In the beginning, there was AB Bookman’s Weekly. For years the bookselling and buying community awaited its weekly arrival and flipped through the pages of Books for Sale and Books Wanted advertisements and sent off quote cards and phoned or mailed in their orders. Many a bookseller’s eyesight was ruined by poring over the tiny print by the flickering candle light. And then Interloc came along and the world started to change.
Interloc was an automated tool for booksellers to match their wants against others’ listings. It worked through a dial-up connection, was relatively expensive and was clearly designed for professional booksellers rather than their customers. And then the Advanced Book Exchange and Bibliofind started up more or less simultaneously and the pace of change started to skyrocket and the world of antiquarian and used books changed forever. These services were designed to link the actual customers (the civilians, if you will) with the sellers, rather than the closed bookseller-to-bookseller model of Interloc – and they were web-based on the logarithmically growing Internet. Both services are still going strong – ABE is still owned by its original founders and is one of the leading high tech employers here in Victoria where this article is being written; Bibliofind was sold by its founder Michael Selzer to Exchange.com who shortly sold it in turn to Amazon.com, in whose hands it remains.
Interloc belatedly moved its operations to the World Wide Web as well but remained a distant third compared to the original two. Metasearch services like Bookfinder and Addall appeared on the scene. Other services like Bookavenue and Global Book Mart started operations. Interloc morphed into the controversial Alibris – a sort of combination on-line bookseller and listing service. Partnerships began to be the order of the day with arrangements between ABE, Alibris and the giant Barnes and Noble and others, more obscure. Amazon encouraged sellers to list their used books first on zshops and then Marketplace. All the while the Internet auction sites (we won’t even touch upon them in this article) were injecting their own notes of insanity into the increasingly complex world of online bookselling. Ebay developed a fixed-price site to complement its wildly successful auctions and called it Half.com.
Booksellers are attempting to take control of their destinies by starting organizations like the IOBA and starting their own owner-owned listing service Tomfolio. Is it complicated out there? You betcha. Are there some decisions to be made? Yup. What’s the independent bookseller to do? Hopefully the following information will help you to make your decision on how and where to sell your books.
The following chart provides a comparison between all of the major and most of the minor listing services. One of the joys of Internet Publishing is that you can keep your information current and can fix your mistakes so if you see anything factually wrong in this table please let us know. We will try to keep it updated as services change and evolve.
Just as we were going to press Amazon announced that Bibliofind was being merged (read terminated!) with zshops and Marketplace and that Bibliofind subscribers were eligible for 6 months free listings on the Amazon services. So long Bibliofind and thanks – you were an important part of the Internet revolution in on-line bookselling and you will be missed. We have printed the survey information as is since it hopefully will provide a resource for the many Bibliofind sellers who now must find a new home. As for Amazon’s actions, perhaps the less said, the better!
The number of services used ranged from one to eight with 19 using just one service (13 ABE, 1 Alibris, 5 Bibliofind) and just one respondent using 8.
We also asked respondents to rank the services in terms of ease of use, support and dollar value of sales.
Ease of Use
When we looked at people’s second choices Bibliofind was first with 37% of the respondents and ABE was second at 27%.
Looking at second choices, Bibliofind, interestingly enough was second at 28% and ABE pulled in at 13%. Several people said that they rated Bibliofind high here because they never needed support. A number of the smaller services showed well here considering the number of respondents that used them – Antiqbook book was at 4% on both first and second choice; Justbooks gained 1% as a first choice but was at 5% as a second choice and Bookavenue was at 3% for both first and second choices. A number of people specifically commented on the good support they received from Antiqbooks and Bookavenue.
The second choice follows the pattern with Bibliofind at 31%, ABE at 26%, Alibris at 12, zshops 7, Tomfolio at 2 and the rest at 1%.
We asked respondents to choose which service they would list with if they could list with only one and once again the results were quite clear. Many of the respondents who chose zshops said that they would have preferred to choose one of the other services but the zshops sales were simply too important to them.
In summary, it is clear that most booksellers use multiple services and will continue to do so. ABE has the greatest market penetration at this point and a high level of customer satisfaction. The situation is fluid with respect to Bibliofind and it is possible their share may have increased substantially in the brief period since the survey started.
Bibliofind’s future is shadowy at this point. More services, some quite specialized or with restricted memberships such as the ILAB and Bibliopoly are appearing all the time and they will be an alternative site for many sellers. We booksellers like to hedge our bets and in this market that looks like a very sensible precaution. Luckily there are enough alternatives that we will continue to be able to do so.