Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2004 Issue

Search Engines: A Growing Force in Books

The most conveniently organized book search engine.


By Bruce McKinney

The term book search engine would seem to be a generic term. To a layman this is a piece of software that searches your expressed criteria in the more than 25 book listing sites on the web, aggregates the results and reports them to you in a reasonable time and in a comprehensible order. In a perfect world this is true. Welcome to the real world. It isn’t quite that easy. Have you ever wondered why a search engine does what it does without asking for even a penny from you? The three search engines we are looking at in this article: Bookfinder, AddAll and UsedBookSearch are free to use and at the same time make a living by directing would-be buyers to listing sites that pay commissions. These commissions are quite small so the process needs to be fully automated. The buyer searches. The search engine locates specific titles on the various sites they search and links would-be buyers to them. For this they get a few pennies. It’s a tough business.

Each of these search engines has a specific group of sites they search. No, they don’t search exactly the same sites though there are five listings sites they all search (in green). The listing sites that each search engine searches are listed in columns (see page two).

Bookfinder lists the most used-book sites as “partners”: 40. UsedBookSearch of the UK lists 13 sites they search and AddAll lists 16 they search. Bookfinder mentions that it searches 50 million titles, UsedBookSearch 45 million, and AddAll simply describes their coverage as 40 bookstores, 20,000 book dealers and millions of books. They are all substantial but they are not the same. How they differ is important to understand and let’s start with this. For the three titles we searched the total number of matches found by UsedBookSearch was 1,002, Bookfinder 89, and AddAll 335.

In searching the complex inventories of the listing sites each search engine takes a unique approach. UsedBookSearch makes a serious effort to show you every match available on the sites they search. It can be slow but if you wait you’ll see a great deal of material. AddAll seems to be running against a clock. Their searches are quite fast but they accomplish this by limiting some of the matches if the total material they locate is substantial. For uncommon books this is rarely the case. Bookfinder creates files of matches rather than a single list, obscuring the fact that they aren’t providing as many matches as the other search engines.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.

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