Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ethics in Bookselling

The discussion of ethics in bookselling is a frequent topic of discussion on the eBay Bookseller's Discussion Board. The topic typically comes up when a listing is discussed in which a seller appears to be purposefully deceptive. Other times, as in the case this week, the topic is discussed because a seller comes to the board asking for advice and does not correct all of the mistakes in his or her listings. The consensus is that deceptive sellers hurt everybody—they hurt the buyers, and they hurt the sellers who do not practice deception.

This particular message thread has some good points made by several sellers. The message threads frequently disappear from eBay without warning, especially when the person who started the thread does not like the direction it takes, so I'm going to post a couple of quotes here.

First, southernbrat makes this point:
The booksellers on this board have a stake in bookselling. When one of us misrepresents a book all will eventually suffer as the buyers will begin to harbor distrust for all sellers. Anger enough sellers and the business dries up. It is hard enough to make a go of this for the everyday seller with everyday type books with the awful rules eBay has implemented so the seller has to be extra careful to not sabotage themselves without eBay's help.
and also this one:
The booksellers on this board are only watching out for their reputation also. You only have one name, so protect it. (or you can be like many I have watched, NOT on this board, change their ID so many times you create a line of ID's that will rival your ancestry history line.)
There have been quite a few cases in which buyers have asked me questions about my listings, and I can tell that they are asking because they no longer trust sellers. They ask me questions like:

"Are there any missing pages?"
"Is the book water-damaged?"
"Does the book smell musty or like cigarettes?"

If I am selling a book that has any of these flaws, I will mention it, but the buyers don't know that. They've been burned by other sellers, so they no longer trust anybody. Or, perhaps they have won an auction and they request that I wrap the book in plastic to protect from moisture exposure. I always do that, but I don't always mention it in my listings, particularly after I had an environmentalist take me to task for it.

I guess there are a bunch of people out there that never have problems with wet mail. I once had a thick blue Nancy Drew book with glossy internal illustrations and a nice dust jacket get damaged because it arrived on a rainy day and the seller had not used plastic. My postal carriers make no attempt to keep my mail dry, and I suspect this is the case for many people across the country. My mail arrives wet at least a dozen times per year.

To go back to the eBay message thread, fine.books makes this point:
The bottom line is simple: don't fudge. Don't try to find work-arounds. Don't throw any pass over 40 yards. If a book is rare, say so - but if there's the slightest chance that someone will come along and prove that more than ten copies still exist, don't lump yourself in with the thousands of people on the internet who are selling books by misrepresentation and chicanery by using the word.
Many serious booksellers use the definition of rare that means that a rare book is one in which no more than ten copies remain in existence. Is this actually the case for the many series books that are advertised on eBay as RARE? The only Nancy Drew books that may actually fit the correct definition of rare are the three breeder set Nancy Drew books with intact dust jackets. As far as anyone knows, there are likely fewer than 10 existing dust jackets of each of the first printings of the first three Nancy Drew books. This is something to think about when you see a series book advertised as RARE, and it comes up for sale all the time.

Let's discuss one of my favorite scarce-but-not-RARE books, the 2nd art dust jacket edition of The Message in the Hollow Oak. There is one up for sale right now, described as RARE:

NANCY DREW MESSAGE IN THE HOLLOW OAK Wrap Orig DJ RARE! Item #120276963394

It is so RARE that it also showed up in these recent closed listings:

NANCY DREW #12 "MESSAGE IN THE HOLLOW OAK" WRAP SPINE!! Item #140242099227 which closed at $61.00

Nancy Drew #12 Message Hollow Oak w/2nd Art DJ NICE Item #260250241792 which closed at $225.00. I sold this one and notice that I did not describe it as RARE!!!

Nancy Drew #12 Message Hollow Oak HC Wrap DJ Rare Item #230260187936 which closed at $187.50

Nancy Drew-Message in the Hollow Oak 2nd art DJ, NM! Item #290240717234 which closed at $174.99

Nancy Drew Hollow Oak w/ RARE Wrap DJ! Item #230257981534 which closed at $202.38

Keep in mind that I have another extra one that I need to sell! So, the 2nd art dust jacket of Hollow Oak is not so RARE after all.

Note: I am not saying that people who describe their books as RARE are being deceptive. Many of them probably don't know any better or are casually using the word. After all, I posted an old discussion group comment of mine in this blog a few weeks ago, and that comment stated that a certain book was "extremely rare." So, I have even misused the word.

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