Rare Book Monthly
Articles - November - 2008 Issue
Alibris Offers Its Sellers Historic Pricing Tool
By Michael Stillman
Alibris has announced that it will be offering its sellers a new and extremely useful tool for valuing inventory. Access to their large database of sales history will now be available to all of their "Gold Sellers" (those who pay a monthly listing fee, which includes all but their smallest dealers). This data should be very useful in terms of setting prices, along with being helpful in determining how much a bookseller should be willing to pay to purchase inventory.
This new tool - Alibris Inventory Demand - offers three types of data. Foremost is their historical sales data, which provides actual sales prices transacted on the Alibris and Alibris partner sites (such as Borders Marketplace). Next, it provides current pricing data, such as highest, lowest and average prices currently listed, along with the number of copies for sale. Finally, they provide what they call the "Alibris Sales Index," which rates the likelihood of an item being sold.
Alibris President and CEO Brian Elliott is quoted in a news release as saying, "This new tool empowers interested sellers to decide what to catalog and how to competitively price their Alibris inventory, which brings more sales at better prices." He points out that sometimes a dealer will underprice a book and receive less than it is worth. We are sure this happens occasionally, though it is not likely the major problem. The reality is the listing sites are filled with overpriced books, which can sit there for years and never sell. The constantly growing number of listings is an indication of a supply/demand imbalance. Often, listers will simply copy the prices of others, or offer a slight variation, when that first price was pulled from thin air, or some bookseller's dreams. It is understandable that sellers want to hold out for the best price, and some anecdote from the past may lead them to believe a book is worth more than the market offers. However, the book is worth what the market offers - no more, no less. For those who want to dream, this tool may not be beneficial. For those who want to sell, understanding what a book has sold for in the past, rather than what some dreamer wishes it will sell for in the future, is invaluable information. This is a great tool.
Alibris reports that reaction to Alibris Inventory Demand has been positive. We see no reason why it should not be. A few sellers have expressed concern about sharing their sales figures, though these are miniscule compared to the volume of information they receive in return. Some are concerned about preserving descriptions that others can steal, but those descriptions were readily available before the sale was made. Alibris quotes California bookseller Chris Volk as saying, "I am beginning to wonder if this information isn't worth the monthly listing fee all by itself." Good point.