When A. R. (Randy) Backer and James Bryant (Backer-Bryant Academic Library Services) approached web developer, Patty Johnson, about their idea for a new web site in early 2002, they knew they had a new concept for online book databases. They imagined a site where book buyers could post their wanted books “out loud,” for the world to fill. They felt buyers would come to a site where they could advertise for the books they wanted and, while there, would search the books offered. The only thing missing, Backer and Bryant thought, was a database of books for sale to complement their want system. Soon after, they entered into partnership with Johnson, merging 1.5 Million book listings from over 150 booksellers (from the previous bookquarters.com) and wantedbooks.com was born.
A. R. (Randy) Backer owns and operates a bricks and mortar bookshop at 7 West Street, Warwick, New York. He has also been selling books online for the past seven years and, during that time, partnered with Bryant to form Backer-Bryant Academic Library Services, purchasing out-of-print books and providing other services for university and college libraries.
James Bryant is proprietor of Carpe Diem Fine Books, Monterey, California. Bryant, a member of the Anitiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), has been an online bookseller since 1995 and partner in Backer-Bryant Academic Library Services since 1999.
Patty Johnson is the operations manager, web-developer and database programmer for wantedbooks.com. In business with her husband, Walter (http://www.dreedle.com), she has extensive experience in database management and development as well as website development for online bookselling.
On wantedbooks.com, book buyers are able to search the inventories of hundreds of dealers and can publicly post the titles they seek. Anyone – anywhere – may send a quote to fill the need. Buyers and sellers include individuals, collectors, libraries, and dealers. Sellers are starting to fill the wants that are posted and this provides a positive experience for the buyers. Since launching the new wantedbooks.com in early September, 2002, the site has experienced a significant increase in activity; web sessions are up over 20%.
In addition to the want system, the site is working on adding features and functionality. “The single most exciting feature I’m working on,” Patty says, “is category browsing. I feel it’s important to offer buyers a selection of titles, rather than forcing them to search for titles by author and subject only. I’m also developing an advanced search function to improve the searchability of the site.”
For example, the new category browsing system, now under development, provides browseable subcategories. wantedbooks.com recently ran targeted email and advertising campaigns for the American West and Genealogy subcategories. Each campaign resulted in sales. Having said that, however, sales are not yet where they sustain all of the sellers’ monthly fees; some sellers do better than others. Patty, Randy, and James believe that through the combined effects of promoting the want system and targeted advertising, sales will continue to grow. To reinforce this belief, they state that all revenues in excess of operational expenses will go towards advertising and promotion. They will take no salaries or draws for the foreseeable future.
wantedbooks.com sellers are getting involved as well. Sellers contribute content such as a “Mysteries & More” section that contains book reviews, author information, and collecting tips. This section of the site is edited by Ken Fermoyle, writer, editor, journalist and bookseller. It includes Ken’s feature on Tony Hillerman, along with a review of Hillerman’s latest work. Also included are Chris Adam Smith’s interviews with authors Zoe Sharp and Simon Scarrow. Chris Adam Smith is a British book collector, bookseller and author. All sellers on the site are welcome to contribute. On internal seller pages, the site provides content such as Carlos Martinez’s insightful article on some of the issues affecting booksellers today. Carlos is a writer and bookseller, and a member of the Midwest Bookhunters.
Regarding the backbone of the site, Patty says: “We chose to outsource our web hosting requirements to MaximumASP.com. They have wonderful technical support. The site reliably operates with 99.9% uptime. No other hosting company offers the same level of reliability and technical expertise.” The site operates on a Windows 2000 server, utilizing Microsoft SQL Server for its database and Active Server Pages technology. Hardware consists of Dual-processor 1.26GHz Dell 1650, 2GB RAM, (3) 73GB 10K SCSI drives, Hardware RAID 5 drive array, Dual load-balanced gigabit NICs, Dual redundant power supplies, Windows 2000 Server SP2. Depending on network traffic and nationwide bottleneck status, their web server traffic is routed down one or more of four DS3 circuits – capable of up to 180Mbps total throughput. These circuits are provided by MCI/UUnet, Sprint, and AT&T. Their data center uses only Cisco routing and switching equipment. Every server is fed into dual Catalyst 2900 high speed switches that channel all server traffic into two Cisco 12000 series routers, using BGP4 routing protocol for complete redundancy. If one router should have an equipment failure, the other one picks up the traffic. This lowers the possibility of network downtime due to an equipment failure.
“The last few years have been a tumultuous time for the on-line book world,” according to Bryant. “We’ve seen many sites come and go. Will wantedbooks.com still be here in five years? I can’t answer that question. But, we are committed to making a full effort to make it happen. Obviously, the economics have to make sense for any business to continue. But we are seeing signs of growth, and are basing our business model on building on that growth. Of course, we need booksellers to list with us to make it happen. While we are currently a flat-fee site, if the market dictates, we would go to a commission based model, or make any other changes that make good business sense for us and our sellers.”
Randy looks at it a bit differently. “I want to be Excellence First, Success Second driven–not primarily bottom line oriented. Our primary business priorities are Service, Service and Service.
We are aiming at anyone who enjoys the world of books (buyers, sellers, collectors, readers)…. wantedbooks.com, is for people who care about books.