How Do You Like Virtual?

The most interesting phenomenon of the last month or so, at least from a bibliophilic perspective, has been the arrival of a new way to buy and sell books online: virtual book fairs. The idea followed in the wake of the cancellation of multiple traditional physical book fairs as a result of the coronavirus.  By my count there have already been at least seven virtual fairs, beginning with a digital version of the Paris Book Fair opening on April 23 and followed by fairs organised by IOBA, PBFA, Marvin Getman, ABAA, ABA (“Firsts”) and, most recently, the Rose City Virtual Book Fair.

For those who did not join in, the fairs were basically of two types. The first group consisted primarily of  a listing of “exhibitors” with links to PDF catalogues available for browsing.  This replicated the fair lists that are now regularly sent out by many of the dealers as a preview of what they will be offering in their booth at a traditional physical fair. For many dealers the sales generated by these lists often exceed what they receive at the actual event.  In this way the virtual fairs were able to do much to compensate revenue lost when planned-for fairs did not take place.

The second group consisted of books that were aggregated into a joint data base where each exhibitor was able to include a fixed number of items  (12 to 50) that could be searched, sorted and filtered in a variety of ways.  This is not too distant from the group search engines that we are already familiar with, except that here the individual dealers are given much more prominence and are better able to present themselves to potential buyers than in the search engine venues that people are already familiar with.  Buyers were also encouraged to believe that the books that were on offer were all new to the market.  Those who took the time to double-check this on Google, or even viaLibri, often discovered that this was not always the case, but it was for sure that at most of the fairs the sellers made an effort to put some of their best or most unusual items onto their virtual stands.

Most of the data-driven fairs were also interesting because they left the sold items on display, still priced, but flagged to let you know that someone else beat you to it. Unlike traditional fairs, I doubt if there were any books that passed through 2 or 3 virtual stands before the doors first opened to the public.  And given the number of sold stickers I saw at some fairs it is clear that, at those fairs at least, there were many sales taking place. I will admit that I had limited expectations regarding attendance, and the organisers apparently did too.  The ABAA and Firsts fairs were overwhelmed by visitors at their openings,  which in both sites being virtually frozen for at least twenty minutes, if not more.  Whether those visitors waited, came back later, or just gave up, I don’t know. But I think the prospects for future online book fairs are very good.  Several of the sponsors of the recent fairs have announced that they plan to have monthly fairs in the future.

I am very interested in hearing the comments from other buyers and sellers who participated in any of the VBFs that have just taken place.

Did they find them a good way to buy or sell?

Will they show up at future fairs?

Will the old-fashioned  book fairs return to their same prominence after the call for social distancing has been revoked?

ILAB Amsterdam Congress and Fair cancelled

The sad but generally expected cancellation of the ILAB  Congress in Amsterdam was announced yesterday, along with  similar news for the book fair that would have accompanied it. That news was followed today by cancellation of the September York fair, Europe’s largest.

 

The status of other future book fairs,  or at least those scheduled for sometime in 2020, is now an open question.

The most notable response, so far, has been a quick scheduling of  the alternative online events now generally referred to as “virtual” book fairs. At least a couple of these have already taken place and another 3 that we know of  are planned for the next three weeks.

Everyone is hopeful that these virtual fairs will find enough real buyers to help sustain booksellers and collectors until they are ready to emerge from lock down.   If you are interested in doing a bit of virtual book hunting we list below 3 events already on out calendar. If there are others you know of please let me know.

Virtual Grand Palais Book Fair and ILAB Webinar

Many of you may not be aware that a “virtual Book Fair” has been organised to fill the void left by the postponement of this year’s Salon du Livre Rare, traditionally held this week at the Grand Palais.  The familiar physical fair will now be held in September, but a new virtual version will also now be held on the usual dates.  Some details will be found here:

https://ilab.org/articles/next-ilab-webinar-paris-virtual-book-fair-launched-week

In connection with the virtual book fair there will also be a pair of Zoom webinars (French and English) scheduled to begin at 1 pm (Paris time) on Wednesday. These will provide the launch for the virtual fair, which opens on Thursday at 5. A more complete brief on the focus of the webinars has not been provided – to me at least – but I suspect they will extend themselves beyond just the idea of virtual bookselling.

Links for joining the webinars will be found by following the link shown above.  I haven’t yet found the url for the virtual fair itself, but will post it here as soon as I can get it.

Here is where you will find the virtual book fair, starting on Thursday at 5pm (Paris time):

https://www.salondulivrerare.paris/

Zooming The Coronavirus & Book Trade Lockdown

Last week’s ILAB-organised webinar on COVID-19 And The Rare Book Trade was a fascinating event for bibliophiles in general and the rare book trade in particular. (See last week’s blog post for more about this). Seven prominent booksellers from seven countries shared insights into how they are coping  with lockdown. For myself, I found it noteworthy how similar the experiences were around the globe.  In was yet more testimony of how much  Amor Librorum Nos Unit.

I’m told that over 170 people plugged into Zoom to listen to the conversation live and ask a few questions after the remote panelists were done.  Fortunately for those who could not log into the live event a recording was also made.  It can be watched here:

ZOOM

I hope everyone else will get as much out of this as I did.

COVID-19 And The Rare Book Trade – ILAB Webinar

The ILAB has organised a ZOOM webinar for members of the worldwide book trade to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on their business now and in the future

Lead by a panel of 7 prominent international booksellers,  the event is scheduled for 2pm London time on Thursday April 9 and will be open to everyone via the internet conferencing platform “Zoom.”

Details about the program and how to participate will be found here:

https://ilab.org/articles/rare-book-trade-invited-ilab-webinar

 

Women and Work


The Grolier Club recently hosted an important bibliographic exhibition entitled “Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection.” The collection focuses on early and rare books demonstrating the under-appreciated activities of working women in all areas and periods. Baskin gave a fascinating talk on her collection which can be viewed using the link above. It is well worth the time.

While the exhibition was taking place Baskin also lead several walking tours of 170 selected books from her collection that were on display. Those tours have now ended, but we can thank the Grolier club for also recording a video of one of them and making it available to all of us via Vimeo.

We can also highly recommend the illustrated catalogue that was published to accompany the exhibition, which had been held previously at its home in the David M. Rubenstein Library at Duke University. You can buy it here:

 

“Date added” is now a sorting option for search results

A few weeks ago we quietly released an exciting new feature for viaLibri. You can now sort results by the date they were put up for sale. This is a change that a lot of people have asked for in the past, and we think it will be very useful for a lot of people.

Under the surface this has required quite a bit of work to get right, and it’s not without its limitations. The amount of information we get about a listing varies greatly depending on what site it’s listed on. For some sites we know exactly when an item was put up for sale, while for others we can pin it down to a 24 hour period. There are three sites (Amazon, Booklooker and Buchfreund) for which we don’t have enough information to even take a guess at when an item was added. As a result items from these sites will be shown right at the end of the results when you’re sorting by “date added”.

The results may also be a bit patchy if your search returns a large number of results. This is a result of how we fetch data from some websites. For example, we can fetch up to 50 results from antiquariat.de, but those will either be the most expensive 50 items that match your criteria, or the least expensive 50 items that match your criteria. We have no way of requesting the most recently added 50 items that match your criteria. So if your criteria are broad enough to match more than 50 items from antiquariat.de then they will be either the most or least expensive items. They will be shown in the order that they were put up for sale, but there’s no guarantee that they’re the most recent items put up for sale. As a result of this you’ll always get more useful results by using the most specific search criteria you can.

One further thing to note is that this new feature is only available when you start your search from our homepage. You won’t be able to pick “date added” as an option when reordering a search that’s already been completed.

New US Tariffs on Chinese Imports to include any books, old or new, made in China

According to a report we have just received from the ILAB [International League of Antiquarian Booksllers] the recently announced US tariffs on Chinese imports will apply to used, old and rare books as well new ones.  This will even include books with only partial Chinese content and will apply to books imported from any country and produced at any period in time.

More details will be found on the ILAB website:  https://ilab.org/articles/new-us-tariffs-chinese-goods-applicable-antiquarian-material

French language version is available here:  https://ilab.org/fr/articles/nouveaux-tarifs-americains-sur-les-marchandises-chinoises

 

Do Book Collectors Need Rules?

I recently listened with great interest to an online recording of the 2019 Malkin Lecture delivered last month at the Rare Books School in Virginia by Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney.  Its provocative title was: “The Right and Wrong Ways to Collect.” If you missed the live performance and haven’t yet caught the recorded version then I would strongly encourage you to click this link –  bit.ly/2xNOE9z  – and listen to what they had to say.

Their title captured my attention because it connected directly with the topic of another lecture I had, myself, presented at the University of London’s Senate House some five years earlier. For my lecture the title was: “Taste and Technique in Book Collecting An Update for the Digital Age”. In my case, however, there were no recording devices present.  I had instead intended to rework my original oral presentation into something more readable and then post it on our website where I knew that, if nothing else, our friend the Googlebot could be counted on to find and read it.

Of course, as often happens, action did not readily follow intention and the notes from my talk soon found their way, instead, into an archive folder on my laptop where they were eventually saved and forgotten.  They would likely have stayed there, too, if listening to Heather and Rebecca had not brought them back to mind. I was thus nudged to update my own thoughts on the subject and put them into a form more suitable for appearing online. You can now find that here:

https://blog.vialibri.net/taste-and-technique-in-book-collecting-updated-for-the-digital-age/

Both lectures focused, in particular, on the ways in which the established “rules”and practices of book collecting have been altered, if not made completely irrelevant, by the internet and related technologies. Traditional collectors, and the booksellers who serve them, regularly bemoan the resulting loss of “standards” and complain of a general decline in book collecting as the inevitable result. I was happy to hear that Rebecca and Heather have seen a very different and more encouraging horizon. Theirs has been informed, in particular, by the numerous young collectors who have submitted entries to their annual Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize. They give us a glimpse of a very positive future and I was pleased to hear about them.

Many of these young collectors have no interest in following in the footsteps of their predecessors. Nor should they. Some of their interests may seem incomprehensible to the collectors of my generation;  they may have confessed to the prize judges that “I know I’m doing it wrong,” but what we learn from them is that,  in fact, there is no such thing as “doing it wrong.”

My own lecture concluded with a similar message.  It leaned heavily on the prescriptions of John Carter, the English bookseller who did more than anyone else of the previous century to explain and defend the “rules” of book collecting that guided my own generation of bibliophiles.  Those are among the rules that are now being being tossed aside, or simply ignored, by a new generation – one that is mistakenly accused of having no interest in books.  I personally find it fascinating to examine the origins and evolution of those rules, but it is even more exciting to think about the huge opportunities that are now opening up to this new wave of collectors who feel no need or interest in being told how or what to collect.

So if you are among the many who are skeptical and pessimistic about the future of book collecting I would like to direct you to the two links above. I hope they will cheer you up.

 

Heathrow Rare Book Theft: 15 Arrests Announced

After more than two years, it appears that the astonishing Heathrow warehouse rare book theft may finally be solved.  According to press releases from Europol and Eurojust, 15 criminals from a major Roumanian crime syndicate were arrested yesterday.  Details are posted here:

Eurojust Press Release.

Europol Press Release.

Great news, although the authorities have not yet said anything about recovery.