Nov 132010

Some time ago, I acquired a significant literary archive entirely because of Twitter. This was fascinating (and pleasing) to me and hinted, perhaps, at interesting potential for social media and the rare book world. I’m extremely pleased to say that the lovely copy of Four Gospels (Eric Gill, Golden Cockerel Press) I have with me at the Boston ABAA book fair sold. Most interestingly, it sold not to someone here at the fair, but to someone who saw me post about it on Facebook. We live in interesting times…

On a related note, I simply love the fact that I am able to show this shelf here in Boston. The books in this image include the first book printed by Golden Cockerel Press, the last book by the press, the “best” book by the press and it’s beautiful namesake gem, “The Tale of the Golden Cockerel”.

The history of a press in one shelf: First book, Last book, Best book, & Namesake book.

Jun 072010

Lorne Bair recently wrote a letter to Hannes Blum, the CEO of American Book Exchange (ABE) asking for a simple yet critical addition to their “Want List” function. It is an issue that has annoyed me for the last several years such that I no longer add Wants at all and seldom, if ever, really look over any of the emails I get regarding still active Wants. The issue, as Lorne so eloquently puts it, is simply is the lack of a simple data filter. No one is expecting ABE to to drop POD and ebook listings…or actually learn anything about book…but without the ability to filter such things out, ABE’s once *excellent* Want List function is effectively useless. I could not have said this better…with luck, perhaps they will listen:

“…we will continue to strengthen the Abebooks brand which is focused on bibliophiles and book lovers and always will be.” – Hannes Blum, in the May 28th roundtable chat.

Hannes, I know I speak for hundreds if not thousands of ABE subscribers in complaining about the daily flood of false book matches which appear in my in-box each day. It would be incredibly simple for ABE to filter out Print-On-Demand and E-Text descriptions from these so-called “matches” – I simply can’t understand your motivation (especially in light of your statement quoted above) for not doing so.

I’ve been buying and selling on ABE since 1997. Over the years I’ve bought hundreds of books through ABE, the majority of them expensive, rare and collectible. Many if not most of those purchases were initiated by ABE’s once-powerful want-matching system. But these days, I barely look at my want-match e-mails — a cursory glance to see if (as is almost always the case) the first several matches are from POD or E-Text listers, and then into the trash. I haven’t added a new want in several years — it just seems a waste of time.

I feel certain – and chagrined – that potential buyers do the same with e-mails which contain my for-sale listings. I don’t think it’s an anomaly that sales of antiquarian and collectible material on ABE have plummeted since the advent and rise of POD sellers. It’s not that customers prefer photocopies over the real thing - it’s just that it’s become a matter of real inconvenience to find the “real thing” on the ABE site.

I make no plea that you stop offering POD & E-text material on ABE – just that you give customers a method of filtering non-book listings from both their searches and their want matches. This would be a matter of simply requiring POD & E-Text sellers to plainly identify their listings as such (a single check-box on upload would do it), and to provide customers with their own single, simple check-box to filter those results out when they choose.

I know this isn’t a new issue, and I’m far from the first dealer to raise it, but my frustration and disappointment at seeing ABE’s once-excellent book-matching tool descend into near uselessness have continued to rise in proportion to the number of worthless matches I receive each day.


Lorne Bair, ABAA/ILAB
Winchester, Virginia USA

Mar 122010

Simon Singh (author of The Code Book and Fermat’s Last Theorem, etc.) has just announced that he will no longer be writing for The Guardian. Singh is a brilliant math and science writer with a genuine gift of making extremely complex theoretical work both approachable and engaging to a general audience. He is having to give up his writing due to rather long running libel suit brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association (detailed nicely here). Though he could, most likely, have settled this rather easily, he chose to walk a much more complex path for the greater good. British libel law is such that a number of news sources (from the quasi to the hard) have either pulled out or threatened to pull out of the UK to avoid being SLAPPed (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

While I am disheartened that Singh has been forced to limit his work until this suit is over, I hope his efforts succeed for both his personal issues and for the broader issue of libel reform in the UK. Please take a look at the Libel Reform Campaign‘s site and consider signing their petition.