Abebooks Purchases BookFinder, Looks to the Future
By Michael Stillman
Abebooks announced this past month the purchase of book meta-search engine BookFinder.com. BookFinder searches the listings of dozens of online sites, including Abebooks and its numerous competitors, such Alibris, Biblio, Amazon, Half.com, and a couple of dozen smaller sites. All are treated equally. In operation since 1997 (antiquity for the internet), it is a very helpful and well-respected site among those with a need or passion for locating old books. Though small, with only two full-time employees, BookFinder brings a prestigious reputation beyond its size to new owner Abebooks.
BookFinder earns its living through commissions paid by the sites it searches when they deliver a buyer. It is reported to be a profitable site, but not of such wealth as to be able to fund major new projects. For BookFinder, access to Abebooks' greater resources makes perfect sense. Both sites require the capacity to do enormous searches through huge databases in split-second timing. Abebooks brings with it the financial ability to meet these needs as technology continues to develop at lightening speed in the years ahead. While no indications of price were released, the purchase undoubtedly made financial sense to BookFinder CEO/co-founder Anirvan Chatterjee too.
The logic for Abebooks is not quite so readily clear. It is a purchase that both makes eminent sense and is somewhat puzzling. The logic is that both sites' purpose is to help people locate old or rare books online. What is less obvious is how owning BookFinder helps Abe's current operations.
Abe's dealers were left scratching their heads as to what, if any, difference this would mean to them. How this might affect Abe's booksellers is not clear. In the release announcing the purchase, Abebooks' CEO Hannes Blum is quoted as saying, "Our goal is to help booklovers find and buy any book from any bookseller anywhere, so the acquisition of BookFinder.com makes perfect sense." That's one of those general statements that really doesn't tell us a lot. Certainly Abe's mission is to help buyers find books, but even more importantly, Abe's mission, like that of any other business, is to make a profit. Sending customers to Amazon or Alibris doesn't seem terribly consistent with this purpose, other than for the immediate commission earned on the sale.
We asked Abe's Public Relations manager Richard Davies how bringing BookFinder into the fold would help their sellers. He answered, "The online bookselling sector is extremely competitive and we are very aware we cannot afford to stand still. This deal makes Abebooks stronger within the bookselling community and ultimately it will make us better able to serve booksellers. BookFinder.com is profitable and has tremendous potential to be even more successful, plus both BookFinder.com and Abebooks are dedicated to supporting independent sellers, so the deal makes perfect sense to us." Abebooks evidently feels that the purchase makes them a stronger company, and a stronger Abebooks is better for its dealers, but it's still understandable if those dealers find the answer a bit vague.