ME and Ophelia

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

British Library opens a new chapter in its history: helping Amazon storm the antiquarian book market

The online retailer Amazon has stormed the fusty world of antiquarian booksellers by acquiring the rights to the British Library's unique back catalogue, dragging the buying and selling of rare and out-of-print books into the dotcom age

The deal gives Amazon the right to use the British Library's bibliographic catalogue, which contains 2.55 million books. Crucially it includes 1.7 million produced before the introduction in 1970 of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a 10-character code that uniquely identifies any modern book.

This is not the first time that the British Library has struck potentially lucrative commercial deals. It already earns £30m a year as one of the country's biggest suppliers of documents, such as old newspapers, to university researchers. Robin Terrell, the managing director of said: "This is a massive deal. We have so far focused on books that are in print but now we can make available to users of the website millions of books going back hundreds of years."

The new service will be available through Amazon's "Marketplace" on its website. "Each title will have its own page on which sellers can post details of the copies that they have available and their prices," Mr Terrell said. "Buyers will be able to come online and order them using us as a third party to make sure of things like security of payment." Making use of the British Library catalogue not only provides a huge list of titles that dealers can make available but also acts as a way of authenticating books that do not have an ISBN number. Natalie Ceeney, director of operations and services at the British Library, said: "The Library's alliance with Amazon is a wonderful way to make our catalogue data relevant and available to a wider audience.

The odd couple

BRITISH LIBRARY: The Department of Printed Books, part of the British Museum, was founded in 1753. Chairman of the British Library Board is Lord John Eatwell. In 1972, an act passed by Parliament incorporated several institutions to form the British Library. The library's collection includes 150 million items in most known languages. Three million new items are added every year.

The earliest printed book, the Diamond Sutra, dating from before 1000AD, is at the British Library in St Pancras.

Books are stored on 599km of shelves at five sites in London and Yorkshire.

AMAZON.CO.UK: originated as an independent online store, Bookpages, in 1996. It was bought by in October 1998. Sales increased by 37 per cent in the three months to June this year. The stock includes more than 4.5 million items (nearly every UK book in print). Globally, Amazon has 35 million customers who have bought books in the last 12 months.

It would take in excess of 90 years to listen to Amazon's entire CD sales collection.

Its oldest available book is Phillippe de Monte's Il Terzo Libro delli Madrigali sheet music dating from 1570 (not a first edition!)

Courtesy Independent News by Damian Reece and Charles Arthur, 25 November 2003.

Further reading in previous post: British Library archives websites
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Job vacancies at the British Library, the Official depository of the United Kingdom and one the largest research institutions in the world: Junior Software Developer, Boston Spa, closing date: 26 Nov 2003; Research & Database Manager, Development Office, London, closing date: 28 Nov 2003.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 11/26/2003
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