Buying and selling books on the web is becoming ever more complex, with a bewildering range of sites available, all with different strengths, weaknesses and charges.
This guide is an attempt to give clear summaries of each site.
From the book buyer’s point of view, it should help guide you towards the sites that give best value for the particular kind of books you are looking for. This means, generally speaking, the ones that charge little or no commission and have good ethical control over the booksellers listing on the site.
From the book seller’s point of view, it should give clear information on the costs, and the advantages and disadvantages of each site.
So this guide concentrates on the factors that are important to both the buyer and the seller: the overall cost of listing on each site, how accurately and speedily books can be found within the site, how accurately and well the books are catalogued, the quality and range of the books, the quality and probity of the book sellers who list there and the amount of traffic that reaches the site.
Other factors such as site design and extra features or quirks are left for the users to love or hate as they see fit!
This guide is restricted to English language multiple listing sites with at least ¼ million books listed. Other language sites and single store sites such as B&N, Powell’s, Strand, etc., are not included individually, although some are covered by the metasites. Relisting sites (sites that take in other booksellers catalogues and relist them at a higher price) are also excluded.
Metasites are sites that trawl many other listing sites – a ‘one stop shop’. Apart from the slightly longer time they take to complete each search (a significant disadvantage only if you need to look up many titles in one session), they are probably the most complete way to check on the availability and price of any given title. If the title is very common, the metasite may ‘rationalize’ the results to save too many being displayed. You can always go on to an individual listing site if you wish to expand the results.
The metasites do not charge commission, and the prices they display will reflect the charges of the listing site they are reporting. To appear on a metasite, all a book seller has to do is to join at least one of the listing sites that the metasite covers.
Covers the following sites: ABE, Alibris, AntiQbook, Biblio, Biblion, Bibliophile, Bibliopoly, Books&Collectibles, ChooseBooks/ZVAB, HalfCom, ILAB, MareMagnum, Powell’s, Strand.
* but can reach only sites that support wild card. ** Typical search times are assuming a
fast web connection and an average time of day. If you have a slower connection or
search at a busy time, the search times may be longer.
Traffic (Alexa): 92. Linkage (Google): 501.
Extra feature: Displays a quotation to keep you interested while it searches.
Covers the following sites: A1Books, A1TechBooks, ABE, AbookSearch, Alibris, Amazon (all sites), AntBo, AntiQbook, B&N, Biblio, Biblion, BiggerBooks, BookAvenue, BookBestBuy, BookByte, BookCloseOuts, Books&Collectibles, Buy, Chapitre, ChaptersIndigo, ChooseBooks/ZVAB, Dymocks, EBay (partial), Ecampus, ElephantBooks, GlobalBookMart, Half, HalfPriceComputerBooks, ILAB, MareMagnum, Overstock, Powell’s, TextBookX, TheBookCellar, TomFolio, TotalCampus, UsedBookCentral, ZVAB.
* Some automatic alphabetisation. ** in Classic mode only.
*** Typical search times are assuming a fast web connection and an average time of day.
If you have a slower connection or search at a busy time, the search times may be longer.
Traffic (Alexa): 112. Linkage (Google): 186.
Extra feature: Can be set for French, German and Italian searches.
Also: MegaBookSearch: http://www.megabooksearch.com
General search sites such as Google are unable to search databases, therefore many books that appear on the specialised booksearch sites will be missed. However, they have great power to search static pages, and many book sellers advertise their books in this way. So if AddAll and BookFinder have failed to locate a title, Google can sometimes come to your rescue.
You will need to use their advanced search page if you wish to avoid being deluged with irrelevant results. Typical search time: 4 seconds.
Some other similar general search sites:
Ask Jeeves http://www.ask.com
TRAFFIC: The amount of traffic that a site attracts is one of the key factors in estimating how likely a site may achieve significant sales. The figures given in the charts above are the most recent Alexa ‘reach’ average. For instance, a ‘reach’ figure of 56 means that out of every million URL re quests from an Alexa toolbar, an average of 56 requested that site (most recent 3-month average). But, as Alexa themselves admit, these figure are only approximate, especially for the lesser sites. In any case they only cover Alexa originated requests.
Google linkage data is another indication of traffic, but again, only a guide. Google linkage figures are per 100 links, i.e. 56 = 5,600 links.
None of this gives any indication of the quality of the customers attracted, so many of the smaller quality sites can punch well over their weight in sales value achieved relative to traffic and linkage.
So treat the traffic figures with caution, but at least it is an indication. Until a feasible alternative is suggested, it is the best we can offer!
Find out more: http://pages.alexa.com/prod_serv/traffic_learn_more.html
Now we come to the real meat of this guide – the individual listing sites. Grading listing sites is notoriously difficult; there are so many factors:
The book buyer wants a fast, easy to use site offering a large range of books at the best prices. The buyer also wants to have confidence that the books will be well described and that the book sellers will be honest, professional, speedy and fair.
The book seller wants a site reaching the widest range of potential customers at a reasonable cost and offering ease of operation and good technical support.
There is no one site that offers all these qualities; each has its strengths and its weaknesses.
Some sites are better for buying and selling scarce and valuable books, while others are better for inexpensive books. Some sites enforce high standards from their book sellers; others have few effective safeguards or moderation and include some questionable traders.
Nor is the cost to the book seller straightforward. Some sites may charge a high commission, but may have no listing fees and other cost savings, or may have particularly good market penetration. Others may charge little to list but do not have enough traffic to return significant orders. In addition, there are hidden costs; some sites are difficult or time consuming to operate, be it in their uploading arrangements or by mis-matched or curtailed entries.
From the buyer’s point of view, a site claiming 20 million books listed may seem a better bet than one claiming 1 million books, but this is not necessarily true if 15 million of the 20 million are John Grisham paperbacks! If the quality of the site with 1 million books is high, it may offer a better range of hard-to-find books or ephemera. Another increasing annoyance is the recent growth of PoD books on some larger sites – ‘Print on Demand’ photocopies that clutter the listings, making it difficult to find the real books. In addition, some sites allow relisters – dealers that relist other booksellers books at a higher price which also clutters the listings. These are considered to be an adverse factors for both buyers and sellers and noted as such.
Equally, the price of an identical book may vary from site to site, with book sellers adding to their base price for listing sites that have high charges (or, alternatively, offering you a discount when you order direct).
With all this in mind, we have assembled an at-a-glance cross-table showing the main strengths and weaknesses of each site. Some areas are objective, such as listing fees, commissions, etc.; but others are, by force, subjective. We have done our best to be impartial, but are happy to listen to comments if you do not agree with our assessment.
Costs and performances on any given site can change. We will update to new information as it comes our way.
Detailed information on each site follows the cross-table.
Cross-Table Summary of all Significant
English Language Used/Antiquarian Listing Sites
Key: Positive factors are shown in GREEN and negative factors in RED. Neutral factors are shown in BLACK.
** Members only. *** Other options available * Adjusted for the used/antiquarian book portion of traffic (E).
‘PRINT-ON-DEMAND’ photocopies clutter listings – sites where this is becoming a problem are marked thus: PoD
TRAFFIC & SALES : Each site is awarded stars based on Alexis and Google ratings, combined with known experience and such sales results that can be gleaned.
++++ = Mainstream site with heavy traffic, large range and proven sales.
+++ = Significant traffic, range and sales.
++ = Solid traffic, range and sales.
+ = Established site, often with a niche market.
No stars = New or limited site.
N.B. As noted on page 3, this is only a ROUGH GUIDE – quite apart from the imprecise nature of the ratings, any one site may be better or worse for a particular kind of book. So, although Traffic and Sales are vital factors when choosing a venue, or how likely they are to have the range of books you seek, we are only able to offer this very approx-imate guidance.
Detailed Breakdown of the Listing Sites
Notes: Only ABAA members may list here. Code of Ethics policed by an ethics committee. Although many items listed here will also be listed elsewhere, the site includes a higher than usual proportion of exclusive items. Wants service. Catalogue service. Stolen book database. News page. Newsletter.
1. The eight item shopping basket used in this guide was carefully chosen from common titles through to scarce titles or authors to get a snapshot of both the quantity, range and quality of each site. The items chosen were: grisham jury; tolkien hobbit; joyce ulysses; dickens copperfield; crawhall; dalvimart; shaw zoology; skerryvore.
2. The ‘Other Costs’ shown in the main cross-table tries to reflect the various costs, other than the basic fees or commission, that add to the sellers expense in using the site, such as the cost of dealing with Amazon’s mis-matches or eBay’s inability to deal with catalogues in a cost efficient manner.
One of the key factors to help a book seller to cope with the changing costs of listing on various book sites is to have a database that allows you to control your pricing according the site being used. Fail to do this and you will suffer diminished margins whenever adverse changes are made. Suitable databases for this purpose are BookRouter http://www.bookrouter.com; BookTrakkerhttp://www.booktrakker.com: or BookHound http://www.bibliopolis.com .
Whereas every effort has been made to display fairness and accuracy when producing this guide some areas are a matter of judgment and the terms, content and performance of listing sites constantly change. If you wish to report errors, changes, or comment, please contact the guide moderator: Stuart Manley email@example.com .
The views expressed by the author of this guide do not necessarily reflect the views of the Independent Online Booksellers Association. Whereas every effort has been made to display fairness and accuracy when producing this guide, The Independent Online Booksellers Association is not responsible for errors or omissions.
Copyright © Independent Online Booksellers Association 2005. No part of this guide may be used, copied, reproduced, displayed, or offered without written permission of the Independent Online Booksellers Association.
Stuart Manley is co-owner of Barter Books, Alnwick, Northumberland, England, also online at http://www.barterbooks.co.uk