Abe's Top 10: What Does It Tell Us About Abe?
Abe's most popular book lists.
By Michael Stillman
Abebooks has issued its top 10 lists of books sold and searched for in 2006, and the results are fascinating. What makes them so interesting is not just what they say about buyers, but what they say about Abe. These lists can provide booksellers with insights as to what type of material sells, and does not sell, well on Abe, and most likely, the other mass listing sites. Let's take a look.
The top 10 most expensive books is very telling about the type of sales made on the internet. Number 1 is Institutiones Geometricae by Albrecht Durer, sold for $25,000. Runners up are a work by Helen Frankenthaler at $20,000, The Book of Antelopes by Philip Sclater at $17,500, Les Horribles by Andre Derain at $17,000, a Dante collection at $14,347, and an 1815 "second edition" of Lewis and Clark's Travels to the Source of The Missouri River for $12,500. Number 10 on the list sold for $9,000. These are some nice prices, but clearly Abe is not where the substantial rare and antiquarian material is changing hands.
We compared these results to our own list of the top 500 sales at auction last year (see: AE top 500 ). At the top of that list was a Shakespeare first folio at over $5.1 million. Number 500 went for over $60,000, almost two and one-half times Abe's number 1. We don't know what were the top sales by dealers outside of the internet, but 1814 first editions of the aforementioned Lewis and Clark are not that rare, now bringing in something in the area of $125,000 in very good condition. First London editions from 1814 (that's the true second edition) now go for perhaps a bit north of $30,000. Booksellers regularly sell many items on this level every year. Obviously, they are not concluding these sales on sites such as Abe.
Nevertheless, sales volume is enormous at Abe and other mass sites including Alibris, Amazon and Biblio. We are not sure how many volumes Abe sells, but from what we have read, believe it to be in the area of 20,000 per day. If so, book sales at all substantial auctions combined are maybe 2% or 3% of what they are on Abe alone. Obviously sales of lower and medium priced books have migrated to the ‘net at an enormous rate over the past few years. However, at the high end, the most collectible of rare and antiquarian books, sales are still being made in the traditional way. It would appear that those who sell primarily to the wealthiest collectors and institutions have been the least affected by the changes brought on by the internet.
Abe's top 10 overall bestsellers are clearly books for reading, not collecting. Number 1 is no surprise, The Da Vinci Code. After Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, come three pop culture classics, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The Purpose-Driven Life, and still hanging around, Tuesday's with Morrie. Six of the top 10 were first published in the 21st century, with the oldest being Truman Capote's 1965 classic, In Cold Blood.
Abe's Top 10: What Does It Tell Us About Abe?
The bestselling used book list is very similar. The Da Vinci Code is number 1 here too, followed by In Cold Blood, Tuesdays with Morrie, The South Beach Diet, and Freakonomics. Surprisingly, there's only one Harry Potter in the top 50, and that's at 17, and no Tolkien. What is popular must be changing. No Shakespeare here either.
The most searched for books was an interesting list, since Abe's relative, BookFinder, also put out such a list (see January's issue in the AE Monthly archives). BookFinder searches multiple listing sites, while Abe, naturally, searches just its own. Those who went to BookFinder were searching for some quite obscure and very hard to find old books which, for whatever reason, have seen a resurgence in interest. Most did not have a single copy available on Abe at the moment. The Abe group consisted of much better known titles, including a few literary notables. Number 1, Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown, not only does have a copy available on Abe, it has 1,174 copies available. You can pay anything from $1 to $3,550. Next comes the omnipresent Da Vince Code (2,373 copies available), followed by To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Harry Potter and the Something-or-other, and Catcher in the Rye. The only title common to Abe and BookFinder's top 10 was Madonna's never-reprinted 1992 Sex, perennially number 1 on BookFinder, number 7 on Abe.
Finally, there is a top 10 authors list, and this is certainly a mixed bag. The top spots go to Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Terhune (of dog books fame), Charles Dickens, and Dan Brown. Also in the top ten is the prolific Nora Roberts, with over 40,000 books currently offered on Abe. How often does she show up on the same list as Dickens? Not too often, I hope.
You may view all of Abebooks' top ten lists at the following link: Abebooks' top 10.
Editor's Note: Richard Davies, Abebooks Public Relations and Publicity Manager, comments on this article in the Letters to the Editor. His letter, dated Feb. 1, 2007, may be found at the following link - Click here for Letter.