PDA’s In Bookselling


220px-Handspring_Visor_Deluxe_BlackI started writing this column like ten times already.  The advances in PDA technology have been careening along at such a gallop that most have gotten whiplash as it went past us.  The last time we had such a radical change in information technology, Gutenberg was casting scrabble tiles.  Sure, two years ago I was up on all the newest and bestest ways to use my PDA to make book buying in the field more profitable. But with the new PDA’s and a cellular modem you can order takeaway, phone your mom, sends snaps of your kids, check your messages, look up book values, email someone on the underside of the planet, bid on an auction, AND read the complete works of Bulwer Lytton all with 8 ounces of metal & plastic (and you thought STAR TREK was fiction).

The majority of booksellers don’t like change, we still run Windows 98 and Office 97 and won’t usually change until we absolutely have to. It’s just our way.  My little obsolete Visor Deluxe with it’s 8 megs of RAM still works fine and does just what I need. Sure, I would love online capabilities but until it becomes cost effective for me, I probably won’t upgrade.   There are two types of booksellers, those who have a PDA and those who want a PDA and right this very second there is no reason NOT to have one; a device that can do what the average bookseller would find needful costs ridiculously little second hand.  The Personal Data Assistant that was cutting edge 3 years ago is now selling on eBay as something good enough for your kids to play with (mine cost me 250 new and now sells for 50 bucks, go figure).

What does a bookseller WANT from a PDA?  For those of us who have been having senior moments, since I was a senior in college, I needed a better MEMORY. Sure, I could remember a book’s title and author and ballpark value, but all the little things escaped me, like what customer asked me for it a week ago or which state dust jacket had an extra line on the back, at least until I was sitting in the car on the way home.   You would be amazed at how much data you can get in 8 megs of RAM; I have never been able to fill mine more than halfway with important stuff. (hey, all those e-books don’t count!) Sure not every bookseller wants to carry their stock list around in their pocket, but hey some of us do, as well as a shopping list, want lists, lists of pseudonyms and first edition identification info for publishers.   All that good stuff, that you hardly ever look at, except that ONE time you need to look it up and you discover that your battery ran out.

PDA’S 101- abridged
[If you know this part skip to the next section, show off.]

PDA’s are not mini-versions of desktop computers   Small screens can’t display as much content as full-size ones. And limited OS capabilities, CPUs, and RAM mean less sophisticated web and application content.  What is most effect is entering data at home and then loading it to the PDA to take with you.

The PDA screens are still very small, they are terrible in direct lighting, color screens are much easier to read than grey scale.  Reading things like e-books or spreadsheets can be a pain in the patoot if you don’t like scrolling.

PDA’s and their ‘shoe’ are connected just like any other peripheral to your desktop computer. Files are sent back and forth, called ‘sync-ing’ using PDA specific software.   You can’t expect wireless connectivity right out of the box. In most cases, you need to buy a wireless modem or cable to connect with a digital phone and then sign up for service.

If you let the battery run down the odds are good you will lose your data. So if you update it on the PDA, back it up onto an expansion memory or the PC every time you get home. The operating systems aren’t designed to be upgraded so to upgrade you really need to buy a new device.

PDA’s don’t read the same files that desktops do. EVERYTHING needs to be converted. Luckily all the software developed to run on PDA’s come with conversion programs to do it for you.  It will take your database or any 2 or 3 dimensional data file and create a “.pdb”  file of it.  Which can go back & forth from the PDA.  You will need to un-convert it in order to fiddle with it on the desktop.

You can’t use them with one hand and hold books with the other. You need one for the unit and one for the stylus (penlike object).  Some have KEYS on them, some don’t. The more keys and buttons the smaller the screen and the larger the device.

PDA Explanations by people who KNOW what they are talking about   http://www.howstuffworks.com/pda3.htm

Databases

For as many hand held devices out there, there are as many types of data file handing software.  Stay away from the proprietary kinds.  You want to use software that will use the most common file formats. You don’t want to trade someone for a nice fat little file full of book points and find you have nothing to open it with.  There are three major PDA database programs out there and unlike desktop software it’s all relatively cheap.

Jfile $24.95 http://www.land-j.com/jfile.html
MobileDB $29.95 http://www.mobilegeneration.com/products/mobiledb/index.html
HanDbase $29.99 http://www.ddhsoftware.com/handbase.html?UID=2003012912475324.61.82.64
[old comparison revew but still helpful http://www.the-gadgeteer.com/databases-review.html]

Both have free conversion programs that will transform .csv (comma separated value) files into .pdb files. MobileDB has a free direct conversion program for MS Access tables.  I find MS Excel easily saves stuff in .csv format (like .txt format, only with commas.)

Document

You can’t squeeze a major application into a relatively low-powered device, so be satisfied with the ability to view and edit data.   There are things like QuickOfficehttp://www.quickoffice.com/ that allows for MS Excel spread sheet and MS Word conversion.  The new PDA’s have screens with color and better resolution and some just larger that make handling these kinds of documents less painful that the old days.

Typing

Some of the PDA’s & PALMTOPS come with their own keyboards built in, [they remind of the HP-12C calculator in the 70’s where the device was larger than its manual].  For typing anything larger than a scribble, there are an amazing array of keyboards available these days with more being invented as we speak. Little thumb size keypads, life size fold up keyboards, flexible roll up ones, you name it. [here’s some reviews http://www.pdabuyersguide.com/tips/keyboards.htm] Personally, I just got very good at writing graffitti with a guitar thumb pick. Who has time to dig out an attachment when you just want to write an ISBN?

EBooks N’Stuff

Once you have this nifty little device rattling around in the bottom of your book bag holding your business stuff, it’s time to load it with stuff that you DON’T need. There are a ton of places to get that too, and some of it is helpful.  [My advice is try it, if you don’t use it blow it away, chance are you won’t remember what the file was for anyway.]  http://www.Palmgear.com  is the best place to find PDA specific software on the net.  Shareware, freeware, tryware, it’s all there. (hey that rhymes.)

http://www.memoware.com/  is a great place to get docs to run on the software, it will show you huge lists of ebooks, data files, small databases, AND explain what format it’s in and where to get the software to run it.  ‘http://www.memoware.com/?screen=help_format#Doc .  Once you create something yourself you can post it along side, best PGA golf scores, chronological Start Trek bibliography, Bar Drink guides, and the E-version of Crime & Punishment.

PDA Bookselling Specific Tools

Saved the best for last. [How else would I get you guys to read all the way through?]

Bookscout

Combining the advent of online access in the palm of your hand with the depreciation of online book values, Dave Anderson has written an extremely valuable software tool, SCOUTPAL http://www.scoutpal.com, this will allow you to enter an ISBN and in one step check book prices on Amazon, both used & new, thus confirming or denying it’s buyability for you.  With only 1 or 2 GOOD buys you can easily pay for this service. [It works on web enabled cell phones too.]

Book Collectors Reference Pack

Just for giggles last year I collected all the information I needed in my PDA and put it in the JFILE .pdb format http://palmgear.com/software/showsoftware.cfm?sid=52833720020602193156&prodID=44720

Publisher First edition identifier: 3600 publishers and their usual method of first edition notation. Book Collecting Glossary: a 500 word dictionary and Author Pseudonyms: over 9000 pseudonyms and their authors

When more booksellers get PDA’s, we will surely have more bookselling-oriented software being written, collected & traded.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website