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 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.

 

How To Find A Rare Book

I think most people now take it for granted that finding an old book isn’t very hard.  Of course, this wasn’t always the case.  There was a time, not too long ago, when finding even a relatively ordinary out-of-print book print involved a fair amount of effort and patience.  Having already blogged about that HERE I will resist the temptation to rattle on about that subject again.

Things are very different now.  If you want to find an old book today it is all very simple:  just fill out a form on viaLibri, click the Search button, and then scroll through all the results. If the book you want is being offered for sale almost anywhere on the internet then our comprehensive search engine will almost surely find it for you. And you are likely to find many copies to choose from. Even on a site like viaLibri, which specifically targets the interests of collectors, the median number of results returned from each search is 14.  In most cases the only challenge is deciding which copy you want to buy.

But not always. Even with the huge ocean of the internet to fish in it is also possible to search for a book and have nothing show up in the results. Although unusual, it does sometime happen that there are no copies for sale.    That is when we can start talking about something being rare.

‘Rare’ is a word we have lately learned to use only with some trepidation.  It was subject to much abuse in the days before online bookselling when the primary tool of measurement was nothing more certain than the experience and expertise of whoever was describing the book.  Needless to say, the reliability of personal expertise can be quiet variable, and when mistaken claims of rarity have made their way into reference works and respectable bookseller catalogues it is inevitable that they will be repeated elsewhere and eventually take on the appearance of fact – all of which was possible because, for most of the books that might be encountered in the market place, there was usually no objective reference to validate or refute a claim of rarity.

 Then, of course, the internet came along, and with it the perception of rarity ceased to be a matter of judgement and experience and became, instead, a simple,  measurable fact.  A book for which multiple copies were available online could no longer be considered rare and no bibliographic authority could make it otherwise.  To much consternation and dismay, many books long regarded as “rare” were found to be otherwise. As a result, a new simpler measure established itself:

No-copies-for-sale-online = RARE

A simplistic formula for sure, but its simplicity and empirical objectivity trumped any other considerations, at least as far as the marketplace was concerned; and it was a proof available to all.

Using that criteria it turns out that a significant number of the books that people want cannot, at this moment, be found for sale online.  A check in the search log for viaLibri shows that roughly 1 search in 5 returns an empty result.  Moreover, while it turns out that many of the books once thought to be rare are actually not so, it has also become apparent that there are many more genuinely rare books than might previously have been imagined.  When they surface they are compared with what is already for sale online.  If there are no other copies found then they are far more likely to receive a careful examination than they would have in a less connected world.

At the top of this post I alluded to how easy the internet has made it to find copies of most out-of-print books.  One might suppose that rare books would be different and that if the book you wanted was not currently available for sale online then there would not be much that the viaLibri could do to help you find it.  But that isn’t necessarily so.

If a book is not available today that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t appear tomorrow, or next week, or six months from now.  But it also doesn’t mean you have to keep coming back every day to look for it.  That is what we created Libribot to do.  Once your search criteria have been saved in the Wants Manager you can sit back and relax. Our persistent search bot will then start to work checking daily for new listings of the book you want. When it finds one it will send you an email with a direct link to the website where the book is being offered for sale.

You may think that you are doomed to wait a very long time if the book you are looking for is “rare”  and not currently available online, but that isn’t necessarily true.  It is often the case that a book cannot be found for the simple reason that the demand for it greatly exceeds the supply.  In absolute terms it may not be considered rare, but in practical terms it will effectively be so.  When a book of this sort appears on the market it doesn’t take long for it to be noticed, sold and to disappear. If you really want it then you will need to move fast and buy it before someone else.  Libribot can help make sure you are not too late.

Even if the book is really not that rare, it may be that all the copies you find online are more expensive than what you want to pay.  In that case you might resign yourself to the idea that the book is beyond your reach. You shouldn’t give up so easily. The copies you find but can’t afford may just be over-priced.  They may belong to patient sellers who hope some day to get the maximum price possible.  While they are waiting, however, other sellers may come along who, in return for a quick sale, will be happy to let their copy go more reasonably. All you need to do is tell Libribot and it will quickly go to work and report to you when it finds a copy with a more agreeable price. And if you tell Libribot the maximum you are prepared to pay it will continue searching for your book without bothering you about copies that don’t fit your budget.

All of which is meant to show you that if you aren’t already letting Libribot help you find books then maybe you should give it a try.  Times have changed and finding rare books may now be much easier than you think.

Searching for books in the digital age.

Anyone who managed to struggle to the end of my recent post on  “Searching For Books In Days Of Yore” may recall my reckless promise to continue on that topic at a later date.  It was not an idle threat. So, ignoring the fact that I am probably the only person who actually finds this subject of interest, I will keep my promise and now pick up where I left off two weeks ago.

In case you hadn’t noticed, a lot of things about book searching have changed since the days I was describing in my previous post.  Out of all of them, one fundamental change in particular needs to be mentioned first:  before the internet came along, if you wanted a specific book that was out-of-print you almost always needed a bookseller to find it for you.  There were no real options for doing it yourself.  The periodicals which carried the necessary “books wanted” lists were all trade publications. Private buyers did not advertise in them. The search process was effectively closed to the retail customer. This meant that if a sought-after book was available somewhere the buyer who wanted it never actually came in contact with the dealer who had it in stock.  At least two booksellers were required for every sale.

The internet made one of those booksellers superfluous.

Needless to say, this innovation did not generate enthusiasm from the booksellers who had once derived income from the inefficient system it destroyed.   I have enormous sympathy for them, as I do for all the travel agents, encyclopedia salesmen, music store owners, directory publishers, newspaper delivery boys and members of any other occupations whose lives were similarly upended by the internet.   The current popular term for this is “disruption.” It is a very Big Thing and has many people excited.  Venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs worship in the temple of disruption. They spend a good portion of their working day trying to cook up new ways to render useless the existing skills and practices that provide a living for the rest of us.   Thus, when disruption came to the book searching business about 15 years ago there was no cheering from the trade. It is easy to understand why.  For many of them it was the end of the world as they knew it.

As for myself, there is definitely a part of me that would be quite content if they called a halt to all this disruption and just let everyone go on with their business doing things as they had always done them before.   I especially feel this way when I think about all my fellow booksellers who once made a living helping their customers find books in the pre-digital age.  In fact, I must confess that I ran a book search service myself once upon a time.  It was how I got my start in the book business, even before my wife and I opened our first shop. I did not know then that I was a dinosaur, and was happy not to know it.  Things seemed just fine the way they were.

But today, for better or worse, I have to count myself among the disrupters.  It would be pointless to pretend otherwise.  And if I stand in that camp and consider the question of book searching I feel compelled to do it from the perspective of the buyer rather than the seller.  When I do that, this is what I see:

-Before the internet, if you discovered an out-of-print book that you thought might be of interest it generally took at least a week or two just to find out if there might be a copy available somewhere for sale.

After the internet you could find this out in seconds.

– Before the internet you might learn about a book that you thought could be of interest to you, but have no idea of what it might cost you if a copy were found.  The only way to find out would be to put a friendly bookseller to the expense and trouble of searching for it for you. Since there was always good chance it might cost more than you could afford or want to pay, it was likely that you would only decide to do this if it were a book you absolutely had to have it.

After the internet you could quickly check the price and availability of any book without expense, embarrassment or commercial engagement.

-Before the internet, the pool of available books to search from was limited to the available stock of those booksellers who took the time and trouble to quote from published want lists.  This was only a tiny fraction of the total books available in the marketplace.

After the internet, the pool of findable books exploded as it became possible for booksellers to upload their entire inventory online and leave it there until sold.  At the same time, the actual quoting of a book became unnecessary to sell it.  These two things made it dramatically easier to locate a reasonable copy of a wanted book.

– Before the internet  the reach of want lists rarely went beyond national or linguistic boundaries. The periodicals that carried them had limited distribution beyond the countries they were published in, and quoters rarely saw profit in mailing out quotes at international postage rates.  This made searching for books published in other countries or languages especially difficult.

After the internet the marketplace became international.  Metasearch sites brought books together from booksellers around the world.  Customers were no longer limited to looking for foreign books primarily from the stocks of booksellers in their own country.

– Before the internet, most of the book descriptions offered to search services provided little more than a coded description of format and condition. Things like “8vo, v.g./dj.” were often all you knew about the copy you were offered to buy,

After the internet descriptions became fuller and more useful. Many copies were even illustrated with photos, and if photos were necessary and not already displayed online it was always possible to ask for them to be sent as email attachments. 

Of course, the most significant change of all was in the price of books. Before the internet, common books purchased through search services were usually quite expensive relative to what they would normally sell for anywhere else.

After the internet, common books became cheap.

I could go on, but there is no need.  The point is made.  Disruption came to the world of book searching and the result, for the consumers at least, was a dramatic change for the better.  What was once impossible became possible. What was once difficult became simple.  What was once costly became cheap.  And the vast availability of books online, coupled with new and powerful tools to search for them, enabled serious bibliophiles to pursue their interests in ways that were unimaginable two decades before.

Collectors, of course, already know this – the younger ones in particular. I hear it from them often. They are happy. Many of them have come to realize that they are living in a golden age. The booksellers of my generation, however,  are not all convinced.  I still hear many of them complaining about how heavy and shiny everything has become.  I try to argue with them sometimes, but I never win.

Two Hundred Years and Still Searching

I received an email the other day from one of my favorite librarians at one of my favorite libraries.  The original cause for writing is unimportant, but on a cold gray day I got a big boost out of something that was mentioned at the end.

The library in question, the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island, is one of the oldest in North America.  Its original collection consisted of 751 titles shipped  from London in 1749, plus 126 additional early donations “by Several Gentlemen”.    To modern collecting tastes these are not particularly exciting books, but that is also unimportant. They are of interest to me, however, as a demonstration of the fact that books, even run-of-the-mill reprints,  are so much more vulnerable and hard to replace than the buildings that shelter and attempt to protect them; because in this case, while the library itself still stands, the collection it originally housed was stolen, destroyed or dispersed within a few decades of its original formation.

The loss, I should add, was quickly perceived.  For over two centuries now the successive librarians in charge have been working hard to replace the lost volumes and recreate the collection they started with over 250 years ago.   The list of missing volumes has been widely distributed and no sale list or catalogue of 18th century books arrives at the library without close scrutiny.  Acquisition funds have been available.  Scouts are on the hunt. Two hundred years is a long time to look for a book, and yet over 90 items (out of 877) still elude the empty shelf space that is waiting for them.

Libribot wants a shot at that list.  And it is going to get it.

I am curious to see how hard to find those books are actually going to be. I’ll let you know.