If the following comments sound pessimistic, they are not intended to be. The book trade will survive the present difficulties but I believe a certain measure of realism is in order.
Some three years ago there were about half a dozen book sites on the net. They all operated on the basis of a monthly subscription and dealers were in direct contact with their customers. The exception to this rule was Interloc/Alibris who listed uploaded inventories in their own name and charged the booksellers a commission on any sales. The bookseller never came into contact with the end customer.
At this point, two of my favourite sites, Bibliocity and Bibliofind were taken over by two of the major players, causing a chain reaction.
Among others, Sue and I, working as Collectable Books, were concerned that the sites where booksellers were in contact with their customers were disappearing. With our son, Andy, we started planning the structure and design of the book site that became http://www.bibliology.com and http://www.bibliology.com/classic. As it turned out, we were not the only ones, since other small, independent sites began emerging around the same time. Nobody could have foreseen the global political and economic changes that were to hit the world during the ensuing two years. Sadly, today we all know 9/11, Worldcom, Enron, Iraq and all the rest, only too well.
During the past eighteen months, many American booksellers have stopped attending European bookfairs. Similarly, European Community booksellers are apparently battening down the hatches, telling UK dealers about the poverty created by the Euro. Inseparable from the above causes, it is rumoured that some of the major London booksellers have cut down on buying because they are not selling as much as they used to. Whatever the true reason, the fact remains that the circulation of money in the used and antiquarian book trade has slowed to a relative trickle.
Of course, bookfairs and book auctions are but two of the easily visible parts of the book trade. Internet book sales are more difficult to feel and quantify but every independent online bookseller feels the downturn in the number and quality of books sold on the net. All of a sudden, in the book trade, as well as in the global business world, the name of the game has become ‘survival’.
If the book-buying public is worried about job security, interest rates, the value of the investment portfolio, the pension plan, the cost of raising children, etc, adding another wonderful book to the collection has become but one part of a postponed wish-list.
The pages of Bookfinder Insider, have been full of problems caused by monthly dues to book sites. Bibliology, unfortunately, has also lost a few members who say that in the present circumstances they simply cannot afford the subscription costs.
Some have suggested that instead of charging a regular subscription fee, Bibliology should turn itself into a commission-based site. This, of course, would fly in the face of one of the declared principles behind its setup: “Bibliology does not interfere in the relationship between booksellers and their customers. Books are listed on the basis of a monthly subscription, with the benefit of a secure ordering system. There are no further charges or commissions.” We continue to believe in this fundamental principle.
Bibliology has always responded to suggestions. When site visitors and subscribers felt uncomfortable with Bibliology’s black background we created a Light version which today is the Default format. We also continue with some added-value services. We offer free cataloguing software to members. Visitors to the site can register their ‘Wants’ – as lists or as individual titles – which are then matched against new uploads. Members can have a personalised Home Page at no additional cost. Some have chosen to use the Bibliology Search panel in their existing web sites, benefiting from the site’s sophisticated search parameters and secure ordering system. Literary Genius Limited, Bibliology’s parent company, can register domain names for Bibliology members for a very modest charge. Visitors to the site can view a growing calendar of book-related Events as well as Links to many useful book-related sites.
At last, “Accessibility” has become a universal requirement for internet sites requiring equal rights of access for everyone, irrespective of any disability a user may have. Literary Genius has just completed a project to ensure that all its websites (Bibliology included) comply fully with US Federal standards of accessibility. Why US instead of UK standards? The simple answer is that at present US standards are the most demanding.
Have a look at the range of services and facilities offered by other independent sites. These may easily justify the payment of a subscription.
Would a commission on sales cost less? Maybe, in the short term, but in the long run, as the independent book sites gain market share, we feel the subscription method will be better value for the bookseller and, indirectly, for the customer. We all know that the same book listed on commission-based sites is often 5% to 20% dearer than on subscription only sites.
At latest count there are about thirty book sites on the net, with more planned, offering an ever-growing range of choices to the bookseller.
– List your books in the name of the book site, have no contact with the end customer, and pay a commission to the site on orders received.
– List your books on the basis of a monthly subscription + a commission on the value of the sales, with direct contact between bookseller and the customer but where the book site may have quoted an unrealistic currency conversion rate and cost of postage.
– List your books on the basis of a monthly subscription, with direct contact between bookseller and the customer but where the book site may have quoted an unrealistic currency conversion rate and cost of postage.
– List your books on the basis of a monthly subscription, with direct contact between bookseller and the customer, without any interference from the book site.
Some of the above book sites are searched by the major sites-of-sites while others prefer to rely on their own “customer through the door” client base. TodayBookfinder searches 40 book sites (including some new-book dealers) while AddAll searches 15 used-book sites.
We feel this range of choices is vital to a healthy book-trade. One needs the diversity! We all know what can happen to a small town when a single mall opens up on the perimeter, but the final decision must be yours!
I suggest we all have a think about how we would like the second hand book market to look in 3, 5 or 10 years’ time. Should we consider if it is worth taking a leap of faith and supporting one, two or more independent sites? The instant rewards may be quite depressing but the alternative may be to become a stockholder for one of the majors. Or, perhaps we should err on the side of caution and list on one or more of each.
Tom Biro Director Bibliology Limited email@example.com