Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2004 Issue

Searching The Old Book Sites&#58;<br>Just Who Is The Best?

0901

Amazon offers a cacophony of choices that does not make it easy to find old books.


By Michael Stillman

There are two sides to every internet sales story, buyer and seller. Most of what you read is taken from the seller's perspective. How many customers visit the site, how easy is it to upload your material, and most importantly, how much do they charge? This month we look from a different perspective, the buyer's. Not just any buyer. No, we take it from the slow-learning technophobic easily confused buyer's point of view. If you're a seller, you know him. He makes up about 90% of your business. I am totally qualified to speak for him.

Just to elaborate on that last point a bit more, some of you may say "you should have just clicked this link," or "you should have done..." fill in the blank. Probably. But remember, most people are not as well versed in these sites as the average person reading this article. For a site to perform up to its potential, it needs to work for the ignorant as well as the learned.

This is not to say dealers should choose which sites to list on based on how well they work. Dealers should post their listings based on which make them the most money. This will be a factor of how many books they sell, what commissions they charge, how much time you have to spend to place books on the site, and factors like these. Many booksellers will gravitate to Amazon because, with their large audience, they have the ability to move a lot of books. If not always the most user-friendly site, to paraphrase John Dillinger, it's where the customers are. Still, it is worth looking at a site from the buyer's perspective, as in time this will make a difference.

We looked at seven sites: the two major regular booksellers, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, the two largest primarily old book sites, Abebooks and Alibris, two bookseller organization sites, the ABAA and ILAB-LILA, and the biggest search engine, Froogle (brought to you by Google). We also tried the IOBA site (Independent Online Booksellers Association). We found only one copy of one of the books we searched, so it was not very productive. However, there did seem to be many low-priced other books available there, so it might be worth a look if you are searching for not very rare items at bargain prices.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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