Biblio: Number Three Tries Much Harder

- by Michael Stillman

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We asked Mr. Donaldson to what he attributed Biblio's impressive growth. His response was one of focus on your own mission, rather than on what the competitors are doing. Biblio has a plan it believes will enable the company to succeed, and they focus on implementing that plan well. "Biblio.com really has tried to practice a policy of managed growth," explains Mr. Donaldson. "We take our time, create a viable online marketplace product, and make sure that our bookseller members are getting the support they need. Sales may not be at the level they are on other sites, but we are also not sacrificing the quality of our product offerings for a few extra dollars on the bottom line."

What Biblio has created is an easy-to-use site that, from all we have heard, operates smoothly for booksellers. This is particularly important as the site tries to expand its bookseller members, as some other sites have suffered numerous technical glitches of late. Abebooks and Amazon may be sales leaders in their field, but not necessarily in providing the smoothest operating technology for their dealers. Biblio evidently has gone to great lengths to provide good functioning software, as few things seem to rile booksellers more than error prone programs. Biblio seems to understand that point, and by keeping its site working properly, has taken advantage of an opening some of its competitors have given it. In a time when this is not true of all sites, the overwhelming majority of Biblio's dealers seem to like the site.

We next noted that Biblio has some major competition: Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and eBay/Half. How can they compete against this field? Mr. Donaldson explained, "I am sure that you are aware that Barnes and Noble and Half.com still take a majority of their used listings en masse from sites like ours. EBay is just a different bird all together. So we really see our primary competitors as Abebooks and Alibris. Amazon is now the new player in our space. But they also have a different business model than us, Abe and Alibris. No one but Amazon has started carrying garden hoses quite yet, thank goodness."

He then goes on to quote educator Alfie Kohn: 'Trying to be number one and trying to do a task well are two different things.' Mr. Donaldson explains, "This is really an important ideal to us. Sure, we have a lot of listings and a plethora of professional independent booksellers, but we also have to have a fairly well oiled machine with our site, and in our business practices. It is much more in line with our mission and business focus to get better at what we do, and not to race!"

One of the things its members like about Biblio is its comparatively low fee structure. It's all based on sales, that is, it's a commission arrangement. If you make no sales, you don't pay a thing. There are no listing fees. Commissions start at 15%, but drop to 7.5% based on a monthly sales/number of listings formula. For example, if you list 1 to 500 books, you pay 15% of your first $133 of sales during the month. All sales above $133 are charged at 7.5%.