Editor: 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 ????).
A: In Australia we had Bibliocity.com and this was sold to Alibris and no longer exists, so a large number of Australian Antiquarians asked me to build another to replace them.
Editor: Is this a long-term commitment on your part? Where do you see yourself and your database in 3 years? 5 years?
A: I have been involved with Information Technology for the Australian Antiquarians for the last 13 years, and see this as another service to the industry in Australia in particular. And as we are the only Australian site we will be here in the long term.
Editor: What lister book database inventory programs do you/will you support?
A: We support any and all formats, and will write conversion programs for the individual dealers’ data. We also have a free download of a Windows database for dealers to get started with, which can be upgraded to a commercial database including all the features for booksellers to use including Australian GSTax, debtors reports etc.
Editor: What are your upload procedures? Deletion procedures? Are “wants” listings available? For sale matches? Are any additions/changes planned?
A: Uploads can be accommodated with web browser or ftp – files can be zipped (compressed) or unzipped. We can accept total upload and purge as well as adds and deletes in uploaded files – any adds files check for book id and replaces the record if the same id already exists. Records can also be modified or deleted individually from the dealers’ menu.
A purge request will not be honoured until a replacement file is received.
Wants can be added or replaced from the dealers using a file upload – the same as the stock uploads – we will set up a conversion program to match the dealers’ format. All the listed online wants are available to registered dealers.
We have a staff member who matches the wants to our database and advises the customer who entered the want of the match. We will not advise the dealer as we think that is up to the person if they are still interested in the book.
We have on the list of things to do the requirement to have the wants automatically matched to the stock using a robot. But we think that these matches should be scanned by a human as some of the match requirements are difficult.
Editor: What customer service (for both sellers and buyers) do you/will you have?
A: I am not sure what you mean here so I will take a guess.
We get a large number of buyer emails that we answer promptly, some of these emails are passed onto specific dealers who specialize in these areas. e.g. a customer has a selection of childrens’ books that they want to get a price on, I will pass this on to the closest childrens’ specialist for action.
If any of our dealers are experiencing problems they can email me and I will try to sort out the problem. Some of the difficult ones are when ISP’s do not provide good fast http upload links and drop connections before uploads are complete.
For the dealers we also can look after all their hardware and software including networking, and our engineer regularly travels interstate to set up new dealers with a complete IT package for shop and internet sales.
Also for the dealers we can reprogram their own home pages to link to our site (or provide the codes for the links) to allow the dealers to use our search engines and secure ordering facilities, and we will add wrappers to these pages which make the pages look like the dealer has these facilities. i.e., there is no reference to Books & Collectibles. We also build these homepages from scratch for the dealers for as little as $200 AUD on their own ISP or domain hoster.
Editor: 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?
A: Yes, we publish these requirements on our Join Us page, and only have had problems with dealers being slow to get back to customers with details of when books have been shipped, etc. In all these cases I have been able to contact the dealer and they have been quick to respond to the customer. But I suppose if the dealer was not interested in selling books I would remove them from the site.
Editor: What are your technical arrangements (in non-technical language, please) to ensure reliability of service? Future growth? Additional services?
A: We use Linux and Apache, so do not suffer from the Microsoft problems. Our computers are backed up to tape regularly and thankfully, we have not had to go to this backup yet. We also use raid arrays which can automatically insert another hard drive should one of these fail, without any downtime.
Future growth will require more distribution of the database over more computers and our LAN. The system has been designed without any limits that we know of. We are currently programming several additional services – one of these is a collectibles database, for the Australian antique and collectible dealers.
Editor: 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?
A: We have a secure server and Thawte Certificates for processing credit card information.
Our customers can leave their card details on a secure server, and the dealer receives the order with a link to the cc details. They can then logon with id and password and retrieve the details over the secure server and then delete this info. So at any time there are only a few cc details stored in an encrypted database, which can only be accessed over a secure link with id and password.
Editor: 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?
A: We have looked at this but our banks charge too much for our dealers to be enthusiastic about the service, so we have left this option on the backburner for now.
But we can process credit card transactions for our dealers who do not have merchant facilities, we just pass on the bank charges to the dealer for these services, and it appears as Books & Collectibles on the customer’s bank statements.
Editor: Do you have any plans for programs associated with your database which would involve anything other than direct contact between seller and buyer?
A: We are about to launch a system where our retail new bookstores here in Australia can order direct from our site with their markup already shown on the search results and within a wrapper that indicates that the bookstore has their own internet out of print/rare book site. Here they will order directly from the dealer, collect the payment from their customer, and then we will bill them for all their purchases monthly and disburse the payments to the appropriate rare book dealer according to their sales. This way the new bookshops can have their own margins and make one payment monthly, and the rare book dealers will have hopefully more sales through these retail outlets, receiving a cheque monthly for their sales.
Editor: Do you have or do you plan to have an “all word search” capability?
A: We currently have an all word search capability, but are about to change the way this works as the size of the tables are getting unwieldy.
Editor: What search capabilities does your database have now? What is planned for the future?
A: You can currently search any or all of the following: Author – Title – Publisher – Subject – Any Word
You can then request any or all: First edition – dust jacket – signed – hard cover – No ex-library
You can order these by: Author – Title – Price ascending or descending
Also you can select dealers from one specific country.
We are planning to change the way some of these searches are done – to improve performance. And we are introducing wild card searches and exclusive searches. e.g., show all Lindsay but not Norman Lindsay.
Editor: On what will you base your listing fees? What fees do you have now or plan to have?
A: After a two month free initial period the fees are (in Australian Dollars):
For less than 2,000 listed items $25.00 per month or $250.00 per year.
For more than 2,000 listed items but less than 10,000 items $40.00 per month or $400.00 per year.
For more than 10,000 listed items but less than 40,000 items $50.00 per month or $500.00 per year.
For more than 40,000 listed items by negotiation.
We will also charge a percentage of a dealers’ sales through the site instead of a monthly fee, if a dealer is not selling enough to cover the cost of the rental.
Editor: Do you plan to have or now have your database searched by Addall or Bookfinder or any other mega-search site?
A: We approached these search engines and asked our dealers if they thought the additional cost was warranted ($AUD1 = 50cents US). And most of our dealers have stock listed with other sites that are searched and saw no benefit, except for advertising Books & Collectibles. So, to keep our fees as low as possible, we are not searched by these sites and are spending our marketing dollar by promoting our site in our region of the Asia Pacific.
Editor: How do you plan to advertise your database (both to draw listers and buyers)?
A: We supply free custom made bookmarks advertising Books & Collectibles on one side and our dealer on the other, to any dealer who requests them.
We advertise in trade journals in our region.
We attend bookfairs in our region with our computers and show people how to order from our site over the internet.
We direct market to known book buyers, and institutional buyers.
Editor: 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?
A: The principals have degrees in Computing Science, Engineering and Marketing and have been servicing the Antiquarian and Book Trade in IT for the last 12 years in Australia.
Editor: Do you or are you planning to have professional management, bookseller management, or????
A: We have a managing director with a Masters of Business Administration and do not feel the need to bring in outside management.
Editor: What markets (geographical and/or demographic) are you aiming at?
A: We have been concentrating on dealers in our region of Asia Pacific but not excluding any. And we are finding that 50% of our sales are within Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Region. Asia, in particular, we think is a growing region that will expand with the Internet in the region.
Editor: What services/features does your database have that you feel sets you apart and/or will ensure the success ofyour database?
A: We are responsive to the needs of our dealers and customers, with particular emphasis on those in our region.
Editor: Please tell us anything you’d like about yourself or your database, and thank you for participating.
A: This is a minor part of our IT business but it is growing by 10% to 20% per month and we look set for a good second year.