when you’re dealing with books with a number of zeros hanging off of the book.
AT: You make a good point. Still, some people feel that the book world has been forever changed by the introduction of the internet as a book buying venue.
MAF: I don’t feel that the book business can be conducted impersonally, as it is on the net whether it’s eBay or a specialized book site or what have you. These people [the internet book sellers] don’t have the knowledge, the research – which, by the way, we pride ourselves on. Physical descriptions of books, and accurate physical descriptions at that, are paramount as well.
AT: I agree. I think that there is no substitution for good research and advice, especially when you’re buying a book on a certain level. I also think that – and I wrote about this recently in an article about buying and selling books on eBay – there are many hazards to buying books on the net. For instance, even if your seller is well intentioned, how do you know that he or she knows enough about condition to accurately recognize it and describe it?
MAF: Exactly. Let me show you one of our book descriptions. [Furnishes what she describes as a typical description.] They all follow the same formula: first you get a complete physical description of the book, then comes a paragraph or more with complete historical and other information about the item, then come the citations, which lead you to the sources of our information and offer you places from which to do further research. This is true of each and every one of our descriptions. Our bibliographic team researches each book down to its finest point and summarizes the results of that research for you.
AT: This is an amazingly full and thorough description. I’ve heard about your descriptions for years and I know that many book dealers use your catalogues as reference materials, but this is the first time in a long time that I’ve seen one of your descriptions up close. I have to admit that this is one of the most complete and completely researched descriptions I’ve seen in ages, and take that from one who reads auction catalogues all the time and was a descriptive cataloguer for many years.
MAF: Well, this is as I said a typical description for us. [Mr. Lipton nods in agreement.] We have very high standards not just for our books but for our bibliographers as well. People who sell on eBay are not likely to furnish you with any sort of description of this nature. They don’t have the knowledge, the background. There’s too much “I don’t know exactly what this is, but it looks old” going on on eBay. Plus the people who sell on eBay don’t have reputations to uphold [as traditional booksellers do], so you may get into a situation where the book arrives, you’re not satisfied with the book, and they’re not willing to take it back.