Megalisters: Big and Online


This is a look at some indisputably large (as in over half a million titles) online book stores that sell on Abebooks.com. It reports on the number of listings; the Book Condition field and other noteworthy findings for the thirty most expensive and thirty least expensive listings; whether or not they provide dates and publishers in that group of listings; and the most highly priced Ernest Hemingway title. This is obviously not an exhaustive or scientific survey, but the findings are accurate as of late August, 2006. It would be more informative if it employed a larger checklist that included antiquarian and non-fiction titles; and one would want to look at other venues as well. You would have to go to even greater lengths to see if they actually own these books, or if they simply order from a distributor or arrange for drop-shipping from other booksellers. Omitting such information as the date and publisher and failing to cite the correct title make it difficult to compare the listing with other offerings. A highest price Hemingway search is one way of determining markup, and of ascertaining if these book stores handle older books or if they just deal in new stock. I have cited some freakishly high prices in the top thirty that can perhaps be blamed on automated pricing systems, but if they have the book and it is ordered, wouldn’t they bill you for that amount just the same? Another way to look at this is how professional booksellers and the book buying public would react to somebody setting up at a book fair with such ludicrous prices, which extend deep into the catalogs in most cases. Visit these sites yourself in order to form your own impressions and come to your own conclusions.

A1Books of Netcong, NJ. 1,195,112 listings. There is no Book Condition field at all. There are two variant boilerplate descriptions in the Book Description field that read, “Brand new item. Over 3.5 million customers served. Order now. Selling online since 1995. Few left in stock – order soon,” and “May contain remainder marks. Over 2 million customers served. Order now. Selling books online since 1995. Few left in stock – order soon.” Lists AIDS in America by Charles H. Russell at $6,732.89. Does not provide dates and publishers.

49 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (Modern Critical Interpretations) at $53.40. No date or publisher given, and does not specify binding. The title they give is absurd, and the ISBN and stock image provided do not clearly indicate if this was published by Chelsea House in 1987, Roundhouse in 1998, or what.

Aaron Brown of Corpus Christi, TX. 1,973,171 listings. Book Condition description for all sixty is “Acceptable,” but there are many “possibly” and “could have” type boilerplate variations in the Details field, along with such reassurances as “All pages together and are readable,” “May be similiar or identical to the edition published under the ISBN number of…,” and “Shape: 2 to 3 of 5 stars.” Most of the book stores on this list start pricing at $1, but Aaron Brown’s lowest price is $25.12 for Dream Baby by Ann Evans. All dates have the “on or around” preamble, and he (?) does not provide publishers.

219 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is A Farewell to Arms at $11,354.57. “May have been published on or around: 1929.” “My copy of this item is in used, acceptable condition or better.” On 8/29/2006 I asked, “Can you tell me more about this book? Is that the correct price?” No response.

Better World Books of Mishawaka, IN. 686,798 listings. Book Condition descriptions include various boilerplates such as “Great condition for a used book!,” “Book in almost Brand New condition,” and “Shows definite wear, and perhaps considerable marking on inside.” No real grading specifics in the top thirty listings. (They do have a related enterprise called Better World Books – Collectibles that lists high end items professionally described.) Lots of other boilerplate about their policies, including “Fast shipping, best return policy, and social responsibility put Better World Books above the rest.” Above the rest of other booksellers, other charities, or what? Within this group, 32 sales benefit “Books for Africa!,” and the other 28 benefit 17 different efforts all over the US. Their website explains how they say this for-profit charity works. A Wikipedia entry on BWB casts some doubt. Unusual listings on the high end, some of which only Livrenoir shows, like Texas Police Officer (7th Edition) at $2,850.20. Teach Yourself Windows 95 is listed at $2,156.16 and $1,962.10, with the same inventory number. Provides the publisher, but not the date.

44 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories at $87.73. Specifies Charles Scribner’s Sons as the publisher but no date.

Books2Anywhere.com of Fairford, UK. 1,494,290 listings. There is no Book Condition field at all. Boilerplate for all reads, “Check out our low worldwide delivery costs! Please note: we only take orders through ABE – NOT DIRECT!” Provides dates and publishers.

135 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961 at $60.11.

Caiman of Miami, FL. 1,179,329 listings. The Book Condition description for all sixty is “New.” Does not provide date, publisher, or a single word about the book other than the ISBN.

97 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is MCI—Sun Also Rises at $51.34. Gives ISBN and stock photo only.

Limelight Bookshop of New York, NY. 729,412 listings. The Book Condition description for all sixty is “New. New.” Most of the top thirty lists of the really large sellers are populated with multi-volume scientific works, but quite a few at the top here are single volumes like the Oxbridge Directory of Newsletters 2005 and Volume 4 of the Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition, both listed at $2,375.15. Provides dates and publishers.

73 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961 at $135.74. A little hard to tell if this is hardcover or not.

Livrenoir of Brooklyn, NY. 3,840,327 listings. [This number jumped to 4, 498,534 since this article was prepared just a couple of weeks ago!] Only two of sixty Book Condition descriptions use more than three words. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare in Near Fine condition listed at $8,186.56 gives Reprint Services Corp as the publisher and 1871 as the publication date, with no other information whatsoever other than “quarto” and the ISBN. Provides dates and publishers.

“Livrenoir” translates to “black book,” as in The Black Book of Boobytraps by Lyle Whitney (1996). Coincidentally, Livrenoir holds the only copy of this title for sale, according to BookFinder and AddAll, and it is priced at $72.49. That’s a good deal for an otherwise unlisted title. You could make a nice profit on it (though if it’s about deadly traps rather than putting a bucket of water over the door or something, keep the War Against Terrorism in mind). I enquired about availability through the ABE form on the evening of 8/27/2006. This quick response came the following day. “I am afraid we do not keep our inventory at hand. It is located in separate warehouses, therefore it is impossible for me to check specifics on any particular title. I am sorry I cannot be of assistance with your inquiry. Let me know if I can help you with anything else.” Presumably you would get the same response if you called. So you really have to order it to find out, which I did this same day, again through ABE and with special instructions to please pack carefully. Searching WorldCat for this extremely rare title while waiting for my package to arrive, only three repositories hold it. The Ellsworth Air Force Base Library in South Dakota, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency in Virginia, and the Library of Congress. Is it possible to scrape listings from the good old Library of Congress, or did he just buy this at a book fair or something? I got some bad news from Livrenoir the evening of 9/2/2006. “We’re sorry, but this title sold earlier on another site and is therefore no longer available. Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience this cancellation must have caused.” And shortly after that ABE officially reiterated the reason for cancellation, ending with, “We hope you will visit abebooks.com again in the future.”

330 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is Winner Take Nothing (Scribner, 1933) at $487.27. There is no further description other than the ISBN, “Very Good,” and a stock photo.

Papamedia.com of Ithaca, NY. 1,373,417 listings. The Book Condition description for all sixty is “Brand new, Perfect condition.” There are two $75,000.95 paperbacks at the top, but that’s probably a boo-boo, because it quickly settles down into the familiar $16,500 range for multi-volume sets. They listed over 3,300,000 titles on ABE not that long ago, but a couple weeks after this article was prepared it has plummeted to 363,498 titles from the figure above, perhaps due to the new “two substantially the same titles only” policy, so changes are afoot. Does not provide dates and publishers.

64 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is Ernest Hemingway’s: A Farewell to Arms (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations) at $67.95. No date or publisher given. If the real Papa could see that mangled title he would kick some colon.

Paperbackshop-US of Elk Grove Village, IL. 616,803 listings. There is no Book Condition field at all. Boilerplate for all sixty reads, “Check out our great rate for multiple orders – you won’t be disappointed!” Provides dates and publishers.

43 listings for Ernest Hemingway, the most expensive of which is the popular Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961 at $43.78. No word on the binding.

Quartermelon of Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK. 1,126,087 listings. Book Condition descriptions all read, “BRAND NEW” or “BRAND NEW \N. \N. \N. (\N) \N (\N),” with “PAPERBACK” or “MASS MARKET” added to some of the bottom thirty. They appear to be based in the U.K. but they say books ship from the U.S. Provides dates and publishers.

80 listings for Ernest Hemingway. Assuming a 1997 edition of A Farewell to Arms priced at $4,859.63 is a typo or something, the most expensive is Green Hills of Africa (1998) at $233.19. I am pretty sure that when ABE first started, they (or perhaps it was BookFinder or Bibliofind) used Green Hills of Africa as a sample search form title, to be used together with the author’s name. The results back then were Hemingwayesque in their directness and simplicity.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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