Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2007 Issue

A Look at Bookselling with Anirvan Chatterjee of BookFinder.com

Chatter

BookFinder.com founder Anirvan Chatterjee.


By Michael Stillman

We recently interviewed Anirvan Chatterjee, founder of the leading meta-search site for books, BookFinder.com. Chatterjee is one of the true veterans of the online bookselling industry though still only 30 years old, a testament to how quickly the field has evolved in such a short span of time. He gave us a look back, and forward, for BookFinder, and then a most interesting view of where we stand today. What most booksellers seem to see as a field in complete turmoil, Chatterjee sees as one approaching maturity. That is an unusual point of view, but represents a look by someone who has been a close observer for a decade without having his objectivity skewed by personally having to deal with the extreme changes brought about by internet selling.

BookFinder is the leading meta-search site, that is, a search engine which searches book listings on many different websites. From the BookFinder search box you can enter a book title or author (or various other descriptive fields) and search dozens of different bookselling sites at once. BookFinder will search the three "A's" (AbeBooks, Alibris and Amazon), midsize sites such as Biblio, Half and Choosebooks, cooperative sites such as ILAB, IOBA and Tom Folio, overseas (for Americans) sites including AntiqBook, Maremagnum, livre-rare-book and Books and Collectibles, along with many others.

BookFinder began a little over ten years ago as a class project at the University of California at Berkeley by then 19-year-old student Anirvan Chatterjee. He had to write a software program, and Chatterjee was already interested in books. He noted that he spent a lot of time searching for books, "but I couldn't find everything I wanted." The result was that he built a search engine that would search multiple bookselling sites at once to simplify the task. Chatterjee discovered that what he had designed was more than just an academic project, but "something people could use." So, he put it up online. That was on January 30, 1997, and Chatterjee recalls having around eight sites that were searched at the time. By the way, he got an "A" on the project.

In the ten years since its founding, BookFinder has grown to the site that searches over 125 million books on dozens of worldwide listing sites. Perhaps the most important, though mostly invisible change came in 2005 when the company was purchased by AbeBooks. This was followed by their relaunch of the old JustBooks name with sites in England, France and Germany. JustBooks was a similar meta-search site previously operated by the current owners of AbeBooks.

Asked whether the AbeBooks purchase has changed BookFinder, Chatterjee answered "yes and no." The changes have come in their ability to efficiently operate the site. BookFinder has a very small staff -- just three people in Berkeley and one in Germany. The benefits of the purchase have come primarily in providing technical and marketing assistance. If they have IT questions, they can call on AbeBooks for assistance. Chatterjee likened the corporate parent to a "big brother."

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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