Updates from April, 2005 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Ted Mann 4:53 pm on April 27, 2005 Permalink | Reply  


    On the Internet, there are basically three forms of e-commerce: the bargain-basement wholesalers (Amazon), the auctioneers (eBay), and — my personal favorite — the used goods sellers (Half.com, Amazon Marketplace). But as great as all these options are, something still seems to be missing. In this virtual bazaar of vendors, where can you go to haggle with the sellers? Granted, if you don’t like the opening bid price on eBay, you can offer less than the seller is asking. But it’s pretty certain that in such cases your offer will yield only a Priority Mail “pshaw”!

    It was only today, when a mysterious package from IDS – REMAINDERS arrived in the mail, that I realized — Hallelujah! — haggling is an option after all. The package, you see, contained a book called “Quest for the Golden Hare,” by Bamber Gascoigne — a book that has been out of print since about 1985. Despite the fact that I lowballed the Amazon Marketplace sellers with an offer that was about 15 percent of what they were asking, the book still magically found its way to me.

    The book is about Kit Williams’ book “Masquerade” and the whole treasure-hunting craze that it started in England. It recounts all of the eccentricities of the treasure hunters, along with an insider’s look at how Kit Williams came up with his book’s puzzle and the method for solving it. The Gascoigne book has become a kind of required reading for anyone obsessed with “A Treasure’s Trove.” ‘Nuf said.

    So, about two months ago, when I was in full Treasure Trove mode, I started trying to get a copy of the book. But at all of the used book places online — Amazon Marketplace, Alibris, Half — the sellers were asking a minimum of $80, which seemed outrageous. This was just an ordinary trade hardcover book. After many frustrated searches, a link curiously appeared one day, asking me, would I like to “pre-order” the book “Quest for the Golden Hare”? Considering that I could set the price and conditions, I was like, hells yeah! I filed the order, waiting a couple days, and then nothing. Not willing to give up on the book, I resorted to a much cheaper route — going though the Penn’s interlibrary loan search. It took a few trys, but ultimately the LaSalle library came through for me.

    It’s now been like two months since I got the Gascoigne book and devoured it in a day. But suddenly, today in the mail, the book arrived via USPS. The price I’d set? $10.

    As if that weren’t cool enough, the book is in mint condition; I believe it’s a new copy that got remaindered by the publisher decades ago. Apparently they didn’t send it to a pulp factory, though, but instead to a warehouse in New Hampshire.

    What I love about this whole “pre-ordering” thing at Amazon is that it allows you to actually set your own price — to haggle. In the case of the Gascoigne book, it seems like there’s a limited supply, and perhaps because of this, the price of the book on the used market had spiraled wildly out of control (this was confirmed, incidentally, by Andy, who I think was quoted the same $80 price by a Center City book dealer). But nobody, not even the most die hard of treasure hunters, would pay that much. Thankfully, Amazon’s system has a way to correct for out-of-whack prices; if the Marketplace sellers aren’t playing fair, then the buyers can pre-order at their own prices.

    When I went back to Amazon and began searching for the “pre-order” button, it was nowhere to be found. It turns out, it’s completely buried in the site — no idea how I found it the first time. There is a trick, though, that you can use to get your haggle mojo working. Instructions posted after the jump …
    (More …)

    • George W. Bush 12:07 pm on April 28, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      I’m happy that you bought a book you were already able to borrow from the library. This reaffirms my faith in an ownership society and the wondrous powers of the American consumer.

  • Ted Mann 11:50 pm on April 11, 2005 Permalink | Reply  

    Bullshit Envy 

    With the impending move to Westchester, it appears that my two-year stint at the University of Pennsylvania Press is coming to an end. A tear. Actually, many tears — I hate, hate, hate job hunting. Plus, how am I going to find a job that’s only a 5-minute commute or one that gives off every holiday from MLK to Yom Kippur?

    There is one thing from the university press world, though, that I won’t miss: the bizarre way it’s distorted my perception of normalcy. The way I now look at people making more than $30k a year as virtual millionaires. How medievalists now seem like minor celebrities, instead of the academic aliens they truly are. And, worst of all, the way that “trade” books, the ones appealing to an audience larger than 50 or 60 scholars, are just soooo pedestrian.

    A perfect example of how this intellectual snootiness has gotten out of control: the response to Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit.” As you may have heard, this slim 80-page, 4×6 tome has been hovering steadily on the New York Times top-10 bestseller list, getting plenty of press, and even being taken seriously by some people (such as the folks at Slate).

    Naturally, my colleagues at Penn can’t stand it. And that would be pretty typical of any mainstream success — they can’t even pronounce “Da Vinci Code” without making the overbite-fart sound. But when you take into account that Frankfurt is an emeritus philosophy professor at Princeton, and the book was published by our buddies at the Princeton University Press — well, you’ve got some seriously conflicted acquisitions editors in West Philly.

    “It’s not even a real book! It’s just an essay!” is a typical complaint. “They profiled the bullshit book on 60 Minutes. Can you believe that stunt? To publicize a book when you can’t even read the title on air.” It’s not exactly jealousy that’s behind these comments, though I think just about any editor at Penn would kill to get the NY Times coverage that Frankfurt’s been getting (mind you, they can’t print the full title either). And I’m not sure the editors cared a wit about Frankfurt getting interviewed by John Stewart on the Daily Show — despite my insistence that the two men set the basic cable swearing record — est. at 202 utterances of “bullshit.”

    Frankfurt on the Daily ShowThe thing that really kills my colleagues, I think, is that we didn’t think of this first. A book all about the philosophical underpinnings of bullshit, with the legitimacy of a university press and the academic clout of a Princeton professor behind it — brilliant, I tell you, just brilliant. Penn actually tried this sort of contrarian project a few years back, with the provocatively titled “Why Education is Useless,” a book about the functions of education throughout the Western civilization. But of course, that title doesn’t have quite the umph of “bullshit.” And the book was still at heart a scholarly monograph, with 256 pages of philosophical analysis, historical overview, and university politics. Frankfurt’s book was adopted from short 20-year-old essay, and boy did Princeton squeeze every last page they could get out of it. Thanks to generous margins, kerning, and font sizes, they managed to stretch the thing to 80 pages, and then packaged it in a stately little green-and-beige hardcover, sans dust jacket. From design to marketing to publicity, Princeton really executed brilliantly on this one.

    Jeez, I hope I never hear myself utter that phrase ever again.

    One of these days maybe I’ll actually pick up the book and comment on it’s content. For now, I think I’ve given enough book marketing commentary to last me through all of 2005.

    • Korey 3:34 pm on April 12, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      I’m not going to get worked up as long as Princeton limits its flawless execution to publishing academic tomes and not backdoor cuts against defending national champions.

    • Ted 3:53 pm on April 14, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      Just got back from a trip to the bookstore, and I noticed that Frankfurt’s book is #1 this week. NY Times has it at #3.

      And when I actually checked the page count, I noticed that it was only about 50 pages of actual text, formatted in 3×4 blocks — which I’d guess adds up to maybe 10 magazine pages. Help me out: When was the last time a $10 10-page essay became the bestselling book in the country?

      The success is so huge at this point that I’m starting to think the book itself is bullshit.

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