Monday, Nov 24, 2008
The other day I was eavesdropping on a telephone call that Dan Gregory, the Between the Covers employee of longest tenure who isn't an actual family member, was having with an Internet web consultant who occasionally does work for us. I spend a lot of my time monitoring whether my employees are beavering away, with the result that I am usually the only one who isn't working very hard. Such are the daily stresses of the modern rare book CEO.
What Dan was trying to determine on his phone call was how we could drive more traffic to the Between the Covers website (www.betweenthecovers.com). As the vast unwashed of the book world continue to dump their used and otherwise marginally rare books onto the huge multi-dealer book search engines, it has become increasingly apparent that the future of E-commerce seems to lie in crafting one's business website into a unique, inviting, and cozy little oasis on the net. But after one has created such a haven, how does one attract collectors to it?
"Title the articles on our website with the words that people are searching for on Google?" Dan repeated, apparently referring to a group of articles we maintain on our website, some of which have appeared in past issues of this magazine.
I was quick to interject, although not technically a part of the conversation, "Paris Hilton Sex Video?"
As it turned out what the website consultant really meant was that we should use phrases like "rare books" and "first editions" in the titles of articles in order to attract the types of website visitors who were most likely to actually entertain the notion of purchasing some of our books.
I guess I should have known better. At a recent meeting of the committee that administers the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), which through some grievous clerical error I seem to have been made a member of for the past couple of years, we spent a considerable period of time debating the selection of the most efficacious words, and their form in several languages, that the League might purchase as Google ad words in order to drive more traffic to the ILAB website (www.ilab-lila.com) and search engine.
Not once during the meeting did the sagacious chair of the ILAB Internet Committee, Jean-Pierre Fouques of France, slap himself on the forehead and exclaim, "Mais naturellement, la video de sexe de Paris Hilton!"
Indeed I would have been surprised if he had. He speaks English better than I do. While the formal business of the League: Presidents' Meetings, General Assemblies, and such, is conducted in both of the official languages of the League, English and French, the much smaller and more informal Committee meetings tend to be conducted mostly in English. The European committee members speak both languages, the committee member from Japan always has a translator with him, and the representatives from the English-speaking nations speak only English. Except of course for London dealer Adrian Harrington, who has a vacation house in France, and thus occasionally assays a phrase or two in French. Perhaps that's why I think that it always sounds like he's asking a tradesman to clear out the rainspouts. Then there is the Security Chairman from Australia, Paul Feign of Cornstalk Books, who we think is speaking English. The jury however, is still out on that one.
I myself, despite having bumbled through a couple of years of high school French, speak virtually no French at all, although I've been known to emit dimly remembered and probably inappropriate French phrases from time to time, to the bemusement and confusion of my colleagues. Needless to say, one who has cemented the foundation of his foreign language skills in high school is most likely only to remember insults and curses.
Added to these skills are my ability to speak English in a badly affected French accent that I find surpassingly amusing, but that pretty much causes almost everyone else that hears it to roll their eyes with thinly concealed annoyance.
No, rather in our deliberations the committee displayed a complete lack on imagination as we spent the time puzzling over words and phrases like "rare books," "old books," "first editions," "antiquarian booksellers" and their most appropriate equivalents in French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese, and carefully allotting certain amounts of money to spend on each iteration thereof.
Any attempts at innovation probably wouldn't have done any good anyway. We all share the plight of our fellow antiquarians in not being up to date on the more recent and extravagant sexual peccadilloes of contemporary celebrities. Presumably by this time the afore-referenced Miss Hilton has settled into a sedate and dignified retirement emerging only infrequently to dodder and gum her way into the attentions of any stray passing tabloid journalists.
No, if we are going to successfully drive traffic to our website by referencing the sexual foibles of modern celebrities, and their popularity with They Who Relentlessly Search Google, we'll need to hire a consultant who has an encyclopedic knowledge of them.
Don't look away. You know who you are. And so do we.
This article first appeared in the August/September 2008 issue of Rare Book Review.