J & J Lubrano now searched direct

We have just added J & J Lubrano to the ever-growing list of booksellers whose individual websites are being searched directly by viaLibri. They have also just redesigned their site, so if you are interested in things related to music and dance you may want to pay them a visit.

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In addition to being among the world’s foremost specialists in their field, they are also old friends we have known since our earliest days as booksellers in New England over 35 years ago.  So we are more than usually happy to now welcome them on board.

Two New Libraries Added To viaLibri’s Quick Query Library Search.

On Wednesday I added two more libraries to the viaLibri library search page: The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek to be precise) and the Thomas J. Watson Library of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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The first of these is, well, the national library of Germany and one might reasonably ask why we weren’t including it already. In fact, when I first started work on our library search tool the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, as such, had not really existed for more than a few years – although it did have roots going back much further than that. I don’t know when their catalogue finally went online, but I’m glad that one of our regular users did eventually alert me to the fact. It took me far too long after that to follow up, but it has now, at last, been taken off my to-do list.

The second library to be added is the important reference collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This numbers over a million volumes, including 125,000 auction catalogues and a significant collection of early and rare books related to the history of art. I would also note that the online catalogue is named Watsonline after Thomas J. Watson, the CEO and chairman of IBM who, if I may be permitted to digress, could easily be called the founder of the commercial computer industry. Except that there were actually two Thomas J. Watsons, father and son, both of whom ran IBM, one after the other, and could equally claim this credit. And on top of that it seems to be a secret which one of them should get credit for the library.

Digressing yet further, I feel compelled to mention that when my father and the younger Watson were growing up in Short Hills, New Jersey, my father beaned the latter with a rotten tomato during some great battle the other details of which I once knew but have since forgotten. I do know that no return strike was registered on my father’s own person by either Watson or his cohorts. My father did later move on to some fame and glory as the starting pitcher for his college fraternity baseball team. After that he became a management consultant who was often quoted on the subject of computers with the observation that “they’re faster, but they take longer.” Watson Jr. did also have some success in other fields.

In any case, you will need to look for “Watsonline” if you want to find the button that will search their books.

I should also point out that both of these libraries were added as a direct result of requests from regular users. It’s not that I was holding back and waiting for someone to ask; it’s only that sometimes a specific library just hadn’t occurred to us yet, or in other cases it is a library that did not have workable online access when the Quick Query feature was launched, but has since been upgraded and can now easily join the group. If you know of such a library please let me know.

And if you happen to notice a broken link for one of the libraries we already search then that is also something I am eager to hear about. Our latest update includes fixing a number of links that had gone bad since the last time we tested them thoroughly. It is an endless task. Progress and improvement are wonderful things (or so I’m told) but when they happen to websites and online services the most frequent result is broken links. So if you do happen to stumble upon some new outbreak of library improvement please let me know so that I can fix its aftermath as quickly as possible.

You can now see where books will be shipped from

We have just added to our search results a short notation indicating the country from which a listed book will be shipped. The information will be found, in brackets, to the right of the bookseller’s name. If you are concerned about delivery time or shipping costs, this feature will help you to identify books that can be shipped from someplace near by.

Over the years many users have asked us to include this information and we are very happy to be able to do so at last. Unfortunately, a couple of sites do not yet give us the location data we need and cannot be included in this feature; but we think that “most” is still better than “none”.

viaLibri adds ISBN filter

If you are among our many users who regularly search for early editions only to receive search results that are swamped with modern reprints then our first new feature should be of great interest. We have now added a check box that allows you to exclude from your search results all books which have been assigned an ISBN number.

The general use of ISBN numbers did not begin until the 1970s, so it is fairly safe to assume that any book which has been assigned one will not have been printed before then. Most online second-hand booksellers are careful to include ISBNs, when known, as part of their descriptions. By checking the box marked “No ISBNs” you can thus filter out a large number of modern reprints of older titles.

The filtering is not complete, since there are still some booksellers who do not use ISBN when cataloging their books, but the number that can be eliminated in this way is substantial. When used along with our “No PODs” check box you should be able to avoid much of the annoying chaff that would otherwise clutter your searches for old and rare books. And we have also updated the Search Manager to make use of this new filter, so if you are using Libribot you can also update your wants to reduce the number of unwanted matches.

Latest Developments in the Girolamini Scandal

Recent events in the wake of the Girolamini thefts have revealed that the Italian authorities who are  pursuing the matter appear to be clueless about the nature of the books that they are charged with recovering.   Many interesting details in this regard are found in the recent memorandum sent to the Italian judiciary by ILAB president Norbert Donhofer, copied below.  Among other things, this astonishing text reveals that, in the minds of the Italian investigators, it is possible for books which have already been seized and secured in police vaults in Germany to be held at the same time on the shelves of a Danish bookseller.  This miraculous transmigration of texts leads us to wonder what other fantastical accusations may await us in the future.

The text of the ILAB memorandum follows:

MEMORANDUM OF ILAB TO THE ITALIAN JUDICIARY

In March 2012 Professor Tomaso Montanari first brought to light a cultural theft, which then appeared to be limited to the Girolamini Library, based in Naples. We now know that the Director of the library at the time, Marino Massimo de Caro, widened his trail in plundering through other libraries in Italy as well: Montecassino, Naples Municipal Library, Ministry of Agriculture Library, a Seminary in Padua, and the Ximines Observatory Library in Florence. Soon after the discovery of the theft the Italian authorities announced that four books from the Girolamini Library were offered in Auction 59 (May 2012) at the Munich Auction House Zisska and Schauer, and arranged for them to be seized by the German police. The auction house thereupon recalled all books from this consignment – a total of 540 titles – and handed them over to the German authorities in Munich, where these books have been stored to this day.

 

The President of ILAB at the time – Arnoud Gerits – then informed the members of ILAB in an open letter and he immediately offered his assistance and cooperation to the Italian investigating authorities to uncover the truth of this scandal. When Tom Congalton was elected the new President of ILAB in the autumn of 2012, he gave renewed assurances to the Italian authorities of ILAB’s willingness to assist in every conceivable manner to get to the bottom of this case. Both offers, as well as many others made subsequently, went unanswered by the Italian authorities.

On April 8 in 2013, the President of the Italian Association of Antiquarian Booksellers, ALAI, Fabrizio Govi, attempted to relate the criminal route of Marino Massimo de Caro in a speech in the Library of Congress; in the edition of the “The New Yorker” of December 16 in  2013, Nicholas Schmidle described in detail how the former Director of the Girolamini Library was further implicated. Both of these, the speech made by Fabrizio Govi and Nicholas Schmidle’s article, were also brought to the attention of the Italian authorities.

In 2013 the Italian antiquarian bookseller Giuseppe Solmi was arrested by the Italian Carabinieri, and released a short time later. The charge: dealing in books stolen from one of the libraries in which Marino Massimo de Caro was operating. On the 2nd of August of the same year the auctioneer Herbert Schauer was arrested on the strength of a European arrest warrant, and deported to Italy several weeks afterwards. The charge: dealing in books stolen from one of the libraries in which Marino Massimo de Caro was operating and participation in a criminal association. Herbert Schauer was condemned to a five-year prison sentence early this summer, but meanwhile the arrest of Mr. Schauer was lifted by the Italian Court of Cassation.

 

The latest case in relation to this affair concerns the Danish antiquarian bookseller Christian Westergaard. He was arrested several weeks ago in front of his family. The charge: dealing in books stolen from one of the libraries in which Marino Massimo de Caro was operating. To be sure, Christian Westergaard was released the same day, but the eleven books that had been secured by the Danish police during a mutual assistance procedure remained in safekeeping by the Danish police. The most astonishing thing about the latter case is the fact that all eleven books were also included in the catalogue of Zisska and Schauer’s Auction 59 and hence had already been secured by the German authorities since May 2012. For all eleven of the books that had been secured by him, Christian Westergaard was subsequently able to prove when, where and from whom he had acquired them. This includes also books he had acquired from the Macclesfield Auction at Sotheby’s in London (2006ff).

It was only a few days before the start of the first auction of Philobiblon/Bloomsbury (Rome) when the Carabinieri confiscated all lots of the auction by order of the court at Naples. It was suspected that some books of this auction had been stolen from the Girolamini library. The President of ALAI, Fabrizio Govi, appointed two independent experts to check the books, and Mr. Danesi and Mr. Parkin reported that not a single book of the auction could be traced back to an Italian Public Library.

ILAB protests against this unprofessional approach by the Italian authorities in the strongest terms. A simple glance at the lists of the items stored in Munich would have shown straightaway that the books seized in Denmark could not possibly be those volumes that were stolen by Marino Massimo de Caro, nor does it appear to be clear to the investigating authorities that in the vast majority of cases there are naturally a number of copies of printed books, whatever age they may be, that differ in their state of preservation, binding, or provenance.

ILAB further protests against the fact that, through the procedures chosen by the Italian authorities, respectable citizens and business people are falling under suspicion of criminal actions and consequently their reputations are being frivolously compromised. The shock experienced by the families of those arrested under undignified circumstances is also mentioned here for the sake of completion.

ILAB is also protesting against the fact that, as a result of these measures, an entire profession is being stigmatized and might be at risk of losing its credit standing with private and institutional clients, as well as banks, which has taken decades to build up.

ILAB is a long way from giving advice to the Italian judiciary, but we are renewing our offer to the investigating authorities to assist in having these criminal actions thoroughly cleared up and to cooperate unconditionally. By providing you with some expertise required to differentiate between different copies of the same title, we might be able to help prevent a repetition of potentially embarrassing and unnecessary events such as the regrettable arrest of Christian Westergaard. Once again ILAB requests the Italian authorities to provide us with lists of the stolen books which could be included in our stolen books database.

As President of ILAB, I would be happy to meet with the relevant authorities at any time.

Norbert Donhofer, President of ILAB

Two new features

We have just added a pair of new features that we know will be of interest to at least a few of our most active users. It is now possible to perform multiple deletes of unwanted match results without having to manually check the check box for each separate item. Once this feature is activated you only have to check the items you want to keep.

We have also added the ability to perform bulk deletes of Libribot matches that no longer need to be saved. This feature has been requested by several of our users and we are pleased to finally make it available.

Details on using these new features will be found HERE and HERE.

Welcome NVvA

We have just added another important group of booksellers to our search results: the Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Antiquaren (NVvA). The members of this Dutch bookselling association, founded in 1935, are all affiliates of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and include the most prominent and respected antiquarian booksellers in the Netherlands.

Their newly created book search engine has just been launched and is expected to grow quickly in the near future. We are very pleased to welcome them on board.

Algorithmic book pricing and its implications

I was recently asked to offer comments on the issue of algorithmic book pricing for the newsletter of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association.  The issue where the comments appear has now just arrived in the mail.  Since the ABA newsletter reaches only a limited audience and has no online version I thought I should reproduce the text here, in case it might be of interest to others.

Comments from readers who have actually used these services will be eagerly received.

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John Henry said to the captain,
“A man ain’t nothin’ but a man,
But before I let your algo beat me down,
I’ll die with a pencil in my hand
Lord, Lord
I’ll die with a pencil in my hand.”

Back in September the issue of algorithmic pricing surfaced in one of the ABA email Bulletins. It came in response to a letter sent by a member to myself and the ABA office seeking an explanation for a strange phenomenon he had recently observed: out-of-print text books on sites like Amazon and AbeBooks were being listed at absurd prices, in some cases reaching into six figures.  He wondered if this might possibly be evidence of a new scam devised to fleece careless librarians who used automated ordering systems and may not be noticing the prices that they pay.  I suggested, instead, that the most likely explanation was that software, rather than human intelligence, was being used to price the books.

Shortly thereafter  the ABA newsletter editors, ever conscious of the need to fill pages, asked if I could elaborate on the subject for a forthcoming issue.  Having already exposed myself in the pose of someone who understood this depressing subject I did not then find myself in a position to refuse their request.  It is not a subject I would otherwise choose on my own, but here it is.

Let me say, right off, that what I know about this subject has no basis in personal experience.  I have never let a machine price my books or even been in the presence of a machine that I knew was programmed to do so.  I would be fascinated to hear a personal account from a colleague who had actually tried this with his own books, but I suspect that if there really is someone amongst us who has already ventured down this gloomy path he would be reluctant to step forward and tell us about it. So you are left with me.

Algorithmic pricing (also known as robo pricing) refers to the use of specialized computer programs  to automate the pricing of  books (or anything else for that matter).  The best known providers of these programs are Monsoon and Fillz. Once provided with the ISBN number of any book, either of these services can connect to the internet and retrieve the prices and other relevant information for all the copies of that book available on the major book sites.   This is, of course, an automated version of what most of the rest of us already do manually nearly every day.  But the robo pricing engines take this one step further and include the ability to customize a small program (the “algorithim”) that processes all the data that it collects and spits out a price to match the particular instructions it was given.   It might, for instance, decide that it wants its copies to be priced at the exact median of all available copies (a bad strategy I would think) or to be 5 pence cheaper than any other copy, or half the average of any book with over 10 listings, or to be priced with virtually any other clever strategy the bookseller might conceive.  Moreover, the software  runs on a kind of auto-pilot that can continuously update prices online as things change, or even if they don’t .  The knowledge and experience of the bookseller plays no role in this operation.   Facts about the book itself are irrelevant.  All that is taken into consideration is the quantifiable information that can be gathered from the current online listings tied to a given ISBN.

The “algo” has no problems doing its job as long as it is given data to process,  but the situation can become  “interesting” when there are no other copies available for it to price against. Then anything is possible.  This was almost certainly the situation with the books that the concerned member was noticing. With nothing real to go on, the algorithm just went fishing with a very optimistic idea of what price might be possible.  It did not have to do this, of course.  The algorithm could have been designed with more reasonable expectations.  In this case it was just badly designed, and the result was a book that would not sell, at least until the algorithm decided to bring it back down to earth, which it probably eventually did.

An even crazier situation can result when there are only two copies of the same book available at the same time and both are being priced by algorithms that require their copy to always be the second least expensive available.  (Or the most expensive, though I doubt that actually occurs)  Books in this circumstance have been known to reach prices in the millions.

When this happens to a rare but insignificant book it may be good for a snicker or a chuckle, but in the end it is probably harmless.   What robo pricing does at other end of the scale, however, is much more significant and, increasingly, pervasive.   This is because the algorithms are really designed to drive prices down rather than up. They are meant to find the price at which an item is most likely to sell, and that price is almost always the lowest price. When there are hundreds, or even just dozens of identical copies available it is a clear sign that the supply of that book greatly exceeds the demand.   In that case, the successful algorithm will be the one that prices a copy at the lowest possible price.  If multiple sellers are using similar algorithms  then it is likely the price will drop to a penny, or whatever is set as the minimum price for that particular site.

The issue of profit may be irrelevant in this case.  It is probably more a question of minimizing final costs.  Once a book has been purchased, entered into the system, and determined to be too common to sell, it then becomes a question of cutting the bookseller’s loss.  Does it produce the least loss to cull and pulp it, indefinitely allocate a section of finite shelf space for it, or sell it in return for 1p + postage + the email address and personal details of someone now known to buy second-hand books.  In many cases it will be the one penny sale.   This is probably the kind of decision a machine can make much better than a human.

Fortunately, hardly any of us ever have to deal with books of that sort.  But there are books that fall somewhere in between the two extremes described above, and it is with these that the robo pricers expose a new reality that most of us will need to understand and, in a some cases, adapt to.

In the past, the price of a given book, usually pencilled onto the fly leaf,  was set by the seller at a carefully considered figure he believed one of his potential customers might eventually be induced to pay for it.  At the point of sale, in most cases, only one copy and one price would be involved in the decision to purchase.   Unless sold to another customer, the book that was refused one day would almost always have the same price two weeks, two months or two years later.  This is the way most retail products have traditionally been priced, and second-hand booksellers were no exception.  The arrival of the internet  changed this in at least one important respect:  the seller, for the first time, had easy access to the prices and other details of all the copies being offered by his competitors at that moment  and could set his own price on that basis.

There had always been something that you could call a “marketplace” for old books, but before the internet it operated in a dense fog.    Some historical information about the prices of books existed in auction records, price guides and in the proprietary memories of booksellers.  Generally accessible information about current availability and prices, however, did not exist.  There was no real marketplace where public knowledge of current prices and supply was available to all participants.   By making that information available in real time the internet changed  the “marketplace” for rare and second-hand books from a metaphor to a reality.

We are all now dealing with the enormous disruption that results from this.  Our accustomed ability to operate as free traders outside the pricing forces of an open marketplace is continuously challenged and reduced.  Only the portion of the book trade that deals in genuinely rare books escapes these pressures.

It would be merciful to leave the story there and not look further ahead, but the subject I started with cannot really be closed without noting one further aspect in which algorithmic pricing significantly alters the business of selling books: commoditization.  Algorithms can set their prices dynamically.  The idea that you pencil a price into a book and then leave it there until it’s sold may soon become a quaint anachronism.   And when a book price can change dynamically on the basis of all the other prices that are also continuously changing it creates a pricing process where the acquired knowledge of booksellers is, ultimately, unnecessary, if not useless.  In that circumstance the book becomes a commodity plain and simple.  As with any commodity exchange, the market sets the price and the human participants are only there to record the transactions, collect the money and arrange delivery.  On the product side, Amazon has, of course, been treating books as commodities in this respect from it’s very beginning.  When dynamic pricing engines come to set the price of a given ISBN or ASIN in an open online marketplace then the transformation, for that book at least, is complete.

Our one consolation is that this commoditization, if it does indeed take place, will most likely be restricted to books that have ISBN numbers and always have at least a few similar copies for sale online.  I suspect that there are very few ABA members who derive a major portion of their income from online sales of books like these.   They can be thankful that they do not.  But for the portion of the online book trade that does not regularly handle rare or pre-ISBN books the future may not be so bright.

viaLibri profiled in Business Weekly, demonstrating that the future of paper is still secure.

Business Weekly (“The Voice of Europe’s Innovation Capital – The East of England”) has just published an article about viaLibri.

It always feels a bit odd seeing yourself through the prism of other people’s interests and world view.  This was no exception, but I am not about to complain. I’m always happy when someone takes an interest in what I am doing, especially when they are approaching it from outside the generally biblio-centric universe I usually inhabit.   There was, naturally,  the inevitable interest in identifying the oldest books available, but I was spared having to also identify the most expensive.  Instead, the interviewer was curious to know about what countries the oldest books came from, and where they ended up.  That was actually an interesting question which I might have enjoyed answering at length, but I restrained myself.  Perhaps I will blog about it on another day.

Being interviewed was an interesting experience.  This publication is focused, in particular, on the fast growth, innovation-driven business community that is part of the technology cluster that has developed around Cambridge, England, where we are now based.  The people at the centre of it are working with stuff like genomes,  artificial intelligence and all the impossible to understand inventions that brainy people come up with when they start out doing pure research and then suddenly realize “hey, we could actually make something really useful out of this.”  Writing about all these freshly minted venture-backed technology companies and their more mature science park neighbors is what Business Weekly normally does.  Interviewing me was a bit off their usual beat.

So, as might be expected, the reporter was especially interested in knowing how viaLibri fit in with the well-reported march of disruptive technology as it applies to printed books.  He wondered if the growth of digital media and the reported death of paper might mean there was no future for books.  My opinion, of course, was to the contrary, and I was happy for the opportunity express it to an audience that might be thinking otherwise.

But what pleased me most was the discovery that Business Weekly itself offered irrefutable testimony to the superiority of paper over screen.  Because, you see, it is still a product of the printing press.  Of course, it now also has an online version, but that is a far less satisfactory product, albeit a far cheaper one to produce and distribute.   The article about viaLibri shows this.  In the printed version the article takes up all of page 4 (apart from an advertisement), and includes a large photograph in the middle.  In the photograph I am holding an interesting old book.  It is, moreover, a folio.  (The cheerleaders for ebooks are, of course, silent on the subject of folios).  The version of the article which appears on the website also has its picture, but the constraints of pixel and screen dictated that it had to be cropped.  The picture you see there shows only my head and shoulders.  The book I am holding is nowhere in sight.

Unfortunately, I cannot offer you a link to the printed version. That technology does not yet exist.  However, there is something else that I can link  to which will allow my point to be demonstrated quite well.  In addition to its ink and paper edition Business Weekly also appears in an “epaper” version. This is an exact digital facsimile of the printed version which allows you to “leaf” through its pages to the accompaniment of an annoying scratching/scraping sound.  If you scrape the epaper version of this week’s edition to page 4 you will see an image of the article, with the full photograph, as it also appears in print.  The epaper will show you what the website version has lost.

epaper version of Business Weekly

But you will not be able to actually read the epaper version because the type is much too small.  To make it legible you must zoom in.  That gives you type that is big enough to read, but forces you to scroll all over the page and read the text through what is, essentially, a moveable rectangular peep-hole. It is not a satisfying way to read.  Why? Because Business Weekly is a folio, as any good newspaper should be. epaper only comes in one format: small.  It is inextricably constrained by the dimensions of the screen on which it is displayed.  Folio is out of the question.  For that you need paper, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Which is one of many reasons why I think, for books at least, the future of paper is still secure.

viaLibri adds ISBN searching. Please ignore.

You may have noticed that a new feature has been introduced with viaLibri’s latest update. It is something many people have asked for. Most thought it should have been included a long time ago.  As in, from the beginning.  I resisted for many years, but have finally capitulated.  You are now able to search for books on viaLibri using ISBN.

Please don’t.

The reason is simple.  ISBN numbers are a terrible way to search for books.

I will certainly grant the fact that they serve an important purpose for the activities of publishers, distributors and new book stores.  I’m sure they are useful in other contexts as well, especially for those who are only interested in new books. If you inhabit a world where data is always orderly and you like the idea that books are generic objects suitable to the algorithmic demands of data processing and purchaser profiling, then ISBN is most definitely for you.  Happily, viaLibri does not yet live in that world, and I feel confident that most of its users do not want to live there either.  And they do not have to.  They do not need ISBN numbers, and are cordially invited to ignore them.

Because, as I said, ISBN numbers are a terrible way to search for books.  You will quickly discover this the first time you attempt to search online for an out-of-print book using its ISBN number and then repeat the search the old-fashioned way using author and title.  Author/title searches nearly always yield more and better results than searches based on ISBN.

The reasons for this are simple:  many of the booksellers who deal in older books do not bother with ISBNs, so the listings they put on the internet do not include them.   To a collector the information is meaningless, and the booksellers who focus on serving collectors generally share that attitude, even when they are also selling books to the general public.

But that is not the only reason why a second-hand book might be catalogued without its ISBN number.  Often a book will have a number, but it does not actually appear inside of it.  This is especially likely in the case of reprinted works that were originally published before ISBNs were firmly established. There are also many cases where the publisher didn’t obtain the ISBN until after the book was printed, or just didn’t think it was worth including as part of the text.  In all of these cases the book is very likely to be catalogued without its ISBN, and if you search for it using that ISBN there will be many available copies that you will not find .

A few examples pulled from my personal reference shelf will demonstrate.

You might, for instance, want to buy a copy of BOOKBINDING IN AMERICA 1680 – 1910. FROM THE COLLECTION OF FREDERICK E. MASER, published in 1983.  The ISBN number for this book is 0813910137, although it is nowhere to be found within the book itself.  But if you don’t have the number already you will have no trouble finding it by looking in WorldCat or an ISBN database.   If you use that number to search for your copy on viaLibri you will get 12 listings.  Only two copies are available for less than $25, both of them from Amazon.  However, if you try your search again, while ignoring the ISBN, and search instead for: title = “BOOKBINDING IN AMERICA MASER COLLECTION”,  you will receive 39 matches, including 3 additional copies that are priced for less than $25.  This is a significant difference in results.

Or, suppose you stumbled upon a reference to the 4 volume set of ARTS IN AMERICA, A BIBLIOGRAPHY, edited by Bernard Karpel and published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1979.  Suppose you could not resist the impulse to buy a set of your own.   If your reference did not give you the ISBN number (0874745780)  WorldCat will, as will many other online sources.   It is also printed in the book.  The 10 digits seem so precise and unambiguous. It is easy to think that they would be the logical way to find your copy.  Please do not be fooled.    If you use those numbers for your search parameter you will find only 66 matches (including many odd volumes and duplicates)  and there will be no complete sets available in North America for less than $45.  If, on the other hand, you try your search using author and title you will, instead, be rewarded with a total of 104 matches, including five complete sets in North America selling for $40 or less.  The ISBN matches will still be there, but so will many others that would have otherwise been missed.

These are not the only good reasons for ignoring ISBNs.  For me, the most compelling reason is the potential for discovery.  You can’t always know whether the ISBN you are using will correspond with the best possible version of the book you are interested in.  What if there is a later enlarged edition that has a new ISBN?  You would not find out about the updated version if you did your searching with the ISBN of the earlier edition.   The author/title search would quickly let you know.

Sometimes, when you use author and title to search for one book the results you receive will also show you another, different work by the same author that could also be of interest.   With ISBNs you rarely discover anything you are not specifically looking for.  With names and words you may find something unexpected that is even more interesting than the book you thought you wanted.

I would also mention the problem of typos, a problem that comes from both buyer and seller.  These, of course, can happen anywhere, but they are much harder to notice and correct when it is only a string of numbers that have been mistyped.

Are there circumstances where only searching  by ISBN is worthwhile?  Very few.

It might sometimes be useful to check for strays after the old-fashioned author/title search had been tried.  This might find a copy of a book with a typo or other cataloguing error that might otherwise be missed.  Anything is possible.

Sometimes students are assigned text-books that are being continually “updated” by their publishers with new ISBNs.  In this case the student will only want a copy with the correct ISBN.  Used copies that are listed without this information will not be satisfactory, so searching by number would not exclude anything the searcher would want to buy.

Lastly, I have been told that there are online listings of books entered using non-Roman alphabets and that, unless you have a special keyboard, these books can only easily be found using ISBN numbers.  Having never encountered such a book during my own extensive burrowing through online data I am a bit sceptical that such listings actually exist. But I do not rule it out.

It is with these special circumstances in mind that the latest change was made.  I hope it will be regarded as an improvement.  But I still worry that people will actually use it for a purpose it does not serve.

At least I can tell myself that you, patient reader, have been warned.