Books about Books Part 2: The Beginning (1978-1989)
Two years later, to my family’s amazement, I was still in business! My goal had been to make Oak Knoll Books the one-stop shopping place for customers who sought “book about books,” whether it was out-of-print or newly published. Stocking other publishers’ books had great potential for financial disaster, as the 40% discount I received made for a very small profit margin and the inventory had to be turned over quickly. However, goodwill was generated as my customers appreciated the effort we put into keeping them informed of the newest books in their field. This made them think of us for the out-of-print titles they wanted.
In those days, there were a few publishers of books about books who concentrated on producing reprints of the classic titles. Specialty dealers like me were experts at knowing what out-of-print titles were in constant demand by our customers and owed it to them to seek out these reprints.
An English firm called the Holland Press had been purchased by new owners and was aggressively reprinting important titles in my field, so I wrote to them for a catalogue. The catalogue arrived and was full of just the kind of books my customers wanted. I had my secretary (my one part-time employee, Karen) write to them in February 1978 inquiring about a number of their upcoming titles. One week later, an answer came back from Stephanie Hoppen (co-owner with Richard Leech), which concluded with an intriguing paragraph indicating that they were looking for someone in America to handle a reprint of the classic bibliography of printing by Bigmore & Wyman. I hand-scribbled a response onto the letter, and a number of letters and phone calls later, I arranged to buy into the print run. For the first time, Oak Knoll appeared on a title page! They also allowed me to buy their other titles at a substantial discount and market them exclusively in America. After a few meetings with them in both London and New Castle, I found out just how jovial this publishing business can be. The English publishing world is filled with long lunches with good cheer and much wine!
Tune in next week for more from Books about Books: A History and Bibliography of Oak Knoll Press.