Ah yes, “professional standards,” in the world of online book selling, particularly of antiquarian books and paper, that term has many meanings. The bar can be set high - as with membership in the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America) which requires substantial experience, recommendations from fellow ABAA members, actual vetting and annual dues.
Or it can be set low…. so low as to be non-existent - witness the thousands of sellers who have no trade affiliation, no professional experience and would not know a first edition from a cheap reprint. These are booksellers who in some cases do not even actually have the book they’re offering, not to mention may have also lifted its description too. Low. Low. Low. “Caveat Emptor:” Let the buyer beware.
Somewhere between those two ends there is IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association). It is one of many groups that sellers can join to increase professionalism and help assure customer satisfaction. The IOBA logo is a good indication of a quality operation.
In January 2016 IOBA had 341 members in 15 countries. It offers substantial benefits for a modest fee of $75 a year. The qualifications for membership are reasonable and the IOBA logo after a seller’s name inspires a degree of customer confidence because it indicates that the seller has been reviewed by others working in the trade and meets certain basic professional standards.
They are according to the IOBA website:
You must have a minimum of one year prior bookselling experience.
You must be an owner/partner/member of an online bookselling business that is not a publicly traded corporation.
You must have and provide a valid resale license or business registration number if one is required to conduct business in your locality.
You must agree to conduct business in accordance with the IOBA Code of Ethics.
(See more at: www.ioba.org/pages/member-application/#sthash.Bm2BHVEV.dpuf)
Meet those standands and pay the $75 once a year and you’ll receive quite a few benefits that comes with the territory.
They include the IOBA “Discuss List “ where members educate each other on best practices and other items of interest to online booksellers. There is also an active Wants/For Sale venue for members to do business with each other which is commission free.
“IOBA is an all-volunteer trade association and there are many opportunities to join an active committee and contribute if you wish,” said Phil Keener of Keener Books and Collectibles ("The books you want...from booksellers you can trust") in Wisconsin..
Other IOBA benefits, he said in a letter encouraging membership in the organization, include a number of educational opportunities and scholarships for members such as scholarships to the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) (www.bookseminars.com), the Rare Books School (www.rarebookschool.org), or the York Antiquarian Booksellers Seminar (YABS) (www.yabseminar.com) in England.
“Our organization is open to all professional online booksellers and is not restricted to antiquarian booksellers,” he added.
Joan White, on the membership committee for over ten years and most recently chairman, explained that the process to join is quite simple. Fill out the application on line: www.ioba.org/pages/member-application. It goes to the chair, the chair checks it out and shares the results with the committee and you’re in. Sometimes the applicants need a little coaching. White said there is a mentorship program for those who almost qualify but are not quite up to speed.
She pointed to the ability to write an accurate description of the merchandise, “including the flaws,” as the most frequent area where help is needed. In other cases, sellers may not have the necessary tax paperwork in place. White was clear, if you’re receiving income but not reporting it, this is probably not the place for you. For others the return policy is a sticky point: Those with AS IS - FINAL SALE and “no return” practices do not meet the guidelines.
But obviously, with more than 300 members, there are quite a few that do.
Asking other members for comments about IOBA produced an enthusiastic response. They liked the lists, the book school and the networking with others in the trade. “The IOBA lists, said one, “are good because you know that the people you’re dealing with are a lot like you.”
"I was attracted to IOBA as a newcomer to the trade,” said William Knox of the Penang Bookshelf - outgoing president. Located in “a part of the world where professional used booksellers' associations barely exist, IOBA offered me a home, “ he said. Knox is a specialist in books about Malaysia and also the rest of Asia.
IOBA, he wrote in an email, is, ”The broad church of booksellers from all over the world, both novices and experienced hands, promoting independence and ethical selling. It has, in a short time, grown to become the largest international bookselling organisation devoted exclusively to online bookselling. This has been achieved and will be continued largely by the volunteering efforts of our members. IOBA maintains its position because it is sufficiently flexible to incorporate ideas of newer booksellers with the authoritative experience of those who have been in the trade for decades.”
Charles Fedorowicz of the UK, who started selling books online in 2001, wrote “I have been a member of IOBA since 2009 and served on the Internet Committee and now I chair the Outreach Committee. “I joined IOBA shortly after I launched my website after having cut my teeth selling on eBay. I knew that I needed some endorsement to give my customers confidence in making their purchase from my website and one of the several ways of doing this was joining IOBA and being able to show their logo on all my web pages.
“That is possibly over simplifying things but that is pretty much as it was. Having retired from full time employment in the IT industry I decided on selling books online to keep me busy. Starting in this way made it difficult to join many of the established bookselling organisations because they all asked for more experience and references, which I did not have at the time.
“I did though qualify to join IOBA…. I am truly pleased that I did as I have learned a great deal more about bookselling both from the website and from the very active Discuss List and from my sponsorship on the YABS program. I now understand that IOBA has given me so much more than just the logo that I initially wanted.”
Chris Volk, a California online dealer and a past IOBA president, also observed that there’s quite a bit of overlap between IOBA and ABAA.
ABAA has stiffer membership requirements and it costs more. Some dealers join IOBA on the way to ABAA and quite a few in the ABAA see the benefits of a group that’s exclusively focused on the online portion of the trade and join IOBA too.
In case you’re wondering if the long slog to the high end is worth it, John F. Kuenzig, of Kuenzig Books, a science and engineering specialist in Massachusetts, commented via email “The ABAA designation is certainly worth it if you want to sell to the best collectors. After becoming an ABAA dealer, we started selling things online that had been there for a long time. Now we get cold calls from collectors in our area. Worth it? Absolutely.”
As for other groups that encourage professionalism, Madlyn Bloom in Florida reminded RBH readers that there are many state organizations. She’s an officer of the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association and urges those in her area to visit their site: floridabooksellers.com
There does not seem to be a complete list of state organizations, but there are certainly active groups in Northern and Southern California and Texas to name a few. It was hard to find a complete list. The one list we found coming from the publishing side may not be current or all inclusive: www.ibpa-online.org/resources/bookseller-associations/
IOBA Election results
After 10 years with the membership committee, most recently as chair, Joan White, co-owner of White Unicorn Books in Dallas, Texas, a science fiction and fantasy specialist, is the new 2016 IOBA president.
Here is the complete list of officers:
President : Joan White
Vice President : Heidi Congalton
Secretary : Doug Nelson
Treasurer : Sharon Eisenberg
Members at Large : Zhenya Dzhavgova, Charles Fedorowicz, Sharon Heimann, Rachel Jagareski, Betty Kilner and Andrea Tomberg.
Karin Bergsagel, who was the co-chair, will replace Joan as chair of the membership committee.