Vialibri now searching Getman’s Virtual Book Fairs

Attentive users may have noticed that we recently added another new source for items to be included when searching for books and ephemera on viaLibri.   We were already searching 160 different sources, and are always looking for more, so in January we again added to the count and began including books and ephemera from Getman’s Virtual Book Fairs –  the oldest, largest and best known virtual book fair platform.  

I’m confident that our customers will be pleased to find these books now included in their results when they search for them manually. 

This will be especially good news if you are among the many viaLibri users who let the Libribot automate searching for the items listed on their want lists. 

As we all know, when a virtual book fair opens its imaginary doors there is always a virtual rush to find and claim all the choicest items first.  That can be difficult if you have a variety of interests and wants, all of which need to be searched for separately, one after the other. With a Getman virtual fair, however, viaLibri  can do the searching for you and then email you a notification when matches have been found.  The Libribot does all the work for you before the doors open.

This will also be good news for the exhibitors. viaLibri has over 160,000 active wants.  All of them will be matched against the items in each new Getman’s Virtual Book Fair and then continue to be included in active viaLibri searches until the fair is closed on Sunday.

The next opportunity for all this to happen will be the Greenwich Village Virtual Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair, open to everyone on Saturday February 24th at 12 noon ET.  A paid charity preview will also take place on Friday at 12 noon.

Our thoughts on Virtual Book Fairs

It has not gone unnoticed that this summer has marked three full years since the first virtual book fairs suddenly arrived on the bookselling scene and attempted to fill the vacuum created by COVID 19. At that time there was widespread concern within the book trade that the resulting universal closure of book fairs would bring in its wake the end of bookselling as we knew it. Much panic and moaning inevitably ensued.

In retrospect we can see that the COVID-related anxieties of June 2020 proved to be a bit inflated, at least with regard to antiquarian booksellers. There is, of course, no published statistical data on the subject. Looking at our own data, along with the anecdotal information we were receiving from others, tells me that the first year or two of lockdown was, in fact, profitable for many and manageable for most.

This pleasant surprise was due, I think, to the fact that while nearly everyone we knew had little or no trouble imagining the likely disastrous outcomes that would result from cancelling the fairs, few had yet anticipated the many good things that would occur when all the complications and constraints of physical book fairs were removed and alternative events arrived to take their place. It did not take them long to do so.

In the beginning the tactile and olfactory pleasures of handling old books were regularly cited as an essential feature of bibliophily. These are, of course, fine things and no one denies them, but the opportunities for appreciating them is restricted to those lucky collectors who are fortunate enough to find themselves regularly within travel distance of the locations where traditional book fairs regularly take place.

For booksellers who regularly exhibit at book fairs, geography also places constraints. To sell books you must travel. For the smaller fairs there is loading and unloading; packing and unpacking; petrol and, as often as not, a rented place to sleep. For the large international fairs convenient hotels are expensive while the merchandise will usually need to be shipped globally at an ever mounting cost.

In other words, physical book fairs are expensive, not to mention a lot of work. But in spite of it all, they were almost always popular, and even profitable – bearing in mind, of course, that many exhibitors are there mostly because of the opportunities to buy rather than sell.

Before COVID, all of this was taken for granted. Once the closures and quarantines had begun many collectors and dealers cautiously turned their attention to the internet where they soon began to notice that there were definite benefits to hunting for books online.

Librarians and archivists were especially responsive to the benefits of virtual fairs. They rarely have the time or budget for the kind of travel that regularly attending live book fairs requires. None of these restraints apply when the book fair is taking place right on your desk, or wherever it is that your other professional obligations may require you to be.

Of course, this applies to collectors as well. They have their own set of frustrations. Among these is the awareness that, while the retail customers are patiently waiting outside for the doors to open, the exhibitors inside have already been busy buying and trading for hours, if not days. I don’t fault them for this. The time required to unpack and prepare one’s booth makes it unavoidable. But it does give the insiders a tactical advantage over those who must wait patiently for the doors to open before they can begin.

There is much else that can be said on this topic. Shortly after the first wave of virtual book fairs went online in June of 2020 I published a blog post on this subject (https://blog.vialibri.net/did-you-go-virtual/). I was curious to hear from our users whether or not they were happy with this sudden innovation and so solicited their opinions about what had just taken place. I was also curious to hear what suggestions they might have to offer regarding what they would like to see when next era of virtuality has arrived.

I think that this time has now definitely come. I don’t have an official count showing how many virtual fairs are currently taking place, but what statistics I do see all show that attendance at individual digital fairs is significantly larger than at comparable live events. This is certainly the case in the U.S. and I expect that the trend will continue in other places as well.

We now have more than three years of experience with virtual fairs built on a variety of digital platforms.I cannot help being curious to know what an updated survey would tell us about how our users now feel about the current state of digital bookselling and the future direction they would like to see it take.

But I must confess that I am motivated here by more than mere curiosity. If, as I believe, online virtual events will be an increasingly crucial part of antiquarian bookselling in the future then this is something that viaLibri will want to participate in. And we have plans to do just that. As you may guess, this is an important motive behind soliciting input from our users today.

If you are like us and have your own ideas about what the next transformation of internet bookselling should look like then please share your thoughts with us here.

Welcome Uniliber

We are pleased to announce another increase in the number of  bookselling databases we now search. Our latest addition is the Iberian website Uniliber.com, which currently offers 5.4 million items from 278 Spanish and Catalan speaking booksellers.

It was formed  in 2005 by the Asociación Profesional del Libro y Coleccionismo Antiguos with members from nearly all the Autonomous Communities of Spain.  It operates as a non-profit association owned and controlled exclusively by its members.

We are very happy that they have decided to join us and will now look forward to introducing them to the customers who have been searching for their offerings in the global marketplace for old and rare books.

 

A new and clever way to use viaLibri

It was a pleasant surprise yesterday when I discovered that one of our customers was using viaLibri in a clever way that had not previously occurred to me.  The user, Denis Gouey, is a well-known bookbinder from Connecticut.  Naturally, he is interested in promoting his skills on the internet. You can find him on Facebook  where, on Friday, he published a post that links to a viaLibri search result listing all the books on viaLibri that match on the keyword “Denis Gouey”.  As a result, anyone visiting him on facebook can click on this link and see pictures of lots of books bound by him and currently for sale online.

This was actually a fairly simple thing for him to do, since the booksellers who are offering examples of his work are happy to mention Denis in their descriptions and should be eager to do anything that might increase exposure for items they are offering for sale.

One interesting thing to note is that when I first saw Denis’s post yesterday there were 79 items, or “puppies” as he called them, that appeared on his list. Now there are only 70. I would be very curious to know what happened to those books.

We’re hiring!

We are happy to announce that following another month of continued growth we are looking to expand our technical staff. We’re searching for a full stack developer who wants to work remotely. If you think you might be interested in joining us please check our our latest job announcement, recently posted here:

We are now happy to report that the openings have been filled.

 

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.

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 resulted 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?