Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2013 Issue

Guilty Plea for $600,000 Worth of Stolen Books Sold on Half.com

Halfawebsite

Half.com – still selling books after all these years.

A Massachusetts resident pleaded guilty to stealing over $600,000 worth of books, audiobooks, and legos, and selling them online at Half.com. Half.com? Didn't they go out of business ten years ago? No, they did not. Despite announcements back then that the site would be closed by its owner, the more popular eBay.com, they later changed their mind, and the site continues after all these years. It retains a loyal following. You won't find it online at “half.com” any more, but if you enter that web address in your browser, it will forward you to its current location, half.ebay.com.

According to the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, John C. Strang, a 67-year-old gentleman from Burlington, pleaded guilty to shoplifting from stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Barnes and Noble and The Paper Store were listed as among his targets. In a statement from the Attorney's office, it was reported, “In total, Strang stole tens of thousands of items, with a total retail value of at least $600,000. He then sold them online at Half.com, an Ebay subsidiary, using the name 'booksgoodtome.' Strang listed the stolen items at prices which were typically 40-50% of their retail prices. Strang then sold and shipped the stolen merchandise to purchasers throughout the United States. He routinely received payment of more than $2,000 every two weeks from Half.com.” When your cost of goods is zero, you can afford to sell at very sharp discounts.

Sentencing has been scheduled for October 15, with the maximum penalty being ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Getting back to Half.com, the online bookseller was purchased for around $350 million by eBay in 2000. Considering it was less than a year old at the time, that was a pretty good price for its founder. Not even Mr. Strang did that well off of Half. Ebay was still overwhelmingly an auction site then and was interested in getting into more fixed price selling, a trend that has continued ever since. Nevertheless, by 2003, eBay had announced it would be shuttering the site. That is not to say they regarded the purchase as a waste. They had already incorporated many of its features into their own site, and felt the fixed price sales of books could best continue on the eBay site. However, many of Half.com's sellers and buyers objected, and eBay relented. Half has been traveling somewhat under the radar ever since, but obviously it must still be doing a substantial business, as eBay would not maintain it for old time's sake.

The site likely has been forgotten by most antiquarian dealers as it requires an ISBN number to post books for sale. Gutenberg never thought to put an ISBN number on his bible. Indeed, no books printed before 1965 contain an ISBN number. This really crimps Half.com's usefulness for antiquarian booksellers.

Nevertheless, Half.com remains a useful site for trading in more recent used books. It does retain one “antiquarian” practice for the two-decade old business of selling books online. It still doesn't charge listing fees. Remember the good old days? You can still post your ISBN books on Half.com and not pay a penny until/unless they sell. There is a sliding scale commission structure. It ranges from 15% on books priced $50 and under to 5% on books priced over $500. Half.com is also in for a part of the shipping fee and just this year eBay finally got around to extending its PayPal payment service to its bookselling subsidiary. Payments are made to sellers every two weeks, and as Mr. Strang can attest, there are enough customers on Half.com to make that a potentially significant amount, like $2,000 every other week.


Posted On: 2013-08-01 00:00
User Name: PeterReynolds

It's still a US only site, though, isn't it?


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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