Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2016 Issue

AbeBooks – 20 Years Down, the Next 20 Ready to Go

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AbeBooks recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in business. That was the opening salvo in the new means of book selling that changed the trade as it had been known for over five centuries. Starting with a test run of three booksellers in Victoria, BC, Canada, by the end of 1996, the site had members from all around the world. The exact number has been forgotten – AbeBooks didn't keep great records back then. However, PR & Publicity Manager Richard Davies reports that co-founder Cathy Waters told him that by August 1997, they had a party celebrating 1,000 booksellers. Sixty-four of those early adapters, "Heritage" booksellers in Abe's parlance, are still selling books on AbeBooks' website today. Most are from the United States, but the list includes six Canadians and one each from Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. Those who were once the pioneers are today the veterans.

 

How many Abe booksellers are there today, and how many books are listed? Mr. Davies said they do not release those numbers. As he explained, "We don’t reveal our exact number of sellers but simply say ‘thousands’ located in more than 50 countries. In terms of books for sale, we say ‘millions’ – I can assure you that it’s an awful lot of books." Several years ago, the number of listings passed the 100 million mark, so it is surely a very large number today.

 

This trip down memory lane led to the inevitable question. We asked Mr. Davies where will AbeBooks be 20 years from now? "That's a good question," he responded, before tackling the impossible to answer inquiry. "Well, I am 100% sure that physical books will still be read, loved and desired. There will still be people who love books as an object and will want to own copies of significance. The historical significance of books has not faded and that’s going to continue. Thanks to social media, more is written (and photographed and videoed) about books than ever before, and that’s not going to change.

 

"There’s bound to have been several more rounds of major technological change by 2036 – print on demand technology will probably become more accessible to buyers and more common inside bookshops. Could there be more ways to read a book?

 

"The actual range of books available via the Internet is incredibly broad today but it’s only going to get broader. For instance, people still want translations of particular books that are loved in one part of the world and not available elsewhere. AbeBooks does not have enough books to satisfy everyone on a global scale – that’s why our Wants system still exists to help people find books we don’t currently offer. We’re a global business and our inventory could be much more global."

 

We asked whether Abebooks foresees branching out beyond books. After all, its parent, Amazon, started out as a bookseller and today markets everything under the sun. That type of diversification does not appear to be in Abe's plans, and really wouldn't make any obvious sense. Amazon already fills those needs, and Abebooks' role is logically focused on being the leader in a specific market – books, particularly old and rare ones. However, they have already expanded into related items, notably in the paper field, and this type of expansion is likely to continue.

 

Davies explains, "We are already experimenting with non-book items that are currently listed for sale on our site. A traditional used and rare bookshop will typically also offer ephemera and art, and we have been slow to acknowledge this fact and make these types of items findable on our site. We are currently making an effort to learn about the market for art and ephemera by promoting it more aggressively via our merchandising team. Since November, we have promoted lobby cards, posters, maps, prints from a French fashion journal, photographs, and lithographs. Our next job is make this inventory easier to find.

 

"With that in mind, we have also launched a new type of product display called Collections. It’s experimental at the moment but it’s intended to improve our browse experience. The collections themselves are based upon seller catalogs, which sellers create when uploading items to the marketplace. Our catalogs were intended to be online versions of the print catalogs sellers traditionally produced. Typically, used and rare sellers create AbeBooks’ catalogs so Collections is focused on those areas. A few examples of what Collections can look like are vintage dust jackets from Between the Covers, Folio Society books from multiple sellers, and film still photographs from Royal Books. Visitors can see a lot of books, or photos, or posters, in a short space of time and jump from collection to collection. It’s quite different from our regular search results. Personally, I have found items via Collections that I have never seen before and I’ve been here 11 years. Right now, it’s a Beta and we’re still working to improve it, and that includes developing a search functionality.

 

"We have also just introduced updated seller storefronts and Collections are part of that upgrade. If a seller offers catalogs and they fit the Collections criteria, then they are now visible on the storefront. It’s a great way to explore specific inventory from a particular seller."

 

Check back in 2036 for an update on how these changes play out.

 

 

Here is a link to the stories of the 64 pioneers.  

 

These are links to some of the specialties:

 

Lobby Cards

Posters

Maps

Prints from a French Fashion Journal

Photographs

Lithographs

 

Examples of "Collections":

 

Vintage Dust Jackets

Folio Society Books

Film Still Photographs

 

Examples of Updated Storefronts

 

Raptis Rare Books

Royal Books

Books Tell You Why


Posted On: 2016-07-01 10:21
User Name: PeterReynolds

My experience is that my sales at ABE have been higher in the past two years than previously, while sales at other sites (including Amazon) are generally lower. Whatever ABE is doing it should continue with, and be very cautious about making radical changes beyond keeping their site modern and easy to use on all kinds of devices.


Posted On: 2016-07-01 10:23
User Name: PeterReynolds

Incidentally I think I started selling on ABE in 1999 (working for a charity bookstore) and have been selling there under my own name since 2000.


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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