Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2008 Issue

The Bookseller's Dilemma: Dealing with the Listing Bottleneck

It is important to list fields in the most effective manner.


By Renée Magriel Roberts

When the bookselling industry moved into virtual marketing and sales over the internet from a brick-and-mortar environment, a huge (and in some cases insurmountable) problem arose with the change. In a bricks-and-mortar environment books are shelved and are located by sight; in the virtual environment books must be correctly and accurately listed in a database and then uploaded to websites in order to be "seen" and to sell. Books unlisted in the shop of a virtual bookseller make no money.

For many and we include ourselves, this has caused a bottleneck that is still unresolved. Sure, books with ISBNs can be scanned in with a correctly installed barcode scanner and software; this will bring up the basic information in most cases. But the book still has to be graded and described; often the default categories are too broad and unspecific. And in general these easier-to-list books represent the least expensive of the titles.

Rare books and books that pre-date the ISBN present far more difficulties from a listing perspective, and here is where the bottleneck comes in. It is difficult to find another person who will grade, describe, and price a book the way you might wish. First of all you have to be dealing with someone who is honest and can be trusted around valuable material. Care must be taken in handling the books. And entering the information into a database (we use HomeBase) in not a walk in the woods either.

To train someone to do this accurately, I suggest that you start with the lower-value titles. When using HomeBase, you can enter a 10-digit ISBN number without dashes in the ISBN lookup field. If listings are available on ABE, these will be shown as highest value and lowest value for the book, but these are still too inaccurate to be used exclusively in creating a listing, because the value will depend upon the condition of both the book and the dustjacket, if applicable, the edition of the book, and whether it has any additional valuable attributes, such as being signed by the author, or owned by someone well-known, or by someone who might have a relationship to the book or the author. The lookup feature of HomeBase is squirrelly; it won't find anything if too much information is put in, or might not find a real comparable. So, in general, we don't use the lookup feature very much. It should be mentioned that when searching for comparables, the identity and trustworthiness of the shop creating the comparable is just as important as the value of the book itself. There are some wild listings out there.

In the author field, we use last name, first name in upper and lower case. Listings might also include variant spellings for the author name (Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Allen Poe) for example, because if somebody types in the wrong spelling they are not going to get your listing unless the variant is there. I've seen some booksellers use all caps for author name; I personally do not think that is necessary, and it still sounds like "screaming" to me. Even if the author that makes the book valuable (for example a Poe poem in a large periodical) is not the editor, it is a good idea to list the valuable author name in the author field. Also note that the author field is required by some websites, so if you leave it blank your listing may not be uploaded. When I do not have an author name I either list the publisher's name in that field, or "editor", or some other place-holder. Once an author has been entered into HomeBase it becomes part of a look-up list that automatically fills in the field. Watch out for this, because this automatic feature can sometimes create an incorrect listing.

Rare Book Monthly

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