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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Book Scanning at Experienced Goods


The other day, while looking at books at Experienced Goods, I noticed two middle-aged women working their way around the room with a handheld device.

Watching for just a moment, I could see that it was a smart phone with a scanner attachment.

One woman was checking each section for possible “candidates” to scan, while the other scanned each barcode. Her device would then do a quick lookup to, I assume, tell her how much she could expect to sell that book for. If the amount was more than what Experienced Goods was charging, they’d add it to their pile.

The final step was a look though each selected book to see if there was any damage that might drop the value. If so, back on the shelf it went.

I was curious, so asked what they were doing. The response was shady and suspicious. “Uh, just checking things.”

I said it looked like they were scanning each book and looking to see if they could flip it for a higher price. “Why are you asking all these questions?”

I said I was curious, and hadn’t seen that device before and wanted to know more. “Uh, I’d rather not talk about it.”

That really got me interested. Two women, scanning the most bargain of bargain books, looking to flip them for tiny amounts of profit, acting very suspicious about something that was pretty obvious to anyone watching them.

It was clear they didn’t want any attention at all, so I kept at it. I said I understood that she didn’t want to discuss it, but it wouldn’t stop me from asking questions. So I kept asking little questions while I looked at books, waiting for them to get out of the way for the section I was interested in.

At one point, I was behind one of them, and the other called out. “That guy is right behind you looking!” Why yes, I was in the book section looking around.

It was all very strange, and the more they wanted to hide, the more fun it was to make some noise about their activity. I had my fun, and started to head out. On the way I ran into Lise heading toward the books, so I had one final comment. In a somewhat loud voice, I told her that there were some interesting books, but also two ladies scanning everything to look for books to flip.

There’s nothing wrong with going through used books looking for good deals. At Experienced Goods, every sale is a good one, resulting in some more money for the programs it supports. I’ve seen many a dealer working their way around the room. There’s really no need to be sneaky there - unless you are feeling personal guilt at doing something sleazy.

And I can see how someone doing this would feel that personal guilt. They aren’t buying a book to read, or to give to a friend. This isn’t about the joy of discovering an unknown title. This isn’t about finding a book or two, it’s taking many off the shelves. It’s taking books that others might want to read or give, and scooping them up en masse. It is about hunting profits. They are taking advantage of good deals to earn some extra cash for themselves.

Again, no crimes committed, but an interesting experience.

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Increasingly seen practice

Having worked at the AAUW Book Sale for who-knows-how-many years, I'd seen a few browsers doing things like that in more recent years, plus a general increase in the number of people who seemed to have no interest in reading books, just in what books they could flip online. The established legitimate book dealers who came were great, and ethical, and friendly. This new version of customer was more furtive and evasive, and uninterested in chitchat. We'd also sadly seen an increase in customers attempting to sneak books out in bags, clothing, and even hats.

 
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Donations

Next time I return a good book donated to Experience Goods, or donate a book that is new but read only once or twice, I might mark the cover: "Not for flipping. For Experience Good's customers only".

The books there are a delight, and a service for many of us, and I would hope that the shelves not be depleted by those who are legal and have their rights, but still need to be more community minded.

Some of us in town, rely on those books on a regular basis and we specifically donate and purchase to support Experienced Goods, but also to share with our neighbors who, like all of us, need to be on careful budgets..

Thanks Chris, for your good work, and making us aware of this..
I will be watching for these flippers, and help them to become more community conscious.

I met someone who was flipping at the Windham Solid Wast Swap Shop. I was upset especially when there were children there who could have used the toys, and she snatched them up, and was proud in doing so, for her fun internet side business.

 
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Chop off the barcode.

" I might mark the cover"

Best way to foil these two would be to make the barcode unreadable. No barcode, no quick sneaky scan.

 
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Solution?

Wouldn't running a magic marker over the bars make them unscanable?

 
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Might work

Since all books are marked one dollar, this might work..

 
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Another Perspective

My wife, Donna, has been a book dealer — or book scavenger, as she calls herself — for 18 years. I figure the taxes so I am aware of her income, and I see how much work she puts into it. For 18 years, she has worked for less than the minimum wage. She does this because she is able to work with books, which she loves, and stay out of the corporate world. As a vocation it makes sense, as a business it is barely marginal.

It bothers me to hear people smear book dealers as a group. Some of our friends who would never smear an ethnic group based on the behavior of some of its members, nonetheless can be thoughtless about encouraging public condemnation of book sellers. The justifications given on ibrattleboro for this group defamation have been the following:

1. Some book dealers have been observed to be furtive, and therefore must be doing something shameful.

2. Books dealers, who have no personal interest in reading books, buy good books to “flip,” thereby depriving others of the opportunity to purchase  these books. 

3. Book dealers, ”need to be more community minded.”  

IBrattleboro critics of book dealers have proposed the following remedies. 

1. Defacing the covers of books donated to Experienced Goods, in order to diminish their value in order to hurt book sellers. 

2. Defacing the bar code to defeat scanners. 

3. A self-appointed monitor who, “will be watching for these flippers, and help them become more community conscious.” 

My response: 

A number of assumptions have been made, not all factual. 

1. One of our local books sellers has been politically active for years as a Progressive, serving as a Justice of the Peace, member of the Board of Civil Authority, Progressive Party State Coordinating Committee Vice-Chair, long-time Brattleboro Town Meeting Representative, and during the past 40 years serving on various community boards. Perhaps she who plans to lecture “these flippers” can begin by helping him to “become more community conscious,” and then continue with the rest of us whose community participation she assumes is wanting. 

2. “Flipping” means a short-term purchase for a quick, profitable resale. It is clear to me that in framing this discussion in terms of “flipping” and “flippers,” Grotke has momentarily forgotten the journalistic maxim: “Always check the fact.” Our experience is that for every 10 books that we buy, one might sell quickly, and we need to store the other 9 until — one by one — they slowly sell. That means that, as a book seller, you need to dedicate a large amount of indoor space for book storage. You must have a system to keep track of inventory so that you can find a book once someone finally places the order. You must keep temperature and humidity within a certain range to prevent damage to the books, which means the expense of heating in the winter and dehumidifying in the summer. 

3. Books are heavy, which necessitates lifting and also means that the floor where they are stored needs structural enhancement. 

On a personal note: Donna is the John Henry of book dealing: She does not use a scanner. Donna has almost a sixth sense about the value of a book. Sometimes I have brought her a book which I thought she might want, only for her to say: “That is a very good book, but it does not have much market value.” Not everyone can be a book dealer… at least not the type of dealer that Donna is. 

When I read Grotke’s description of his encounter with these two middle-aged woman, I can see his point, but I can also see how — not knowing him — those two woman could have found his attention creepy. They let him know that his attention was unwelcome. Chris interpreted that as “sneaky” and evidence of feelings of “personal guilt.” Their story may be quite different, but just as sincere.

There are people who use scanners and whose business seems soulless. That so much in America is treated as commodities — including books, food, even people — diminishes life, but it does not diminish those of us who experience our occupation as our mission. When I was young I worked in a bookstore near NYU, a large part of whose business was college text books.  The owner, Mr. H., ran his business formulaically, and might just as well have been selling dry-goods: Books were merely inventory for him.  

One day I was unpacking a delivery and opened a box filled with copies of The Communist Manifesto. “Oh, The Communist Manifesto,” exclaimed Mr. H. enthusiastically, “That’s a good seller!” Bernard was not prone to irony… I am certain that he meant that straight-up. Whether your business is books, website design, or eyeglasses, you can run it according to a lifeless, money-making formula, or it can be done in an uplifting manner. 

When Donna buys a book that has very limited appeal and most likely would have remained on the Experienced Goods shelf forever, and she ends up connecting with the one person in North Carolina who is over-joyed to have found that book: She has reason for personal satisfaction, and has earned an honest profit. If you convince people to deface books in order to thwart those of your neighbors who are scratching out a living as book scavengers; you will have turned an experienced good in to a damaged good. 

Book sellers will no longer purchase books at Experienced Goods, and Hospice will now accumulate inventory which they might otherwise have sold. Instead of us storing these books while waiting for them to sell, Experienced Goods will have more unsold books taking up valuable space.  

And not just book sellers will be discouraged from buying books there. I might buy a defaced book simply because I want to read it, but there are many individuals (other than book sellers) who value the condition of a book as well as its readability, and will not purchase a book which has been intentionally defaced.

Think about it: Would it really make sense for Experienced Goods to deface books in order to hurt sellers? As a practical matter, undermining books sellers that way would be at the cost of undermining an ongoing source of income for the store. Is our contempt for those struggling to put together a few honest dollars through a marginal enterprise so great that it would be worthwhile for Experienced Goods to undercut their own revenue, so long as it also hurts book dealers? 

It bothers me to see vilification of a group based on their occupation. Perhaps we should also defame those people we see collecting garbage bags full of returnable bottles and cans. After all, aren't they undercutting the efforts of those non-profits which raise money through bottle and can drives? Shouldn’t they get the lecture on becoming more community conscious?  

Donna has purchased several hundred books at once from an estate. Shall we also condemn the executor of an estate who sells books to one of these “flippers?”  Aren’t they just as much in need of the “community conscious” lecture, for enabling the “flippers?” 

If you have books which you might want to sell, Donna is very selectively buying. Her email address: unskoolbookshop@gmail.com.

 
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Made aware and asking forgiveness

Steven,
Thank you for your thoughtful and accurate response. It was painful to read with the hurt that I caused. I not only stand corrected, but will do better at being more aware, and responsive to the the service that is provided by those who dedicate themselves to pursuits with integrity and dedication.

Please thank your wife for me, for the work she does, in continuing on the work, of maintaining the printed word, and her dedication and integrity in doing so.

I will also be more careful about judging in all areas, without accurate information/awareness/common sense. I will operate better from basic recognition of my own limitations and compassion rather than superiority. I am sorry, and will do better.

 
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Thank you, Maria

For your understanding and empathy. Your remarkable honesty is refreshing.

 
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Just the two

My story of my encounter was about two women in one situation. Not all book dealers. Not all book sales.

I was simply curious. Why should they feel guilty? It's legal and moves books off the shelf, as I noted. And this is specific to Experienced Goods, where every sale is a good one. Take them all!

I was really, honestly interested in the scanner and software. It was doing its work quickly, and I wanted to get a closer look at the screen. It was a tech question.

They weren't creeped out by me - I would have backed off very quickly if that was true. They were giving me sass and attitude, and I was giving it right back. Equal opportunity attitude.

 
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On a related issue:

“Perhaps we should also defame those people we see collecting garbage bags full of returnable bottles and cans.”

Many of the people we see collecting cans in Brattleboro are homeless and most likely jobless. They are just trying to keep body and soul together. They’re actually performing something useful.
However, there are abusers.

I recently saw a guy with a pickup truck FULL of cans and bottles feeding them into a redemption machine in Brattleboro. The truck had New Hampshire plates. I’d bet my left leg that the redeemables all came from New Hampshire where there is no bottle deposit.
This is simply theft. I’m sure it’s illegal, but how do you enforce the law?

 
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Two sides

I understand what Steven is saying but I've been at the library book sales when 2 or 3 book sellers will be there as soon as the doors open; quickly scan the shelves and fill up one or two tote bags with books and then make their way to a table near the back and either scan or look up the book's value on their laptop. This is quite unfair ro anyone else who is at the sale -hoping for a good read or perhaps looking for a very specific book as a gift. This topic has been discussed on this site before with similar arguments and justifications. Why should other people who perhaps have 20 minutes before work or an appointment to stop and peruse the book sale lose out on the opportunity to see as many books as possible ? Just because someone is a book seller by trade doesn't give them a right to swoop in and hold 20 or 30 books hostage at a table while they look to see if those books are worth their while. I've always thought that at local book sales the first hour should be for book readers only- no sellers allowed. The Experienced Goods situation seems a little different in that all the books are there on display every day that they are open. The smaller, local book sales that occur once or twice a year provide a few hours - possibly a weekend to see if your next favorite book happens to be on the shelf. I do know that the library has discussed this issue several times without being able to come to a consensus. As someone who seldom can afford to buy books new I'd like to be able to have the same chance as anyone else to see what's available without someone who is buying books to profit from them grabbing as many as possible and sneaking away to a back area to get their value.

 

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