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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Anyone for the Forsythe Saga?

A quick scan of search sites reveals that 537 people can’t spell “Tolkien.” (And a further 58 can’t spell “Hobbit.”)

“The Forsythe Saga” notches up another 129 errors.

Does it matter?

We all make typos from time to time, but this sort of error displays ignorance rather than a typing mistake and I reckon that it does matter. Quite apart from customers being unable to find your book (unless they have matching ignorance!), I, for one, given two reasonably equal copies of a book for sale, would go for the one who has Forsyte and knows Tolkien from Tolkein.

In this age of ever-diminishing quality of book listing standards caused by the flood of wannabe bookdealers, it is important that IOBA members stand out above that crowd. This will lead to extra sales. Sure, sloppy catalogue entries will still get some sales, especially if they are cheap enough, but there are a lot of knowledgeable people out there. They have had their fingers burnt before—they have learnt that a poor listing often means a poor bookseller, inaccurate descriptions, and poorly packed books—and therefore they avoid them like the plague.

I keep hearing moans on the various forums about poor sales. Not true. Internet sales have continued to rise and those who pay attention to detail benefit. In the early days, you could sell almost anything you could list, but it is now much more competitive, so you must keep on looking for ways to sharpen up your act.

Making sure that your listings are professional, clear, accurate and fully informative is an inexpensive way that you can improve your sales. Here are the most important points:

The Database

Get a good one. (See Inventory Software on or work with your local IT consultant.)

It amazes me how many people cheapskate and go for freebies such as HomeBase. They simply don’t have the capacity to give you the control that you need. Given that your database is your prime business tool, it is not an area to economize on. (A bit like opening a bookshop and selling the books out of boxes rather than bothering to build shelves or decorate.)

Our database has 28 fields so that each detail can be uploaded to each site in the correct order. It can control the prices up or down by any percentage for any listing site. It can generate a separate Google page. It can select or deselect books for any site (for instance, withdraw Mein Kampf from ZVAB). It can add extra shipping for heavy books or Amazon supplements. And so on.

If your database doesn’t get near this, it is time you looked into the matter.

The Listing

There are four ways to go wrong.

1. Too much.

Example: “This book is fitted with a removable, protective, trim sleeve cover. Book is in good condition throughout with light foxing to the page outer edges and minor bumping and browning to the top and bottom of the spine. Jacket is in good condition but has quite heavy foxing and tiny nicks and creases along its outer edges and where it folds. Tiny patch missing from the upper right hand side of the back cover. Contents include The Authors and Their Books followed by the four condensed stories. Microbe Hunter‘s is illustrated by Anthony Saris, Devil Water is illustrated by Noel Sickles, To Sir, With Love is illustrated by Francis Marshall and The Golden Rendezvous is illustrated by Henry Seabright (Title page by Paul Bacon).”

All this for a Readers Digest Condensed book!

Quite apart from the book being unsaleable, any thoughts that the bookseller is not completely mad are quickly dispelled by it being described as a First Edition.

The above in an extreme example but many seem to believe that such wordiness helps sales. In actual fact it tends to do the reverse, making it hard for the potential buyer to find the information they actually want, even if that information is included somewhere within the torrent of words.

2. Too little.

Example: “Hardcover. Book Condition: Used; Good. Hardcover with good d/j.”

Gee, that’s a great help.

The minimum specification should be:

Author. Title. Binding. (“Green hardback cloth cover,” “Brown half leather with marbled boards and gilt tooling”—and so on—clear and complete.) Publisher. Publisher city. Publication date. (Go on—research it if it is not stated.) Edition. (First, reprint, Limited, etc.) ISBN or BASIN. Number of pages. (Don’t forget to include prefatory material such as “xxxvii” if relevant.) Size. (Your database should be able to auto-convert between millimetres and inches.) Dustwrapper. (With or without, clipped or not.) Condition. (Clear and honest, without writing a thesis, and under no circumstances boilerplate—“may have” is an instant turn off for any experienced buyer. If you can’t afford to catalogue the book properly, it is too cheap to be catalogued and you shouldn’t be wasting your time on it.)

In addition, where relevant, the illustrator, the nature of the illustrations (“25 b/w steel engravings” for example), translator, etc., should be included.

Avoid overuse of capital letters and exclamation marks, and pay attention to punctuation marks. Colons and semi-colons have their place.

3. Too sloppy.

They are not desirable, but typos do have a way of creeping in. However, triple check the author and title fields—a typo there can ruin sales.

It does no harm to get into the habit of double checking the rest of the entry too—the odd typo would not normally hazard a sale, but several might.

4. Boilerplate. 

Examples: “Book Condition: VERY GOOD. USED No major defects: clean, complete, not falling apart; some light wear.”

“Creasing/edgewear/shelfwear, may have other defects such as discolouration to block edges etc.”

“Used items at a great price! Come to xxx for all your media needs. We have hundreds of thousands of items available today!”

“This book is Acceptable: A readable copy. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact (the dust cover may be missing). Pages can include considerable notes—in pen or highlighter—but the notes cannot obscure the text.”

Why anyone buys from outfits like this defeats me. They are the listing equivalent of spam and do our trade no good at all. What I do know is that these bottom-end feeders are not able to sell worthwhile books this way.

It goes without saying that many other factors are relevant for successful online bookselling—the quality of your stock and the quality of your home page, to name just two—but paying full attention to your database and book presentations is of the greatest importance.

Stuart Manley operates Barter Books in Alnwick Station, Northumberland, England and can be contacted at




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