Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2006 Issue

Alibris Returns Returns To Their Sellers (And Opens Up Direct Contact)

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Buyers can ask Alibris sellers a question through this online form.


By Michael Stillman

The world's second largest used/old bookselling site recently announced some major changes in the way they do business. It is something of a two-pronged transformation. The most obvious part of the change is that booksellers will now be handling their own returns. In the past, Alibris has been the exception in that they have handled all customer returns. The business model now shifts, at least partially, to one more consistent with the rest of the industry. The other part of the change is that this opens the door to greater direct contact between buyer and seller. This is not consistent with what is happening generally among the websites. Here, the movement is toward less direct contact. Alibris is clearly bucking the trend on this one.

The sellers' response was both surprising and expected. Booksellers have been extremely vocal in their distaste for recent moves by rival Abebooks to reduce direct contact, such as making seller names harder to find. Under the circumstances you would expect nothing but plaudits for Alibris. Indeed, many sellers welcomed the change with strong approval. There are booksellers who prefer to control their transactions as much as possible; who believe they can do a better job of generating customer satisfaction than the listing sites can do for them. Nevertheless, there have been many unhappy comments, along with the usual threats of imminent removal of listings from Alibris. Actually, this is as much to be expected as surprising. Change is never easy. While greater contact may sound good in theory, some booksellers are comfortable in their anonymity, not to mention the ease of leaving the returns to Alibris. It may well be that dealers who prefer less direct contact have gravitated to Alibris. Therefore, it is not that surprising that happiness was less than universal when the sellers got something many have been requesting for ages.

When asked about seller reaction, Alibris Director of Direct Marketing and Sales A.J. Kohn acknowledged that "some have been less than enthusiastic," but felt this is understandable. Uncertainty and change are not always welcomed with open arms. "I can't blame them - this is their business and livelihood. We'll do our best to communicate the changes and make the transition a smooth one," says Kohn.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>The Railroad,</i> etching, 1922. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Sheet of Studies with Men in Hats and a Saloon Keeper,</i> pen, ink & pencil, circa 1900-05. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Night Shadows,</i> etching, 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> John Marin, <i>Woolworth Building, No. 2,</i> etching & drypoint, 1913. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Charles Demuth, <i>Tulips,</i> watercolor & pencil, 1924. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Under Control,</i> gouache, ink & wash, circa 1907-10. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
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    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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