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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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