Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2005 Issue

Biblio: Number Three Tries Much Harder

Biblio

Biblio has grown to be the third most popular book listing site.


By Michael Stillman

If Number 2 needs to try harder, what must Number 3 do? This month we posed that question to Biblio, the online bookselling site that has moved into third position in this extremely competitive and narrowing field. Perhaps they are the ideal candidate to ask this question, as somehow, Biblio has been defying the odds and managing to grow in an environment that ought to be choking them.

At the turn of the millennium (a literary-sounding way of saying 2000), there were dozens of online bookselling sites competing for market share. Biblio wasn't one of them. They arrived in 2003, long after most bookselling sites were deep into retrenchment. To understand how remarkable their success has been, just take a look at the normal evolution of new technologies. New technologies spawn new businesses in a predictable manner. In the early stages, dozens compete to get a foothold. Soon, a very small number, perhaps just one or two, emerge as leaders. The others hang on, hoping for a miracle, or at least a combination or buy out which will enable them to make another run at the top. A few may evolve into something else, perhaps surviving by serving some highly specific small niche. But, for the most part, it is over for those who were not among the first few to emerge as leaders.

If you look back to the pre-2000 internet "bubble" days, you will find there were many search engines that people selected among. Today there is Google. Sure, some people use the searches on major destination sites like Yahoo and MSN, but for pure search, who else is of significance? "Google" has even become a verb. We may "google" something, but does anyone ever "altavista" something, or "lycos" it? Once upon a time there were several online auction sites. There still are, but can you name any that don't begin with the letters e-b-a-y?

So into this maturing online bookselling environment, with Abebooks and Alibris already established as the leaders, and the rest fighting for either a niche or mere survival, Biblio was born. Born too late. By all logic, the game was already over. This baby should have died in infancy. Yet here it is. Biblio is not only still around, it is growing. It has managed to leapfrog the entire field save the two megalisters at the top. And, its environment is even tougher than having two strong market leaders ahead of you implies. There may be only two pure competitors ahead, but there are also the likes of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and eBay/Half up there. They aren't pure competitors in that they do much more than old books, but they compete for old book listings nonetheless, and each carries far more market recognition than any of the pure book listing sites.

From its beginnings in 2003, Biblio has grown from nothing to carry 25 million listings from 3,500 dealers today. The market leaders are Abebooks, with a stated 75 million listings from 13,000 dealers, followed by Alibris with 50 million listings. After Biblio, the next in line is believed to be ZVAB/Choosebooks. While Biblio still has a long way to go to catch the top two, their growth has been extraordinary. Besides which, they really aren't that focused on Abe's and Alibris' numbers anyway. Perhaps that explains their surprising success while most book listing sites have been slipping into oblivion. To discover how Biblio has done so well in a seemingly impossible environment, we went to Kevin Donaldson, Biblio's Director of Sales and Marketing.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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