The Tool Tray and Things You Can Do With It.

There is one new feature we have added to our redesign that appears to have gone unnoticed by most of our users.  I hope that many of them will find it useful once they know that it is there.

They might not have discovered it because it is invisible until invoked. When not being used it hides on the search results page. You may already have noticed the checkbox that sits unobtrusively in the lower left corner of each description.  When you click on it and that book becomes “selected.”  At the same time a rectangular tool tray will appear on the lower right side of the screen. It shows a set of 5 icons which indicate various things you can do with the books you have selected. The first of these lets you select ALL the books on that page with just a single click . (Why that’s useful I explain further down).  Clicking the second icon will put all your selected items onto your clipboard. The third icon  creates and populates  a separate page that displays all your selected items (useful for printing).  The last icon can be used for sharing with social media.

For many, however, the most useful icon will be the one that looks like a tiny trash bin.  Clicking on that tool lets you remove from your search results all the items that you have selected using the checkboxes.  This is not a completely new feature.  Our previous version was also able to do this, only with a few different steps.

The new version was delayed because of a few backend improvements that proved to be more complicated than expected.  We also told ourselves that it was a minor feature that only a handful of power users would be looking for while we worked to finish it off.  On that we were definitely mistaken.  In all the feedback we have had so far during beta testing nothing has received more requests or comments than this feature and its omission.  I’m glad we finally have it enabled again and wish it had not been delayed for so long.

I hope you will have a chance to use it and the other tool tray features soon.  More feedback is welcome, as always.

viaLibri Beta Chapter Two

No, we haven’t finished yet.  It was more than three weeks ago that we first announced the public launch of the beta version of the redesigned viaLibri website, but it was still a work in progress.   The new site had already been under development for over 3 years and in that time had undergone a substantial update in both features and appearance. We knew that change is always dangerous when attempting to update a website that already had a loyal and contented following.  We also knew that over the years our regular users have always been generous with suggestions and  feedback.  Their observations had always been a valuable guide to our evolving design.  For those reasons we were eager to know how they would react to the changes we were preparing to show to them.  We were also eager to receive their feedback and make sure that the website we were trying to build for them would still be the tool they actually wanted to use.

We were thus very gratified by the initial response from our bookselling colleagues and other long time users.  We were happy to hear several of them describe the new design as “modern” (which they liked) and that they were pleased that we are at last mobile-friendly, a step which had been long overdue.

But the most useful responses were the ones we received from many of our long-standing and regular users, some of whom we had never heard from before, who waited for several days before sending their long and carefully described verdicts.  From these we learned many useful things.  The first thing we learned was how much our users liked viaLibri as it already was and how unhappy many of them were to see it change.  For some it was just a matter, readily acknowledged, of annoyance at needing to replace old habits with new.  But there were also some whose habits were natural and productive. We did not want to replace them with others that would not serve as well. Fortunately, in most cases, updates and redesigns were possible and we were able to incorporate them into the new version in ways that generally made the site better than it would otherwise have been.

One complaint that was especially frequent and strongly felt was a factor in many of the latest  changes we have made.  We now know that our customers very much prefer a compact site.  They don’t like to scroll and prefer a cramped page to a spacious one if that is the price for minimising  the  number of screens that must be scrolled.  And they don’t like empty white space for similar reasons.

This is just a sampling of some of the things we learned and have incorporated into this latest version of our redesign.  I don’t doubt that there will be even more helpful feedback following this latest release.  We look forward to receiving it, because we haven’t finished yet.

ViaLibri Redesign Goes Live

We are finally ready to launch our newly redesigned website. It’s time to celebrate at last.

We hope you will like our new look and feel, but appearance is probably among the least important changes we have made. Alasdair has added many useful and unique features that I’m sure will make your book hunting both easier and more productive. Among them we hope you will be pleased to discover the following:

  • Our site is now mobile friendly and easy to navigate across the full range of devices from smart phones to desktops.
  • We have added a sidebar to the left-hand column of the search results page that lets you examine and filter the data received in your search results. This provides a distribution breakdown for location; sources; first editions; signed, and dust jacketed copies; PODs; ISBNs and illustrated items. Use these to create refined and targeted results when initial results are too numerous to read to the end.
  • Searches can be limited to books shipped from specific countries only. Multiple countries can be selected, but if only a limited number of satisfactory results are returned from your home country you can try looking elsewhere guided by the totals shown in the sidebar .
  • Our popular library search tool has been updated to allow users to mark their most frequently used catalogues and automatically group them at the top of the list.
  • Browsers can limit their searches to illustrated items only.
  • Timed online book auctions are now also being included in searches.  At present this is limited to eBay and Catawiki, but we expect to be adding other auctions in the future. Libribot will start searching those auctions soon.
  • We can now block from all your search results any booksellers you may wish to exclude. Clicking on the round “stop” symbol next to the dealer’s name is all you need to do.  We are also often able to recognise when one bookseller is listing the same books using different names.  In that case we will consolidate the multiple listings under a single name, and if you choose to exclude one of those sellers then we will exclude them all.
  • On our home page we now have a simple search form (author, title, keyword) as well as our usual advanced form that includes over 20+ filtering options.
  • We now have a flexible selection tool that simplifies several bulk operations including Libribot and clipboard management, special list creation, social media sharing, search result pruning and social media sharing.

This is only a partial list of the new features and improvements that are being introduced today.  If you want to explore even further how to make the most of viaLibri we suggest that you try reading the lengthy search help pages that have also been updated to accompany our redesign.  You will find them here:

https://www.vialibri.net/content/search-help

And more exciting things are on the way. In the future we plan to continue adding new features as they are developed rather than waiting to group them together in a single major update, as we are doing today.  Going forward, we plan to always have some new feature or upgrade in the works.  The “beta” badge you see next to our logo reflects that. We will probably remove the badge before too long, but the condition it refers to should be perpetual. And for the substance of that future content we hope that the valuable suggestions and feedback we have always received from our users in the past will also be perpetual.  The newly redesigned website you see today has come from there.

A new look for viaLibri

For at least a couple of years now we have been hard at work building a new and improved version of viaLibri. That task is now nearly done.

A section of the home page can be seen above. All that remains is a bit more “beta testing” as we track down any elusive bugs and gather still more helpful feedback from our valued customers, colleagues and friends.

So, if you are at all curious to see what the new incarnation of viaLibri looks like then please visit our beta site and have a look for yourself.

https://beta.vialibri.net

Finishing touches are still being worked on, so please forgive any faults you discover. If you do notice anything buggy we hope you will alert us to it.

You will find a contact link among the other features now gathered at the bottom of each page.

Likewise, if you find that there are new features whose behaviour you believe could be improved then we will be happy to hear from you about them. There may not be time enough to include them in the current release, but the next to-do list list has already been started.

You don’t need to do anything special when you arrive, but if you want to try out all our new features we recommend that you start by logging in to your existing account. Your clipboard, Libribot matches, want lists, and other personalised data and settings will still be available as they are now. For the immediate future you will be free to switch back and forth between the old and the new. Nothing will be lost. But once you have become comfortable with our changes we hope you won’t want to stay in the past any longer than necessary. But don’t worry. The final transition will be finished very soon.

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.

“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.

When Libribot Finds Too Many Books

Are you getting more Libribot matches than you really want?

This is not a problem we expected, but we have, in fact, recently received a handful of emails with requests from users who were unhappy because they were getting too many matches. The source of their discontent: eBay.

This is not, of course, the majority view. Since we started including eBay in our searches last summer we have received many appreciative emails from regular users thanking us for this expansion.  I was, frankly, surprised at how enthusiastic the response was. The number of clicks, and purchases, has, as a result, significantly increased.

While the addition of eBay was applied generally, it is the Libribot matches that have, in particular, increased. While most of our Libribot users have been happy with this, two or three have written to complain about getting too may matches and that eBay was the primary source of their surfeit.  These particular users told us they hardly ever find what they are looking for on eBay and wanted to know if there was some way to eliminate all the eBay items from their Libribot search results.  When they wrote to us about this our answer, unfortunately, was “no.”

But we hate having “no” for an answer (Al especially).   So we (mostly Al) pushed this forward on the to-do list. We have now added another  new feature that provides check boxes for all the sites that Libribot can search. If you don’t want books from a given site (or sites) all you have to do is go to your Account Details page and uncheck its box.  It will look like this:

Unchecking the box for an individual site will tell Libribot to ignore that site when it is searching for books on your want list.  It will not, however, have any effect on the conventional searches you make using the home page form.  The way that works has not been changed.

You also need to be aware that this Libribot site exclusion will apply to all your wants.  If you only want to exclude a site from searching some of your more fertile wants, but still want to leave that site active in searches for other rarer items, then you need to do something else.

You may already be familiar with the exclusion filters that prevent matches on books that include specified keywords.  The same filters will also work with the names of bookselling sites.  For example, if you want to exclude eBay matches from your searches then all you need to do is put [ebay] into the keywords field of the Libribot search form.  This will exclude everything that has the word “ebay” anywhere in the description, including the name of the site where the item is for sale. You will have to do this individually for each of the permanent wants you have saved to your Wants Manager. If you have a large number of wants then this could take a long time.  However, if you are like most users with multiple wants you probably find that it is only a small portion of those wants that produced a large volume of unwanted results.  If you set up an exclusion for just those wants you will probably find that your results become quite manageable and you can leave the rarer items unchanged.

However, if you are certain you never want to see any books that are for sale on eBay then you can simply put [ebay] into the “Keyword Filters” box on your Account Details page.  This will prevent eBay matches being made not only by Libribot, but by all the one-off searches you may make manually from the home page.

Of course, these techniques are not limited to eBay.  You can use them to create an exclusion filter for most of the sites we search.  Most, but not all.  For example, using [bibliophile] as a keyword exclusion will filter out all the books from the bookselling site with that name, but it will also exclude all the books where the word “bibliophile” appears as part of the title or description. This might filter out items you actually want.  There are several sites where some caution may be necessary.

We think this new feature will be helpful for many of you.  More are in the pipeline.  If you have any suggestions for other additions please let us know.

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.

 

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 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.