Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2005 Issue

Alibris Visited

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Sorting books at Alibris


Ken Aaron runs the Catalog Section. These are the books that are in Alibris's stock in the warehouse. And a vast, vast number of books there are! There is row upon row of used books standing like sentinels to literacy on six-tiered, gray metal shelves. These are what Mark calls "common" books; in other words they are low-priced books of every ilk, valued at $5 to $20 or more. They are of a type that one finds in just about every used bookstore. They occasionally buy small numbers of remainders from a remainder house, sometimes they buy stock from estates or sellers who are closing their book businesses, and some of the books are from orders gone awry and returned to Alibris by a customer. These books come into the cataloging department and are put into their online inventory, then they are shelved until an order comes in, at which time a staff member pulls the correct book and fills the order. It runs pretty much like any other bookstore except for the volume.

This immense catalogue of books, however, is not their central focus. The books that we booksellers have in our inventories are where they get their primary stock. As Mark Nason pointed out, Barnes and Noble bookstores sell coffee, but they are not coffee experts. Alibris sells books, but they are not book experts, we, the booksellers are, and for the more valuable books, there is no substitute for our expertise. He made another comparison: That Alibris is the lumber company that puts the trees through the sawmill and makes the planks, it is their online booksellers who are the woodcarvers that make the planks special.

We walked through the steps taken by a book that isn't sent directly to the customer by an Alibris bookseller. These are generally books that go overseas, or that were ordered through Borders and will be sent to them to distribute to their customers. It also includes volumes that will go to libraries and schools and the like. The book arrives by mail from the bookseller. It is opened by the first line of defense, the Receiving crew. They unwrap the books and send them to another staff member who checks the books for condition, and invoices and sorts the books by destination. The volumes then go into large plastic totes that are placed on a snakelike conveyor belt. The totes are marked with a bar code that is read by the conveyor belt and spit into the proper shipping area by automation.

The books are then packaged and sent out. As Mark pointed out, they don't ship each book separately. If they have a number of books to go overseas, they save up a large crate full and ship them all at once. If they have twelve copies of Catch 22 from 12 different dealers to go to one school or library, they collect them all and send them all together in one package, thus saving themselves and their customers a great deal of postage.

I mentioned to Mark that I always wrap my valuable books in brown paper or bubble wrap before I send them out. A couple of times, I have received emails from Alibris telling me not to wrap the books so heavily. Mark said that one pet peeve in the Receiving area is over-packaging books. I argued that the books needed to be well protected as the Post Office does not always treat them tenderly. He said that unless it is a valuable book, say over $50 or $100, it is not necessary to pack them in any more than a protective envelope or small box, and puleeez, no peanuts! I warned him that if I felt it necessary to heavily wrap a fragile or expensive book, I would and his receivers would just have to curse me. He noted that with 8,000 books coming in each day, perhaps three books might sustain some damage. I thought that was a pretty good average, as long as one of the three wasn't one of mine.

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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