Bookseller Revolt: Independents Vacate Abebooks in Solidarity

Banned Booksellers Week has begun with a bang. David Streitfeld’s piece in the New York Times has kicked off what some hope will be a defining moment in the history of online bookselling. 

For the week of November 5 to 11, 2018, booksellers around the world will remove their inventory from Abebooks, an Amazon company, in a show of support for their brethren in South Korea, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia who were told they can no longer sell on their platform. 

Many were angered at the flippant response provided by Abebooks as to why the booksellers were removed claiming that “it is no longer viable for us to operate in these countries due to increasing costs and complexities”.  An apparent issue with a payment processing company has forced them to cease operations in these select countries essentially eliminating the critical online revenue streams for many of these booksellers. Knowing the reach and power of their parent company this seems like a surmountable issue.

Founded in 1995 Abebooks was one of the early players in the online bookselling field, quickly becoming the dominant force in the used and collectible space and offering hope to many of the independent booksellers of the day who where trying to make their way in the online world. Abebooks was acquired by Amazon in 2008 ending that hope and any chance of keeping one’s independence. 

 

Bookseller admin screen denoting that books have been placed on vacation, removing them from circulation via

This is the latest in a string of brazen actions that have already altered the trade beyond anything recognizable to past generations of booksellers. 

Remember the arrival of the penny-sellers? A breed of bookseller spawned by technology that infiltrated the online marketplace and devised a pricing technology to ensure that their copy would be the cheapest one available online even if it went down to a penny! In a 2007 post I noted there where 300,000 books listed on Amazon for a penny.

This piece of software essentially devastated huge swaths of the used book market. The race to the bottom had begun. 

Then in late 2014 another new breed of bookseller emerged, the Bookjacker!  Technology now made it possible for these “booksellers” to flag books that are uploaded and only appear on one marketplace and then re-upload them to additional marketplaces under their moniker  and at an inflated price!  So now we have a class of  fourth-party sellers who don’t own any books, raid the inventory of third-party sellers and whose only affinity to books is a monetary one. Remember Amazon gets paid twice, once when the deceived customer buys the book and once when one of those outfits buys the tangible copy from an independent bookseller. It also harkens back to Amazon’s earliest days as a drop-shipper. Commodities not vessels became the mantra.

If there was a hint of respect left for their community of independent booksellers and the inventory they procure and make available to the world there would never be room for bookjackers in the marketplace and they would never eliminate entire countries of booksellers. 

Banned Booksellers week is a great start and fingers are crossed that booksellers will continue to take aggressive action against the companies who no longer have their basic interests in mind.

As of this writing 536 booksellers from 26 countries have placed 3.3 million books, who one veteran bookseller has estimated to be worth over $1 billion, on vacation from Abebooks.

Official statement  (pdf) of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers 

New York Times piece: Booksellers Protest Amazon Site’s Move to Drop Stores From Certain Countries

Scott Emerson of Eureka Books was in early on this and who has some editorial wiring is keeping good tabs of the protest here 

Robot Poetry

The sun is shining
The wind moves
Naked trees
You dance

 

 

The poem above was written by a robot. The kicker is not that a robot created the poem but that it was constructed based on the image!

That’s right. Auto-generated poetry based on an image.

It’s one of the latest discoveries to come out of Microsoft Research Asia where a pair of Microsoft researches teamed up with a pair of professors at Kyoto University to discover the ‘poet in the machine’

The team:

took an imaginative approach to the quest of generating poetic language in response to images for automatic poetry creation, opening new possibilities for augmenting human endeavor. The project involved multiple challenges, including discovering poetic clues from images, as well as generating poems that would satisfy both relevance to an image and — something difficult to define but not disputed to exist — poeticness, to use the term coined by the researchers.

Their goal isn’t to replace poets, it’s about the myriad applications that can augment creative activity and achievement that the existence of even mildly creative AI could represent.”

The team will be sharing it’s findings at an upcoming multimedia conference in Seoul.

What are they working on next? Storytelling, where  the machine generates a story from multiple images — they call it visual storytelling.

More for the Microsoft Research blog: The poet in the machine: Auto-generation of poetry directly from images through multi-adversarial training – and a little inspiration

h/t Irish Times

A Font to Remember

It is called Sans Forgetica. 

Developed by a  group of psychology and design researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia Sans Forgetica has one goal in mind – to help you remember what you read. It is “believed to be the world’s first typeface specifically designed to help people retain more information and remember more of typed study notes.”

The cleverly named font is based on the theory called “desirable difficulty,” which suggests that people remember things better when their brains have to overcome minor obstacles while processing information. 

“Sans Forgetica lies at a sweet spot where just enough obstruction has been added to create that memory retention.” says Senior Marketing Lecturer (Experimental Methods and Design Thinking) and founding member of the RMIT Behavioural Business Lab Dr Janneke Blijlevens.

Want to give it a test run? Sans Forgetica is available for free at http://sansforgetica.rmit

Press release

Story in the Washington Post