Interview: Peter Thomas of CollectorsBookMarket.com


Q: Peter, how did you get involved in creating book Web sites?

A: I owned a new and used bookstore for 23 years and I began selling on eBay and Bibliofind in 1997. Internet bookselling was changing rapidly and new opportunities seemed to be knocking everywhere. I was particularly fascinated by eBay and I wanted to build a “children’s books only” auction. I closed my store in 2000 and began a crash course in web development and I have been learning ever since.

Q: Many children’s books are very collectible. Do Collector’s Book Market and Children’s Book Market overlap?

A: It’s inevitable that they overlap a little bit, but they are aimed at different buying audiences. One has a book Auction and a Fine Book Mart for collectors who want to browse investment quality books and the other has a low-fee children’s book auction for educators and parents who want to promote reading.

Q: I see the Fine Book Mart has a $25 minimum selling price. In what other way is Collector’s Book Market different from the other used book sites?

A: The Fine Book Mart is structured unlike any other site. This is a hard thing to get across because the meta-search sites like Bookfinder and AddAll create the expectation that fixed-price sites will all work in the same way. There are many fine “classic” format online databases already available to booksellers, so I wanted to design something different.

The Fine Book Mart is a gallery where you can advertise or “showcase” your best items for a modest 90-day listing fee and no commission. We can’t compete with the big sites if you want to search their huge databases for a specific title, but we hope to build a site where they can’t compete with us if you want to just browse for something quality to buy. We are not an alternative to the other sites; we are complimentary to them.

Our databases (fixed-price and auction) are visually oriented and built for browsing. Each listing is allowed up to 6 free image uploads, all search and browse lists include a free extra-large thumbnail image (and free 1st printing and/or signed item icons where appropriate), and sellers can enhance their item descriptions with our WYSIWYG HTML editor (no HTML knowledge required).

Our most important browsing feature is our “nested” book category system that allows buyers to browse by broad “top-level” categories or narrower subcategories, but we also have additional browsing options that allow buyers to view ‘all’ items with (or without) any combination of characteristics.

For example, you can browse either or both databases for “All signed items”, or “All first printings”, or “All signed first printings”, or “ALL signed, first printing, non-ex-lib, non-book club, non-remainder, hardback, new listings in NF or better condition with a VG or better dust jacket, that was published between 1940 and 1945, and priced from $100 to $1000, and . . . (there are more options but you get the idea). By adding an author, title, or publisher to the text search box, you can use these same options to perform an “Advanced Search”.

Q: You didn’t mention auction pricing. Is there a minimum price on auctions, also?

A: No, there are no minimum prices on the auctions. Low starting bids often create bidding activity that in turn attracts more bids. We even have two special “Bargain Bin” categories for our special “dollar” auctions that have $1 starting bids with no reserve.

Q: How do the book auctions work?

A: They are similar to eBay; we have “proxy” bidding and fixed ending times, but there are also special “book” features built in that facilitate the advanced search and browse functions mentioned above. If you use eBay, you can use our auctions. Our goal is to keep everything simple and easy to use. And much less expensive.

There will be one low 25-cent insertion fee regardless of your starting bid or reserve price. We offer free image uploads that automatically create a free gallery thumbnail. You can list your auction for up to 15 days and set the exact ending time with no extra charge.

In addition to the standard and “dollar” auction formats, we also have “fixed-price” and “linked” auctions. The fixed-price auctions give sellers a place to sell their books priced under $25 and the linked auctions give them an easy way to “advertise” their auctions running on eBay and other sites.

Q: Does the children’s book site work the same way as the collector’s book site?

A: The auction is very similar (except for a special “reading level” field and a few other differences), but instead of a Fine Book Mart, the children’s site has a special Literacy/Donor Mart where teachers (and others) can post free requests for donor help. These requests can be for anything from Gift Certificates to hand out as achievement awards to providing books or funding for school libraries. Donors can also post free ads to give away books they want to donate.

Q: Tell me more about this donations program for children’s books.

A: The Literacy/Donor Mart concept is new, and the details are not tested, but it could be an opportunity to recycle a lot of great children’s books that would otherwise end up collecting dust. It’s basically a classified ad system for requests and donation offers. The ChildrensBookMarket.com Gift Certificates are a central part. The plan is to donate back 50% of all (future) auction fees as Gift Certificates, which will be awarded to the most compelling requests posted to the Literacy/Donor Mart. The recipients in turn will use the Gift Certificates to bid on the auctions, creating a built-in demand for the sellers (sellers will be reimbursed 100% for the Gift Certificates they accept as payment). We already have 12,000 books listed on the children’s book auction, so we are ready to start and we will soon be giving away $1,000 worth of gift certificates to begin our promotion of the children’s book site.

Q: You said “future” fees. What are the current fees and what changes in the fees can sellers expect in the future?

A: Right now there are no fees; we are still putting the finishing touches on both of the sites. We should be finished by the time this interview is published and that will mark the beginning of our promotion. Fees won’t begin until we have reached a “critical mass” of activity for each site. I’m not sure what that is, exactly, but we want the sellers to be able to expect a decent number of “hits” on their items. We are being crawled by the search engines and you can see by the hit counters on each listing that we are already getting some good traffic. Unlike the larger sites, our individual listings show up in many search engine results. Google the exact title of any ad or an auction; you can see we usually get the #1 ranking.

As for future fees, our plan is to keep them low by keeping the overhead as simple as possible. All transactions are direct between the buyer and seller, we don’t process credit cards for transactions, and we will only get involved if there is a dispute or a problem. We hope to stay with a “no commission/listing fee only” format if we can make it profitable. The seller simply pays to “advertise” their item and we don’t have to worry about “off-site” sales.

Q: What else do you want to mention about your sites?

A: There are several other integrated features we have built into these sites, a link directory mall (list your website), a book news and headlines module (members submit stories and announcements), auction and ad “alerts” (get notified when a item is listed), seller and donor profiles, book wanted ads, and more, but these are new and should evolve, so I shouldn’t try to go into detail about those now. Instead, because most of your readers are online booksellers, I would like to mention a few of the solutions we have developed to address the common complaints everyone has been reading about on the major bookseller lists for the past few years. These problems get ignored when sites are only interested in getting as many listing fees as possible.

“Too many misdescribed books.” Like other quality sites, sellers must agree to a Code of Ethics and a “guaranteed-to-be-as-described” policy, but we take it a step further to create more buyer confidence. Each listing has a “Report Item” button that is part of a member-enforced quality control system. If an item is inaccurately graded, incorrectly described (called a 1st printing when it’s not, not called an ex-library when it is, etc.), obviously miscategorized, or there is any other problem with a listing, any member can use the (anonymous) Report Item button to notify the administrator. If the complaint is judged to be valid, a polite “reported item” notice is sent to the seller with the appropriate options and time frame in which to correct the problem or dispute it.

“Too many penny-sellers are listing common or unwanted titles, clogging the search results.” The “per-item” listing fees should slow this problem down dramatically, but it also takes a little more time to list an auction or a Fine Book Mart ad, so sellers will hopefully restrict their listings to those books that have genuine value and a good chance of selling.

“Third-party sellers are cross-listing from other sites.” No third-party, Print-on-Demand, or e-book listings are allowed. Sellers must have physical possession of every item they list.

“No enforcement of policies and rules.” We have strict enforcement. Sellers who are repeatedly reported, willfully evade following the rules, or sell improper items will be removed. Winning bidders or buyers who fail to pay for an item without a legitimate reason will also be removed (one strike and you’re out on that one).

“Ever increasing fees and ever more restrictive policies.” I discussed our fee strategy above, a nd because we don’t have to worry about “off-site” sales, we don’t want to restrict contact between the buyers and the sellers; we want to encourage it. If the sellers are happy, they will come back.

Q: What about Niche Market Solutions? Do you have other projects in the works?

A: I formed Niche Market Solutions a few years ago with my business partner, Bill Paulsen, who is an IT wizard with over ten years of programming and server administration experience (our servers are lightning fast). As the dominant e-commerce sites continue to expand at a rapid pace and bury any direct competition, we see opportunity in smaller niche sites. The quest for more and more listing fees and higher quarterly profit reports is creating the problems complained about above.

We have built a variety of e-commerce solutions to give specialists the tools to establish their own niche market websites. Our next project is OklahomaBookMarket.com, one of 50 online state and regional book marketplaces we plan to build and host. We have all 49 other “StateBookMarket” domain names and we will be offering them as custom turnkey consumer-to-consumer e-commerce sites in the near future. Each of the state sites will be owned and operated independently, but they will all link together and have a similar format (owners will have control over all decisions: fees, categories, logos, colors, etc.). Booksellers who specialize in regional material can contact us now if they want information about their state’s BookMarket site.

Bill has also just finished a remarkable “shopping cart” system and we will soon be offering custom turnkey, hosted websites for booksellers. These websites will automatically be included in our Link Directory Malls that we will be promoting as a major part of our websites, so we can offer the additional advantage of built-in traffic.

Q: You seem to have your hands full. Do you have a staff and a budget to promote the sites?

A: Not yet. We built these sites with the idea that someone would want to purchase them or partner with us. We don’t want to run the day-to-day operations; we want to build and host other websites. We have been refining these sites for a long time now and we are finally ready to hand them over to someone else, whether that is an individual, an organization, another website, or a silent partner. Once we get some funding, we think these sites will take off in a hurry.

Q: Good luck, and thank you for talking with us.

A: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be included in The Standard; it is a great resource for booksellers.

Peter Thomas is the founder of Niche Market Solutions, LLC, a Web site development company that has created two used book websites, http://www.CollectorsBookMarket.com andhttp://www.ChildrensBookMarket.com, as well as other non-book e-commerce sites. He can be reached at admin@collectorsbookmarket.com .

Shirley Bryant is the proprietor of Authors & Artists at http://www.aaabooks.com

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website