ILAB Launches New Website
ILAB sports cleaner, easier to read new home page.
By Michael Stillman
ILAB recently completed a major overhaul of its website, which gives us an opportunity to look at this book dealers' organization and its bookselling website. ILAB stands for the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and it is the largest such group in existence today. Formed in 1947, it includes members of twenty different national associations. The largest is America's ABAA, The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America. However, even the ABAA comprises only about one-quarter of the membership of ILAB. This is truly an international organization, and its booksellers naturally offer books from all over the world.
Among the services offered is a book listing search of members' inventory. These include the listings which can be searched through the ABAA website along with material posted by members of the 19 other worldwide organizations. This covers approximately 4 million books from 2,000 vendors. In another era, this would have been astonishing. However, with Abebooks now boasting of 70 million books for sale, it sounds small. ILAB cannot compete in number of books available. What, then, can they offer the collector?
For starters, ILAB member organizations are composed of serious booksellers. This is not to say that nonmembers aren't also serious. There are many worthy booksellers who are members of other organizations, or operate independently of such groups. However, anyone who has searched through the mega-listing sites will be aware that many of those who list are rank amateurs, people with little true knowledge of books who post what they find in attics or garage sales. Their descriptions of what they offer, particularly when it comes to condition, can be wanting. Others simply deal in used books. There is nothing wrong with this. I buy used books this way as it is a much easier method of buying a recently out of print title than trying to track down a new copy. However, if you are searching for an antiquarian or rare title, it may be hard to find among the swarms of recent reprints posted on these sites.
Finally, there are the complete frauds; people who post books they don't even own, but look to fill their sales from other booksellers' inventories, after tacking on a healthy up-charge for providing absolutely no value. And then, or course, there are the "books-on-demand" reprints. This is a useful service for people seeking a reading copy of a hard-to-find book, but these listings are a nuisance for those seeking the original itself. ILAB filters out such extraneous material.
ILAB Launches New Website
Old ILAB home page was more cluttered.
A search for an older book on ILAB will, for the most part, bring up better printings. They will not all be first editions or anything like that, but the 15-year-old "reading copy" reprint of some classic work priced at a dollar is not going to get in the way for those seeking more interesting copies. This does not mean you won't find any lesser copies when searching the ILAB database. Members do get to put up what they wish. However, there will be far less of the detritus of book collections to interfere with your search for collectible copies.
The major drawback the ILAB site faces is that most of the material posted is also offered on the larger sites. While member booksellers may prefer to make their sales through ILAB, they recognize that the large audiences are to be found on sites like Abebooks and Alibris. They feel it necessary to post their books on these sites as well. However, not having many unique listings on ILAB militates the need for using their site. While an ILAB search can help the serious collector avoid facing a sea of irrelevant listings, the reality is that they are likely to find most everything that is available on ILAB on a site like "Abe" plus more. While most of that "more" is likely to be irrelevant to the collector, some of it may be good material offered by a bookseller not a member of an ILAB organization. So long as ILAB does not have a great deal of unique material, it will have trouble enticing large numbers of buyers to its site, as the convenience offered by its search will be diminished by a collector's need to search the large sites anyway to find all relevant copies. Our estimation is that unless ILAB is able to increase its number of unique listings, listings which require collectors to go to the ILAB site to find, it will be hard for it to rise above the niche level. This is not to say there are no such unique listings at this time, but they do appear to be a very small percentage.
That said, one advantage of buying through the ILAB is that members are required to hold to a code of ethics. Not that non-ILAB members don't hold to comparable standards; most undoubtedly do. However, the larger sites have far less control over their members, and have limited familiarity with individual sellers. The ILAB also provides an online complaint form and mediation service for buyers who are dissatisfied with a purchase and unable to reach an acceptable resolution of the problem with their seller.
ILAB Launches New Website
ILAB makes it easy to personally contact dealers through an online form.
We took a look at the new site vs. the old and we like the updated version. You can compare the home page of the new site by checking the image on page one of this article vs. the old site on page two. The removal of the clutter that filled the old home page makes the new site much easier on the eyes. A basic search is offered on the home page, while those wishing to pinpoint their search can quickly click to an advanced search screen. The site provides for both a wish list and a wants list. A "wants" list provides for notification when a book you want, not available at the moment, is posted for sale. A wish list lets you save a listing you are not ready to purchase now on a list for later consideration.
The ILAB site also deals effectively with the bane of the other listing sites: direct dealer contact. Those sites, dependent on sales commissions for their income, are loathe to encourage direct contact between buyer and seller. Such contact can result in sales outside the site, depriving it of its commission. However, with ILAB being a member organization, this is not a problem. So, ILAB listings prominently display the seller's name, and that name is a link to a full description of the individual seller, phone number and email address included. A separate "inquire" link leads to a form you can fill out to send an inquiry directly to the seller. Those who like to deal directly with a bookseller rather than purchasing through a listing site will definitely like ILAB.
Not everyone necessarily will prefer the new site. We did hear from one ILAB member who found the print a bit too small, and the all-white background glaring. Tastes will vary, and what some will find an improvement will be, in the opinion of others, a step backward. However, we like the new ILAB site and wish this venerable booksellers' organization success with it.
To visit ILAB, go to http://www.ilab.org/.