Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2005 Issue

Abebooks to Add Descriptions and Cover Photos to Listings

Aabe

A sample of a new Abe listing with stock dust jacket image and description


By Michael Stillman

Abebooks recently announced that they would be automatically adding prepackaged descriptions and stock dust jacket photographs to their listings, at least those with ISBN numbers. This is nothing new for bookselling sites, but it is new for Abe. Currently, the other major powerhouses in the book listing field, Alibris, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, provide this service. Abe's decision to join the crowd in this regard has been met with mixed bookseller reviews. As to how book buyers regard the change, no one polls them, so the answer is unknown.

In an announcement from "The Abebooks Team" sent to booksellers July 20th, labeled "New and Improved Book Details," Abebooks stated: "As always, we will display information provided by the bookseller first and foremost, but now we are working with our ISBN data providers, including MUZE, to automatically add details (when available) such as jacket photos, synopses, reviews, and bibliographic data...Buyers like to see details - they are much more likely to purchase if they can see an image of the book, or read a synopsis."

Most innovations have an upside and a downside, and this one is no different. Clearly, it brings Abebooks closer to conformity with what their rivals are doing, and those sites would not be providing these services if there were no benefits. On the other hand, it makes Abe less unique a site. Conformity tends to reduce choices available to the public.

Here is the issue for the public. I totally agree with Abe that people are more likely to buy if they have more information. However, this is a double-edged sword. Let me explain. The positives are this will immediately add more information to many, maybe even most, Abe listings. The sample synopsis that Abe showed as an example (see the image with this article) doesn't provide much, but anything is better than nothing, and in the future, perhaps this will become more informative. It's a start. Showing the dust jacket cover is a nice plus, but this is the part that seems to have booksellers the most concerned. A particular book may have been issued with multiple dust jackets. A disclaimer notes that the book a customer orders may not come with the precise dust jacket pictured, but customers tend to ignore or miss the fine print. Dealers are worried they will receive more returns from customers who receive something other than they expected, despite an accurate written description from the seller.

Rare Book Monthly

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