Searching The Old Book Sites:<br>Just Who Is The Best?
- by Michael Stillman
Next up is Barnes and Noble, the stepchild, the Avis, the Boston Red Sox of online bookselling. They have the greatest stores, but online, they are never more than number two. They give me only one logical choice to search in, "Bookstores." It turns out that is for new books, but not finding any new copies of this 1852 report, it asks if I would like to check their "Used and Out of Print Store." Certainly. I click the link and up pop 12 copies, most fairly recent printings, and it even finds one where "expedition" is spelled "expidition." Do I like this search better than Amazon's? Of course not. It doesn't reveal any secrets about my wife. It just finds the book I want. However, with a little more digging, you will find that in order to sell books with Barnes and Noble, you must do so through Abebooks or Alibris. Unlike Amazon, they aren't giving you anything new, just some of the listings from those other sites. They do claim 30 million titles, nothing to sneeze at, but Alibris offers 40 million and Abe 50 million. They really haven't added much to the equation.
If you have been in the old book business for awhile, you undoubtedly know Abe and Alibris well, so I won't bother you with the details. Each offers good advanced search screens. I prefer the way Abe gives you all of the listings together, rather than the subsets of variations presented by Alibris. Abebooks was the standard for me at the start of this exercise, and remained so at the end.
The ABAA (American Antiquarian Booksellers' Association) and ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) sites are remarkably similar. It doesn't take long to recognize these two are related. The search screens are practically identical. However, the ILAB site has the advantage of searching not only the items held by ABAA members from America, but international dealers as well. Even if you're looking for American books, it's surprising how many are held by foreign merchants. It’s hard to see why you would choose the ABAA site over the ILAB one. In fact, ILAB gives you the choice of searching inventory from just one country (like the U.S.) or all. And here's another neat feature on the ILAB site I've never seen before. They give you a keyboard of letters with those funny squiggles under them that denote they are in some language English-speakers don't recognize. If you want to find an "è" or a "ç" you can actually enter them that way without knowing the obscure code that lets your keyboard type such symbols.