Attention Booksellers: Misrepresentation is Rampant!

by Craig Stark

#94, 7 May 2007

An Alarming State of Affairs in Collectible Fiction

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It's gotten awful - I mean, awful. There's so much misrepresentation of collectible fiction in online bookselling today that the correctly represented book almost seems to be the exception. And the situation isn't getting better; it's getting worse.

A recent example (among countless I could cite):

A question about Nevil Shute's 1939 novel Ordeal was posted in the BookThink forum recently - namely, how does one distinguish a book club edition from the first US edition (EDITOR'S NOTE: The UK first, which preceded the US first, was titled What Happened To The Corbetts?)? Well, it seems as though this book is somewhat difficult to nail down. The first edition, minus a dust jacket, is identical in every respect to the BCE, and unless a dust jacket original to the book is present, there's absolutely no way to distinguish them. The BCE dust jacket differs from the original, however, in that there's no price on the front flap and the words "A Book-of-the-Month Club Selection" appear on the back flap.

By the way, the OP stated that he'd previously emailed an online seller of an Ordeal "first edition" to confirm that the advertised copy, though missing a price on the dust jacket, was indeed a first edition. The seller replied that it was but offered no explanation. Hmmm.

Curious, I ran a search for first editions of this title on Abebooks. 50 results appeared, only one of which advertised a book with a price on the dust jacket - that is, only one copy could be tentatively confirmed as a first edition. (Keep in mind that, even in this case, it wasn't a slam dunk because a first state dust jacket could have been married to a BCE book.) Of the 49 remaining copies, 5 designated their copies as BCEs (with two of them stating BCE probability, not certainty) and yet appeared in this group of results anyway. The remaining 44 copies were either clearly BCEs based on dust jacket descriptions; impossible to identify without contacting the sellers because dust jacket points weren't stated in the descriptions; price-clipped; or missing dust jackets altogether and couldn't have possibly been established as first editions in the first place.

In this same group of 44 copies, 4 had price-clipped dust jackets and 8 stated the presence of a dust jacket without offering additional points. The likelihood is that few or none of these 12 were first editions. What this shakes out to is this: At least 32 and probably as many as 44 copies out of 45 described as first editions - that's 71% to 98% of them - were misrepresented!

To be fair, misrepresentations of this book weren't confined to sellers on Abebooks. Multiple examples also appeared on ABAA, Alibris, Amazon, ChooseBooks, ILAB-LILA, TomFolio and other venues, some of whom have positioned themselves as biblio-policemen of fraudulent or otherwise misrepresented listings in the past. The scary thing is that many of these sellers are obviously not new to the game.

What's going on here??? Clearly, misrepresentation is happening on a massive scale, and something needs to be done about it - yesterday.

Let's talk about what we're talking about first. Essentially, there are three applicable types of misrepresentation:

  1. Fraudulent: A seller knowingly misrepresents a book with the intent to deceive.

  2. Negligent: A seller with no real basis for doing so carelessly (or lazily) misrepresents a book.

  3. Innocent: A seller with a reasonable basis for doing so inadvertently misrepresents a book.

To the buyer, it probably doesn't make much difference which type of misrepresentation occurs - it'll be the wrong book in any case - but it's more likely that the innocent or negligent bookseller will refund the purchase price. Something to be said for that.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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