Abebooks Purchases BookFinder, Looks to the Future
Abebooks has purchased the venerable BookFinder search site.
By Michael Stillman
Abebooks announced this past month the purchase of book meta-search engine BookFinder.com. BookFinder searches the listings of dozens of online sites, including Abebooks and its numerous competitors, such Alibris, Biblio, Amazon, Half.com, and a couple of dozen smaller sites. All are treated equally. In operation since 1997 (antiquity for the internet), it is a very helpful and well-respected site among those with a need or passion for locating old books. Though small, with only two full-time employees, BookFinder brings a prestigious reputation beyond its size to new owner Abebooks.
BookFinder earns its living through commissions paid by the sites it searches when they deliver a buyer. It is reported to be a profitable site, but not of such wealth as to be able to fund major new projects. For BookFinder, access to Abebooks' greater resources makes perfect sense. Both sites require the capacity to do enormous searches through huge databases in split-second timing. Abebooks brings with it the financial ability to meet these needs as technology continues to develop at lightening speed in the years ahead. While no indications of price were released, the purchase undoubtedly made financial sense to BookFinder CEO/co-founder Anirvan Chatterjee too.
The logic for Abebooks is not quite so readily clear. It is a purchase that both makes eminent sense and is somewhat puzzling. The logic is that both sites' purpose is to help people locate old or rare books online. What is less obvious is how owning BookFinder helps Abe's current operations.
Abe's dealers were left scratching their heads as to what, if any, difference this would mean to them. How this might affect Abe's booksellers is not clear. In the release announcing the purchase, Abebooks' CEO Hannes Blum is quoted as saying, "Our goal is to help booklovers find and buy any book from any bookseller anywhere, so the acquisition of BookFinder.com makes perfect sense." That's one of those general statements that really doesn't tell us a lot. Certainly Abe's mission is to help buyers find books, but even more importantly, Abe's mission, like that of any other business, is to make a profit. Sending customers to Amazon or Alibris doesn't seem terribly consistent with this purpose, other than for the immediate commission earned on the sale.
We asked Abe's Public Relations manager Richard Davies how bringing BookFinder into the fold would help their sellers. He answered, "The online bookselling sector is extremely competitive and we are very aware we cannot afford to stand still. This deal makes Abebooks stronger within the bookselling community and ultimately it will make us better able to serve booksellers. BookFinder.com is profitable and has tremendous potential to be even more successful, plus both BookFinder.com and Abebooks are dedicated to supporting independent sellers, so the deal makes perfect sense to us." Abebooks evidently feels that the purchase makes them a stronger company, and a stronger Abebooks is better for its dealers, but it's still understandable if those dealers find the answer a bit vague.
Abebooks Purchases BookFinder, Looks to the Future
Of course Abe could stack BookFinder to favor their own site and their booksellers. When Amazon purchased Bibliofind, it simply converted it to a site which searched Amazon listings alone. Will this be the future for BookFinder? Abebooks responded with an emphatic "no." "The price comparison search engine will not be altered in any way to favor Abebooks. The integrity of BookFinder.com will remain intact," states Mr. Davies. "Integrity and trust are critical to BookFinder.com's success and we are not going to tamper with a winning formula."
In fact, Abebooks plans no changes at BookFinder. Explains Davies, "They will continue to operate as an independent business. Anirvan Chatterjee and Charlie Hsu will continue to run BookFinder.com as they always have and they will remain at their headquarters in California. The only difference is that now they have access to resources at Abebooks to help them be even more successful."
We asked whether BookFinder had experienced any problems with the other sites it searches, now that it is owned by a competitor in the listing business. Davies responded, "No sites searched by BookFinder.com have withdrawn from their search. Naturally, they asked questions about any changes to BookFinder.com and its search engine when contacted by Anirvan to explain about the acquisition. Like us, Anirvan has stressed no changes will take place, so it has been business as usual at BookFinder.com since the deal's announcement."
Finally, we asked whether Abebooks plans any more purchases in the future. Mr. Davies' response was that Abebooks would continue to look for logical opportunities in the future, though it does not appear that Abe is on some sort of buying spree. Mr. Davies explains, "The BookFinder.com acquisition was not a spur of the moment decision and it was carefully considered over a lengthy period of time. We are very excited about what BookFinder.com could be doing in three or five years because it offers so much potential. We are always thinking about what will be happening in the future because online bookselling changes so rapidly. Abebooks will be 10 years old next May and look at what's happened in those years to illustrate the pace of change in this industry.
"Abebooks grows in several ways - by winning more book-buying customers, by encouraging more booksellers to sell via our sites and also by acquiring companies with much to offer. In October 2004, we purchased Iberlibro.com, Spain's online marketplace for rare and used books, because the Spanish-speaking market offers so much potential for growth. We will continue to look for further acquisition opportunities while also growing organically."