Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book = NEW for Very Carefully Chosen Values of New

I ordered two 'new' copies of a college textbook a few of days ago from a medium-sized marketplace seller on Alibris, Collegebooksdirect.
The description for both read:
"New Book in shrink wrap. Excellent condition!"
They showed up quickly.
I've ordered dozens of times before from this seller, and never failed to be impressed.
This time, not so much.
They did show up shrink-wrapped, but I was looking at one of the sealed books, and I noticed this [1]:

That's right, a previous owner wrote their name to the top edge of the page block in bright red letters, and the book got sold to me as new.
I opened the shrinkwrap on this book.
I notice that the binding is not tight [2], ending any suspicion that this could have been at least an unread book, marked by a buyer and then returned before the end of the legal return period for the book.
Next, I look carefully at the boards.
There are minor scratches to the boards, and I notice a tell-tale small amount of ground-in dirt to the corner of the back board:

This is a fairly clean used book, but it ain’t new.
The second book was in better shape, but the bottom edge of the page block had the following soiling and/or pen marking:

So, went ahead and unsealed that one, too, and sure enough, the binding wasn't tight, and there was some random dirt between the front endpaper and the free front endpaper [3].
I went ahead and sent an email to the seller. I won't consider this seller as a whole a bad bookseller, given his track record and probable large number of employees, but he certainly EMPLOYS a bad bookseller who let these guys slip past.
A hearty "No Cookie" award goes out to that employee, although I'm hoping they're a fine bookseller who came in with a hangover that day, or some such equally worthwhile excuse.
Enough margaritas makes any mistake seem like a good idea....
08/25/2009: I contacted Collegebooksdirect to let them know about the mistake. A few hours later, I received a very polite apology from one of their employees, along with an offer to pay me the price difference between NEW and USED copies of this book.

[1] I've censored part of the name; no reason to involve the previous student owner of this book.
[2] Don't know what a tight binding is?
"The binding of a new book is very tight; that is, the book will not open easily and generally does not want to remain open to any given page. As the book is used, the binding becomes looser until a well-used book may lay flat and remain open to any page in the book."
[3] Don't know what a free front endpaper (ffep) is? Go to the above link. I'm just sad this bookdoesn't have a bastard title page, preventingme from working that phrase into the main text of the article.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Betterworld Books: I'll let you folks decide if they deserve a cookie

They're the largest of the pseudo-Charity booksellers.
They donate more money to literacy promotion in Africa and other parts of the world than most of us make in a year.
Despite the above fact, many folks, including lots of their competitors, are upset with them.
I'll outline some frequent complaints. I'm not asserting their truthfulness

- They leave one with the impression that they're a charity when they're a for-profit company
- They lead college students to believe the books students give to Better World Books are being shipped to folks in Africa -- when in fact those books are being sold, and 5-10% of profits (not net) are going to a fund that sends books to Africa.
- Their management is present on the boards of some of the charities that they donate to, which some feel is a conflict of interest.

I'll note that, in particular, I spoke to a number of students at a local community college who believed that donations to BWB actually got shipped to Africa. Do students at most schools that have BWB donation boxes believe that? I couldn't tell you.

Here's an article, with more information about BWB than most folks have:

An interesting quote:
'For Helgesen, Fuchs and Kurtzman, giving back is a vital part of the operation. Better World Books donates 5 to 10 percent of its revenue back into the hands of libraries and literacy programs around the world.'

Here's my personal take:
They offer some good deals. I've ordered from them maybe a dozen times, and their customer service is good, their grading is usually pretty honest, and they ship promptly. Their packing leaves something to be desired on cheap titles, but when I ordered some new $100 reference titles from them, they packed better than the average bear.
I will note that the single time they really messed up an order through ABEBooks, I got a refund in full, and they didn't ask me to send the book back.
I may show some orders from them in future posts, and may revisit the issue of their public image vs reality if my readers show interest.

* Note: I'm not saying these complaints are either true, nor that they would matter if true. I invite the reader to think about these things.

Additional links:, Clean Up Your Listings for Pete's Sake

Well, gotta' hand out four Bad Bookseller Non-Cookies this morning.
One goes to, the other 3 go to some small-time amateur sellers, probably college kids.
I mostly blame Half for not policing its sellers, listings, and for not properly educating its sellers.
I was just checking prices on a textbook I just sold when I noticed a couple of listings that didn't seem right.
Half of the college kids that list on Half seem incapable of grading properly. I don't really blame them, as getting a hold of proper book grading takes some folks a while to learn.
Check these descriptions, under LIKE NEW for Foundations of Maternal-Newborn Nursing, with ISBN 1416001417.

Price Seller / Feedback Comments
$20.00 paden89 (43) 100% may have some highlighting, like brand new!
$34.62 lalasoutherngal25 (1) hardback,looks brand new, contains highlighed areas of importance
$35.00 mazda6boyblue (18) Book is practically brand new.
$35.00 erica3983 (18) The cover of this book is different than the picture. It has a mother holding her child.

Let's take a look at that.
Of the four cheapest listings for LIKE NEW, two have highlighting, and one apparently isn't even the right book.
My humble suggestion for Half: when amateur sellers list books, make them fill in checkboxes for various properties:

Does this book have a broken spine: (yes/no)
Has this book been wet: (yes/no)
Does this book have highlighting/underlining: (yes/no)
Is there highlighting on more or less than 50% of pages: (yes/no)
Are all pages and covers present: (yes/no)

Once this survey has been filled out, I propose that the seller be allowed to select a condition grade out of condition grades that apply to the book in question.. or be directed to list the book on Ebay.
After all, Ebay will let you list a book that you've spilled coffee on or dropped in a puddle on the way to class, while you just can't list those on Amazon, Half, or most of the other fixed-price bookselling venues.

My suggestion of a "book screening" checklist above also applies to Amazon, which has a healthy number of amateur sellers as well.
Perhaps once you get 10, 20 or some other number of feedback (as a seller, not a buyer) you should be exempted from this requirement.
Kudos to mazda6boyblue above: you seem to have graded the book properly, and you appreciate the Mazda6, which is a really nice car. The MazdaSport variant, however, gets ridiculously bad gas mileage for its weight... that's another "No Cookie" blog, though. At least it's an intermediate-sized vehicle with 272 horsepower, that counts for something.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shilling Your Own Feedback

Today's "Bad Bookseller, No Cookie" award goes out to Ecampus for what I suspect is them shilling their own feedback on a site that reviews book buyback sites.
For background, a book buyback site is one where you punch in the ISBN of your book, usually a college textbook, and are told that you'll receive money for mailing your book in to the operators of the website.
I noticed the suspicious feedback in question on a site called Bookscouter. This is a site that lets you punch in the ISBN from your book and then get quotes from dozens of buyback sites. I use it myself from time to time when I need to dispose of a college textbook or two.
I've posted a shot of the review in question, along with some of the surrounding reviews.

Notice the following feedback, which is part for the course for this company's reviews on this site.

1 of 5: July 2009 DO NOT USE this so-called company. Instead of paying me they posted "in-store" credit and then never converted this to cash payment even after repeated requests and their promise to do so. Their email messages are worthless computer generated pap, and their "customer service" is nonexistent.
1 of 5: June 2009 Having dealt with this company a few times, I generally understand how they work. I recommend that anyone selling books to ecampus plan on waiting 1-3 months to receive a check. With almost every order so far I have received a check, although one time they claimed that the books were lost (yea right). Anyways, the trick to getting money out of them faster is after a month or so start complaining by sending them messages. Wait a week in between complaints and you will usually get your check after about 2 or 3 messages sent to them. It sounds stupid but that's the way they work. Definitely a company I would recommend not dealing with unless it's your only option.
1 of 5: May 2009 too bad i have to give them 1 star, otherwise they would get zero. the story goes...took my books, no payment, no response to email, it's now over 90 days since sending books. my advice is to look for another company even if ecampus gives you a quoted price.
1 of 5: April 2009 Finally! Payment Received 87 days after they had possession of the books I sent. It only took 9 emails, 3 phone calls and a "payment demand" letter from my lawyer to get my money. I sold them 88 brand new copies of a nice book for which I had to get management approval prior to sending. Emailing them is a joke, did not resolve or help at all, when they bothered to even answer. I was informed on three separate occasions my check had been sent. Phone calls are a waste of time. I finally checked out the Better Business Bureau (BBB) file on where they are rated a "D+" with 500+ lifetime complaints. Finally after my lawyer sent a "demand" letter via registered mail I got a phone call the same day that letter was received by them. They had been busy, payments were taking longer than normal, blah blah blah. They never even apologized. I did get my check two days later though. This is EASILY the worst company I have dealt with for anything! EVER!! I am upset the rating system forces me to award them even 1 star.

Okay. That's the pattern. There are quite a few more in the same vein.

Now, notice the one positive review.

5 of 5: April 2009 No problems here. I understood their timeframe stated, and, was paid within it. I was ok waiting i a little longer because they provided free, insured, UPS Return shipping and paid higher rates than any other site.

Even if they're not shilling positive feedback for themselves, it's amazing that they've currently got 14 feedback on the site, and not a single ambivalent customer. Normally even the worst company gets some lukewarm feedback due to unobservant consumers.
You know, what the heck....
For what amounts to a terrible track record of satisfying their users, I'm issuing a second "No Cookie" to Ecampus.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Good Doesn't Mean A Broken Spine

Well, here's a disappointing purchase.
On 06/26/2009 I ordered a book described as follows from a seller on

Condition: Good Notes: Book shows minor use. Cover and Binding have minimal wear and the pages have only minimal creases.

Unfortunately, when it showed up, the binding was cracked in two. No pages were falling out, but the only thing connecting the two big chunks of the page block was the actual softcover itself.

Check out the binding:

Another shot of the binding:

Let's check out the book grading system:
Item Quality - Books
Brand New
Never read or used
In perfect, mint, undamaged condition
Publisher’s remainder marks are acceptable

Like New
Used but still in perfect mint condition inside and out

Very Good
Appears new from the outside with minimal marking inside
Books with these marks:
Name of previous owner
Underlining on 10% of pages or less
Highlighting on 10% of pages or less
Institutional ID stamps and library checkout card pockets

Books with minimal damage
Scuffed covers and missing dust jackets
Cover can't be creased, torn or have holes
Minimal crease or tears to majority of the pages
No missing pages

Books with damage
Creased, torn, or holes in the cover
Books with damaged spines
Books with more than 10% of pages highlighted or underlined
Books that have been refurbished
Books that have been modified for library circulation
Mylar covers
Attached dust jackets
Embossed covers or numbered book spines

Unacceptable - The following items cannot be sold on
Books without covers
Books with missing pages
Books with stains or water damage

I won't be complaining, as it was a really good deal.
Stay tuned, as in future posts I'll report on some of the interesting responses I get from sellers when I point out challenges in our transactions.
It should be a hoot.