Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2005 Issue

Alibris Visited

The Alibris warehouse in Sparks, Nevada.


By Karen Wright

As an online and brick and mortar bookseller with eighteen or so year's experience, I was curious as to how some of the "big boys" run their businesses. Since my store is within thirty minutes of three of the biggest; Amazon, Alibris and Barnes & Noble, I thought I would contact them and see what was up in their neighborhoods.

I spoke first on the telephone with Alibris's A.J. Kohn, Director of Marketing and Sales. When asked what their goal was, he told me that, "We are trying to accommodate all facets of the bookselling market. It isn't an easy place for everyone."

I asked him about the problems that we booksellers face with so many folks out there pricing and selling books when they don't know what they are doing. He said that Alibris is experiencing some of the same problems alongside us, and they are "trying to gain insight. It is increasingly difficult to get stock that will move as price points disappear." He noted that "A number of people who have been selling books online because they thought it would be a great sideline business, are finding it is more difficult and involved than they thought. They are selling their inventory and getting out. It takes a bit of time for things to shake out and reach some sort of stasis. We think it may swing back to something more savvy."

I called Mark Nason for a tour and interview of the Sparks, Nevada, warehouse. It is a 100,000 square foot behemoth of a building. Mark Nason and Brian Duart are the Operations Managers, or as he says, "the guys who are in charge of keeping the business end of the store running smoothly." I asked him what the main focus of his job was. He replied that "growing sales overall" is his primary concern. Nason gave me a guided tour of the warehouse.

He introduced me to Christine Putman, the Quality Assurance Manager, and Ken Aaron, the Catalogue Manager, the two highly trained "book people" who keep the book end of the store moving. Christine and Ken are both bibliophiles and former bookstore owners with many years of expertise with used books.

Christine handles all the really pricey volumes that come through the store, verifying autographed copies for authenticity and researching points to make sure that books are as advertised. She also handles high value quality assurance disputes with customers. The less expensive books are looked at by another staff member to make sure they are in good shape, no staining, water spots, highlighting, etc., and that they are signed or the correct edition, but at 8000 books per day coming through the store, Christine doesn't have time to check each and every volume.

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