English language and news 8 1st edition our first printing or first first run or first pressing that gets people's emotions built up so I don't see a disaster really at all hopefully I'm right but I you know I see the future of book like thing existing certainly we certainly well beyond 20 years from now I'll be on 20 years you said you're going to need to do some work on your website absolutely and when you do that work on your website are you going to think in terms of what you just spoke in terms of the young people who are bombarded with electronic thanks I don't know without much in that I might if I do a blog suddenly I certainly would say well everybody has a blind right but you know who kids last question for you as you look around the room or not look around the room who do you see as in our era we're talking about the past several years and years to come who are the great book sellers about hero amongst others who are the great book sellers yeah hmm not just in not just as book sells but but people who are bibliographical e sound people who know how to write a good description people who find great books people who put those books out for sale that's a tough one for me because i hate to leave anybody out you don't have to just just name a few that that comes to your mind that's all but although i branched out into nonfiction years ago thank god they're selling dis friction by itself was that smartest thing I unfortunately still no more about fiction than nonfiction and gosh were the important book sellers who are selling fiction today you know I really don't know best how to answer that question I don't know yeah I really don't have the answer I think it's a fortunate bit subjective um in your own mind you probably could think of 20 when you leave here probably probably so but but you know that's a tough one I would have to sit down with you know you walk around it here think about it rethink about our look at their catalogs I think most EBA members are quite competent when it comes to a description hopefully that's true well my descriptions you actually are not particularly good I mean I don't cite you know references and I don't have you know a large program saying you know this so and so says this and this and that and you know it's probably not the best thing but I it works to you it works for me and I'm you know self-taught how point on that might be a negative freedom for me but I just never saw you know if you have if you're listening an item and there are 10 of them on the internet and seven or eight other people offering the same book give you all the references do you need another 10 okay well at time has quickly come to a close thank you so much for participating and I look forward to seeing you interview up on the home page me too

One thought on “David Aronovitz, The Fine Books Company

  1. A true pleasure working with David on my collection of baseball books (mostly non-fiction). If you find yourself in the metro Detroit area, and fancy yourself a book fanatic – give him a call.

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