Mega-Lister Questionnaire


Short identical questionnaires were sent to Abebooks, Alibris, and Amazon, and they were kind enough to reply. A modified version was sent to the independent meta-search service AddALL, which did not respond.

Abebooks Mega-Lister Questionnaire

1. How does Abebooks define mega-listers, and do you differentiate between categories of mega-listers?

The terms we use to describe booksellers usually relate to the inventory they carry such as rare and antiquarian dealers, used booksellers and textbook specialists. Booksellers use the term, mega-lister, but we don’t use it internally. We believe they are usually referring to booksellers with a high number of listings or booksellers that are ‘page-hogging.’ ‘Mega-lister’ is a very broad term and we prefer to be more specific.

2. What are the main customer and bookseller complaints about mega-listers? 

Both buyers and sellers have concerns about the issue of so-called ‘page-hogging’ where sellers list multiple copies of the same book. It makes buying and selling books much harder. We share those concerns. On 7 July 2006, Abebooks introduced a new policy limiting multiple copies of books that are materially the same to two. In conjunction with the new policy:

  • We are introducing a quantity field to our inventory management systems. It is already available to booksellers with custom conversions or who use our online listings manager, and the upcoming 3.0 version of HomeBase will have it as well;
  • Quantity will also be added to the search results and the shopping basket;
  • We have started to enforce the new multiple listings policy but will stringently enforce it when all the tools, such as the quantity field in inventory management systems and quantity in search results, are in place for booksellers to offer multiple copies without resorting to ‘page-hogging’ tactics.

3. Some mega-listers and data thieves steal detailed descriptions of unique and expensive books they obviously don’t own themselves, dramatically marking up prices and then arranging for drop-shipping from the real bookseller after the sale. Has Abebooks been able to cut back on this practice, and if so, how?

When we hear of one bookseller ‘stealing’ book descriptions from another bookseller in order to drop-ship, we investigate and remove the listings if proven.

Booksellers can only list books that they are legally entitled to sell but those books do not have to be in their physical possession. Booksellers can list books supplied directly to a customer from a distributor but they cannot list books owned by another bookseller.

4. Have some of these mega-listers continued that practice and avoided detection by simply removing all unique descriptions and identifiers from their phantom listings? 

It can be very difficult to prove or disprove this practice. However, books without unique descriptions are unlikely to sell so the bookseller is unlikely to profit from such actions.

5. What about mega-listers who clog search results with page after page of poorly described, unavailable, and bizarrely priced multiple listings; and who otherwise erode traditional bookselling standards in too many ways to list here? Do you have any future plans to curb or remove Abebooks mega-listers, or to improve the general quality of your bookseller listings?

We are very keen to encourage booksellers to list detailed and informative book descriptions. Therefore we plan to introduce new search refinements to the search results to make it easier for buyers to find exactly the book they want. Booksellers who don’t take advantage of these refinements are less likely to appear in refined results.

In the future, we intend to introduce bookseller ratings and we believe this will improve availability of books and fulfillment of orders. The introduction of quantity and better inventory management tools are all designed to improve our listings.

We are always keen to improve the quality of the listings but it’s important to note that booksellers who offer detailed and informative descriptions, along with an image, win sales – booksellers with poor listings do not.

Alibris Mega-Lister Questionnaire

  1. How does Alibris define mega-listers, and do you differentiate between categories of mega-listers?
  2. What are the main customer and bookseller complaints about mega-listers?
  3. Some mega-listers and data thieves steal detailed descriptions of unique and expensive books they obviously don’t own themselves, dramatically marking up prices and then arranging for drop-shipping from the real bookseller after the sale. Has Alibris been able to cut back on this practice, and if so, how?
  4. Have some of these mega-listers continued that practice and avoided detection by simply removing all unique descriptions and identifiers from their phantom listings?
  5. What about mega-sellers who clog search results with page after page of poorly described, unavailable, and bizarrely priced multiple listings; and who otherwise erode traditional bookselling standards in too many ways to list here? Do you have any future plans to curb or remove Alibris mega-listers, or to improve the general quality of your bookseller listings?

[Alibris did not answer by the numbers, so their blanket response follows.] 

We don’t generally use the term, but an easy definition of a ‘mega-lister’ would be a seller who maintains over 100,000 items in their online inventory.

Regardless of inventory level, we’ve demonstrated over time that we hold all sellers to the same performance standards. If they are unable to provide the level of professional service required, they will be removed from our network. Alibris has removed sellers with inventory in excess of 250,000 items, but has also removed those with vastly smaller inventory for the same reasons.

Many sellers who fall into the above definition of ‘mega-lister’ are well regarded sellers within the industry. Others are not. We believe there is room for any seller on Alibris if they uphold the levels of quality and professionalism we seek to maintain. Those who don’t are dealt with swiftly.

Due to our shipping reimbursement and minimum price of $2.95, we have very few issues with ‘penny sellers’ who seek to make the bulk of their profits on shipping. In addition, our search presentation makes it difficult to clog search results. However, when identified, we’ll counsel sellers – regardless of size – on using our quantity field. We’re also looking at ways of ‘rolling-up’ duplicate listings in order to make our search work even better.

Alibris is concerned about sellers who copy other bookseller’s inventory and list it as their own. We have internal mechanisms which help us identify these sellers, whom we refer to as Spiders. Once identified they either delete the offending inventory or are removed from the Alibris network. There are also a handful of known Spiders who are not welcome at Alibris.

Alibris is committed to being the premiere online destination for the best independent sellers from around the world. We understand that we’ll thrive not on the quantity but on the quality of our seller network.

Amazon Mega-Lister Questionnaire

  1. How does Amazon define mega-listers, and do you differentiate between categories of mega-listers?
  2. What are the main customer and bookseller complaints about mega-listers?
  3. Some mega-listers and data thieves steal detailed descriptions of unique and expensive books they obviously don’t own themselves, dramatically marking up prices and then arranging for drop-shipping from the real bookseller after the sale. Has Amazon been able to cut back on this practice, and if so, how?
  4. Have some of these mega-listers continued that practice and avoided detection by simply removing all unique descriptions and identifiers from their phantom listings?
  5. What about mega-sellers who clog search results with page after page of poorly described, unavailable, and bizarrely priced multiple listings; and who otherwise erode traditional bookselling standards in too many ways to list here? Do you have any future plans to curb or remove Amazon mega-listers, or to improve the general quality of your bookseller listings?

Not sure what we have to do with this at all so we’ll pass on this. Thanks.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

Check out the Independent Online Booksellers Association Website