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Condition Guidelines at

Beware of the Grinch!

by Craig Stark

#139 14 December 2009

There have been major, unannounced changes to's condition guidelines, such that a careful bookseller's listings will now require special attention at If you describe all your books as "Excellent customer service, thousands of happy people," you've got nothing to worry about, but if you describe your books with greater care, you will need to be very cautious.

Remember, if's robot heads in your direction, you can lose not only your account but also your eBay account if you are found to be noncompliant at eBay owns, and this is just the way they do things. eBay informed me this week that suspensions are generally for a minimum of 30 days for both accounts, but that eBay can choose to make any suspension permanent for any reason, with no recourse or opportunity for third-party arbitration.

At eBay, JacobsenBooks is ranked as a Top-rated Powerseller, and as Powersellers we have been repeatedly assured of special courtesies if there were ever a problem. However, our first notice of a critical problem was suspension. If this happened to us, then it really could happen to anyone.

Here are some of the things we learned this week. Please don't consider this an exhaustive list of all hazards at I don't know them all, but I did run across these.


You cannot use the word "STAIN" in any of your listings at You can't grade at any level at all, including Acceptable, and state, "This book is new from the publisher and never read, but it has a pale, dime-size stain on the back of the dust jacket."

No matter how nice or rare the book and no matter how good your reasons, you just can't do that.

You can't state, "This book guides the woodworker in the mixing of stains."

You can't state, "This is the better edition with gilt titles and all edges stained deep red."

Don't use any variation of the word "stain" at

The robot's checking is not exhaustive, but hit and miss. Therefore, don't take comfort in the fact that you haven't received a notice from the robot yet.


If you say the book is Like New, you cannot use any word that could be used to describe a defect.

You can't list as "Like New" and state, "Looks brand new and appears to be unread. May have a hint of shelf rubbing to the jacket," which is what we do, given that even our brand new books are in a bookstore and subject to very slight handling and movement while on display.

(The only time I describe a dust jacket as pristine is when its value and importance demand that. I then wrap the book with special care and shelve it with our most valuable books. I don't display it in our store.)

You can't list as "Like New" and state, "This CD is brand new. I just took off the shrink wrap today to replace the jewel case, which was slightly cracked."

The robot's attentions do not seem to be subject to human review until you are suspended.


You can list an ex-library book with mild wear and no dust jacket and stamps, stickers and card pocket as Very Good. But if that ex-library book has a beautiful, vintage dust jacket in MYLAR and it is crisp, bright and tight, then you cannot list it as better than Acceptable.

This is due to the presence of the Mylar which is considered "library preparation" and - they say at - a worse defect than wear, highlighting, underlining, stamps, stickers or (and?) a card pocket.

Certainly, this shocks a seller of vintage children's literature. It means that at some Acceptable copies are 10x more valuable than some Very Good copies of the same title. If only one had a way to get a buyer to look at them ....


A reprint can be listed as Like New as long as it has no marks or writing of any kind whatsoever, but a valuable first printing in pristine condition and signed by the author may not be listed as any better than Very Good.

A Fine/Fine signed first edition is classed with an ex-library book with <10% highlighting at!

This means that at some Very Good copies will be 50x more valuable than their "Like New" peers!

CATALOG HAZARDS's catalog has numerous errors. Books identified by ISBN have incorrect titles, incorrect authors, incorrect publishers, incorrect published years and incorrect bindings. This is not uncommon at, and where there is one error, there is a usually a combination of errors.

If has incorrectly identified a book as a softcover, you may not leave any clue that the book you are holding is actually a hardcover, including stating the presence of a "dust jacket."

This means that if you list at indirectly using any kind of indirect service or software, then you need to check the page for errors before allowing your book to go there.

(Note that this rule will cause problems in the case that a softcover has a dust jacket, which we do see now and then.)


These are not allowed at so if you list at multiple venues, you must be s vigilant not to let them go to half.

Note that does have books in their catalog which were only issued in book club editions. I see this most often with Sci Fi hardcovers, and one of them got me into trouble! Be particularly careful that you don't in any way properly identify these books as BCEs if you choose to list them as's catalog page clearly invites.


If and when the robot starts targeting your listings, you can lose your eBay account with no warning and great difficulty contacting anyone for reinstatement. Note that the instructions given in the suspension letter are incorrect. Replying to the e-mail as instructed wakes up an auto-responder which claims that the address is dead and the letter you got was a spoof. (Sadly not so.)

If you are suspended for these issues, you need to make an appeal to and put "suspension" in the subject.

This was a miserable and scary experience for a full-time bookseller, and I wouldn't want to see another one endure it. Please be very cautious at if you value your eBay account.

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