Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2007 Issue

A Look at Bookselling with Anirvan Chatterjee of BookFinder.com

Chatter

BookFinder.com founder Anirvan Chatterjee.


By Michael Stillman

We recently interviewed Anirvan Chatterjee, founder of the leading meta-search site for books, BookFinder.com. Chatterjee is one of the true veterans of the online bookselling industry though still only 30 years old, a testament to how quickly the field has evolved in such a short span of time. He gave us a look back, and forward, for BookFinder, and then a most interesting view of where we stand today. What most booksellers seem to see as a field in complete turmoil, Chatterjee sees as one approaching maturity. That is an unusual point of view, but represents a look by someone who has been a close observer for a decade without having his objectivity skewed by personally having to deal with the extreme changes brought about by internet selling.

BookFinder is the leading meta-search site, that is, a search engine which searches book listings on many different websites. From the BookFinder search box you can enter a book title or author (or various other descriptive fields) and search dozens of different bookselling sites at once. BookFinder will search the three "A's" (AbeBooks, Alibris and Amazon), midsize sites such as Biblio, Half and Choosebooks, cooperative sites such as ILAB, IOBA and Tom Folio, overseas (for Americans) sites including AntiqBook, Maremagnum, livre-rare-book and Books and Collectibles, along with many others.

BookFinder began a little over ten years ago as a class project at the University of California at Berkeley by then 19-year-old student Anirvan Chatterjee. He had to write a software program, and Chatterjee was already interested in books. He noted that he spent a lot of time searching for books, "but I couldn't find everything I wanted." The result was that he built a search engine that would search multiple bookselling sites at once to simplify the task. Chatterjee discovered that what he had designed was more than just an academic project, but "something people could use." So, he put it up online. That was on January 30, 1997, and Chatterjee recalls having around eight sites that were searched at the time. By the way, he got an "A" on the project.

In the ten years since its founding, BookFinder has grown to the site that searches over 125 million books on dozens of worldwide listing sites. Perhaps the most important, though mostly invisible change came in 2005 when the company was purchased by AbeBooks. This was followed by their relaunch of the old JustBooks name with sites in England, France and Germany. JustBooks was a similar meta-search site previously operated by the current owners of AbeBooks.

Asked whether the AbeBooks purchase has changed BookFinder, Chatterjee answered "yes and no." The changes have come in their ability to efficiently operate the site. BookFinder has a very small staff -- just three people in Berkeley and one in Germany. The benefits of the purchase have come primarily in providing technical and marketing assistance. If they have IT questions, they can call on AbeBooks for assistance. Chatterjee likened the corporate parent to a "big brother."

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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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