Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2006 Issue

Google/Froogle: Is This Any Place To Sell Books?

Yopp

A Google search for "History of Bill Yopp" finds just four matches, including one copy offered for sale.


By Mike Stillman

Antbo is looking for listing booksellers. According to their figures, they are already doing quite well. They claim to now have 5.9 million books listed by 529 booksellers. That is a lot of books and booksellers for a site that probably many readers, even those in the book business, had never heard of before. I come here neither to praise nor condemn Antbo. I know nothing about this German book listing site. I mention it only for illustration.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the online bookselling market seems to be expanding and fragmenting, rather than contracting. The general rule, be it cars in the early 20th century, or computer operating systems at that century's end, is a contraction in the number of brands. Competition drives out weaker players, concentrating power and survival in the hands of the few who are big and strong. In technology, pricing plays a particularly important role. Rapidly decreasing costs drive prices down, forcing the weak out of business, and concentrating all power in a small number of companies at the top, perhaps as few as one (of course, once a monopoly or oligopoly is formed, then prices may rise again).

For whatever reason, this does not appear to be happening, at least not yet, in the online bookselling market. There is a logic for contraction, especially for the poor book buyer. Having to search countless sites for books, or for the best deals, is an impracticality, even if you know all of the sites (and no one does). The meta-searchers, BookFinder and AddAll, can help, but not even they search all sites, and the many duplicate and junk listings (such as print-on-demand listings posted by some sites) do not make these sites that easy to use. The current system does not work all that well for either buyers or sellers, but for now, that is what we have. We have no choice but to deal with it.

Perhaps the large sites have contributed to this fragmentation, rather than concentration in the market. They have raised their prices to sellers before cornering the market. Usually, a vendor will wait until their customers are totally dependent to attempt this. Abebooks certainly antagonized some dealers with cost increases earlier this year, and while it does not appear that many sellers have abandoned them, it does appear that many have added to the group of other sites where they list. In some cases, they offer lower prices elsewhere, encouraging purchasers to buy on other sites when they are aware of them. Such price increases may add to the major sites' revenue, but they also encourage further fragmentation of the market.

This all serves as an introduction to the topic at hand: Google-Froogle. Google has been doing to internet search what the largest book sites have not been able to do to online bookselling - dominate the market. Sure there are other notable search sites. Yahoo and MSN in particular come to mind. However, when it comes to internet searching, they are, well... kind of like what Antbo is to bookselling. They are not in the same league.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
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    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
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  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
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