Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2004 Issue

A Renewed "Half Life"<br>Half.com Lives

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A look around the half.com home page reveals books are an important part of this site.



By Michael Stillman

In our reviews of the major bookselling sites, we have assiduously avoided looking at Half.com. Why would we? Half.com has been a marked man, a website on death row, with its date of execution formally set. Originally, parent eBay just wanted to get rid of this unloved stepchild, purchased from others a few years ago. July was set as the final date. It encouraged everyone who sold books (and other things) on Half to move their listings to eBay stores, the natural child, loved by the parent though not necessarily by all of the booksellers. The migration was slow. Parent eBay figured sellers needed more time, so they postponed the execution until October 14.

But, something happened along that final walk to the chamber. The sellers did not go quietly into the night. In fact, they let eBay know how little they appreciated the closing of Half.com. Evidently, they voiced their opinions in meetings with management, and the message boards lit up with biting comments. Then, suddenly one day (Sept. 23, specifically), eBay sent out a message to its sellers totally reversing its stand. In it they said. "In our last announcement earlier this summer, we said that Half.com would be closing on October 14, 2004. We have decided NOT to go forward with this plan and will keep Half.com open indefinitely" (emphasis theirs).

What happened? Why the change? Did the pleas of their sellers finally get through? Personally, I doubt that was the reason. They have been speaking up for a long time without eBay listening. More likely this was a response to the old saying "money talks," rather than sellers talk. In the letter, Vice-President and General Manager of Half.com Mike Aufricht said that the attempt to shift sales to eBay had not reduced business at Half. "In fact, loyalty to Half.com has remained strong as we witnessed yet another outstanding back-to-school season on Half.com." He goes on to say that sellers have been arguing to keep Half.com alive, and that, "Your input, as well as the data and experience we have gained during the transition efforts, are the basis for our decision to keep Half.com open." Again, I suspect it was the "data and experience," a likely euphemism for "cash," that was the key factor rather than the "your input" they ignored for so long.

Why they didn't see this sooner is both unexplained and hard to explain. Perhaps patent infringement claims pertaining to Half.com's software was the major reason for eBay's plan to jettison the site. Clearly it was an issue. Maybe it was more a desire to strengthen the core eBay name that motivated the earlier decision. Whatever, someone finally looked at the sales at Half and the seller loyalty, and decided not to detach the milking machine from the cash cow. We can't say for certain that the decision is permanent. However, they do say, "There will be no substantive changes to Half.com in the foreseeable future," and, "Going forward, we will invest in both platforms" (Half and eBay). Sounds like Half.com will be sticking around awhile.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <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>

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