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Guide to Buying Books at Online Auctions

1) Antique and collectible books - When buying antique or collectible books, condition is all-important. Loose bindings, torn pages, "foxing" (brown spots), mildew, stains or fading on the paper (sometimes from using an acidic piece of paper as a bookmark), even something as minor as "bumped" corners or a creased page all detract from the potential value of the book. Experienced booksellers will note these things in their descriptions. If the seller doesn't specialize in books, examine the photos carefully and ask detailed questions about the condition before bidding, especially if you expect to pay a premium price for the book!

A little more wear is tolerable in "well-loved" childrens books than in books for adults.

2) Used books - if you're a nonsmoker you may find it unpleasant to read a book that smells like cigarette smoke! Fortunately, savvy auction sellers usually note if merchandise is from a smoking or non-smoking home. Read the description - it may also forwarn pet allergy sufferers to the potential for a stray cat hair or two!

"Acceptable condition" for used books is whatever is acceptable to you.

3) E-book formats - The most important thing about purchasing an ebook is to make sure you are buying a compatible format for the device upon which it will be read. You will also need to install the matching ebook reader software. Some popular formats include:

  • Adobe Reader - Highly compatible format, readable on any device with the free Adobe Reader software installed - Windows PC, Mac, Pocket PC or Palm. You can also print Adobe Reader documents (if the document author allows it).
  • Palm Reader - Compatible with all Palm OS based devices, and can also be run on Windows PC's, Pocket PC or MacOS. The standard version is free, and features a trial version of Palm Reader Pro. (Download).
  • Microsoft Reader with ClearType - ClearType display technology provides a reading experience similar to a real book, with bookmarking and annotation features. Windows PC and Pocket PC only. Free download from Microsoft.
  • MobiPocket - Reader supports Windows PC, Palm OS, Symbian, Blackberry or Windows Mobile. MacOS and Linux are not supported and the MobiPocket format does not allow you to print the document. For more information, see the compatibility list on the MobiPocket download site.
  • HTML - Readable on any device that supports web browsing. Very basic, supports table-of-contents linking but doesn't support the range of features that more sophisticated ebook readers have (bookmarks, etc.).
  • Plain Text - Supported on every device, no additional reader required. Very basic, and things like line breaks may not look the same from one device to the next. You can import the document into any word processor and there are no restrictions on printing. A lot of public-domain documents are distributed in plain text format.

4) Audio book formats - Audio books ("books on tape") also come in a number of formats. If you are buying a digital audio book, make sure it is compatible with your device!

  • Audiocassette - Standard cassette tapes. Susceptible to damage and rapidly becoming obsolete thanks to the popularity of iPods and other digital audio players.
  • CD - Still around and still popular thanks to CD car audio systems.
  • MP3 - Open source, standard compressed audio format.
  • Audible - Proprietary optimized format for reproducing speech. More efficient audiobook sound and compression than MP3's. Requires special software or iTunes 3.0 or above. Audible provides all the ebooks for Apple iTunes.
  • RealAudio - proprietary format often used for streaming audio. Requires RealPlayer.
  • Windows Media Audio (.wma) - Microsoft's proprietary format.

For more information on audio formats, see this MP3 FAQ .


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