Who sells books for a penny?

The book market is a mess and the second hand book market is even weirder. As a buyer the second hand books on Amazon are amazing as many hardcover, good condition books are listed at a penny $0.01 of course the shipping is added to this but at $4 a book this is still a sweet deal. After buying the 5 volume History of Private Life and having it shipped to my house for a total of $20 dollars I tried to figure out how it was even possible.



The massive set consisted on Volume I: From Pagan Rome to ByzantiumVolume II: Revelations of the Medieval WorldVolume III: Passions of the RenaissanceVolume IV: From the Fires of Revolution to the Great WarVolume V: Riddles of Identity in Modern Times. Its authors are respected historians and the weight alone makes this an impressive purchase.

Naturally it made no sense and I was at a loss to how it worked. Finally, after Googling, I came across this thread. Its from 2012 but it throws some light on how the whole thing works.

In brief:
A seller lists a book for $.01
Amazon collects $3.99 from the buyer and gives $2.66 ($.01 + $2.64 shipping allowance) to the seller. (The $1.35 ‘closing fee’ is subtracted from the shipping allowance by Amazon)
The seller is a ProMerchant, so doesn’t pay the $.99 fee (but does pay $40 per month to be a ProMerchant).
The 15% fee on 1 cent is zero.
The seller pays $2.38 or $2.88 in postage for a 1 or 2 pound package (or less, if it is very light weight and can go First Class. Much less if the penny seller is high volume and uses Bulk Mail).
The seller cost for the book is zero, because he got it for free somehow.
The seller used recycled packing materials, so those cost nothing, too.
The seller ends-up with $.27 (if it’s 1 pound media mail) in a domestic shipment (a bit more if it’s mailed using Bulk Mail).
The seller is happy with his “profit”.
Amazon ends up with $1.35 from the shipping.
Amazon is even happier than the seller.

Its not exactly big bucks but it does explain a little more how 1penny books can be sold at a (sort of) profit.


Privacy in the Past: Woman & Contraception

Kristofer Nelson writes about Privacy, autonomy, and birth control in America, 1860-1900, its a fascinating article on the ways in which gender and privacy have historically played out. This becomes particularly problematic when dealing with birth control. While access to contraception and abortion are still highly discussed today, they are not discussed in this way. What is interesting is the ways in which the private and public domains have been mapped and their borders re-drawn over time. Indeed

Access to birth control became, controversially, protected by the “right to privacy” in 1965;1 a hundred years before, “procreation was a matter of public concern.”2 Yet, contradictorily and confusingly, Victorian women — and their bodies — were protected (and limited) by a powerful social division between private and public spheres.

The rights of woman to her body was viewed in relation to other rights and needs. She was either “property” of her father or husband, or a national commodity as it was the women who would bear the American children. Therefore her use of contraception conflicted with a public interest:

A woman’s body was both a private and a national commodity. If she took steps to control her fertility she entered into the public domain and came into conflict with laws governed by public interest. If she interfered with her husband’s right to her body, she offended him as a man and a potential father.9

The latter quote is from Annegret S. Ogden, The Great American Housewife: From Helpmate to Wage Earner, 1776-1986, Contributions in Women’s Studies, no. 61 (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1986).


Victorian Transgression, Transgender & Attribution

The hugely popular twitter account @HistoryInPics received a nice publicity puff when Alexis Madrigal wrote about the account in The Atlantic the article was all about the great new spirit of a couple of teenagers running their business. But the article did not mention the ways in which their business was built on copyright violation, sometimes presented false histories and generally produced little of value.

A much better article, provoked by the Atlantic, was posted on the Wynken De Word blog: It’s history, not a viral feed. Here the author thoughtfully explains what is wrong with the feed. The lack of attribution and basic helpfulness to source images and also the ways in which false history is so easily pushed and becomes accepted truth.

Yes, the images do create an interest. But they do not allow any further discussion beyond “cool image”. The learning experience is snuffed out before it even has a chance to begin. Let me demonstrate:

Today this cool image was re-tweeted from the account @historyepics (an account similar to @HistoryInPics). It was entitled Victorian Transgression

victorianJudging by the content the image is old enough to be in the public domain and therefore free to re-use. But it could also be a new photo done in an old style which would mean that the right to reproduce is limited and this could very well be copyright violation. Even if the photo is free to use the lack of attribution is very unfortunate.

The picture is still the picture. It is intriguing and lovely. But what does it mean? Who are the people in the photo? Why are they wearing those clothes? Are their linked arms to be seen as intimacy and acceptance? Or maybe mutual support?

Without any knowledge of the background we can only speculate as to what the image means. Is this a photo of a Victorian transvestites? Is it just a joke (a Victorian lolcat)? Are the couple going to a fancy dress party? Or is this a transgender couple? Is it the result of a wager? Maybe it’s a theatrical image? Is it a protest against social conformity to unreasonably rigid gender roles in Victorian society? Or is it just photoshop?

If this photo is as old as it seems then it is in the public domain and can be spread without any information. But this legal right does nothing to support our learning in general and our knowledge of the specific situation.

If only we had a database containing vast knowledge… Yes, I googled Victorian Transgression and found nothing about the photo. But I did come across these other images. This time they were from Pinterest.

And this

What does it all mean? Is this a useful addition to the knowledge of gender roles in Victorian society? Or is it just shallow eyecandy for us to like and ignore? Without knowing what the picture represents I cannot use it in other settings (like lectures). I could be helping in the creation of false history.

Without attribution (even to a incomplete source) the barriers to actual knowledge and understanding of what we see is to high. All we have is an image that appears across our screens. The reality of the image can only be replaced by our own subjective interpretation without any recourse to facts. The reproduction of content, without sourcing it, takes the knowledge out of its context and makes it one dimensional. Only by showing sources can the onlooker be assisted to a better understanding.

To @historyepics & @HistoryInPics and their ilk who make social media shallow, I say: Images without context is not history. I doubt they care, but I do.

Has Facebook peaked?

All things come to an end. Those who do not believe this probably just have very short memories or lack history skills. There have been big social network sites prior to and parallel to Facebook.

The problem of the Internet is contained in its greatest strength engineers rather than ordinary people. The problem with the Internet law is that we believe contracts trump rights. Put these two things together and we have the area where social networking sites work and play.

And Facebook has crushed opposition. Facebook has grown despite its lack of care of users interests (If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.). Oddly enough Facebook has managed to grown without much legal obstruction from states attempting to enforce privacy regulation (or other areas). Facebook has survived earlier attempts from users to quit. While the law is slowly (criminal neglect slow) beginning to look at what’s happening on social network sites I dont think it will be the law that has any real effect here.

But allow me to be a prophet of doom: The biggest threats to Facebook are size and apathy. Facebook is big and it is its size that will be its downfall. Even if users seem to be content with services offered I do think people are more bored with the standardized approach to social networking that Facebook offers.

But I do not expect an exodus. Nobody should expect this. What we see is not quitting out of indignation but rather out of apathy. We will keep our accounts but update them less often – or even worse connect our accounts to other services (like blog updates 🙂 and the updates will be irrelevant.

What to expect? Not much really. The same as with any other market where the customers are bored and under stimulated. The moment an alternative pops up the customers will flock to it in droves. Media will rave about this new cool cool thing. The giant will be weakened and then the law, the competitors, the investors and the general crazies will attack from all quarters.

Facebook will try to become the new MySpace: wounded but surviving as a niche product. And here it will struggle to survive since it will be a niche product without a niche. A generalist in a world of specialists.


Information overload

It seems that ever since we began with computers the term information overload has been with us.

However the concept is not new. In The Chronicle Review Ann Blair writes in the article Information Overload, Then and Now

Early negative responses include Ecclesiastes 12:12 (“Of making books there is no end,” probably from the fourth or third century BC) and Seneca’s “distringit librorum multitudo” (“the abundance of books is distraction,” first century AD). But we also find enthusiasm for accumulation—of papyri at the Library of Alexandria (founded in the early third century BC) or of the 20,000 “facts” that Pliny the Elder accumulated in Historia naturalis (completed in AD 77). Though we no longer care especially about ancient precedent, we hear the same doom and praise today.

In addition to this in 1755 Denis Diderot wrote in Encyclopédie

As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe. It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.

The issue gets more problematic by the fact that our computing powers have been increasing over the past decades. This increase in computing power tends to cloud the problem of information overload by alleviating the problem but it does nothing to resolve the fundamental problem.

Privilege and Property

Copyright is a never ending area of fascinating discussion. Just when you think that you have read enough another interesting work sails across the screen. The collection of essays Privilege and Property. Essays on the History of Copyright recently came to my attention. The web blurb begins with:

What can and can’t be copied is a matter of law, but also of aesthetics, culture, and economics. The act of copying, and the creation and transaction of rights relating to it, evokes fundamental notions of communication and censorship, of authorship and ownership – of privilege and property.

The table of contents looks like this:

Introduction. The History of Copyright History: Notes from an Emerging Discipline by Martin Kretschmer, with Lionel Bently and Ronan Deazley
1. From Gunpowder to Print: The Common Origins of Copyright and Patent by Joanna Kostylo
2. ‘A Mongrel of Early Modern Copyright’: Scotland in European Perspective by Alastair J. Mann
3. The Public Sphere and the Emergence of Copyright: Areopagitica, the Stationers’ Company, and the Statute of Anne by Mark Rose
4. Early American Printing Privileges. The Ambivalent Origins of Authors’ Copyright in America by Oren Bracha
5. Author and Work in the French Print Privileges System: Some Milestones by Laurent Pfister
6. A Venetian Experiment on Perpetual Copyright by Maurizio Borghi
7. Copyright Formalities and the Reasons for their Decline in Nineteenth Century Europe by Stef van Gompel
8. The Berlin Publisher Friedrich Nicolai and the Reprinting Sections of the Prussian Statute Book of 1794 by Friedemann Kawohl
9. Nineteenth Century Controversies Relating to the Protection of Artistic Property in France by Frédéric Rideau
10. Maps, Views and Ornament: Visualising Property in Art and Law. The Case of Pre-modern France by Katie Scott
11. Breaking the Mould? The Radical Nature of the Fine Arts Copyright Bill 1862 by Ronan Deazley
12. ‘Neither Bolt nor Chain, Iron Safe nor Private Watchman, Can Prevent the Theft of Words’: The Birth of the Performing Right in Britain by Isabella Alexander
13. The Return of the Commons – Copyright History as a Common Source by  Karl-Nikolaus Peifer
14. The Significance of Copyright History for Publishing History and Historians by John Feather
15. Metaphors of Intellectual Property by William St Clair

The book is edited by Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer & Lionel Bently and published by Open Book Publishers and has a Creative Commons NC-ND license the pdf is here. Even after a quick scroll through the file the book seems to be a must read.

Royal Society Seminal Papers

The Royal Society has done something cool again. They have created a new interactive timeline to celebrate the 350th anniversary year of the Royal Society. But this is not the cool part. The site will have 60 of the most important articles from the oldest scientific journal Philosophical Transactions (this is literally a drop in their huge ocean of 60,000 published since the journal first began in 1665).

Highlights include:

• The gruesome account of an early blood transfusion (1666)
• Captain James Cook’s explanation of how he protected his crew from scurvy aboard HMS Resolution (1776)
• Stephen Hawking’s early writing on black holes (1970)
• Benjamin Franklin’s account of flying a kite in a storm to identify the electrical nature of lightning – the Philadelphia Experiment (1752)
• Sir Isaac Newton’s landmark paper on the nature of light and colour (1672)
• A scientific study of a young Mozart confirming him as a musical child genius (1770)
• The Yorkshire cave discovery of the fossilized remains of elephant, tiger, bear and hyena heralding the study of deep time (1822)

More information.

Photographic film and social change

While in Vienna I saw the surprising and nostalgic sight of two tourists helping each other to change a role of film in their camera. The development of film has been superseeded by digital cameras which themselves are losing to mobile phone cameras. Mobile phone cameras are digital cameras but the camera as an artefact is slowly disappearing. Another thing that happened in Vienna was that I browsed a collegues photographs of the art she had seen over the last year all stored in her mobile phone – no need for a camera here.

The demise of photographic film is a fascinating story beginning way back in 1876 when Hurter and Driffield experimetnted with light sensitivity of film. Naturally early photography did not use rolls of film which I have pangs of nostalgia for but the early daguerreotypes used tricky glass plates consisting of polished silver surfaces coated silver halide particles deposited by iodine vapor (wikipedia).

Eastman Kodak changed all this in 1885 with the first flexible photographic film. This breakthrough made cameras cheaper, easier to use, lighter to carry and the era of snapshot photography was launched. Now the photographer could easily carry a camera and use it on people who did not have to be standing still. The privacy implications launched a major discussion into the nature of privacy in relation to technology. The seminal article in the privacy field is The Right to Privacy by Warren and Brandeis (1890), is still widely quoted.

The move from the heavy and complex equipment to the small, cheap and portable devices show how changes in base technology affect social change. The ubiquitous holiday snaps are a product of these developments. Now that this phase is going to its grave, being overtaken by digital photography, we see new developments. More photographs are being taken and (maybe) saved but there also seems to be an issue of accessibility and use.

If the pictures are not online do we ever look at them?

The history of cultural diversity

Today is a busy day! In another Swedish newspaper there is an article that claims, already in it’s title, that copyright gave us diversity (Upphovsrätten gav oss mångfald). The article is a short burst of twaddle that attempts to state that copyright is necessary for litterature and ends with the bombastic but incredibly false statement that:

To believe that an internet free from copyright protection will contribute to a rich cultural diversity over the long term lacks history and is naive. Copyright is the very basis for diversity – irrespective of technology – in every modern civilized society. (My translation original follows)

Att tro att ett internet fritt från upphovsrättsligt skydd långsiktigt skulle bidra till ett rikt kulturutbud är historielöst och naivt. Upphovsrätten är själva förutsättningen för mångfald – oavsett teknologi – i varje modernt och civiliserat samhälle.

The author is a fool. He lacks any knowledge of literature and the effects of copyright. This is pure marketing without any knowledge of the facts. It is counterfactual (an ugly word if there ever was one).  Let me explain this slowly and simply so that the slow witted author may understand.

The earliest modern copyright legislation came in 1710. This is a short burst from wikipedia:

England’s Statute of Anne (1710) is widely regarded as the first copyright law. The statute’s full title was “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned.” This statute first accorded exclusive rights to authors (i.e., creators) rather than publishers… (Wikipedia History of Copyright Law)

According to the article author there was no diversity before copyright and therefore there was no diversity before 1710… This means that: Homer (ca 850 BC), Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD), Augustine (354 – 430), Boethius (480–524 or 525), Snorri Sturluson (1178 – 1241), Petrarch (1304 – 1374), Boccaccio (1313 – 1375), Dante (1265 – 1321), Chaucer (1343 – 1400), Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), Paracelsus (1493 – 1541), Rabelais (1494 – 1553), Cervantes (1547 – 1616), Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), Racine (1639 – 1699), Moliere (1622 – 1673), John Locke (1632 – 1704) & Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)… just to name a few…Did not provide the world with cultural diversity ?!?!?!?…  So what can the author mean when he writes that copyright is a prerequisite for cultural diversity? My only conclusion is that the author of the newspaper article is a fool…


In the comments section Henrik points out that Bo-Erik Gyberg (the author of the newspaper article) was appointed Chairman of the Swedish lobbying group Filmallians in in June 2007.

The shocking thing is that the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet does not present this information but allows him to write an article which is plainly a political position and part of his lobbyist work.

Shame on you Svenska Dagbladet! The concept of journalistic integrity seems to be lost on you completely… Are you being paid for this political advertising?

What computers replaced?

Ever wonder what computers replaced? Well one of Shorpy’s recent images gives a great example with this excellent image of office workers. Check out the different people! I mean open the open up the picture and take a look at the characters. All gone now, replaced by laptops, or else stuffed in cubicles…

Washington, 1923. “Stamp Division, Post Office.”

National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. Click for larger image.