ICSF Buying Guidelines

...there are always too many recommendations for the librarian to watch for them all... thanks for your interest :)...


The obvious: Ebay is an online auction site, www.ebay.co.uk

It is good for buying stuff for the library, because:

  • out-of-print stuff is often available
  • things are usually cheaper than buying new
  • it is an excellent source of videos in particular, as these are not usually available from shops cheaply or second hand (apart from exceptions such as Cash Converters or Music and Video Exchange). This is a wonderful time for buying, because people are buying DVDs and selling off their old videos.

 Ebay/online auction notes:

  • you need an account :) (it's totally free for buyers)
  • when an auction is completed, the buyer and seller leave each other 'feedback', which everyone else can see, so you can judge whether a seller is honest or not. Generally a bad idea to buy from a zero or negative feedback seller.
  • if you get cheated, there's not much you can do about getting your money back. Do your research before bidding:
    • check the item description carefully.
    • check the seller's feedback.
    • check the methods of payment accepted.
  • I've not had a problem in 200+ auctions. It's not as dangerous as some people make it out to be, as long as you use common sense.
  • Use the "My Ebay" page for keeping track of stuff, it's convenient. You can also set it up to email you new search hits every day, which is handy.
  • Methods of paying:
    • Snail mail: (small extra cost for stamps + envelopes - don't forget to include info about who you are and the auction you won!)
      * cheques ;)
      * postal orders (don't use them myself, i think there's a surcharge)
    • Online: (much nicer, easier and faster to use)
      * direct bank transfer (uncommon, but easy if you have internet banking)
      * Ebay Payments (aka Billpoint) - pay via Debit or Credit card
      * PayPal - pay via Debit or Credit card. Allow up to a month to set it up - you need to check your statement for a code after signing up, to activate the account. Very commonly used, is going to be integrated into Ebay soon.
      * Nochex - pay via Debit or Credit card. Done by 'loading' some money into your Nochex account, from which you can pay other people on Nochex. There's a per-transaction (loading/withdrawing) charge - ok if you don't mind loading a chunk (eg £20) at once and using it to pay for several auctions.
  • A convenient trick for searching: you can search for many things at once, eg: (spiderman,"mystery science theater",mst3k)
    You can apply common settings to this, eg only search in Videos:PAL, and maximise the usefulness of Ebay's watch-list email (as it limits the number of searches it'll tell you about), or reduce the number of bookmarks you keep.


  • as with all icsf buys, you'll be paying for the item yourself and being reimbursed by the union.
  • print out the ebay page after you win the auction. If it doesn't state the P&P, print out the email in which you find out the P&P (with full headers) as well.
  • give the printouts to the treasurer :)


  • Check the "Completed items" (link on the left after you've done a search) to see what your item tends to go for, and the lowest price you can expect to get.
  • Try for £4-5 or less (total) per video. If not stated in the auction, i usually assume P&P will be £1.50-£2 per video for this estimate.
  • Obviously, if the going price is £2, try to get it for £2 or less :)
  • £5-6 is just about acceptable for something we really really want.
  • Books: go for paperbacks every time, even if the hardback's available for 50p. No one looks in the oversize section. The only exception is future Picocon author books which aren't out in paperback yet (or that we can't find in paperback soon enough).
  • Books vary quite a bit in price. Again, aim for < £4-5 total. Note that large/heavy books may have P&P of £3 or more.
  • graphic novels: try for £5-7 total. Watch out for quality if possible, these things fall apart.


  • In most cases, expect to spend a long time watching for stuff - eg see 10 possibles go by before you find one worth bidding on, and another 30 before you actually win one ;)
  • When you bid, you set a bid maximum: the maximum you're willing to pay. You'll automatically bid for the minimum amount. If someone else bids later, Ebay will automatically outbid them, as long as it's still less than your bid maximum.
  • Last minute bidding ('sniping') is the best way to ensure you win an auction, as no one will have time to manually respond. If someone else has set a higher maximum of course, you'll be automatically and instantaneously outbid by the autobid system - decide on your maximum and bid once.
  • If (as often) you can't sit there waiting for the last minute, set a sensible maximum bid.
  • Exercise restraint ;) don't keep upping your maximum bid to overcome someone's autobid! There'll be another one along in a minute (day, week, month..).
  • Ebay occasionally holds 'events' such as Free Listing Day. Keep an eye out at such times; there'll be an explosion of auctions available.
  • Consider seasonal changes: as christmas gets closer, it's likely to get expensive as people hunt for presents. After christmas is likely to have another ebay 'event', and people will be selling off presents ;)
  • You can get stuff sent to the Resources Centre for easier collection:
    Imperial College Science Fiction Society
    c/o Imperial College Union
    Beit Quad
    Prince Consort Road
    London SW7 2BB

guidelines by dormouse