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Monday, October 31, 2005

Meeting with Abebooks

Last week, the blog was approached by Abebooks' online marketing team about adding Abe to our blog affiliates. At first, I was slightly put off by the request, as Abe has been one of the least cooperative sites when it comes to helping us put together articles. Nevertheless, I warmed to the idea (and the site) as our communication improved. At CIROBE, two members of the accounts management team from Abebooks stopped by our booth for a visit. Each person was extremely helpful and understanding when it came to my concerns regarding the blog. In addition, each seemed keenly aware of concerns booksellers may have regarding the current flux in the market. I am not sure we will add another affiliate to the blog, but I can confirm that we will be opening new lines of communication with the site and hope to make this transition period a little smoother for Abe sellers.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chicago Online Bookseller?

This weekend we will be attending the CIROBE trade show. If anyone from the Chicagoland region is attending and is interested in purchasing our booth (all of the sample books we bring) please contact us. We usually ask around 50 cents per book or $50 (whichever is less), there is around 100-125 books. If you are attending, but not from Chicago, you're more than welcome to purchase as well, but would be responsible for both removing the books from the show and getting them shipped to your store.
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Shipping Books

My wholesale site, LRABooks, has recently experimented with shipping cartons of books using DHL. We started this a little over a month ago, just before the current marketing campaign "Customer Service is Back in Shipping." I can honestly say that I have never been happier with our shipping. Today, for example, we had two pick-ups. Twenty-seven cartons for DHL and 13 for UPS (a customer requested 100-weight service). As I waited for the UPS pick-up at 1:30 (they were due from 8AM-noon), the DHL courier stopped by three hours early just because "he was in the area." He also said he would return again from 4-6PM (our usual daily pick-up time) to see if I had anything else. In some cases, DHL costs less than USPS Media Mail (regional shipping), a little more, or quite a bit more (around 20% or so) for coast-to-coast. At the moment we are absorbing these costs, as we ship DHL at the old Media Mail rates. It has been worth every penny.

Previously, I had most of our books shipped via Media Mail, because of price. The problem was that we faced increasingly poor standards in terms of care and customer service. Most online booksellers look at me funny when I say how disappointing Media Mail has been for the wholesale site. After all, it seems to work quite well for your average online bookseller. Soon I realized why: online booksellers generally send one to two books per package, our wholesale store was sending 40lb cartons. In most cases Media Mail "inspectors" let the small items (bubble mailers) fly through and "inspect" the larger packages. What I came to find (out of shear coincidence as I was doing purchasing on the road and sending boxes back to myself) was that an "inspection" often meant the boxes came back with less tape (sometimes half open boxes) and less padding (missing bubble wrap and/or significantly less peanuts. I did some calculating and it seemed Media Mail was costing us way more than it was saving.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Guide to Listings Services

The Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA) has a great article posted that reviews all of the listings services in detail. The best part of this article are the tables which are immensely helpful, especially in comparing the sites. This is a great resource for anyone starting to sell books online or looking to expand/constrict those sites where he or she lists books.
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Monday, October 24, 2005

FEOC: Pricing- Bookfinder Report

Books: Top 3 from each category in BookFinder's annual report, 30 books
Date analyzed: 24 October 2005
Site used: http://used.addall.com
Other: Purpose of the test is only to gather where one could find the lowest price for each book in Good or better condition. Further condition characteristics, reliability, etc are not taken into consideration.


Percentage of queries that returned the cheapest book at:
Abebooks: 33%
Biblio: 27%
Alibris: 23%
ILAB: 10%
Powell's: 7%
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Biblio and Addall Searches

I love Biblio. I think it is a great listings service that provides the best all-around services, flexibility, and support in the industry. However, it seems sales are lagging way behind the growth in listings on the site. One thing that I have always wondered about is, why not add Biblio results to the main Addall new book metasearch? Of course, Biblio is primarily a resource for used and out-of-print titles, but I did some research and was surprised to see a large amount of New/Like new books listed. Why not arrange to have the listings adding like Alibris/Abebooks that show up on the main Addall search as New/Used? I'd love to see it.
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Friday, October 21, 2005

Publishers Expand Retail Online Sales

In an attempt to take advantage of the online market, publisher's are beginning to increase retail sales efforts on their own websites. (Link)
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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Need to look-up books at sales?

Every bookseller has, at some point or another, said to him or herself, "Man I wish I could look that up." Third party services and technology have made doing so much easier, but what about the non-technie or when your battery isn't cooperating? In these cases I suggest you find the MBS Wholesale Textbook Buying Guide. These guides are sent to MBS stores (university bookstores) at the end of each semester and serve as a guide to book buyback (that is to say, it really only works for academic books). It does give you a great idea as to which books are likely to be used next semester and which books are dogs. I find it most useful for actual textbook buying (not books used as college texts, but those pesky 9th edition $100 books). The wholesale guide will tell you which edition is the latest, allowing you to cash-in with huge margins in an otherwise difficult niche. The hard part is finding a copy of the guide. Most college bookstores will have a copy and after book buyback probably let you have it.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

FEOC: Pricing- Harvard University Press

Books: Harvard University Press, 50 books, half front list, half back list, chosen at random
Data Analyzed: 18 October 2005
Site used: Addall.com
Other: Cheapest book = lowest price after shipping. Purpose of the test is not to evaluate customer service, quality, or reliability - SIMPLY PRICE!


Percentage of queries that returned the cheapest book at
Amazon marketplace: 24%
Half.com: 14%
Abebooks: 12%
Buy.com: 12%
Barnes and Noble*: 10%
Alibris: 8%
Overstock: 6%
Ecampus: 4%
Textbookx: 4%
Amazon
: 2%
BAMM: 2%
Classbook: 2%

*- B&N price is the standard site price, not the price for club members.
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Improvements at Alibris

This week Alibris will launch significant improvements to its seller services. One of my favorites is the addition of a seller's store page with a direct URL. I've posted here before regarding the importance and benefit of return customers and referrals, and now this will come much easier for Alibris sellers. In addition, the company has announced that after selecting a book from one store, it will be offered the opportunity to review more books by that seller. Given these changes, Alibris will now offer consolidated shipping for multiple books from one seller going to one customer. A lot of the nuts and bolts can be reviewed on the consolidated shipping FAQ.

These improvements, while laudable, were nothing short of necessary. On one hand, Alibris may be looking to deal another blow to Abe by taking away one if its competitive advantages. On the other, Alibris is looking to protect itself from a seller exodus to Amazon beginning November/December. Further elements are necessary for the company to improve upon its strong August-September. As a seller, I would like to see Half.com added as soon as possible. A combination of Half.com and Barnes and Noble may make-up for the loss of Amazon. The other option would be for Barnes and Noble to improve the visibility of its used books a la Amazon. This is something on which I have already posted.

In any event, I have to commend Alibris for making strides in the right direction. It is more than we can say for Abebooks. At this point, I would love to see Alibris rally some of its Silicon Valley investors to try and make an attempt at purchasing Abe.
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Monday, October 17, 2005

Finally, the article we've been looking for

Few of the myriad used book industry articles published after the BISG's report on the sector satisfied this blogger or any other online bookseller. Nevertheless, some time later the Union-Tribune of San Diego offered a wonderful piece which gives all sides of the issue, and actually romanticizes the used book trade. It is a refreshing change from previous stories, so I just had to post it.
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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Affiliate Love-in

This month we have few new affiliates supporting the blog. I wanted to make special mention of the American Express link on the right hand side-bar. For any business, including small to large online booksellers, having a solid business credit card is essential. It is a great way to manage expenses and earn rewards for your business, yourself, or your employees. Take charge of your business finances: apply now for the American Express(R) Business Gold Card from OPEN the small business team.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

FEOC: Pricing- WSJ Bestsellers

Books: Wall Street Journal top 15 bestsellers in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Business
Date analyzed: 12 October 2005
Site used: Addall.com
Other: Cheapest book = lowest price after shipping. Books on multiple charts were only counted once. Remember the sole purpose of these tests is to find where the consumer can find each book in the given set the cheapest.


Percentage of queries that returned the cheapest book at
Half...24%
Overstock*...21%
Abebooks...17%
Amazon marketplace...17%
Buy.com*...12%
Alibris...7%
Textbookx...2%
Amazon*...0%

* new books only

Next selection: Harvard University Press titles

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From the Eyes of the Consumer Series: Prices

I am beginning a new series entitled: From the Eyes of the Consumer. The first batch of postings will be regarding pricing. Each test will run Addall.com searches on a list of similarly categorized books. For example, the first post will be an analysis of the prices for each of the 45 books listed in the Wall Street Journal's bestseller lists. I plan running this series for as long as it is successful, so enjoy!
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Listings Services: Add the Tools Seller's REALLY want

AN OPEN RECOMMENDATION TO ALL LISTINGS SERVICES
Re: Tools/Services Sellers Would Actually Care About

Looking for an edge? Want to keep sellers from bolting? Here's five services most sellers would absolutely love to see.

1.) Batch ISBN look-up.
Many sellers need a way to review dozens, sometimes hundreds of ISBNs at a time. Why not add a service that allows your sellers to paste 50 ISBNs into a search query in order to get pricing information. Make the service PDA friendly, perhaps using XML technology.
2.) Half.com-esqe repricer. Make repricing easier for sellers. Half.com has a great repricer that lists your price next to a price range of all listings within your book's condition (Like New: $9.00-$29.95).
3.) Overweight Shipping. If your going to fix our shipping reimbursements, allow us to check "overweight" for those items that are. Even better, use easily available publisher data to automatically recognize when an ISBN is associated with a set of books that weighs 10 pounds and adjust the consumer's fee accordingly.
4.) Offer THE CHEAPEST bubble mailers out there. Encourage the safe shipping of your sellers' books by offering bubble mailers to your sellers at the lowest rate on the net. You already have a large customer base demanding the product, use this to secure quantity discounts. Keep your sellers and your customers happy!
5.) Negotiate contracts with Endicia/Pittney Bowes. Work to earn seller's a discount with a USPS e-postage service. Even better, incorporate e-postage directly into your site- one click postage. Let us print packing lists and postage at the same time.
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Ebay ProStores Upgrade

The evolution of Ebay beyond the traditional auction listing service has been essential to its precipitous growth. One of the main features of this evolution is the site's ProStores feature. This software basically allows the eBay-user to create his or her own storefront with relative ease. Recently, ProStores users received news of an update to the stand-alone software. The new release "includes enhanced, optional integration with eBay, search engine optimization tools, improved inventory management capabilities and expanded shopping cart options." As is noted by an article from InternetRetailer.com, these improvements constitute an implicit recognition of the weight given to an ever growing segment of small business entrepreneurs in the internet age. The biggest benefit of eBay stores as opposed to your own website is the massive amount of traffic generated by the site. Sometimes it is hard to wrap your head around the fees eBay takes, but if you consider them part of your marketing budget (which is what you're really paying for) it begins to make it seem more feasible.
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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Alibris' Amazon program to end in November

In an email sent to sellers this morning, Alibris confirmed the rumored date of November 18 as the termination of its original Amazon partnership. In an effort to keep those sellers moving to Amazon, Alibris officially announced the creation of new seller tools "that will simplify inventory and order management of individual seller accounts on Amazon marketplace." I am unsure whether or not this band-aid will keep some sellers from bolting entirely off of Alibris for Amazon. Basically, staying on both Alibris and Amazon (for those who do not already do both), is adding an additional $15-$40 in sellers' fees. That will be a big jump for many sellers, and begs the question: which site provides more value dollar-for-dollar? [Hint: There is no answer the this (too many variables like the make-up of one's inventory, personal preferences, etc)].
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Work with Alibris on Katrina relief

Alibris, a traditional partner of public libraries, recently kicked off a campaign to help restock those libraries devastated by Hurricane Katrina. To learn more about the campaign and how to help, read the Alibris press release.
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Used books on NPR

The recently discussed used book study has been printed and reprinted in various newspapers and blogs, of which a few links were posted on this blog. Although, I started disregarding (in terms of new posts) this type of article a few days ago, I was delighted to get a tip that the story had made it on to NPR. It's not often we get to post media clips on the blog, thanks to the White Cats Bookstore for the tip.
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Monday, October 10, 2005

Choose Books New Layout

ChooseBooks accounced last week that it had redesigned its website. You can find a list of the new features on their site. I still think Choose/ZVAB is a great seller-focused website, that is especially good for selling English translation books, some foreign language texts, and many academic texts. It probably is not the best site for a fiction based seller, although we have heard of some bargain based fiction sellers who like the site. The customer service is top-notch and individually focused which is a refreshing change from what seller's usually have to deal with on listing service websites.
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Book Listings Sites Search Optimized

Internet Retailer has reported that both Abebooks and Alibris are well optimized for natural search engine retrieval. The study, done by search marketing company OneUp Web, selected only 17 companies from the Internet Retailer's Top 100 ecommerce sites. You'll notice that Abebooks was rank #58 and Alibris #90 for 2005. Rankings were based on 2004 sales data, so are quite out-dated at this point.
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Friday, October 07, 2005

Councilman Case Update

The lawsuits surrounding Alibris/Interloc and Bradford Councilman can be extremely difficult to follow, especially for new online booksellers. Personally, I remember this first coming to the forefront back in the late 90s, but I was still very green in the business and trying to deal with my partners to really pay much attention to it. In any event, ZDNet recently posted an absolutely wonderful round-up of the pending litigation, especially regarding Councilman's civil suit. It may be a useful thing to read if you have no idea what I am talking about.
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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Biblio Makes its Presence Known

After a recent post urging Biblio to take more action in the suddenly rapidly changing ground of book listings services, I was delighted to see a press release from the site come across my desk yesterday. In our opinion, Biblio is the most seller-friendly listings service with a strong committment to an independent spirit within the bookselling industry. I urge buyers and sellers alike to take a look at what Biblio has to offer.
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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Affiliate Love and Disclosure

I love spending time researching tips for this blog. Thanks to our affiliate revenue from Biblio
and Alibris I am able to keep this baby humming along. We make a small commission off any sales at these two sites which were referred by us. Remember you can find books at both sites by clicking on their links within articles or using their search boxes on the right sidebar. Don't forget, many Biblio sellers offer other Biblio sellers a trade discount. Thanks for supporting the Bookselling Online Blog (BSOB).

Disclosure notice: we are affiliates with each site through independent services, not the sites proper. We do not take money in return for posts or to "help" mold our opinions.
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Blum wins award

Abebooks CEO Hannes Blum and COO Boris Wertz have been awarded the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Business-to-Consumer category award for 2005 in the Pacific region of Canada. Read the press release here.
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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Half.com to remove confirmation process

Beginning 20 October, Half will no longer allow sellers to confirm orders placed through the system. In essence, when an order is placed by the consumer, it is assumed the order will be fulfilled. There seems to be near-unanimous disagreement among sellers regarding this change (as seen on the eBay discussion boards). This effort, most likely, will bring up Half's fulfillment rates, but inevitably will lead to more seller-consumer tension should a sale need to be refunded. Given the eBay style of feedback, sellers will be more vulnerable to customers whose orders need to be cancelled.

Half seems to do very well with textbooks, many of which need to be fulfilled/cancelled quickly. The new system will need to allow for sellers to act quickly with a refund in order for students to remain happy customers at Half.
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Monday, October 03, 2005

An Opportunity for Biblio?

We recently asked Biblio to answer some questions regarding the Amazon changes and the site in general. Its primary response is an interesting one, so I will quote it directly here, "What has happened has definitely leveled the playing field a bit [for us]... Probably ... Amazon is now in the used book business officially as a free standing player" resulting in more competition for sales.

Like Alibris, Biblio seems to be working hard to expand "selling opportunities" for its booksellers. While they could not comment on any specifics, it seems as if some new partnerships are set to fall in place for the site. It does seem that thanks to its seller-centered business plan, Biblio is less flexible to negotiate new agreements. As they stated to us, "We don't want to ever get into a relationship that can take the legs out from ourselves or our bookseller members."

I also took this opportunity to ask them about frequent complaints about sellers' listings not showing up on metasearches, like Addall. It seems that Biblio is aware of the issue, but gets "a pretty good return rate" when testing it themselves. They currently ask sellers to forward problems directly to Addall. In general, Biblio's sales in August and September constituted their best months ever.

In my opinion, it seems like Biblio is on the right track. However, I've always thought so. Perhaps, now is the time for them to do more than simply "be on the right track." Now may be time for an all-out effort to target new sales and woo sellers form others listings sites, in particular Abebooks. We've read a lot about the used book market growth recently, but received no articles that mentioned Biblio or had a comment from one of their representatives. They are making amazing strides in the nonprofit end of their business, where "they have been really focused." This aspect, while extremely laudable, should not take away time from any efforts towards a reinvigorated strategy to displace the commonplace notion of the 3 As (Amazon, Alibris, Abebooks).
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Ebay and Firefox

For those of you who remain blindly committed to Internet Explorer and Netscape, I'd normally urge you to give Mozilla's Firefox a chance. However, I understand that when running a business you need a browser that is compatible with the sites you frequent. For booksellers on eBay it seems there is a problem. The auction site is coded to perform optimally with Internet Explorer, leaving a variety of quirks and bugs for Firefox users. Auctionbytes recently posted an article discussing this issue and the petition to eBay. Hopefully, the proper changes can be made so eBay sellers can enjoy being Firefox users.
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