Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2016 Issue

AbeBooks: Committed to Rare Books and Encouraging the Next Generation of Collectors

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AbeBooks' rare book section.

AbeBooks, the book listing site or "aggregator," appeared twenty years ago and quickly became the leader in the online revolution in bookselling. It's every move was debated, analyzed, and controversial to at least someone. Today, it has become a ubiquitous part of bookselling. It is often taken for granted. AbeBooks has become, to many, what physical bookstores were to an earlier generation of booksellers. They might print catalogues, attend shows, advertise in trade publications, but practically everyone had a physical store. It was the starting point of bookselling. Today, many booksellers do not have stores, and for some that do, they are more storage facilities than their major means of selling. AbeBooks has in a way taken on that role. How ever else they sell books, for most booksellers, having a presence on AbeBooks is now the basic starting point.

 

With AbeBooks' every move no longer the focus of intense scrutiny, we checked in recently to find out what is going on there. It turns out a lot. While AbeBooks does not release sales figures or number of listings, Richard Davies, PR & Publicity Manager for the firm, does reveal that its listings continue to rise, but then adds, "However, quality and breadth of inventory is just as important to us as quantity. Quality means detailed descriptions, helpful photography and pricing that appeals to customers. Breadth means that we want every single edition of a particular title – from the Ukrainian translation to the illustrated picture book edition. Breadth also comes from having booksellers of many different types from many different countries operating in the marketplace."

 

In 2008, AbeBooks conducted a survey of its sellers. At that time, the major demographics skewed older (45+), better educated, and had come to the field from other professional jobs. We asked whether that has changed. Davies responded that they have not conducted any similar surveys since that time. He does believe that many of those "baby boomer" booksellers are still with them, but many are retiring. "Today, we see a wide range of seller types – sellers who left us and then returned, people completely new to online bookselling, traditional used bookshops, home-based sellers, small presses, and younger sellers who are very Internet-savvy and selling on as many Internet platforms as possible."

 

While the bulk of AbeBooks' sales, particularly in unit volume, may be books for reading or school, the collectible part of the market is considered essential to the company's success. Mr. Davies explains, "In recent years, we have made no secret that rare booksellers are extremely important to us. We do not take them for granted. The rare and collectible sellers help make AbeBooks different to other online marketplaces. They have the capacity to bring unique items to our marketplace and that’s exciting for us and the customers. This focus on rare and collectible sellers will continue."

 

AbeBooks has a section of its website dedicated to rare books (see the image above). It includes a separate search for rare books, which immediately offers more selection choices, such as publishing date to target older editions, and weeds out the penny books to make it easier for collectors to find the type of books they want.

 

However, this still leaves the most vexing of questions for those in the rare book trade – from where will the next generation of collectors emerge? Book collectors, like many dealers, tend to be an aging lot. We asked Mr. Davies what the age was of their rare book buyers, and where new collectors could be found. He answered that AbeBooks does not ask buyers their ages, but did point to where they are finding many new buyers. He explained, "It’s important that we move away from thinking that collectors are going to be in New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris and so on. We see high-end rare book-buyers from the likes of Russia, China, South Korea and South American countries. Online rare book-buying is global – that’s an opportunity for us."

 

Mr. Davies also explained that AbeBooks is not being passive about enticing new collectors into the field. This may be the most interesting part of our interview, as so many booksellers feel helpless in knowing what they can do to encourage the badly needed next generation of collectors. Mr. Davies explains, "We try to develop new collectors by turning existing customers, who are avid readers, into entry-level collectors. Our email campaigns introduce collectible books, at affordable prices, to customers who are clearly dedicated readers. We want to shift them into thinking about the book as an object and not just for its content. For instance, signed books are an effective way of developing new collectors as a signed book’s value is easy to understand.

 

"Another aspect to winning new collectors is offering educational content such as a basic guide to book collecting. We try to avoid jargon and explain the significance around illustrators, bindings, scarcity and other key factors. Sometimes there is a background story behind a book’s significance and our merchandising pages often try to tell those stories."

 

Finally, we asked Mr. Davies what has been happening recently at AbeBooks, and what plans are on tap for the future. It turns out, there is much happening, even if it isn't all as visible as it once was. Rather than paraphrase his answers, we offer Mr. Davies' written reply, complete with explanatory links. AbeBooks will not be sitting on its laurels, but continues to innovate as it seeks to move its own business, and the book trade in general, forward. Here is his answer:

 

"In November, we relaunched ZVAB.com, our marketplace serving German language countries, on the same technology platform as AbeBooks. We acquired ZVAB in 2011 and it had been challenging to maintain two platforms using different technologies. We used this opportunity to introduce many improvements to ZVAB’s website, including mobile-friendly pages across most of the site.

 

"On AbeBooks, we introduced redesigned homepages in October. The homepages communicate our brand much more clearly and we have been able to feature booksellers more prominently thanks to the larger imagery. That helps to show we are a marketplace for people who are visiting our site for the first time. We have featured a wide variety of sellers on the new homepage since October including respected sellers like the Brattle Book Shop from Boston, Raptis Rare Books from Vermont, Eureka Books from California and many others. Again, the changes were also designed to improve the mobile experience for people on smartphones and tablets. We will continue to invest and improve the mobile experience across the site as so many customers are now choosing to shop in this way.

 

"Earlier in 2015, we introduced two new sort orders on search results where customers can sort by earliest and latest publication dates. The earliest date is particularly helpful for collectors who are looking for the first appearance of a book.

 

"Notable plans for the future include considerable investment of time and resources into the rare and collectible sector. The merchandising team has begun to experiment with content that showcases ephemera and other non-book inventory. We are very aware that many rare and collectible booksellers offer a diverse variety of collectibles besides books. These are often difficult to find on AbeBooks so we wish to do a better job of exposing these items. So far, we have experimented with vintage posters, rare Hollywood photography, cinema lobby cards, and lithographs in the past few months. This is a learning process for us.

 

"During 2016, we are making a major effort to advertise at fairs where you will find rare books, ephemera and specialist book types. Last year, we advertised at around 15 events worldwide and that figure will be far higher in 2016. In February we advertised at the LA Art Book Fair and we’ve committed to supporting March’s Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. We will be visible at many more events as the year progresses."


Posted On: 2016-03-03 04:41
User Name: Oxygenee

This seems like a puff piece from Abebooks PR department.

My impression as a rare book collector is that Abebooks treats this part of the market with either disinterest or contempt. For them to say: "However, quality and breadth of inventory is just as important to us as quantity." is just breathtaking hypocrisy, given - to take just two examples at random:
Listings for "liu xing" in China: 6 033 463 books (yes, in excess of 6 million listings) EVERY SINGLE ONE of which is machine translated gibberish.
Listings for "Lucky's Textbooks" in the US: 1 329 091 (1.3 million listings) almost all machine generated.

There are many more similar examples. Collectively they make Abebooks unusable for many search terms.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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