Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2006 Issue

Simpler Solutions for Bookseller Automation

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By Renée Magriel Roberts

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away I was not a bookseller, but a VAR (value-added reseller) for AT&T. Our company designed automated accounting systems for retail/point-of-sales, as well as a wide variety of vertical markets. We modified standard accounting code, created comprehensive automation and transitional accounting plans, and provided not only hardware and software, but also ongoing training and support. The Force was with us, but we got to see the Dark Side of automation on more than one occasion.

When I looked at Monsoon automated pricing software in my last article (December, 2005 - http://www.americanaexchange.com/NewAE/aemonthly/article.asp?f=1&page=1&id=320) in AE Monthly, it was not only from the point of view of a bookseller and potential buyer, but also from the hard knowledge of being in the sales and development sides of the software business.

The Monsoon article received quite a bit of feedback from fellow booksellers, so I thought it might be useful to expand on some of the principles of good automation which I suggested in that piece. When I buy software there are things that I look for, both in the product and in the company from which I am purchasing.

First of all, I never, ever, pay a programmer to create custom software for me. Unless you are a programmer yourself, and completely capable of both understanding and taking over the evolution of a product, just skip this route. There are plenty of standard software packages, readily available and either free or inexpensive. Hiring a programmer (either an individual or a company) is tantamount to putting your entire business into the hands of a stranger who does not wake up in the morning with your best interests at the top of the list.

Take, for example, the sad experience of Global Book Mart, as quoted in the IOBA book site (www.ioba.org):
"In August of 2000, we learned that owning your equipment and owning your proprietary programming does not necessarily afford protection from unscrupulous parties. The computer programming firm retained to perform work on GBM demanded that we pay them approximately $187,000 which was not provided for in our contract, or in the alternative, to relinquish to them a controlling interest in GBM, or they would commandeer our equipment (which was physically housed in their facility to have a direct T1 connection), programming and data.

"These same programmers used our equipment to pirate the GBM database and bookseller data for use on a website they registered, http://www.bookcrawler.net which included the use of all of our proprietary code and copyrighted materials, with the exception of changing the name. We were even told by one of these parties that should GBM booksellers not be willing to contract with their new site, these programmers intended to purchase inventory and duplicate the efforts of booksellers. We consulted our attorney and notified all of our booksellers of these events on August 10, 2000. Within 2 hours of our notifying our booksellers, the programmers physically unplugged our servers and severed communications...."
If you want to be in the software business, YOU have to either be the programmer, or be as knowledgeable as the programmer. YOU have to have physical control over your servers, your applications, and your data, unless you feel that these things are expendable and/or are completely protected, both legally and physically.

Next, let's talk about what kind of software to use. I never use non-standard software and I try to avoid using software that has just come out on the market, unless it is an update of a product that I already have. I like my software to have all the bugs worked out of it --I do not like being used as a guinea pig. Software development is not an exact science, but a process of continuous improvement and evolution, as we can clearly see from the good and not-so-good versions of Windows.

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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