Searching for Out-of-Prints from the Buyer's and Seller's Perspectives
By Carl Burnham
As booksellers, we are always on the lookout for new markets to gain access to new buyers of our rare and new books and ephemera. In the online world, the old adage is doubly true that "You shouldn't keep all your eggs in one basket." This phrase is said to have possibly originated from an English translation of Don Quixote. In any case, a bookseller has to be diversified in where his books are displayed to the online world and give full descriptions of their offerings. The lion's share of books sold online is through Amazon.com. By roughly estimating from online sales figures, the top five U.S. sites where customers go to buy books online are: Amazon, Barnesandnoble, Ebay (including Half), Abebooks, and Alibris.
During the Christmas season of 2003, it was reported by Worldwide Holiday Facts that over a million items were purchased during a one day period through all of Amazon's online properties (amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.co.uk, amazon.co.jp, amazon.de, or amazon.fr). I have read from unofficial online postings that it sells an average of over 315,000 books per day. If that is true, that equates to over 218 books on average sold per minute just on Amazon.com. So by the time you read this article, almost 1,100 books will have been sold on Amazon.
For rare and out-of-print books, how easily are buyers able to find the books they are searching for while at these top five book sites? To find out, I did a search on each site of the #1 out-of-print book for 2004 (as reported by Bookfinder) which was "The New Soldier", a 1971 book written by John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The book is still a hot commodity and was especially during the heated 2004 Presidential campaign, to the chagrin of Senator John Kerry. For each search, I typed in "The New Soldier", and searched only the U.S. and not the international sites. Some of the search results were a little surprising.