Chapter and verse online with Abebooks.com

<p>Aislinn McCormick</p><p>Buying used books online is widespread nowadays. Online book retailer Abebooks.com celebrates its 10th anniversary of business next month; finding and placing hard-to-find books in one searchable engine. The privately owned company claims to hold a virtual inventory of 80 million books--used, out of print, rare and, more recently, new--with a value of books sold last year of $150m (&#163;80m).</p><p>The Canadian-based retailer provides a platform for booksellers to upload the bibliographic details of their inventories for a monthly subscription fee, based on number of titles included (which can be from one to more than 150,000), including free book inventory software and invoicing. Similar to Amazon's Marketplace, Abebooks takes a commission fee of 8% on each sale, as well as a credit card processing charge.</p><p>On each of its five websites--in Germany, Australia, France, the US and the UK--Abebooks runs a book club and community forums where buyers can discuss titles and authors with booksellers. Its recent acquisition of LibraryThing.com, a website designed to help readers build book collections, chimes with its strategy of becoming the website of choice for book buyers. "There is a great deal of traction in the consumer element of the site. Abe is all about the books," Hannes Blum, Abebooks c.e.o. and co-founder of JustBooks, says.</p><p>The launch of the UK business, Abebooks.co.uk, four years ago increased the company's existing database of 13,000 booksellers to include 2,000 UK-based sellers, and the UK has quickly become its second largest market.</p><p>For a small independent bookseller, working with Abebooks provides access to book buyers across its five websites; the database of books is used across the sites, but search results are regionalised to present local sellers first.</p><p>Dotcom survivor</p><p>Established in 1996 during the dot com era, founders Cathy and Keith Waters conceived an online database where rare and out of print books could be easily located. Abebooks quickly consolidated its position in the market by acquiring the European market leader, JustBooks, based in Germany, in 2001, and Spain's Iberlibro.com three years later. Its headquarters remain in Victoria, Canada, and it has offices in Dusseldorf, Germany, and Oviedo, Spain. It acquired price comparison service Bookfinder.com last year, to which its websites link.</p><p>Abebooks.co.uk receives between four and five million hits from UK-based visitors a week, a number that has doubled in the past 12 months . The website has sparked a healthy transatlantic trade in collectable books, with UK booksellers receiving around 17% of their orders from America. Richard Davies, Abebooks press and publicity manager, says: "Internet retailing is really coming of age in Britain."</p><p>Abebooks' strong point is the reputation it has built as a destination to help people locate hard-to-find books. Dan Cherrington, who runs online bookseller Paperbackshop. co.uk, based in Gloucestershire, has been uploading titles to Abebooks.com since 1998. "They have a different sort of customer than Amazon.co.uk; one who understands books and prices. Even if eight out of 10 customers go to Amazon, one out of 10 will go to Abebooks and return. If you miss Abebooks, you miss out on them."</p><p>Two years ago, Abebooks added new books to the mix, believing that specialist buyers want rare titles and new books in one place. It has proved a shrewd move, with new books providing an important bolt-on to its database of collectable and out of print titles.</p><p>Hemingway, Steinbeck and Dickens</p><p>Abebooks aficionados want high value, collectable titles from authors such as Hemingway, Steinbeck and Dickens, but also want new books, tending to favour specialist subjects such as art and gardening over bestsellers. Almost half of book buyers using Abebooks buy eight or nine books a month from its sites. Rare books account for 30% of sales, new titles comprise 10% to 15%, and second-hand and textbooks make up the remaining 55%.</p><p>Abebooks defines itself as a "long tail" company, with sales of deep backlist far outweighing the sum of revenue from bestsellers. Blum says: "It's not about popular titles, but rather books for the individual buyer."</p><p>More recently, rare and antiquarian booksellers that rely on Abebooks rather than their own websites were angered by an increase to its commission fee, plus the addition of a credit card processing charge. The Antiquarian Booksellers Association staged a one-day protest on 1st April, taking 185,000 titles off Abebooks.com.</p><p>John Critchley, ABA administrator, says: "Abebooks is trying to keep itself competitive, but we believe it risks losing online booksellers through becoming too commercial."</p><p>But some booksellers believe that Abebooks' fees are justified in a competitive market. "It provides an extremely smooth and accessible service for sellers alongside the bigger players," Cherrington says.</p><p>Abebooks is actively growing in European markets and will launch a website in Italy later this year. Blum forecasts a 20% to 30% increase on last year's gross volume. "We stand apart from the competition because we let the bookseller set the price and description: we leave the selling decisions to the expert."</p>