Anyone with an interest in the role of antiquarian bookselling in relation to the broader study of rare books, bibliography, and early printing will want to read an article recently published by Fabrizio Govi in the Italian scholarly journal TECA entitled “Online Bibliographical Tools for the Antiquarian Book Trade. Their History, Use and Impact.”
A well established and highly respected Italian bookseller from Modena, Govi explores his subject broadly from both economical and historical perspectives. As the origins of online antiquarian bookselling slip further into memory the latter of these has become increasingly of interest, at least to me.
Sharing that interest, Govi began his research by identifying 17 different international websites that have focused primarily on the used and rare book market. He then attempted to contact all of them to request information about how they started and what information they might offer about the online book market as it exists today. Only three of these chose to respond. Nevertheless, Govi was able to dig through a variety of primary and secondary sources to compile a significant amount of interesting data on the origins of the antiquarian market and how it became what it is today. He tells me that what he has just published is only a preliminary study. I’m encouraged that there could be even more to come.
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.
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:
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 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.
We hope that German and French speaking bibliophiles will be pleased to learn that we have now added books from eBay.de and eBay.fr to our search results. Of course, you will not have to be German or French to add these in your search results. They will be available no matter what country you do your searching from.
We think this will make a significant addition to the already rich selection of continental European books that can be found using our site. Over 9 million items from eBay.de have been added along with another 7 million from eBay.fr. The listings on both eBays are updated frequently.
If you are among the many active users who record permanent wants and active keywords in our search manager then Libribot will soon be busy combing through all these fresh listings looking for things you might want. If you have any French or German titles among your desiderata then this would be an excellent time to add them to your wants.
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.
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.
Over the last several years much of our energy has been focused on trying to find new and better ways to connect viaLibri directly with the websites of individual booksellers. Our ultimate goal is to provide a place where all the world’s diverse antiquarian bookselling websites can be searched as one from a single online form. Today we are happy to announce another bit of progress towards that goal: we are now able to search websites built using either Shopify or WordPress/wooCommerce.
The popularity of these two platforms with booksellers has been apparent to us for a while now. Shopify has been especially attractive to that brave cohort of sellers who are at home with digital technology and unintimidated by the idea of building a website on their own. It is easy to use and remarkably affordable. There are lots of attractive templates available and a strong support community offers advice not just on technical issues but also on useful topics like marketing and analytics.
And now, if you own a Shopify site, viaLibri is ready to search it. A few tweaks are all that it needs.
We have also been long time fans of WordPress as a platform for building attractive and flexible bookselling sites. It is now the tool of choice for many commercial website developers. We know many booksellers who have gone this route and been very pleased the results. Until recently, the one big challenge for these sites was finding a reliable ecommerce plugin with a full-featured shopping cart and the ability to handle credit card sales. The wooCommerce plugin now fills that bill and many dealers are putting it to use. Those that do now have one additional benefit: installing wooCommerce allows viaLibri to search their site.
Either option provides an excellent way to get your website connected to viaLibri and Libribot. Once you have been set up the rest will happen automatically, without any additional effort on your part. Whatever is for sale on your website will also be for sale through viaLibri with a link directly to you. The monthly fee is only $25 ($250/year) including up to 10,000 books and all the other standard benefits of a Premium Services subscription. There is no set-up fee and you can cancel at any time with a full refund for whatever period remains on your subscription.
Of course, there are still other ways to have us search your website. Most custom-built sites can be easily modified to allow harvesting. For this purpose we have created a special protocol and will be happy to supply the details and answer any questions about installation. It is also possible that your existing site has already been designed to allow viaLibri harvesting, in which case all we need is your access information.
But if you do not yet have your own website perhaps now is the time to take the plunge. We will be happy to build, manage and host your new website whenever you are ready. If you would like to learn more about our LibriDirect websites you can start here:
Our friend Laurence Worms, blogging as the Bookhunter on Safari, has written another of his must-read posts, this time on the subject of erroneous information being spread through the cataloguing of online booksellers. His case in point was 5 dealers offering copies of a pamphlet by Rupert Brooke that they all described as having been printed in an edition of 500 copies. The statement was made even though Keynes, Brooke’s authoritative bibliographer, states clearly that the number printed was 20,000, and there are no grounds for claiming otherwise.
But the title of the post, “Assertive Cataloguing,” actually points to another bookselling firm (William Reese Company) which described the book correctly and then took the opportunity to flash its torchlight upon the multitude of misinformed colleagues who are lazier than they. This juicy bit of cataloguing reads:
“First separate edition, published on 15 November in an edition of 20,000 copies — not 500 copies as is incorrectly asserted in a multitude of online listings collectively offering ample evidence of how the virus-like perpetuation of baseless misinformation originating in laziness rather than consultation with reliable authority — i.e. the standard bibliography — can quickly permeate the collective databases. “
Laurence, of course, is more delicate in his admonishments and focuses instead, and with far more devastating effect, on a the extensive bibliographic evidence available to disprove some further preposterous claims, made by three nameless “culprits,” that “this scarce pamphlet is Brooke’s third appearance in print.” The absurdity of this “third appearance” claim is relentlessly demolished, almost to the point of making me feel sorry for the unnamed and unknowing “culprits” who foolishly cribbed their info from sources that probably knew even less about Brooke than they did. Laurence, of course, named no names, but anyone curious to learn identities (as I’m sure many were) could have quickly gone to viaLibri and seen who these mistaken sellers were – provided they were quick about it. By Friday morning listings were being pulled or corrections were being made, and one imagines that before the weekend is over no more embarrassing evidence will remain to be found. (Except with Google, which takes longer to forget). This is, I’m sure, small consolation for the sellers involved, but at least this one bit of misinformation has now been removed from the internet and, one hopes, will not return.
One central thing, however, is left unresolved: where did the erroneous bibliographic information come from in the first place? This is what I really want to know. We have five booksellers who claimed that there were only 500 copies printed. Did one of them make this up and then have the other four copy him? Or did they all copy from yet other booksellers who had long since sold their copies and disappeared from scrutiny. Or could the information have first appeared in some other erroneous source, perhaps long ago, and been repeated often enough to become regarded as accepted fact that didn’t need to be verified.
Laurence, I suspect, holds the internet responsible. He is no friend of “the appalling ABE, home of bibliographical iniquity,” although in this case he notes that even the ILAB site also offered two of the copies that were incorrectly described. Several others did so as well. But I think the selling sites are not the problem. Clearly neither AbeBooks nor ILAB do more than offer a platform for dealers to sell books they describe themselves. The platforms can no more be expected to vet the descriptions of the books they list than FedEx can be expected to vouch for their completeness when they deliver them.
That said, there can be no question that the internet has now become a primary vector for the transmission of error into the bibliographic record. But it is not the first such vector. In its day, paper and pencil could do the same kind of damage, and anyone now relying blindly on the accuracy of bibliographic records compiled and researched with any previous technology will be equally likely, some day, to repeat the kind of errors committed in this instance by the “’FIVE SONNETS’ Five .” We know that technologies are only as good as the people who employ them. This case is no different. What is more important is to know what can be done to improve the accuracy of all the bibliographic tools we rely on and, in our own ways, contribute to.
Laurence is clearly right that errors such as the one he posted about do damage to all of us as booksellers. Those who are careful and accurate may, to the novice at least, appear less knowledgeable and reliable than those who offer appealing information that just happens to be false. And we should want to do something about this. To blame the internet for bibliographic errors is blaming the messenger. Errors will certainly propagate on the internet, but they will also be exposed there and hopefully, in time, eliminated. This is what has happened here. Those with real knowledge exposed to scrutiny the bibliographic errors of others and helped save future bibliophiles from these probably innocent mistakes. This is a process that we can expect to continue, especially if those booksellers who are knowledgeable will make an effort, like the William Reese cataloguer, to draw attention to errors as they surface.
In fact, I’m inclined to believe that the internet has already been protecting collectors from the type of errors we are talking about, even before corrections are made. Consider this example. If we assume, as I do, that the mistake about the 500 copies is older than the internet, then we have to wonder what would have been the consequence for a pre-internet buyer who was offered a copy of “1914” FIVE SONNETS that had been incorrectly described. That buyer would logically assume that a fragile 8 page pamphlet by a highly collected author, published in an edition of only 500 copies, would almost certainly be rare. And he would have paid a high price for it. Even the bookseller, who might not own a copy of Keynes, would have no reason to think it should be otherwise. But the same buyer today, presented with the same pamphlet and the same claims, would only need to look on viaLibri to find over a dozen copies for sale. This would give him hard evidence that the item was not rare at all, in spite of the claims of the seller. And it would give a seller no protection for claiming rarity that was not, in fact, the case. It seems to me that this new reliance on the quantifiable evidence of online search engines has come to replace reliance on the assertive claims of rarity that dominated before our time. This is probably not the sense of “assertive cataloguing” that Laurence had in mind when he put this title on his post. However, if he is looking for a good tag to use when he teaches his new class of cataloguers about the perils they must avoid, then I think it might be just the thing. But the biggest peril of all, of course, is copying someone else’s “research” without verifying its accuracy on your own. And on this score professor Worms has presented an excellent lesson for all of us.
If you have been giving any thought to selling books on your own website, or if you already have a website but haven’t yet figured out how to get collectors to actually visit it, then we have an announcement that we think should be of interest to you: LibriDirect has now officially been launched. And what is LibriDirect? It is, in a nutshell, how independent booksellers can use viaLibri to bring customers to their websites.
This is, of course, something we have been working on for years. It began with developing tools to harvest websites and put the books of independent booksellers into search results on viaLibri. It was a good start, but the technical requirements, though simple, were an obstacle for many of the sellers who wanted to sign up. We realised early on that we also needed to develop a solution where the technical requirements were already taken care of. We needed to build websites ourselves that came with all the necessary features already built in. And these we named LibriDirect because their purpose, above all else, was to bring booksellers into direct connection with the online customers who bought their books.
But it also became more than just that. In the process of creating websites we found ourselves reexamining the entire question of how to sell books on the internet, especially in the wake of the incredible growth of social media and the dramatic transition of the internet from a primarily textual to an overwhelmingly visual medium. We are quite optimistic about what these trends will mean for the future of book collecting, and, by extension, bookselling.
It was with these things in mind that we took a stand at the London Olympia book fair where we hoped to talk with booksellers about the future of bookselling and to demonstrate, in particular, how LibriDirect websites can help them find their future customers in the advancing digital age.
However, if you wanted to learn more, but couldn’t drop by, you have not been forgotten. We have prepared a special page that describes many of the things we things we might have told you if we had had the chance. Just follow this link to and discover what LibriDirect can do for you.