Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2013 Issue

Guilty Plea for $600,000 Worth of Stolen Books Sold on Half.com

Halfawebsite

Half.com – still selling books after all these years.

A Massachusetts resident pleaded guilty to stealing over $600,000 worth of books, audiobooks, and legos, and selling them online at Half.com. Half.com? Didn't they go out of business ten years ago? No, they did not. Despite announcements back then that the site would be closed by its owner, the more popular eBay.com, they later changed their mind, and the site continues after all these years. It retains a loyal following. You won't find it online at “half.com” any more, but if you enter that web address in your browser, it will forward you to its current location, half.ebay.com.

According to the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, John C. Strang, a 67-year-old gentleman from Burlington, pleaded guilty to shoplifting from stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Barnes and Noble and The Paper Store were listed as among his targets. In a statement from the Attorney's office, it was reported, “In total, Strang stole tens of thousands of items, with a total retail value of at least $600,000. He then sold them online at Half.com, an Ebay subsidiary, using the name 'booksgoodtome.' Strang listed the stolen items at prices which were typically 40-50% of their retail prices. Strang then sold and shipped the stolen merchandise to purchasers throughout the United States. He routinely received payment of more than $2,000 every two weeks from Half.com.” When your cost of goods is zero, you can afford to sell at very sharp discounts.

Sentencing has been scheduled for October 15, with the maximum penalty being ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Getting back to Half.com, the online bookseller was purchased for around $350 million by eBay in 2000. Considering it was less than a year old at the time, that was a pretty good price for its founder. Not even Mr. Strang did that well off of Half. Ebay was still overwhelmingly an auction site then and was interested in getting into more fixed price selling, a trend that has continued ever since. Nevertheless, by 2003, eBay had announced it would be shuttering the site. That is not to say they regarded the purchase as a waste. They had already incorporated many of its features into their own site, and felt the fixed price sales of books could best continue on the eBay site. However, many of Half.com's sellers and buyers objected, and eBay relented. Half has been traveling somewhat under the radar ever since, but obviously it must still be doing a substantial business, as eBay would not maintain it for old time's sake.

The site likely has been forgotten by most antiquarian dealers as it requires an ISBN number to post books for sale. Gutenberg never thought to put an ISBN number on his bible. Indeed, no books printed before 1965 contain an ISBN number. This really crimps Half.com's usefulness for antiquarian booksellers.

Nevertheless, Half.com remains a useful site for trading in more recent used books. It does retain one “antiquarian” practice for the two-decade old business of selling books online. It still doesn't charge listing fees. Remember the good old days? You can still post your ISBN books on Half.com and not pay a penny until/unless they sell. There is a sliding scale commission structure. It ranges from 15% on books priced $50 and under to 5% on books priced over $500. Half.com is also in for a part of the shipping fee and just this year eBay finally got around to extending its PayPal payment service to its bookselling subsidiary. Payments are made to sellers every two weeks, and as Mr. Strang can attest, there are enough customers on Half.com to make that a potentially significant amount, like $2,000 every other week.


Posted On: 2013-08-01 00:00
User Name: PeterReynolds

It's still a US only site, though, isn't it?


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

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