by Al Doyle
When it comes to being iconic in numismatic circles, nothing can top A Guide Book to United States Coins, universally known as the Red Book. This brightly colored source of information is often the first coin book bought by collectors, and hobby veterans are known to have decades worth of annual issues on their shelves.
Whitman Publishing has done a commendable job in taking this venerable print product into the 21st century with color photos and a bolder layout, but the final step - an on-line version of the Red Book - has just become a reality. It can be found at www.whitman.com.
The format and chronological listings of various series from Colonials to territorial gold line up in the electronic Red Book as they do in the print version. Click a series, and you'll get there in varying lengths of time. I explored the e-Red Book on two different PCs and found loading could be slow at times. To be fair, my laptop could use more memory, but the other computer should have loaded faster.
Don't expect dramatic changes between the traditional and Internet Red Books - and that's a good thing. Why take a hugely popular and professionally designed product and add useless bells and whistles just because it can be done? The adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies here.
There are some important differences between the book and on-line version, but they may not be apparent to the casual collector. Specialists in certain series will appreciate expanded pricing for grades not listed in the 2012 edition.
Those who enjoy Seated Liberty quarters and dollars will find values for MS-62 pieces, and the same applies to pre-1933 U.S. gold coinage. It remains to be seen if prices will be updated with market fluctuations, but the possibility exists with an online Red Book. Prices for large cents include listings for full brown specimens as well as red and brown coppers.
Look up a page for an older series on the electronic Red Book, and you will receive prices for coins in circulated grades. A mouse click changes the guide to Mint State values. This is a logical layout, as collectors typically focus on "circs" or BUs when building sets, and keeping the number of prices on the screen to a reasonable number reduces clutter and makes for easier reading.
It's the next feature that might be annoying to some viewers. In most cases, U.S. coin series are served up in segments rather than as a complete unit. This makes a certain amount of sense with longer series such as Seated Liberty dimes and half dollars, but doing so with Standing Liberty quarters (which are divided into the Variety I pieces of 1916 and 1917, Variety 2 stars below eagle of 1917 to 1925 and the recessed date quarters of 1925 to 1930) doesn't enhance the overall experience. Suggestion to Whitman: Install a "long page" option similar to what is found on the Teletrade auction web site to allow collectors to have one-page access to an entire series.
The e-Red Book is an attractive and informative product and as most in the print media world recognize, the future is in digital publishing so it is not surprising that the Red Book is now available online. However rather than making the Redbook "downloadable" at a fixed price, Whitman has taken the path of making the e-Red Book into a subscription based online publication.
Since one would assume that the core numismatic information will change little, we can surmise that the only justification for a monthly subscription based model would be regular future updates to the prices displayed with every series. If that is the case, then the monthly subscription would make sense
So what's the price to access the electronic Red Book? The current two-week "free trial" comes with a catch, the freebie is granted only after a credit card number is given and the customer opts for a monthly $9.99 fee or an annual $99.99 subscription. So the onus is on the subscriber to cancel their subscription within the 14 day trial period before the billing begins.
Well-known print publications such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have had a difficult time transforming their legacy print subscription based business models to Internet based pay-walls and most have failed to attract significant paying subscribers even at a fraction of the print version. Since New Red Book print editions can be purchased for around $15, it remains to be seen if Whitman can transition a large number of numismatists to pay $99 year for access to the computerized version of the Red Book, and how often the prices will be updated in the online version.
In any case we wish them well, and will follow up with more detailed observations and comments in a new series be are producing on Coin Prices and Values starting the first of the year