Welcome TomFolio

We are pleased to announce the addition of TomFolio (www.tomfolio.com) to the bookselling sites we now search. This puts nearly 2 million additional listings within our reach, many of them offered exclusively on their site. Libribot is also including books from TomFolio in its searches.

TomFolio was launched 13 years ago. It is unusual among multi-dealer bookselling websites in being organised as a cooperative owned and directed by its booksellers. As booksellers ourselves, we are always happy to see other bookselling sites being run by actual booksellers. Welcome TomFolio; long may you prosper!

Will Google “retire” Google Books too?

A few days ago I received an email message from Google; or, to be more precise, from one of its many children, the one named Google Affiliate Network.  They were writing to let me know that Google now feels it has better things to do and will be closing GAN at the end of July.  They did not mention being sorry.  One of our regular advertisers pays us through GAN, so both of us will now have to move someplace else. A new and unexpected job has been added to my hopelessly long to-do list.  I will survive; but it makes me grumpy.

Google has been doing this sort of thing a lot lately.  Quite recently, Google Reader was similarly “retired” (that’s the word they used with GAN),  and iGoogle was retired a few weeks before that.  In fact, there is a long list of products that Google has launched (or bought), ballyhooed, grown bored with, and closed.  The editors at Slate even maintain a virtual graveyard where you can visit the Google family burial plots and leave flowers on the tombstones of the “retired” products and services you mourn the most.

All of which inevitably makes me wonder when the bell may also toll for Google Books.  Until recently that thought would never have crossed my mind.  Google always seemed like some rich uncle who could afford anything and always arrived for holidays with extravagant presents for everyone.  Cost was never an issue. He always grabbed the check .He did it because he could.  That’s just the way he was.

But now I see that sometimes uncle wants something in return. Its not just money, and not even gratitude and market dominence will always be enough.  At least that’s what seems to have been the case with Google Reader, which will leave a huge vacuum in its wake.   It’s hard to imagine that it could have been such a drag on the P&L that it needed to be killed.  If it had been a venture-backed start-up, with comparable traffic and market share, it could  surely have been sold for eight or nine figures.  It could have made money if it wanted to.  It was valuable and loved.  But Google did not even care to sell it.  Apparently it lost interest because it decided that RSS feeds were just too yesterday to bother with any more.  They were no longer cool, or hot, or a challenge.  So they are going to nail it in a coffin and put it in the ground.

It had not occured to me that Google might be fickle.  Until now.  And I probably wouldn’t think twice about it if the only things at stake were browser tools and internet utilities.   Making our vast printed heritage fully accesible to a digital future is, however, something altogether different.   The thought that this massive and essential project may be in the hands of a fickle steward has now given me pause.

So I have to ask, what happens if Google decides it has also become bored with old books?  They are, after all, the most thoroughly “yesterday” of all content media.  The idea of digitizing and indexing the holdings of most of the world’s major research libraries seemed breath-taking a decade ago. Now it seems merely necessary and inevitable.  The thrill and audacity of the project are now long past.  The innovation is done.  The glory has been claimed and spent.  All that remains is the slow and tedious execution, accompanied by a swelling chorus of  disatisfaction with the shoddy results.  And, of course, the expense.

I might be more optimistic if I believed that Google’s founders had originally understood the nature of the thing they wanted to create; that they had understood not just how it should be built, but why.   But I don’t.  Sergey Brin’s own defense of Google Books, published in a 2009 Op-Ed article in the New York Times, makes clear what a naive stranger he was to the world of libraries and out-of-print books.  Several  quotes from that fascinating piece could be called up as testimony here, but my favorite must certainly be this:

 “Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.”

So, clearly, he didn’t have a clue.

Until it is retired I will, of course, continue to use Google Books and be ever thankful for the blessings it bestows.  But I do not expect to have it around for long; and I doubt, in the end, that it will matter.  The great march of digitization will still proceed. The work will be done regardless, and it will, in the end, be lead by people and institutions who understand the importance of what they are doing. They will not get bored.  I do love Google Books now, but will not regret it’s demise.

And neither, I suspect, will Sergey.  He has his own plane.

Massive update to viaLibri

The latest viaLibri upgrade has now been launched. It includes several new features and numerous enhancements that we believe will make viaLibri even more powerful and useful than ever. Much of what is new has come in response to suggestions received from our users. We hope our latest efforts have satisfied those requests. Other less visible improvements have also been made to improve performance and reliability. Work on these will remain ongoing. If you are one of our many regular visitors we hope you will be pleased with the new version of viaLibri we offer to you now. Please try it and let us know what you think. As soon as the last bugs have been eliminated from this new release we will start work again on the next set of improvements. As always, your continued feedback in that process will be greatly appreciated. Here is a summary of the most important new features you will find:

Book Search

  • Unwanted search results can be removed. It is now possible to remove items from your search results using a checkbox that appears with each item. You can check all the items that are not of interest and remove them from your results with one click of a button.
  • Improved translation. We are now able to identify the language used with each book description. If you click the “translate” button the text will automatically be translated into your native language, as recorded in your browser language preference settings. (Or you can choose a different language if you prefer). The scroll menu is no longer required and over 60 languages are available as both source and target.
  • Improved grouping algorithm. Some careful back-end modifications have further improved our ability to group multiple listings for the same book under a single entry. Repetitive entries are now significantly reduced..

Wants Manager / Libribot

  • Updated Display. We have significantly revised the way want records are displayed in the Want Manager. Readability and navigation are now much improved.
  • Note Field. All want records now include a “Note” field that can be used to record information you may want to save regarding an individual want. Bibliographic references, customer names and any other related details can now be saved for future reference.
  • Libribot Match removal. You can now delete records for any Libribot matches you may not want to save.
  • Match Results for Individual Wants. It is now possible to view a separate list of Libribot matches for each of your specific wants. These lists can be accessed directly from the Wants manager, or from the individual wants records that can be accessed from Libribot match results.
  • livre-rare-book. livre-rare-book has recently been added to libribot searches.

A New Feature for Premium Services Subscribers

  • Libristat. Summary valuation statistics are now generated from each manual search and can be displayed a the top of your results screen. Statistics include average, median, highest and lowest prices for all matching items along with a count of the total of unique matches made, excluding most duplicates. Statistics are recalculated when items are removed from results. Libristat is optional and can be easily turned on and off. It is only available to viaLibri Premium Services subscribers.