Rare Book MonthlyNew Letter
Letters to the Editor
. October 02, 2008
re: Smart Phones and Database Access
Hello - Thank you for your article in AE Monthly, & for your
invitation to ask you further questions.
As a secondhand bookseller I have been thinking about the need for a
device of this kind for many years - specifically for use in a used
bookstore or bookfair, where quite often a book one hasn't seen before
looks interesting & possibly worth buying for resale, but there is no
way of knowing whether it is in fact rare (& whether the asking price
is fair), since there is no way there of checking on ABE or AE.
Please forgive me if this is a stupid question, but I am not very up
on these matters - is there no handheld device available where one
could check this kind of thing on the net, without it also being a
phone? I have had for years a simple pay-as-you-go cellphone from
Virgin which suits me fine - it is very inexpensive - & I don't want
to buy a new one if I can help it, as finances have to be taken into
The writer's response:
Thanks for the inquiry, Isabel, and no, of course that's not a stupid question! While there are devices that allow you to browse the web and check email without having a cell phone built in, there is a major hitch with this. Take the iPod Touch for example. It's an iPod, but also has a wireless card built-in and software to browse the Internet. However, you must have a wireless network available to connect. Without it you're connectionless. What having a phone built-in does is allow you to create an Internet connection through your phone service. That way, you can be on the bus, in the car, at a bookstore, wherever, and assuming you have cell phone reception, you'll be able to get online. This service is definitely expensive, though! Fortunately, this technology is being improved by leaps and bounds and I think smartphones will come to replace cell phones as a whole, meaning the price's will be coming down. Also, if you time your purchase with the renewal of or the start of a cell phone contract, you can get major discounts; I believe some RIM Blackberry's are under $100 after signing and rebates. Thanks again for your email!
. September 02, 2008
A Note Concerning "History on the Cheap"
Mr. McKinney says he recently searched Google for information about a book he
purchased this past month - "A History of the Minisink Region" by Charles E.
Stickney. He further remarks that the publishers' names "are not linked to other
known printings [of anything]" and that in "OCLC only eight are recorded". This led
me to some literary poking about into some dusty, virtual corners of a few
databases, and if what was brought to light doesn't spark someone's thesis, it is
nonetheless an interesting collection of bibliographic minutiae, which we all know
is the publishing plankton upon which we all love to feed:
By OCLC's count, there at least 60 copies of the early edition (OCLC: 3780077) held
in various libraries, rather than only 8, and even a few reprints are also
available, published in 1970, 1989 and 1995.
The publishers might not have issued any further monographs, but both "Finch Coe"
and I.F. Guiwits were in the business of issuing serial publications, some of which
are mentioned in The American Newspaper Directory of 1872 by George Presbury Rowell
(OCLC: 9693297)--which is also a rather rare item, with only 2 copies listed in
OCLC--(and let's hope the one at New Orleans Public survived Katrina!)
Guiwits published "The Middletown Daily Mail" (OCLC: 23960147), later a weekly
called The Middletown Mail" (OCLC: 9977927), a Democrat Party newspaper, from
1868-1873 in Orange County, NY, and was itself succeeded by "The Middletown Mercury"
(OCLC: 10002454), which J.H. Norton and I.F. Guiwits both published for a time. The
paper finally ceased around 1918, by this time long without the editorship of
He may have also had something to do with an even earlier poetry periodical that
began its life in 1849 in Starkville, NY, called "The Poet", whose publisher was an
"A. Guiwits" (OCLC:191123373). The publishing gene might have passed to the next
generation as well, since there are two music scores of songs with piano
accompaniment published by Presser and Company in 1926 and 1929 with music by
Thurlow Lieurance (1878-1963) and words by an Emily Guiwits.
"Finch Coe" was associated with "The Pequannock Valley Argus" (OCLC: 12777613) and
its successor, "The Butler Argus" (OCLC: 12777628), published in Bloomingdale and
Butler, New Jersey, in the late 1880's.
It has crossed my mind that there might be a possibility that "Finch Coe" was in
reality Coe Finch Austin (1831-1880), a Princeton botanist with a specialty in
bryophytes and other mosses, particularly of the class Hepatiae, on which he wrote a
number of papers. Several of his publications date from the same period as "Finch Coe", and some are published in Closter, NY.
Given the very real possibility of a newspaper publisher being tarred and feathered
if the political weather shifted the wrong direction, it would make sense that Coe
Finch Austin would have preferred to remain hidden in amongst his flora, rather than
risk being skewered with the journalistic fauna.
Joseph Valles - Books
The writer's response
I'm a bit more sanguine about which "versions" are on hand in the libraries listed in the OCLC. I did some research last year on the number of original copies of the Northwest Ordinance held by OCLC members and learned that the emphasis for many libraries is simply text. Therefore they didn't necessarily differentiate between original copies and reprints. They aren't book dealers.
I do think you are right that there are more original copies in libraries than I stated but I'll guess the number is still under or around 30. I'll also state that OCLC members probably have some copies that have not been entered into their catalogues and in other cases the copies will not be located. The OCLC is a monumental undertaking but it is also a bit dated.
The information you add about these men's publishing history perhaps pulls them a step or two back from the abyss of of history. I was happy for them to come up in conjunction with the Minisink history. Your research suggests in time, as more older material is posted, more of their histories will be unearthed. We are all going to die. It's encouraging to think we may not be so easily forgotten.
. September 01, 2008
re: Abe - Amazon
The ho-hum reaction to the acquisition of abe by Amazon was not universal. From where I sit this is as tragic as learning that your beloved independent local bookstore has just been bought by Barnes and Noble. I loved abe. I hate Amazon. This is a sad day. abe was simple, accessible, unpretentious, helpful, and had excellent customer service in the rare event that something went wrong in a sale. Amazon is like a sleazy guy in a trenchcoat who'll sell you anything on a dark street corner: "Watches, you want? Guns? Fountain pen? My little sister...is virgin?!" You Google on "brain tumor" and ads from Amazon pop up offering you discounts on "brain tumor cream", "designer brain tumors", free credit cards from the "brain tumor bank of Philadelphia", and "special offers from brain tumor manufacturers, this week only!" Ugh. Sigh....
Bainbridge Island WA
. September 01, 2008
re: Abe - Amazon
ABE, a great resource that became an expensive arrogant disappointment, is no great
Amazon has always been timely and straightforward in my dealings with them. ABE no
I think we all figure ABE is so screwed up for first edition sellers that only good
. August 01, 2008
Just a word to let you know how much I appreciate receiving the newsletter.
Thanks very much.
for Book World
2353 S. Havana St. D-18
Aurora, CO 80014, USA
. July 31, 2008
Bruce E. McKinney and Michael Stillman,
There were some important differences between the Microsoft and Google Book
projects as seen by the end user.
The Google search is lightweight and does not burden the browser on the client
machine or Internet connection. An advanced search is available and
In Microsoft the search required processing and network resources. A search
pulled up a list with a preview window on the right. If the mouse hovered over
an entry in the result list on the left, the data for the book was loaded via
AJAX and displayed in the preview window. This occurred even when you didn't
want it unless you were careful to place the pointer on the right edge of the
list, outside of the hot spot for each entry. No advanced search was offered.
In a Google search results page, browsers with tabs (Firefox, Safari, IE7) can
open the book pages in these tabs (CTRL-click on Win, Cmd-click on Mac, or
right click on either) while maintaining the search result list.
Attempts on Microsoft to CTRL-click or Cmd-click the links would open a new tab
with the book browser but would also replace the search result page with the
full-screen book browser. Only a right-click (Open Link in New Tab) would work
to get the expected behavior of opening just the desired results in tabs.
The Google book browser could be improved by including the bibliographic and
PDF file size information in the right-side data pane. The default file names
for the PDFs were reasonable but I often chose to include a year and author as
well as the title provided.
The Microsoft book browser allowed PDF downloads as well but the names were not
as useful and always had to be renamed for my purposes.
The Microsoft PDFs included a text layer which allowed keyword searching
offline in Adobe Acrobat. The Google PDFs do not allow this. Both book
browsers allowed online keyword searching.
Scope of Material
The Microsoft and Google projects generally had different books scanned. It is
possible that each group tried to prioritize volumes not scanned by the other.
Hence, it was usually worthwhile to check both systems. There was not a single
search system to pull up results from both projects. Perhaps a mashup would
have appeared eventually if the Microsoft project had continued. A Google web
search could bring up Google books.
Where are the Microsoft books now?
Many of the Microsoft PDFs came from other book scanning projects such as those
which are stored on www.archive.org. While the Microsoft system had only
the PDFs, the Archive.org editions are often available in multiple formats such
as plain text in addition to the PDFs (sometimes in color and grayscale).
Because of this origin, the Microsoft PDFs did not have usage restrictions as
Google has tried to add. For public domain works, this extra licensing is hard
to justify and might not be permitted under the US copyright laws.
The downside to unrestricted PDFs from Microsoft/Archive.org is that some
enterprising individuals have sent these files (warts and all) to print on
demand systems to "publish" these books. These have been listed in quantity in
the used book databases and eBay, making it harder for buyers to locate vintage
copies as they wade through the sometimes overpriced POD reprints.
This is part of the nature of public domain material. A person can try to sell
an abridged Horatio Alger, Jr., print on demand volume for more than $100 when
the PDF which was used to create the reprint is available free of charge. What
I don't like is when an old copy, scanned in a library, has its access blocked
or restricted because one of these POD reprints exists.
Google has also blocked or restricted access to pre-1923 items which should be
positively public domain. A bound volume of 1910s Publishers' Weekly magazine
cannot be construed to be protected. However, it is likely that Google is
granting additional protection to avoid creating another litigant against them.
The problem with this is that it effectively grants more rights, in terms of
copyright duration, to these publishers than that to which they are entitled.
I liked the PDF search capability of the Microsoft/Archive.org files. I
suggested to Google that they add this. Perhaps it would be time consuming to
add the text layer to the existing PDFs. However, I found the Google search
interface to be much more powerful in capability and less tedious to use on my
older laptop system.
I hope Google continues to refine and improve their book offering. For
example, the recent announcement of a 300M XML document with US book copyright
renewal records from 1923 to 1963 provides a single place to check for
renewals. A listing basically says the book is still protected. However, a
lack of a listing makes a case for public domain status. Anyone who has taken
a logic class knows about the difficulty of proving something with a lack of
My own research projects have benefited from both book projects. I have
discovered texts which would be impossible to locate without them. No library
or bookstore provides level of content access these projects have made
available. I have purchased a number of books as a result of discoveries on
these systems. I have also downloaded dozens of PDFs for later reference.
While the Microsoft one had some useful material, I hope most of it is still
available on Archive.org.
James D. Keeline
San Diego, CA
Full-time antiquarian bookseller, 1988-2000
Full-time web developer, 2000-2008
. July 28, 2008
Dear Bruce & all at AE,
I sell books on the internet from Gloucester, England. I used to run a bricks and
mortar store with my partner, but since we split I rarely meet other booksellers. I
really love your monthly newsletter and feel like it is putting me in touch with
what is going on in the world of books, quite different from the on-message messages
I get from ABE!
Keep up the good work,
. July 28, 2008
Catching up with back issues after being gone for a month and have just read
Karen Wright's delightful book buying trip article and I have a tip to pass
on to her.
We also use Motel 6 on buying trips and this last trip I discovered a great
help for the "Motel 6 Smell". I took along a big can of Lysol Disinfectant
Spray in "Crisp Linen Scent". The first thing I did when entering a smelly
room was to spray the drapes, the top layer of the bedspreads and some into
the ceiling air return vents if there was one.
By the time we unloaded the luggage, the smell was always gone. Only in one
motel did I need to spray the carpet and rarely did I need to re-spray if we
I will never travel without it again!
The Old Book Shop
. May 09, 2008
re: Abebooks Price Increase
Dear Bruce & AEMonthly:
I think you're missing some of the ABE increases (1) and the bigger point (2).
1) ABE is now collecting a commission on books over $400. Before this, the commission was capped at a $400 maximum. They also announced plans to take over Discover and American Express card processing as well.
2) I need to raise shipping & sales tax 15.61% to recover the actual original cost/charge of ABE credit card processing and commissions. They were already making about 2.5% on shipping by virtue of their 5.5% credit card processing fee, which is about double what the credit card companies charge them, thus making their actual cut on shipping about 10%.
. May 06, 2008
Re: Abebooks' Price Increase
Where did this "Michael Stillman" come from? The one that wrote the article on the ABE commission on shipping? It appears he was giving us good reason as to why ABE should take this commission and telling us to live with it! Well here is what I run into a lot with shipping.
I'm a Canadian small bookstore located in Langley, British Columbia, I charge a $9.00 shipping fee (which is cheap for Canada, our postage is enormous); average size book from BC to Ontario costs me $12.60 shipping. I shipped a $10.00 book to customer in Ontario:
$10.00 book charge + 9.00 shipping = 19.00 total
minus shipping to ON = 12.60
minus book cost = 2.00
minus credit card = .85
minus 8% = 1.52
minus packaging = 1.20 (envelope/labels/printing paper/cartridges) invoices
TOTAL = 18.17 costs - 19.00 = .83 _ OH YES I FORGOT MY MONTHLY FEE! Wow so now I'm paying to sell! So with Abe taking their 8% of my shipping .72 cents yes that will leave me with a profit of .11 cents (maybe).
ABE is in it for the $ not the customer, small book stores are going broke with ABE, many of us want to leave and are looking for alternatives. ABE recognizes that we do not have many choices and plays on that for their profit. They are unethical. Abe should go after the dealers they say are messing with the shipping. Abe needs some heavy-duty competition, they are worse than our Canada Postal Service when it comes to squeezing money out us.
Please don't say to increase your shipping fees, that will only give me fewer customers and ABE more money. ABE has not done one thing since I have been with them, about 6 years, to increase the seller's profit, only to increase theirs!
Any help with this would be sincerely appreciated.
Mole's Collectibles (Books)
Langley, BC V3A 1M2
It was not my intention to take sides in this issue but simply to report on what happened. As a result, I published both AbeBooks' explanation and the objections we heard from booksellers.
In terms of advising sellers to "live with it" or move on, my observation over the years is that while Abe does have forums to hear their sellers concerns, ultimately they call the shots and rarely roll them back in any substantial way. That being the case, I don't see much else a bookseller can do besides either cutting the cord or living with the rates, though that may require increasing your prices, since you cannot make up for unprofitable sales with volume. If there is a third way, I and many others undoubtedly would be interested in knowing, but such things as boycotts rarely seem to have an impact.
. May 02, 2008
re: Abe Fee Increases
While you write about the new ABE fees on shipping, you FAIL to note that this also applies to those of us who collect sales taxes which under ABE are billed as extra shipping charges. Currently with a credit card transaction, we lose money on each instate transaction since we pay a credit card fee on the sales taxes. With the new fees, we now also pay ABE a NEW fee on sales taxes since they are billed as extra shipping. Thus with a 8.25% sales tax that we pay the state, we will now only collect $7.14 on every $100 sale while we need to pay the State $8.25. Thus an instant loss of $1.11. ABE refuses to make the collection of sales taxes free of their fees.
. May 01, 2008
re: Abebooks' Price Increase
Thanks for the updates. In respect to ABE price increase they are also charging 8% on top of required State Sales Tax.
Bookseller ABE and Biblio
. April 01, 2008
I realize you've probably heard more than you ever want to about the issues with ABE, but thought you might find this interesting. I've had 8 cancelled orders because of credit card errors with ABE in the last 6 months, and every one I've called, or contacted the customer, and the credit card number was just fine, and I've completed the sale.
I've contacted ABE numerous times about the problem, and they seem to believe there isn't any issue. So, the moral of the story is to continue contacting your customers directly.
. April 01, 2008
re: PayPal "Funhouse" Article
The seller could have fixed the problem in 2 minutes or less by adding the extra
incorrect email to their emails registered with Paypal. We have a number of common
typo/spelling errors that we leave registered just for this problem.
On Paypal as soon as you add the email you can go in and accept the pending payment
and if you don't wish to keep that email on Paypal you can then delete it.
If the seller has the email wrong in their listing/s they should leave it registered
until they have fixed the error in all the listings.
Thank you for another nice issue.
. March 02, 2008
re: Transy Thieves
I enjoyed the story but a bookseller, preservers of the written language that we
are, should know that the term is hare-brained, not hair-brained.
. February 07, 2008
Just a quick note to say thanks. Your services have certainly increased our bottom line. We make it an effort to tell everyone we meet about your great site and services.
As an aside, wanted to let you know that the tome you mentioned in this month's newsletter "An Unhappy Story: a deal gone bad" was recently re-listed and sold for approx. the same amount. Everyone in the state of ... knows ... [names deleted]. Strange but we knew it was him just from the book description. At any rate thanks again and keep on booking.
timbookski February 06, 2008
I appreciated your article highlighting some of the problems with eBay. Because of the problems you highlight (plus others), I rarely eBay any more. Over the past years I have made many purchases on eBay as well and have come to the conclusion that I am not saving any money. When I subtract the losses because of items that were not described correctly, did not arrive, or I missed something in the description, it turns out that it actually costs me more on eBay. You could argue that I should not count "my mistakes" but other modes allow me to make mistakes and have some option for correcting it. Also, I believe that many sellers purposefully write the descriptions in a way that make it easy for you to miss the important details.
Forgetting the financial losses on eBay, I just find it too aggravating to deal with these people. It always ticks me off when I get burned on eBay but makes it all the worse when they leave me negative feedback for complaining.
In conducting far more transactions on ABE than eBay, I have not been burned once. I do not think anyone can say that about eBay.
. February 05, 2008
Great! I'm going to upgrade to the monthly membership today.
I also wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your website and AE Monthly. I'm a relatively young collector, and websites such as yours have provided me with both entertainment and education as I build my collection.
Keep up the good work!
. February 05, 2008
As to your deal going sour on eBay, I'd like to make a few comments:
1) unless one understands that eBay's motto for buyers is "caveat emptor', a certain number of eBay purchases will disappoint. Some are the consequence of deliberate deception by the seller (as the one you mentioned apparently was), but others are the consequence of the seller's complete ignorance of what he's selling. Sometimes it's difficult to tell (as in the case of a seller who recently asserted a 1582 copy of Calvin's Institutes was complete, when the index ended at Galatians 3: 8, with a catchword for the next entry; I'm sure he didn't know how many pages were missing - it was 22, but as a full-time bookseller he certainly should have known some were. I managed to get him to send me privately a picture of the last page present, but the unfortunate winning bidder evidently didn't).
This notwithstanding, by bidding on the mostly antiquarian Bibles and theological books in which I specialize and by being fairly careful most of the time in buying, on balance I do quite well in buying and have gotten some really wonderful bargains. In selling (almost entirely books on subjects in which I don't specialize) I take care to describe the books carefully, especially taking pictures of any faults - something which tends to result in glowing feedback. A number of booksellers buy from me; I both expect and want them to make a profit, as they're doing me a service by paying good money for books I would otherwise be unable to sell.
2) eBay's feedback system is badly broken and I don't think the forthcoming change will improve it at all. Previously unethical buyers and sellers could leave retaliatory feedback without respect to the legitimacy of the complaint. Now only buyers will be able to do this ... and sellers will not be able to warn other sellers about non-paying bidders. EBay's proposals for their new system are woefully inadequate, particularly as its efforts to police the system seem only to be exercised with a view to enhancing its bottom line and without a care for honesty and integrity. PayPal seems to be run with the same end in view.
3) I always leave negative feedback for non-paying bidders AND for sellers who seem to be deliberately deceptive in some way; to date I have 3 negative feedbacks, all retaliatory: two as a buyer and one as a seller (I've received a total of over 3000 feedbacks, I should say). I feel that if one is not willing to risk this, the eBay system has no integrity at all.
4) The only reason the eBay system works at all is that most sellers and most buyers are honest - and I commend them all for it.
EBay is not and I think eventually as currently constituted it will end, as a result of its losing one of the various law suits being brought by 'name' brand high fashion merchants against eBay's polite fiction that it's not running an auction, but merely providing a forum for sellers running auctions for willing buyers (and thus claiming that eBay is not responsible for cheap rip-off imitations). Though I've done quite well in buying and in selling on eBay, simply as a matter of justice I hope that eBay loses these suits and loses it's collective shirt as a consequence.
Meantime I wish you well in your eBay buying.
Bookseller February 04, 2008
Regarding the ebay book buying experience.....as an experienced ebayer, you should know that if a deal appears to be too good to be true, it usually is. I'm not defending the seller who did not disclose the flaws in the book (he most certainly should have). But buyers on any site need to assess whether a $200 book would be selling, without reserve, from an experienced and knowledgeable seller, for $70. Red flags should have been raised.
Response from Bruce McKinney -
The book was hardly too good to be true. EBay realizations run from 20% to 40% of typical retails. In my view it was priced to be a reasonably good copy and the experienced seller simply ignored poor condition in the apparent expectation the buyer would accept what they received. The seller's relatively high starting price implied it was a good copy and the description supported this expectation.
. February 03, 2008
I see that ... [the seller in McKinney's eBay article] has relisted the defective copy of History of Orange County without modification for condition defects you describe. Inexcusable in my view. Perhaps eBay's feedback changes starting in March will improve seller service. Sellers will no longer be able to leave negative feedback to buyers, thus eliminating the threat of retaliatory feedback routinely practiced by some sellers. I'm not sure this is entirely fair to sellers but we'll see what happens. Thanks for the AE Monthly. It's great!
. February 02, 2008
I have 100% rating on ebay but, it means little...I have a five star rating on abe - that means even less...
I have been burnt more then twice by books that I have purchased. Yet, I have won bargains more then twice....it all equals out in the long run. ebay is not a true auction house, rather a crap shoot.
Books that are described as rare finds seldom are. Books that are under-stated may turn out to be gems.
Xanman February 01, 2008
I read with great interest your e-bay experiences. I personally feel that the whole feedback system is without any merit. There have been numerous articles in the past couple years about sellers with perfect feedback, glowing compliments, and they were arrested for selling 10s of thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise, even a San Diego Deputy Sheriff.
I have only recently ventured into the netherworld of e-bay, and I must say, that in many cases it has been a bust. I've received books that were described as beautiful, pictures show them as beautiful, and when removed from shipping box, they're in pieces. I've had material that the seller has assured me is complete, and out of the past 25 auctions, 5 have been missing plates, pages, or illustrations. Some have been good about returns, some not.
I think I just may have to opt out.
. February 01, 2008
Just a note to let you know I really enjoy reading your AE Monthly. The article about ebay must have hit a nerve with ebay, they are in the process of restructuring their feedback system. Sellers will no longer be able to leave anything but positive feedback. I have been selling online for four years now, mostly on Abebooks, Alibris, B/N, Biblio, and Amazon, but also a few on ebay (10 -12 a month). In four years I've only received one negative feedback, which was the Postal Service's fault.
. February 01, 2008
re: Ebay Article
I read with interest. Like you I have purchased several items and so far knock on wood the only ones that were less than expected were as you said I failed to really read the descriptions.
However, that said, I have had several problems with books from ABE. The latest this past month. This seller had a 5 star rating. The book was listed as "Description: 300 p. Illus. 22 cm. Includes Illustrations. Great Value. Prompt
delivery with tracking. Satisfaction guaranteed. Author's autograph
presentation copy, no.7. Book seller's advertisement laid in. Bibliography:
What I got was an exlib copy with pocket ripped out, title page stamped all over, not signed, not a presentation copy shipped in a brown paper sack duct taped. It arrived with a broken spine. I have no idea if it was that way prior to shipping or after. I contacted the seller and received no response. This went on for a week when I turned it over to ABE with photos of the book, sales listing, shipping material etc.
They did issue a refund but as in your case the so called 5 star seller never did respond.
I think an interesting article would be on the use of scanners and the phone services. Everyone talks about them ripping off the average seller at FOL sales etc. but no one really says how they use them and if its a worthwhile investment vrs good old fashion knowing your business. Just a thought.
Editor's Note: Abe's ratings pertain only to the sellers' fulfillment rates, not to factors, such as accuracy of listings, quality of customer service, etc., that most people think determines whether a seller is honest and good.