More Good News For eBay Fans

Regular eBay buyers (and we have learned that there are many of them) should be happy to hear that we have just expanded our coverage to include eBay sellers in Australia, Canada and Ireland.  This will bring another 3 million books to the roughly 35 million eBay titles we brought online in July when we first began searching eBay.com (U.S.) and eBay.co.uk (U.K.).

Today’s expansion makes it possible to search in one place all 5 anglophone eBay sites.  We know of no place else where that can be done.  (Not to mention the other two dozen international sites we search.).

But it won’t end here. While our English-speaking customers are now fully served, we still have multiple European eBay sites that also beg to be searched. We plan to get those included as soon as possible.

And don’t forget that searching with viaLibri puts important tools and filters into your hands that are unavailable when searching on eBay itself.  For example: do you sometimes search for early items only to be annoyed by a flood of modern reprints that you must endlessly scroll through instead.    Click “No ISBNs” and “No PODs” and viaLibri will  help you cull what you don’t really want.  Or you can filter your results by the exact date range you want. Or sort by publication year. Interested only in books on Chicago from before 1872? Good luck trying that directly on eBay.

This should also be good news for viaLibri users who have recorded their permanent wants in our Wants Manager: Libribot will now also search daily for listings from the the newly added eBay sites. To take advantage you don’t have to do anything.  Your latest matches will be emailed to you automatically.

But if your desiderata have not yet been added to your Wants Manager then this would be a great time to do so.  Those 3 million new items mentioned above are now about to be matched against want lists for the very first time.

Get ’em while they’re hot.

 

viaLibri adds another new source for old books.

We are pleased to announce another addition to the wide range of sources we are search.  Beginning today we are including over 2 million books from the new ChrislandsSearch website.  All these items are for sale on independent online bookstores built and hosted by Chrislands.

In addition to now being searchable with our home page search engine, new items being added to the ChrislandsSearch group inventory will also soon be matched by our Libribot against all the want lists of our registered and Premium Services customers.  If you have wants saved to our Wants Manager you may soon start receiving matches from hundreds of ChrislandsSearch booksellers.

Of course, if you don’t yet have any wants stored in your Wants Manager then we will have nothing exciting to report.  So maybe this is finally the time for you to create a want list and discover the power of Libribot.

 

Charges filed in Carnegie library theft

Charges were filed today in the theft of rare books at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  So far the most extensive public information about the crime and indictments has appeared int the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under a headline reading:

Two men charged with stealing more than $8 million in rare books from Carnegie Library

Unfortunately, the Post-Gazette website is completely blocked to visitors in the European Union, making access to these latest details difficult for  anyone on this side of the Atlantic to obtain.   We have, however, been sent a PDF copy of the online version of the newspaper story and are thus able to provide it here.

PDF Version of Post-Gazette report on Carnegie Library thefts

Clicking the link above will open up a printer screen that will allow you to print the full story (14 pages).  Click Cancel if you prefer to display a scrollable version of the same story.

Thoughts on Amazon’s $2630.52 Bodice Ripper.

A few days ago, under the online banner “Amazon’s Curious Case of the $2,630.52 Used Paperback,” the venerable New York Times reported with surprise on  phenomena we are all too familiar with: second hand books for sale at absurd prices.   The first  book in question was a 2009 romance novel, for sale on Amazon, entitled “One Snowy Knight.” Having brought this information to the attention of David Streitfeld, the Times’ respected Amazon authority, the author then innocently asked “How many really sell at that price? Are they just hoping to snooker some poor soul?” She then alternatively wondered whether Russian hackers might not have taken up the manipulation of used book prices to keep themselves busy during their spare time.

The answers to the questions are: 1-we will be astonished to ever see evidence that books with similarly absurd prices do actually sell, even on Amazon, and; 2- Russian hackers have better things to do, even when there are no elections available for them to subvert.  The inflated prices reported in the the story are, almost certainly, the products of imperfect algorithms created to continually reprice products without any human intervention. Booksellers call it “robopricing,” a term of general contempt.

How this works and what it means for the future of second-hand bookselling is a dismal subject. I have already written a lengthy blogpost about it, which can be read  HERE. I will refrain from going over it again.  The  New York Times article did, however, bring up a few interesting questions that I did not cover in my earlier post.

The focus of the Times piece was, of course, Amazon.  Certainly the automated pricing tools are effective there, and it would be hard to argue that price adjustment is not a natural, even essential, part of retail sales.  And when a price is obviously off the mark then it is probably due to a flawed algorithm rather than a scheme to fleece a naive and price-indifferent buyer.

But I am also wondering if there might not be more to it than that. Could there be other ways to benefit from putting a crazy price on a used book?  In this case I couldn’t help but notice that the $2,630.52 bodice-ripper in question was out of print and the colourful tweet that illustrated the online version of the story made it a point to mention that a new reprint was scheduled for release in July.  It can’t have been bad publicity for this news to appear on page B1 of the NYT when it did.  Was it just a fortuitous coincidence? The author, Deborah MacGillivrary, is no ingénue in the art of influencing book sales on Amazon.  Perhaps she has discovered some clever method for boosting the sales rank of a new book by drastically inflating the price of second-hand copies.  If so, she is not letting us in on her secret.

However, someone from MacGillivrary’s publisher, Kensington, is also quoted in the story and prefers to point the finger of blame in a different direction. “Amazon is driving us insane with its willingness to allow third-party vendors to sell authors’ books with zero oversight… It’s maddening and just plain wrong.”

Streitfeld also sees culpability in the third-party sellers. He writes: “Amazon is by far the largest marketplace for both new and used books the world has ever seen… (Amazon)  directly sells some books, while others are sold by third parties. The wild pricing happens with the latter.”

The problem with this is that third-parties are the only sellers of second-hand books on Amazon, which is only interested in selling new books on its own account. Without third-party sellers its book offerings would be limited to what is in print (or recently remaindered).  At that point Amazon ceases to be “by far the largest marketplace for new and used books.”  That status (which is quite arguable to begin with)  would then belong to a metasearch site – like viaLibri for instance – where the number of independent sellers  and second-hand book offerings substantially out-number those available from the Big A, even when its new titles are added in.

But this strays, of course, from the primary focus of the story, which gaped at an incomprehensible price attached to what should have been a cheap used paperback.  It is not clear how this threatened the sanity of the featured publisher, who we presume is not also a third-party seller and does not traffic in used books.

We are also warned about “the wild pricing specialists, who sell both new and secondhand copies”.  I have some experience in this particular world and this is not a category of bookseller I have yet encountered – at least not one who was active as a third party bookseller who sold both new and used copies with ‘wild’ prices.  This explanation comes from Guru Hariharan, a former Amazon employee who now heads a company “which develops artificial intelligence technology for retailers and brands.”  Referring to these wild pricing specialists he explains that “By making these books appear scarce, they are trying to justify the exorbitant price that they have set.” If Mr. Hanrahan’s has indeed discovered a method for making common books appear scarce then the prospects for his company would be rosy. I  wouldn’t count on it. Internet search engines now provide a definitive measure of scarcity that is visible to anyone in the market place for old books.  While it might be possible to make a scarce book appear common, I have not yet learned the secret for making a common book appear scarce.  When I have mastered that bit of magic I will be sure to keep it to myself.

Unless I’m too late. The Russian hackers may already have started to work.

 

A better way to “Buy It Now” on eBay.

We are pleased to announce that viaLibri now includes books from eBay as part of its search results.  If you look in the “Where to Search” panel in the upper right hand corner of our home page search form you will see two check boxes for eBay.com and eBay.co.uk. When these have been ticked the old, rare and out-of-print “Buy It Now” book listings from those two sites will be added to all the items from all the other sites we already search.  This means that over 30 million more items have now become searchable.

And there are more to come.  We expect to start searching auctions on eBay in the near future and plan to expand to other international eBay sites as well.

But beyond just adding numbers to our search results we are also creating a better way to search eBay for books.  You can now use viaLibri to search for books on eBay in ways that are not possible on any other site, including eBay itself.  Once you have given us a try we are confident you will not want to go back to whatever you did before.  Here are some of the things you will now be able to do, for the first time, when searching for books on eBay:

Authors: What could be more essential to the identity of a book than the name of its author?  Nothing that we can think of.  When a book is listed on eBay the author’s name is just another undifferentiated tidbit of information. Searching specifically by author is not possible.  To overcome this limitation we have developed techniques to extract the author’s name from most eBay book descriptions . This means, for example, that if you wanted to search for books written by Martin Luther you could have results that were not also cluttered with books about him. You can also combine this with our exclusion feature to make sure that your search for books by Martin Luther did not also fill your results with books by or about Martin Luther King.  This is something you cannot do when searching on eBay itself.

Publication Dates: The year in which a book was published is, of course, an essential element in determining its interest and value.  One of the most useful tools that viaLibri offers to collectors is the ability for search for books within a specific date range and to sort results by date.  If you are only interested in books on a subject before a certain date we can filter your results to eliminate the things you don’t want. This is something else you can’t currently do when searching on eBay directly.

Fuller descriptions for search results: Native search results on eBay show only a title, price and photo for the books that are returned.  To see any details you need to click through to another page.  Our results will in most cases show, in the results list,  the notes or condition information provided by the seller.  In this way, much needless clicking is avoided.

Bookseller easily identified: In addition to details about the book, our results list will also give the name of the seller who is offering that item, this helping to identify favoured sellers and eliminating what should be an unnecessary click.

First Editions:  We have built our own eBay tool to find books which have been identified by their sellers as first editions. After testing the results we have found that we usually return significantly more eBay firsts when we search on viaLibri than when we search on eBay itself.

Signed copies:  The same thing applies when we search for signed copies.  In fact, with signed books we do even better than with first editions.  In one case, for example, we turned up 3 signed copies of books by a particular author, while eBay had none, and did not even get an option for trying.  If your collecting interests are focused on signed copies we should be able to help you find more of them.

Clipboard: The viaLibri clipboard is available for saving details of items you have found on eBay, along with items from any of the other sites we search.  Even after the book is sold or withdrawn, the information about it will be stored indefinitely for future reference, or until you decide to delete it.

Exclusions:  When searching on viaLibri you can specify words or phrases that help identify items that you want to exclude from your search results. eBay lets you use a single word in the title to select items for exclusion; viaLibri lets you use multiple words or phrases, and the exclusions can be applied specifically to the author, title or keyword fields. For example, this would be useful if you were searching for books about Charles Darwin but did not want books written by him. This can be easily done with viaLibri, but is impossible when searching directly on the eBay site itself.

No ISBN: A checkbox on the viaLibri search form lets you filter out books which have ISBN numbers. This is useful for identifying and excluding modern reprints of early editions when it is only the early editions that are of interest.

Translation:  When an item is described in a foreign language you can use the viaLibri translation feature to translate the text into the language of your choice.

If you are only interested in looking for books on eBay then we feel quite confident that viaLibri is the best way for you to do it.  All you need to do is go to the “Where to Search” panel and uncheck all the options except “eBay (UK)” and “eBay (US).” But why would you want to do that?  We have over two dozen other boxes you can check that will lead you to books from many thousands of additional booksellers from around the world.  eBay is an excellent place to look for books, but if it is the only place you have been looking so far, then I think you are in for a pleasant discovery.

If you are, on the other hand, a long time hard-core eBay buyer then I think you will also be in for a pleasant surprise.  Give it a try and see for yourself if we don’t make your hunt for books on eBay both easier and more productive.

 

Now We Have Amendments to the EU Cultural Goods Regulations. Manuscript Buyers Take Heed.

Back in March I posted here a series of blog posts concerning  proposed EU regulations for the importation of “cultural goods.”  The official objective of these regulations was to combat the looting and destruction of important cultural sites  and to prevent the financing of  terrorism through the trafficking of stolen cultural goods and artefacts.  Early books and manuscripts were included among the objects that were targeted by these new rules even though no one I have heard from has yet seen evidence of terrorist finance activity in the rare book market.  

Needless to say, there was a great deal of concern in the antiquarian book market once the details of the proposed regulations became known and understood.   The alarm, however, was somewhat relieved by the fact that the next stage in the process would allow for amendments to the initial proposal and that there was acknowledgement among at least some of the people involved that major changes needed to be made.

Well, changes are, indeed, afoot, but whether they improve or worsen the situation probably depends on the age and value of the objects you are interested in and whether they are most often books or manuscripts. For booklovers the extent of the burdens may, indeed, be a bit reduced.  But for those who collect early manuscripts (and in some cases not so early) it looks like things will become even worse than originally proposed.

The deadline for making amendments has now passed.  There are at least 381 of them, and I must confess to having skipped over a few. From our perspective, however, the most crucial amendments relate to the ANNEX at the end of the proposal.  This is where they list all the various categories of cultural goods and define which items will be subject to import controls and which ones will not.  There are nine separate proposed amendments, each with a different comprehensive set of rules.  The major change being introduced now is the addition of valuation thresholds,  although a variety of changes to the original age threshold of 250 years are also included.

The different amendments appear to be the work of the different political parties represented on the committee. All but one of them  are proposed by only one, two or three MPs.  For example, Amendment 413, sponsored by the 3 MPs from the European Peoples Party, adds a  €50,000 minimum value threshold for most of the categories, including “old books, documents and publications of special interest ” that are more than 250 years old. This provides some relief for bibliophiles.  However, this amendment leaves unchanged the original proposal as it regards incunabula and manuscripts over 250 years old .

But those amendments are probably all irrelevant.  It is Amendment #408, offered by 6 members of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which seems most likely, if any, to pass.  This amendment makes several significant changes.  With respect to books, the age threshold is reduced dramatically. Where the original proposal exempted books less than 250 years old, this amendment would reduce the age threshold to only 100 years.  On the other hand, relief is offered by the introduction of a price threshold of €50,000 euros. Whether these two changes would raise or lower the number of books that would be covered is hard to say.  Incunabula, which presumably includes incunable leaves, are still treated separately and will have no price threshold.

The greatest impact, however, will be on manuscripts.  Previously only manuscripts over 250 years old were covered. Amendment #408 would reduce this to 50 years;  and there is no compensating price threshold set.  Any 51 year-old hand-written document would be subject to these rules regardless of value.  There is an exception made for manuscripts belonging to their creators, but this is likely to be a very limited case.

It is extremely hard for me to find any sense here.  The fear that terrorists are financing their activities through the looting and trafficking of old letters and hand-written documents seems obviously groundless. I cannot swear that such a thing has never happened and never will, but the extreme improbability of it balanced against the enormous amount of effort and expense involved in controlling it by these methods makes a complete travesty out of any claim that the authors of the regulations had any real concern for the proportionality that their regulations are supposed to  respect. Much more could be said on this, but it seems unnecessary.

Another serious problem is created by an idea that appears for the first time in the amendments: minimum value thresholds.  These are designed to significantly reduce the number of objects that are covered and thus limit the administrative burden placed on the importers and agencies involved.  At first glance this idea makes sense and seems like an improvement over the original regulations, which were to be applied regardless of value.  However, nothing is said here about how the these valuation thresholds will, in practice, be implemented.  I can imagine only two possibilities.

The first possibility is that the importer would be required to submit an appraisal to prove that his goods fell below the minimum value threshold and were thus exempt from control. As far as I can see, there is no other requirement for a current appraisal as part of the import process.  As a result, what we have here is the rather odd consequence that only the goods that are not subject to regulation will have to submit to the expense and delay of competent appraisal.  And this assumes that the individual who wants to import something will have access to or know how to find someone with the necessary expertise.

The only alternative I can think of would be to have the importer simply declare a value himself,  with or without the needed expertise.  But of what use is that?  If there are, in fact, terrorist manuscript dealers who are hoping to traffic their booty in the EU then I think they will be unlikely to declare the value of their goods to be in excess of the crucial threshold.  In this context self-assessment is meaningless. Only the honest and innocent will be burdened by the rules.

As mentioned, there are 9 different amendments, each with its own age and value threshold.  Some are worse than others. For example, Amendment 416 (drafted by MEPs from the Greens/European Free Alliance) does nothing except to change all the age thresholds from 250 years to 75 years.  From my perspective Amendment 414 seems the least unreasonable, setting a minimum value threshold of €50,000 for books created before 1700 and  for “rare manuscripts and incunabula before 1500 (sic).”  But the lack of a reasonable and effective method for implementing the minimum value threshold is still a fatal flaw.

There is, however, one additional amendment (#417) that does seem reasonable and in more sensible alignment with the professed purpose of the proposed rules.  Daniel Dalton, an MP from the UK, has proposed a second Annex which reads,  simply,  “List of Countries at Risk.”  No details are provided with the Amendment text found on the European Commission site, but one can easily imagine what this might entail.  There already exist restrictions for cultural goods imported from Iraq and Syria.  Import regulation for those countries, and any others under similar terrorist threat,  do make some sense. Whether on not this amendment can, in fact, accomplish that is not clear.  Hopefully it is not too late in the process.  As for the other amendments, I think they fall well short of correcting the deeply flawed regulations they attempted to repair.

 

 

Ups and Downs as we move to the clouds.

Searching on viaLibri has been up and down for much of the day today, chiefly as a result of recently moving our data to a cloud server. A few technical issues have emerged during the migration, in several cases causing the site to go down for a while until we made some adjustments. Search is again up and running and we hope to keep it that way, but the issues are not completely resolved and there are a few sites that are still temporarily missing from our results. We will keep working on it until everything is fixed and results from all our search sites are back.

We are very sorry for these interruptions and apologise for any inconvenience they may have caused. Once we have completely recovered we expect you will resume your searches on a much improved viaLibri, in terms of both speed and reliability. In the meantime your patience is greatly appreciated.

-Jim

York Antiquarian Book Seminar 2018

The York Antiquarian Book Seminar will take place again this September for the fifth year running. It is an excellent educational opportunity for anyone interested in becoming an antiquarian bookseller, or just wants to learn about the marketplace for old and rare books. Three full days of courses will “provide an opportunity for leading specialists to share their expertise and experience with booksellers and collectors in a comprehensive survey of the rare book market, both antiquarian and modern.”

We are strong supporters of this program and will, this year, be making our own contribution to the benefits of participating by giving to all YABS students a free one-year subscription to viaLibri Premium Services. (This is normally a $150 value).

For more information about YABS you can go to their website here: https://www.yabseminar.com/.   You should also note that there are several organisations and individuals who are offering scholarships to cover the full £495 tuition fee. A list of these can also be found on the site.

Poll on proposed EU import rules for books and other cultural goods


We have just added to the viaLibri blog an online poll on a question that should be of interest to all our users. It gives them an opportunity to record their opinions regarding European Union regulations, newly proposed, to control the importation of cultural goods, especially early books, manuscripts and prints.

We have also included on the polling page a number of links to documents and articles explaining the issues involved in this important piece of legislation. After you have cast your vote you will have an opportunity to leave your own comments and respond to the comments of others.

If you believe that these issues are important, as we do, then please share our links with your friends and any others who care about  protecting the unrestricted international exchange of early books, manuscripts and prints.

New rules for importing early books and manuscripts into the EU – it will not be fun.

In my earlier post about the proposed EU import regulations I left out a detailed description of the ordeal you will have to go through when importing cultural goods. For most of the dealers I have heard from this is their primary concern. And with good reason.   Although the details have not yet been spelled out completely, from what what I have read so far it seems possible that, for some at least, tranquilisers may be required.

After having now read the documentation several times this is what I understand:

For imports requiring an import licence (this would be incunabula and “rare manuscripts” over 250 years old) the “holder of the goods” must apply for an import licence from a “competent authority.” The “holder of the goods” is defined as the “person who is the owner of the goods or who has a similar “right of disposal” over them or who has physical control of them.” The competent authority, though not defined, will generally be a customs office  that has special competence and training in the evaluation of cultural goods.  These do not yet exist.

In simple cases  this licence application is submitted to the competent customs office along with documentation proving that the goods were exported legally. The competent authority then has 30 days to examine the application and request any additional information or documentation it may feel it needs. Once the application is considered complete the competent authority has an additional 90 days to accept or reject it. When the application is accepted an import licence is issued. The goods may not be imported until the export licence is presented. Since provisions are made for the seizure of goods which enter the EU without a required licence, I assume that the items should not leave the export country until after the export licence has been issued.

Incunable leaf from Gart Der Gesundheit, Mainz 1485. Saw this yesterday at a London book fair for sale for £90. Next year it could require an EU import license to bring it back to Mainz. (Photo courtesy of John Underwood Antiquarian Books)

The application must be made by a “holder of goods,” which means either ownership or physical possession. So if you are an EU resident and want to buy an incunable or early manuscript from an American seller you will first have to pay for your book, leave it in the US, apply for a licence and wait for the licence to be issued. Only then do you have the item shipped. It will have to be received by the right kind of customs office and examined there to make sure that the goods received correspond with the item described in the license. Only then will you be allowed to have your book.

I should note that Article 7 refers to restricting the number of customs offices that will be competent to release cultural goods. This suggests unavoidable difficulties if you happen to live someplace that is far from the right kind of customs office. If you are like me it is unlikely  you will be comfortable having a valuable incunable or manuscript sent to a distant customs office to be examined and then sent back to you in the post. It is not mentioned at whose expense and risk such a shipment would be made.

The situation is only a bit simpler for books (or prints) that are not incunables. These are a separate category which require a self-generated importer statement instead of an import licence. But the problems are similar. The statement also needs to be presented to a “competent” customs office which will physically examine the book to determine that it corresponds with the statement you provided. It may also decide to conduct an “expertise,” which would presumably involve some additional delay. It is, again,  unclear what the regulations anticipate happening in the situation where you live some distance from the right kind of customs office. Does the book get sent directly to customs and held there until your statement is received and your book examined? After that do you need to go to the customs office personally to recover your property, or will it be sent to you in the post?

None of these problems are meaningfully addressed in any of the documents I have read, which leads me to suspect that the people behind it all have yet to figure out a tolerable solution to them.  I know I certainly haven’t.

Or is it possible that the regulations just assume that these steps will all be handled by customs brokers, and they just forgot to mention it? If that is the case, then the situation may be even worse than we imagine.