Comparing The Book Finding Sites
BookFinder lists editions, with individual copies seen by clicking the link.
By Michael Stillman
And you thought there was a proliferation of bookselling websites! There is certainly no shortage of places where a bookseller can go to sell his wares online. It is extensive, perhaps excessive. There are the big name sites, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, eBay and Half.com. There are the big names in pre-owned books (a term borrowed from used car dealers), Abebooks, Alibris, Biblio and Choosebooks/ZVAB. There are European and English sites, such as Antiqbook and Antikbuch24, Bibliophile.net, ibooknet, Livre-rare-book, and Maremagnum. There is the Australian Books and Collectibles, and the Canadian Chapters Indigo. There are the not-as-well-known sites such as Elephant Books, Abooksearch, and A1. Then you have the member sites, such as ILAB, ABAA, IOBA, and Tom Folio. Froogle belongs somewhere in here, though I'm not sure how to classify it. Of course there is even AE's own Books For Sale. There are lots of choices, though sometimes too many choices can lead to confusion.
You might think the solution to the complexity is to have a search engine that searches listings from all of these different sites. There is such a site. In fact, there are way too many of these sites. And while none searches all of the listing sites, there are some that search a great many. The multi-site search engine is a preferred method of search today for many book buyers. However, just when it looked like this might be a less confusing way to find books, we now see a proliferation of these multi-site search engines. You almost need another place to search all of them. Do we really need so many?
We went out and did some search engine searching. Here are some of the mega-search book-finding sites we found. It is in no way guaranteed to be complete. There are undoubtedly more. However, only a few are really useful to the book collector. The majority seem to find new and recent used books, but rarely find the antiquarian or rare books collectors seek. We found only five that are useful for the rare book collector. Many others are fine for those who want books to read.
There appears to be a big three in the listing site search engines, BookFinder, AddAll and FetchBook. It is hard to know for certain how much traffic each site has, but the common wisdom that these are the largest is backed by Alexa's useful though imperfect traffic numbers.
BookFinder is likely the most used of the meta searchers, searching 64 sites, including all of the majors - four versions of Abebooks, five of Amazon, Alibris, Barnes and Noble, Half, Biblio, Choosebooks, plus many smaller sites, non-U.S. sites, the member sites ILAB, IOBA and Tom Folio, and some individual stores. They offer an advanced search with most fields except date. They show estimated shipping costs. Searches are not always speedy, but are thorough. Unlike most sites, they find the older and rare material. BookFinder was recently purchased by Abebooks, but is independently run and scrupulously holds to its objectivity. They show titles of different editions of a book after a search, which are then clicked for individual listings. In other words, listings are shown in a manner reminiscent of Alibris rather than Abe. Link: www.bookfinder.com
Comparing The Book Finding Sites
AddAll displays all copies, regardless of edition, together, sortable in many ways.
AddAll is also quite popular. Says "40+" booksellers, though only 22 are listed for used books. They also search four versions of Abe and five of Amazon, along with other major names like Alibris, Choosebooks, Half and some of the smaller sites and larger individual booksellers (Powells, Strand). An advanced-type search without dates is offered. Searches are faster but not always as thorough. They also find old and rare books. Presents all listings together, the way Abe displays results. Link: www.addall.com
Fetchbook is ranked third by Alexa. It searches 126 sites. You would think everything would be covered here, and the list is certainly extensive, including the important but sometimes overlooked site eBay. Still, ILAB and the French Livres-rare-book, searched by the previous sites, are missed by FetchBook. No one gets them all. Only allows one field at a time to be searched, not very convenient for pinpointing titles. Appears to miss pre-ISBN editions. Link: www.fetchbook.info
BookFinder4U is one of two sites that appear to be on the next rung in terms of traffic. Newer to the web than the more established competitors, they promote aggressively and have lined up 128 sites to search, two more than Fetchbook. They hit just about all of the sites, though no one is perfect (Livre-rare-book is missing). They offer an advanced search that doesn't have dates, but is one of the few that includes publisher. They post estimated shipping costs. Has a separate search specifically for rare books. Link: www.bookfinder4u.com
All Bookstores is the other service on the next tier. They search 31 sites, including the big names, Amazon, Abe, Alibris, Barnes and Noble, Biblio, Half, eBay, some smaller ones like ElephantBooks, and some sites with just newer books, such as Overstock and Wal Mart. Searches only one field at a time. They include shipping details such as cost, estimated time, shipping methods, etc. Seemed to miss a lot of material on the sites they search, at least when we tried it. Link: www.allbookstores.com
UsedBookSearch was once among the leaders, but seems to have faded. They search just 11 sites, but since the majors are here, it probably still finds most books. Offers a three-field search. UsedBookSearch displays results in an unusual way. It shows the number of matches for each website. Clicking on the number takes you directly to the results displayed on that site. The disadvantage is that this makes it hard to compare copies and prices from one site to the next. However, they do find all types of books, including rare and antiquarian. Link: usedbooksearch.com.uk
Bibliofind was probably once the largest. It was purchased a few years back by Amazon and now it only searches Amazon's site. In other words, it is pointless. You can just as well go to Amazon. Link: www.bibliofind.com
Comparing The Book Finding Sites
Used Book Search shows results by site, with a link to details on the site.
Best Book Deal says it searches 100 sites, though it doesn't list them. Clearly it searches a lot, including the major names, though a lot are new book sites. Searches only one field at a time. Results show shipping costs and, unusually, condition. Seemed to miss a lot, particularly older material. Link: www.bestbookdeal.com
AAABookSearch says it searches over 50 sites, but only lists the largest, such as Amazon, Abe, Alibris, Half, B&N, and "more." Much of what shows up is new. Only searches one field at a time. Displays shipping costs and condition. Missed a lot of listings. Link: www/aaabooksearch.com
BookButler is a German and newer search site that looks a bit more original than most. It searches 101 sites, with a greater focus on European sites than most, while still hitting the American majors. Advanced search allows you to specify dates and publishers. You also pick by country and choose your currency. Includes shipping and condition in results. A nice step up over most lower tier sites, but sadly only found more recent material. Link: us.bookbutler.com
Isbn.nu searches 14 mostly major sites, including eBay, for both used and new books. It apparently generates more traffic than most of the lower tier sites, although I found it somewhat confusing. Searches up to three fields at once. Displays shipping time but not cost. Did not list older books, but did provide link to Abe for possible matches it did not list, which included antiquarian material. Link: www.isbn.nu
Booksprice does not say what sites it searches, but a test run indicates it hits most majors and plenty of others as well. It offers an advanced search including publisher but not date. Results include shipping and review ratings for the sellers (they like Half but don't much care for A1). Missed many listings. Link: www.booksprice.com
Compricer is a Swedish site that doesn't say who it searches, but most results come from Abe, Amazon, Alibris and England's Blackwell's, with a few others thrown in. Searches only one field at a time. Displays shipping cost. Missed the older material. Suggested trying Abe but did not do the search as did Isbn.nu. Link: books.comprice.com
BookHQ states it searches 24 sites without listing them. Amazon, Alibris, Abe, Half, B&N, Chapters and Blackwell's are among them. Searches one field at a time. Displays only seller and price. Misses a whole lot. A notice says the site is for sale in case you would like to join the crowds in this business. They are looking for high six figures. I wish them luck. Link: www.bookhq.com
Comparing The Book Finding Sites
Vialibri allows you to see the prices of a seller's copy on different sites.
Bookcost does not state who or how many sites it searches, but appears to hit most of the majors and several others, perhaps more tilted toward new books. Single field search. Displays shipping costs. Not good for rare books. Link: www.bookcost.com
FindBookPrices is relatively new. Does not list where it searches. Appears tilted toward new books, but does search Alibris and Abe. Single field search. Displays shipping cost. Did not find very much. Link: findbookprices.com
BestBookBuys (BestWebBuys) searches 25 sites, including Abe, Alibris and other majors with a tilt toward newer books. Searches just one field at a time. Displays shipping cost and time, and unusually, for which states each site collects sales tax. Another one that misses the older books. Link: www.bestwebbuys.com
Any Book International searches 10 sites, with just three listed for old books – Alibris, ElephantBooks, and Half. However, they seem to show only dedicated search boxes for Alibris and Amazon. Not sure what is going on here. Link: www.anybook.com
AnyBook4Less searches 25 sites, including Amazon, Abe, B&N, Half, Wal Mart, Overstock and Chapters. One field search. A search first takes you to a page with details about the edition and customer reviews. A second click brings you to copies offered, including shipping costs and timing. Seems to find mostly new books. Missed a lot. Link: www.anybok4less.com
AKA Book is a relatively recent site searching 42 listings sites, including Abe, Alibris, Choose, B&N, Amazon, Half, eBay and lots of new and textbook sites. Can search either by keywords or author and title. Includes shipping costs. Separates new books from used. Did not find anything old. Link: www.akabook.com
All Discount Books claims 110 sites, but does not specify them. Appears to hit most major sites. One field at a time search. Shows shipping costs and times. Another one not targeted to the antiquarian. Was painfully slow at the time we tried it. Link: www.alldiscountbooks.net
The Cheapest Book claims 40 unstated stores. Amazon, Alibris, Overstock, Powell's and Blackwells are among them. Two search fields. Search first goes to a descriptive page, second click to see matches. Shows shipping. Finds mostly new books. Fast, but said some books were "only available at Amazon" that we knew were available elsewhere. Link: thecheapestbook.com
Get Cheap Books does not say how many sites, but reaches the usual subjects. One search field. First goes to page of data and Amazon reviews, second click to listings. Shows shipping. Not much old material. Link: www.getcheapbooks.com
Comparing The Book Finding Sites
Power Book Search accesses 60 sites, about all of the majors and lots of others. Searches only title and keywords together. Shows shipping costs and time. Another site which misses the old books. Link: www.powerbooksearch.com
Vialibri is a new meta-searcher reaching 11 sites, mainly those for old books, including Abe, Alibris, Biblio, Antiqbook, Choosebooks, Maremagnum and even ILAB. Offers an advanced type search. Allows search for just rare books, and finds lots of antiquarian titles most other sites miss. Results include complete descriptions. Where a seller posts the same copy on multiple sites, it shows you the price listed on each, which often differs. You can select the cheapest. Much more suitable for the serious collector than the vast majority of other sites. A major step up. Link: www.vialibri.net
Bookfinder.us is hard to feel good about. They have taken the venerable BookFinder's name and just placed it on the ".us" extension instead of ".com." They search 60 sites including those you would expect. They display shipping and tax. No place to find antiquarian books. Link: www.bookfinder.us
As we noted at the beginning of this article, there are undoubtedly more, but this should be enough to get you started. Except where noted, most do not add anything special to the top rated sites. Most sites seem focused on new and recent used books, and do not find the older pre-isbn material, so they do not offer much to the serious collector. An indication of this is that for all of the sites searched, only a few meta-searchers reach the bookseller cooperatives, Tom Folio, ILAB and IOBA, that tend to offer antiquarian and rare books. For the collector of rare and antiquarian books, the recommended sites are BookFinder, AddAll, BookFinder4U, UsedBookSearch, and Vialibri. You can pick which of these you like best. For new and used books, we have a preference for those search engines that have an advanced search, something that lets you specify more than author, title, or perhaps keywords. However, in fairness to those that do not, many of the sites they search do not provide this data in separate fields, so such attempts will in many cases be futile.
So why do we have all of these meta-search sites? Blame Amazon. They started the idea of paying commissions to other sites who brought them customers. These sites are able to earn commissions when someone clicks through to a selling site and purchases a book. Ideally, once set up, they just do their thing and the owner sits back and collects commissions, although anyone with a website can tell you it rarely runs that smoothly. Still, the struggling bookseller can be pleased to know that someone has figured a way to make money in this business.