From: Bob Fleck and Jelle Samshuijzen
(EDITOR’S NOTE: PLEASE NOTE THAT ILAB IS A MEMBERS’ ONLY DATABASE, BUT INFORMATION WILL GIVEN AT THE END OF THIS INTERVIEW ABOUT HOW TO JOIN THE ORGANIZATION.)
What is your purpose in starting a online book database (i.e., to help online booksellers, to get a database that does what you think a book database should do, because it’s a good business to be in, all of the above, none of the above, or ????).
Bob Fleck: It is first necessary to explain a bit about us before answering your question. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers is an organization that encompasses national associations of antiquarian booksellers around the world. It speaks for twenty nations and two thousand leading booksellers. Its sign stands for the integrity and professionalism of the trade worldwide.
Beginnings: The League (or ILAB, as it is often known among English-speakers; LILA among French) was founded in Amsterdam at a meeting of major European booksellers in 1947. It was born of the spirit of international cooperation and fuelled by the determination to sweep away national differences that inspired the postwar world. Since that time its aims, objects and ideals have been adopted across the continents, and the ILAB network now extends into America, Asia and the Southern Hemisphere.
Objects: The objects formulated in 1947 are still little changed. Put briefly, they are to uphold and improve professional standards in the trade, to promote honorable conduct in business, and to contribute in various ways to a broader appreciation of the history and art of the book.
The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) first started a data base a number of years ago and rapidly saw that the internet was going to be a global phenomena and not just one restricted to America. Our representatives on the Committee that oversaw the day-to-day operations of ILAB pointed out to that Committee that ILAB as an organization should develop a site for all member booksellers. The site was turned on in March of 1999. We then introduced a database with secure credit card ordering.
We have a two fold purpose to having this website: First and most important we wanted to tell the internet world who we were – a group of the most experienced booksellers in the world who had to meet stringent requirements to become a member. Ethics are enforced by each member country of ILAB to a degree not found in any other website devoted to the sale of books. This combination of experience, expertise in describing books, and consumer protection is a fabulous story to tell especially in what is sometimes seen as the “wild-west” of internet bookselling. Our second purpose was to provide one of the best technical sites on the web for the sale of books at as low a price as possible to our members. Our webmaster company, Rockingstone, located in the Netherlands, has done that for us.
Our webmaster keeps track of statistics for us and we have seen a very large increase in visits (and purchases) at our website. These visitors do much more that just buy books, they look at an average of 7.3 other pages of information about ILAB. One of the frequently used functions of the website is the link which allows searches for dealers by specialty. This means we are benefiting all members of ILAB, including those without computers.
Is this a long-term commitment on your part? Where do you see yourself and your database in 3 years? 5 years?
Bob: There are about 2000 members of ILAB of which over 300 are now actively placing around 2 million of the best books available on the web in our searchable database. We have seen that web technology is rapidly becoming as mainstream in other parts of the world as it has become in the U.S. As more and more of our foreign members join, the site will continue to improve in its diversity of rare books in all languages. The combination of the best rare books and the only true consumer protection offered will continue to make us a serious contender in the future of web bookselling. We own our site and do not have to worry about hiding the identities of our booksellers, charging a percentage of the sale, or any of the other problems that face for-profit databases. As more non-ILAB booksellers see what we are doing, I believe that there will be a large increase in the number of them who seek membership in the individual country organizations (such as the ABAA in the US).
What lister book database inventory programs do you/will you support?
Jelle Samshuijzen: We support a lot of different database inventory programs like: BookEase Pro, BookMinder, RS BookStore, HomeBase, BookTrakker Pro, BookMate, RecordManager, MS Access, File-Maker, etc. Both Windows and Mac files.
What are your upload procedures? Deletion procedures? Are “wants” listings available? For sale matches? Are any additions/changes planned?
Jelle: The ILAB-LILA Books Database accepts 6 main types of import files: tilde-delimited, tab-delimited, “Comma Separated Value” (CSV), UIEE, ABE, and Alibris PRV files. First the bookseller sends an example file to the Support Desk so they can create the settings and then booksellers can upload their files to the website as “total update”, “additions and changes” or “deletions”. An FTP account is also possible. These uploads are added to the database within 24 hours (usually much faster). Individual listings can also be altered on line. There is a wants service in place and we will soon be implementing the possibility of uploading wants files, which is ideal for libraries.
What customer service (for both sellers and buyers) do you/will you have?
Jelle: For customers we have a mailing list, wants service and offer multiple search methods including catalogues.
For the ILAB national associations and their members the website offers the possiblity of sending emails to all members of the ILAB community, there is a free downloadable database, one can add images with their books, and a stolen books list.
Very soon we will be offering members the possibility of having their own homepage, which will include the Personal Search Page feature. This will ensure that members will have their own URL, “www.ilab-lila.com/membersname.htm” and their own email address, “email@example.com”
Another service to come soon is our “highlights” feature. For a small fee dealers will be able to add their books to “highlights” gallery, putting them as it were in the shop window.
Will you/do you have any quality (i.e., descriptions, shipping, and/or customer service) standards for your listers? If so, what will be/are the consequences of violating those standards?
Bob: This question pinpoints one of the great strengths of ILAB. Although one can never provide strict standards for the way books are described, we can promise the buyer that the dealer selling the book has experience and must meet the general ethical standards of ILAB and the more specific ethical standards each member country of ILAB must have. If you are found not to have met the standards, you will be asked to leave the organization – it is that simple. The ABAA in the U.S. has an entire committee devoted to ethics with a lawyer retained and attending every board meeting to help enforce the ethical standards. More importantly they have a large amount of money set aside to take legal action if necessary. Each country of ILAB feels this strongly about this point.
What are your technical arrangements (in non-technical language, please) to ensure reliability of service? Future growth? Additional services?
Jelle: We always keep a close track on what is happening on our servers, implementing new security measures and looking at ways to increase their speed.
Will you/do you have the capability of taking credit card info for orders? If so, what can you tell us about the safety procedures you have or will have in place to ensure the security of such info?
Jelle: We offer a secure order form which uses the Verisign technology. The credit card details are sent to the bookdealer in two separate emails. Credit card details are not saved on the server. And, of course, customers are always free to contact the bookseller directly.
Do you ever plan to process credit card orders through your database (rather than simply passing on the info to the lister) and, if so, will the lister or buyer bear the processing cost, and how long will it take to get payment to the lister?
Jelle: Yes, we’re looking into this.
Do you have any plans for programs associated with your database which would involve anything other than direct contact between seller and buyer?
Bob: Absolutely not.
Do you have or do you plan to have an “all word search” capability?
Jelle: We do have that feature.
What search capabilities does your database have now? What is planned for the future?
Jelle: One can browse bookdealers’ books or their catalogues.
Search by: author, title, description, any word/keyword, minimum price, maximum price, when added, publishing date, books of all ILAB members or of a national association, first editions, signed, dust wrappers, hardcover, paperback, type (books, maps and prints, autographs) and we have a special character keyboard in place.
On what will you base your listing fees? What fees do you have now or plan to have?
US$50 set up fee and US$35 per month for up to 10,000 books (and / or maps, prints, autographs). Above the 10,000, US$5 per month per 5,000 (or part of) extra. US$10 a month for using the search engine at your own company’s site to search only your own books in the ILAB database. US$100 one-time set up fee, above 10,000 books US$2 per month per 5,000 (or part of) extra. Images can be added to one’s listings. These can be stored either on one’s own site, or on a space that we allocate. The first option costs US$50.00 set up fee; the second US$75.00 with an additional US$0.50 per 1 Mb per month.
Do you plan to have or now have your database searched by Addall or Bookfinder or any other mega-search site?
Bob: Our site is currently searched by both Addall and Bookfinder. This has greatly increased the number of people visiting our site and the sales at our site.
How do you plan to advertise your database (both to draw listers and buyers)?
Jelle: Hardcopy advertising, bookmarkers, E-mails, links on the websites of the members, booths in book fairs.
What background or experience do you or other people involved with your database have that relates to the online book or online book database business?
Bob: Our members are booksellers and not computer experts. Luckily we have members who volunteer their time to help with the overall look of the site and its advertising but not with the technical part. We are very fortunate to have Rockingstone and its President, Jelle Samshuijzen, as our webmaster and site developer. Jelle was a bookseller before he decided to devote full time to the computer world so that he really understands the problems of booksellers. His company is composed of 12 people and does work in other areas in addition to the ILAB site, yet his heart seems to be with us. ILAB has a very good legal contract with Rockingstone that makes it clear what obligations exist on both of our parts.
Do you or are you planning to have professional management, bookseller management, or????
Bob: Rockingstone has designated certain members of their company to deal with ILAB matters. ILAB will eventually need to find more volunteers to help oversee the site.
What markets (geographical and/or demographic) are you aiming at?
Bob: As we are already a global organization, our growth throughout the world will be very simple.
What services/features does your database have that you feel sets you apart and/or will ensure the success of your database?
Bob: I would love to answer this question again (and again) but you are all probably tired of hearing it – The Best Books described by the Most Experienced Dealers – with ethical standards Enforced by our Member Nations!
Please tell us anything you’d like about yourself, your database, or about the ILAB, and thank you for participating.
Bob: I am a past President of the ABAA and am current Vice President of ILAB. I am the owner of Oak Knoll Books, which specializes in the sale of books about books, reference books, examples of fine printing and private press books. Our publishing company, Oak Knoll Press, publishes about 40 titles a year in the same field (for instance John Carter’s ABC for Book-Collectors is an Oak Knoll Press publication). The internet has been my holy grail quest since the beginning of time, it seems. Don’t ask me anything too technical but also don’t get me started on how positive I feel about the role the internet can play in the life of an ILAB bookseller. I feel that ILAB members have worked hard to achieve a reputation in the book world and that the internet is an ideal way to educate an entire new book buying community about who we are and what we stand for.
ILAB is composed of the National Associations of 20 countries. You must first get accepted into the National Association in which you reside or, if there is no National Association in which you reside, you can apply to those associations that accept foreign members. Once you are accepted in a National Association (such as the ABAA in the U.S.) you will become an associate of ILAB-LILA. Here is the statement on our website:
You could consider becoming a member of one of the 20 national affiliations of the ILAB-LILA.
The affiliations are independent and their membership rules differ slightly from one another, though all set standards on professionalism and trustworthiness. All members must adhere to the ILAB-LILA code of ethics.
Some affiliations require that your business be established in their country, though many do not. The 20 ILAB-LILA affiliations have members from 27 countries.
See our list of national associations, choose one that seems most appropriate, and apply to them.