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>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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