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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Michael Tokman – Choosebooks (ZVAB)

From: Michael Tokman

What is your purpose in starting a online book database (i.e., to help online booksellers, to get a database that does what you think a book database should do, because it’s a good business to be in, all of the above, none of the above, or ????).

All of the above, to say the least. We have often have been struck by how varied the world of book selling is. There probably are as many business models as there are booksellers. We designed a site that fits booksellers’ business styles rather than them having to adapt to a single format. Even our name,, implies choices. Along the same lines, our marketing plan takes advantage of both niche marketing and the full global market place in generating more sales.

Is this a long-term commitment on your part?Where do you see yourself and your database in 3 years? 5 years?

Creating a “Full Service” multi-dealer bookselling portal is a fairly labor intensive undertaking. One does not begin this for a short-term gain. We are 100% committed to and will be in it for a very long haul.

As for the future: The site is filled with sophisticated features to help both Buyers and Sellers. Best of all, all those functional features are very flexible and can be easily expanded and modified to fit rapid changes of e-commerce.

However, we want to make sure that everything is working smoothly before we expand. We are opening in four languages – even though technically we could open in a dozen. for autographs, letters and manuscripts is presently our only companion site. Yet since book dealers have many specialties, we plan for to be a flagship of all our sites and through it open many specialty markets to our booksellers.

What lister book database inventory programs do you/will you support?

We support every program regardless of computer platform used. Whether Mac or PC, Unix or Linux, we can accommodate it and if a new program is created, we will support it too. A large part of our beta testing is to make sure that uploading works smoothly for all formats.

What are your upload procedures? Deletion procedures? Are “wants” listings available? For sale matches? Are any additions/changes planned?

Our uploading procedures are simple – either through our web-based system or via FTP. You send us your file(s) and we list or delete books as stated in the file. Or, if you prefer, you can manage your inventory online.

We have the ability to create want lists by using every parameter of our advanced search engine. All “wanted” items will be matched against For Sale records in our database. Customers will be notified when their specific want is matched.

In addition to a “Want List”, we have added another service – a “Watch List”. Designating a book as “watched” means that you can return to it without repeating the whole search.

What customer service (for both sellers and buyers) do you/will you have?

We are glad you asked this question. Many people think of Customer Service in regard to resolving problems. We have toll free telephone, fax and e-mail support for answering questions, providing information, solving problems or working through technical issues. But service also covers things like added value of information, convenience and free advice.

The following is a very brief glimpse of some of the added value we offer to our sellers.

  1. Listing sellers inventory on all of our Foreign Language sites and on our companion site at no extra cost.

  2. Giving extra visibility to our dealers in “Find a Specialist” and “Bookshop Finder for Travelers” areas of .

  3. Utilizing the collective power of our sellers in getting extra savings on office and shipping supplies.

  4. Offering flexible payment options to fit different budgets and business models.

  5. And most importantly we will always listen to suggestions of new features and services.

More detailed description of various benefits can be found at:

Buyers shopping at will find books……and a lot more. They will find a wealth of information on books & book collecting. They will find convenient ways to locate dealers. They will find an easy, safe and secure environment in which to shop. In other words, they will find a place that they want to return to again and again. Service is big for us and we cannot emphasize it often enough. We believe that many services given freely are what our dealers and customers want and deserve.

Will you/do you have any quality (i.e., descriptions, shipping, and/or customer service) standards for your listers?If so, what will be/are the consequences of violating those standards?

We want buyers to have the best shopping experience at . Our statement of ethics is right on the front page. It covers things like descriptions, shipping, returns, etc. We expect that these standards will be followed. They are “normal” for the trade. If there are problems, we will deal with them privately on an individual basis. If problems persist with particular individuals, they will be asked to leave.

A similar policy will apply to buyers. We are very easy to reach, so if we receive reports of unethical behavior by a particular buyer, we will promptly investigate these reports and will take appropriate actions on behalf of our sellers.

What are your technical arrangements (in non-technical language, please) to ensure reliability of service?Future growth?Additional services?

We are lucky to have programming and technical staff as an intimate part of the’s team. Our arrangement affords us long-term, readily available infrastructure and on-site technical expertise. Aside from regular online servers, we have dedicated back-up and stand-by servers for every function of the site. We have a dedicated internet connection with plans in affect to establish redundant access.

Our system architecture is easily extendable to accommodate additional features as they become available. For both hardware and software, we have chosen Enterprise Class scalable technology to assure smooth transition in growth.

Will you/do you have the capability of taking credit card info for orders? If so, what can you tell us about the safety procedures you have or will have in place to ensure the security of such info?

Yes, buyers will be able to safely leave their credit card information. We have taken several steps to ensure the safety of any financial information we accept. It will only be available to book sellers by logging onto our secure Order Processing area with their password. Our web site has a secure server layer (SSL), which encrypts financial information provided by buyers while it is in transit to us. For the limited time this information is hosted on our system, it will be further encrypted using public key infrastructure (PKI) technology. We use Verisign, a third-party company respected for its security, to process our online transactions. A more detailed account of our security is available at the “Security” area of our site.

Do you ever plan to process credit card orders through your database (rather than simply passing on the info to the lister) and, if so, will the lister or buyer bear the processing cost, and how long will it take to get payment to the lister?

Dealers will have a choice when they sign up. If someone does not have credit card facilities and wants us to process credit cards for them, we will do that. The dealer will pay the cost. We will not “make money” off this–it is purely a service for dealers. If dealers want to process everything on their own, they can certainly do that.

We also offer a third option that combines these 2 choices. This is a very important question that is difficult to answer in a few words; a more detailed description of our orders payment processing options can be found at:

Do you have any plans for programs associated with your database which would involve anything other than direct contact between seller and buyer?

No. For every sale, even if is processing payments, both buyers and sellers will get each others’ contact information. Buyers will know exactly who they are purchasing from and sellers will be able to establish contact with the buyer. The only exception is if a seller specifically instructs us that s/he does NOT want to have any contact with buyers. In those cases, we will become the point of contact for the buyer.

Do you have or do you plan to have an “all word search” capability?

Yes. We have that already. It’s one of the first things we put into our search engine.

What search capabilities does your database have now? What is planned for the future?

Aside from having all the usual things, we added several useful search features:

  1. Ex-library and/or book club editions will be easily excluded from search results by checking appropriate boxes.

  2. Any word can be excluded from search results by entering it into the specific “Word(s) to Exclude” field.

  3. Two types of searching are possible, based on logical relation of words within a particular field.While “AND” searching will produce results that have ALL of the words within a particular search field, “OR” search type will result is records that meet at least one of the search criterion (this one is particularly useful if exact spelling of the term is unknown, so multiple spelling variations can be entered in the same field).

You can read a detailed explanation of our search capabilities by going to: 

On what will you base your listing fees? What fees do you have now or plan to have?

Again we offer choices – either Flat Monthly Fee or a Percentage of Sale Fee. Sellers can choose the method that they think will be best for their business. These options are NOT permanent. At the end of every month, if sellers so desire, they will be able to switch from Percentage to Flat Rate. Switching from Flat Rate to Percentage option will be possible at 6 months intervals .

1. Those who select a monthly fee will pay:

Number of RecordsMonthly Fee / Month 1 – 1,000 records$15.00 / month 1,001 – 10,000 records$25.00 / month 10,001 – 25,000 records$35.00 / month 25,001 – 50,000 records$50.00 / month 50,001 – 100,000 records$75.00 / month For each additional 25,000 records, add $15.00 / month Those who pay for the full year in advance will get 12 months for the price of 10.

2. If sellers prefer Risk Free, No monthly fees, they have an option of paying 15% of each sale [which includes any credit card processing fees].

For more detailed description of our fees, please visit:

Do you plan to have or now have your database searched by Addall or Bookfinder or any other mega-search site?

Yes, as soon as we qualify we plan to participate with mega-search engines. It is a great way to bring buyers to the site.

How do you plan to advertise your database (both to draw listers and buyers)?

We are fully aware that regardless of how wonderful our site is, sellers will not stay if we do not generate sales. We have spent over a year putting together an aggressive marketing plan. We have a month-by-month progressive exposure planned for electronic, radio and print media. As an brief example, both sellers and buyers will be encouraged to visit through internet book discussion groups, book fairs, book selling periodicals, direct mail and personal contact. In addition, with a separate marketing campaign for, we expect to create some cross over book sales.

We also have several innovative marketing strategies planned for our first year. We expect that some of these will become annual campaigns and others should bring local benefits to our member dealers. It is difficult to talk about targeted marketing without giving away our plan, but we hope that this helps you to know that we have taken this very seriously.

It is important to mention that marketing is an important example where we benefit from having technical staff as our partners. A much larger portion of our budget will be devoted to promotion than would have otherwise been possible.

What background or experience do you or other people involved with your database have that relates to the online book or online book database business?

Ah, finally we get to brag about ourselves. We are fortunate to have a good mix of book and technical people interested in creating

Michael Tokman, president and CEO of the company, has owned and operated A-ha! Books in Ithaca, New York since 1991. Michael started A-ha! Books as a mail order business (using AB Bookman). Quickly outgrowing his living quarters, A-ha! Books evolved to a bricks and mortar shop and subsequently, in 1994, became a bricks, mortar and internet store, which it has been ever since.

Kate Lindemann, our marketing consultant, studied”diffusion of innovations” during the 1960’s and did consulting in that area for about 15 years. She has owned and operated Kate’s Books – an on-line book business – for 9 years.

Poney Carpenter is our Chief Technology Officer and lead developer. He has been a part of the computer industry, including developing of large-scale client-server systems for use in corporate environments, for over 20 years. Poney and his brother Kendall, our system, database, and network administrator, are the principal technical backbone of .Because of their know-how and experience, we have not had to hire outside programmers or technical staff. Our IT people are on site; they built the system and know it inside and out.

Camille Lee (AKA Web Guru) is a trained graphic artist and designer who specializes in web application interfaces. She is responsible for making us “Look Good”. As difficult a task as this may be, she has succeeded.

In addition we have a group of native multi-lingual specialists. Michael is fluent in Russian. Silvia González and Doris Perez are our persons for Spanish; Anat Nidar-Levi for French and Claudia Haferkamp for German.

Do you or are you planning to have professional management, bookseller management, or????

We have our management team in place and we do not intend to bring in any “professional managers”. Our management style is consultative where several heads are better than one. Over a dozen book sellers kindly offered suggestions and criticisms as we developed and we will always be grateful for more input. is and will be a site by book sellers for book sellers.

What markets (geographical and/or demographic) are you aiming at?

Our multi-lingual opening demonstrates our commitment to the global book market.

Then too, the very structure of the site targets specific groups of book buyers. Our search engine, that can exclude ex-library books and book club editions, will appeal to collectors and gift buyers. Our resource pages and newsletters will to appeal to”those who like to know and love to read”. Our exclusion functions in the search engine should be of particular use to academics, librarians and students. has been reviewed to be sure it is accessible for those with visual or motor impairments. You can navigate the site by keystroke or by mouse and we even offer a link to a free, downloadable talking browser. Most books sites are difficult to use if you have any special vision or motor needs. Creating a highly accessible site should appeal to another group of book lovers.

What services/features does your database have that you feel sets you apart and/or will ensure the success of your database?

We used the best that already exists in book buying/selling and added some additional services:

  1. Individualization. will fit different book selling business models.

  2. Global marketplace design. We offer multi-lingual buying and selling.

  3. Crossover sales from our companion site.

  4. Creating sales with concrete marketing plans.

  5. Free Added Value to attract repeat customers.

Please tell us anything you’d like about yourself or your database, and thank you for participating.

It is wonderful to have an opportunity to describe our site. I really thank IOBA for that. This series of database interviews is a real service to the book community and we appreciate that.

As for our site, we would like to encourage those reading this interview to go to and evaluate the site for themselves.




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