Open The Pod Bay Doors, Hal! Part Two.

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 or ; 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.

I will lead the world in tatty Everyman Library Books! Bwahahahaha!

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


About bibliodeviant

This is the journal of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities, and all who sail in her. Information, updates, rantings, musings and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person's head. We welcome queries, comments and contributions of virtually any description, and in return we will attempt to rein in our multitudinous personality disorders and deliver wonders and joys beyond compare. At least that's the plan. View all posts by bibliodeviant

3 responses to “Open The Pod Bay Doors, Hal! Part Two.

  • Hyraxia

    OK, I’ll stir it up a bit here. It’s not simply greed, it’s a business model. Let’s say I sell a book at 75% of purchase price as a rule. A rule dammit, it doesn’t get broken. 5% of this goes on fees, let’s say (shipping, packing, merchant etc.)

    So, I target my earnings on the remaining 20%. Now, if I want to stick to my business model, I have to keep that 20%. If I sell on whichever channel is currently ‘evil’ – let’s go eBay for today – then I have to account for that ~10% final value fee somewhere, I could put it to the purchase price and buy at 65%, or I could up my price when listing on eBay. 65% might not be practical, so I have only one choice.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong really with encouraging people to one’s personal site, I’d rather all of my customers shopped there, not just for the savings, but because I present the books how I want them, can track views, can cross-sell, can participate in the rewards scheme. And the primary (sole) reason they’d come is for a cheaper price.

    Having said all that – I generally charge the same on ABE as on my own site, because I upload to ABE in bulk, and never really fine tune (essentially, the above paragraphs are me starting a fight).

    • bibliodeviant

      Swords or pistols? My instinct would be that “manipulation” of prices/auctions whatever (whether greed or a business model) are short term gains. Essentially you can bring people to your shop/site by a number of means but the primary one in this trade (at least the “rare” side of it) is unlikely to be price…I would go with the rather naive (but nevertheless strongly held, I’ve got no problem with being naive) viewpoint that people don’t just want a book to be cheap…they want it to meet their other more abstract requirements. It kind of ties in with what Mr. Gekoski was saying regarding the treasure hunting aspect, collecting books is only a financial exploit for us as dealers, for private collectors it’s more complex. I’ve often had people say “Yes, but I’d rather buy it from you…” even when the book in question might be cheaper elsewhere. It’s one of the reasons this trade can end up in terrible trouble so quickly; you can’t really model something you don’t know the shape of…it’s like people no longer going to a restaurant because it’s lost its ambience…the food is the same…the staff are the same, it just doesn’t have that thing it had before.
      One of the problems with the internet is that people seem to feel it can somehow be manipulated or hacked indefinitely…they treat it as an obstacle to be exploited…so instead of providing what collectors want from a bookseller (be they shop or site or both) they go through some sort of technical rigmarole intended to keep people on their site when really all you have to do is make it a place they’ll want to come back to. People resist being herded, they resist being treated as a commodity whether on the internet or off it. They go where they please, and you have to please them to get them to go somewhere…simply saying you’re cheaper over here doesn’t cut it…

  • Hyraxia

    I entirely forgot to counter, I do apologise. It’s unacceptable in combat to neither fight nor flee, but to just stand there.

    OK, I’m not on-board with the term ‘manipulation’ here. I agree entirely with you on the group / collusion / ringing notion, as being detrimental and manipulative. But I think that needs to be discussed separately from the pricing strategy of an individual or company. I don’t believe this to be manipulation, it’s just a preference, a facet of a business model, much like offering trade discounts. It’s pricing for a market.

    Naivety aside (mine surely outweighs), I would love to think people shop locally (i.e. private sites) for reasons outside of price, this is what I try to encourage personally. Though it is very difficult without a physical shop and physically meeting your collectors to make that connection that would make your book stand out from the rest, and time of course, time to build things. This, I think, depends hugely on the seller’s location and rank (horrible idea, but you get what I’m saying right?).

    True, make your site somewhere people want to come back – absolutely. How – that’s the interesting part (happy to hear any ideas, I’ve slapped hundreds about over the last decade).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: