Another thing that cropped up in this extravaganza of of joyous knowledge sharing was the ways in which new collectors (and in some cases the more adaptive older ones) are using the internet to source books.
First off, as already touched upon, they use meta-search engines, not database searches. For examples go to ILAB.org or ViaLibri.net ; a meta-search harvests results from lots of different book sites and presents them to you in a uniform format. For example if you search for a book on ILAB or ViaLibri there will be a list of results from Abe, Biblio, Uk Bookworld, Alibris etc. The book may be the same book in many cases…we list on all those sites and a couple more so even if you’re searching specifically for our books they’ll be all over the place.
The interesting/worrying thing about this is that it places the results open to manipulation by booksellers. Frequently, in an effort to offset the perceived “huge” commission costs on abebooks (again, usually less than a trade discount chaps) dealers put an extra few quid onto the books they list on abebooks. This naturally means that the same book on their private website will be cheaper by a few pounds than it will on abe.
If you wanted, and all of your customers were versed in the use of meta-search engines (ie: you promote them until people are sick of hearing about it), then you could direct traffic away from book sites that you didn’t like simply by making the your books more expensive on those sites. If a large group did this as a co-ordinated effort they could seriously impact a book site whose policies they disagreed with.
There are probably people out there thinking that this would be very clever. These are probably the same people who used to think that auction rings were clever.
The collector doesn’t benefit from this stuff, just the seller, and only in the short term…because if the collector doesn’t benefit, they’ll go and buy from someone else.
You buy a book, you price it according to how much you paid for it and how much you think it’s worth, it sells or it doesn’t, in which case you messed up one of those criteria. End of. Rinse, repeat, you are a bookseller (albeit a Level 1 Bookseller who hasn’t yet earned any skill points and who has yet to be awarded The Tweed Jacket of Scouting +3). The trick is to do it for long enough and energetically enough to work out when you’re being greedy, when you’re being stupid and when to stop. I personally believe that you’re greedy, stupid and should stop at exactly the point you forget that to everyone concerned it should be about the books and the people who want them, not the prices you put on them.
The internet has changed none of the important criteria of rare book-selling, it’s just made it more obvious when people ignore them.
As an example:
One of the pet gripes about the internet is that “Everything is ‘rare’, or ‘scarce’…when there are 20 copies on a website how can it be?”
I’m willing to bet that book dealers misuse of these terms was just as prevalent in the pre-internet days (in fact I know it was); it’s just nobody could tell because you never sat there with fifty catalogues from different dealers and compared how many of them had the same “rare” books in the same “scarce” condition. It’s all perception and reference points.
The growing use of meta-search engines (it’s worth adding that you can register your wants list on Via Libri, despite my comments about promotion above) is a minor trend change in comparison to the other un-bugger-about-with-able methods people are implementing on the social (as differentiated from the commercial) internet. On which more after the break.
Well that was uncharacteristically serious