Rare Book Monthly
Articles - November - 2003 Issue
LIFEBOAT: Staying Afloat in the Rising Floodwaters of Internet Book Sales
Still other wholesalers (BibliOz.com for example) openly buy entire multi-million-book databases and significantly mark up the prices on their own sites, counting perhaps on their relatively remote physical location to create local sales. In this case, this was done with the permission of each dealer. With the competition in shipping, however, most customers can be serviced inexpensively by the USPS’s “book rate” shipping or via international mail, UPS, and other air freight services. Even if the customer is in Outer Mongolia, there is no need to pay double or triple the advertised price for “reduced” shipping charges.
These mass-market practices, combined with the tremendous proliferation of booksellers large and small, have created waves of book “noise” on the Internet — huge numbers of listings and re-listings that can all but drown the traditional trade. There is no easy answer to this problem, because it is the nature of automation to handle large amounts of data efficiently and the Internet, of course, is a perfect vehicle for sales automation. If you combine the Wild West environment of Internet sales with the difficulty of producing original inventory listings, it is not hard to see why many booksellers have chosen early retirement.
In the end, I think that each of us booksellers is going to have to decide for ourselves what kind of business we wish to engage in and how we want to spend our time. Although we have opted into some open re-listing programs, it is not where our sales come from. At our shop, we differentiate our business not through a massive volume presence, but by creating quality listings and providing what one of my customers has fondly called “ferocious” customer service. It is, perhaps, ironic, that meaningful contact and communication above and beyond the transaction — the human touch — may, in the end, be the only lifeboat booksellers can use to stay afloat in the deluge of dealers and listings on the Web.
Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org