Research Reveals AbeBooks Driving Booksellers Crazy

Maybe that should have been the title of their latest press release.

While most of the bookselling trade is going nuts over AbeBooks’ new ‘bookseller rating’ system, which is running in beta version right now, they release this news flash:

Research Reveals Baby Boomers Drive Online Used Bookselling in US

Before I get to that here is a bit about the current skirmish between the booksellers in the ABAA and AbeBooks.

AbeBooks is working on a rating system for booksellers based on the star rating systems that appear at other online marketplaces. Unfortunately, this bookseller rating system has nothing to do with bookselling and everything to do with order fulfillment. The amount of stars you earn is based exclusively on your order fulfillment percentage. Nothing more nothing less.

The system is skewed toward failure for the bookseller.

As long as AbeBooks, Amazon or any other online marketplace offers the bookseller only a shipping credit toward the actual shipping costs their fulfillment ratings remain in jeopardy. Couple this with the recent price increase at the post office and you have a recipe for disaster.

What continues to amaze me is that these online aggregators have not found or developed a shipping matrix that presents the true shipping charges to both the consumer and the vendor. Especially so for the ISBN material where the item’s weight information is readily attainable.

At some point the tide is going to turn, and there are signs that is beginning to turn, where the negatives far outweigh the positives and it no longer makes sense to sell your books on these types of sites.

It is always hard to jump out of a revenue stream but it sure beats drowning in one.

On to the press release…

These are the “Key findings” of the study, I present all as listed:

-79% are aged over 45 – more than half have a degree or a higher qualification
-Most sellers had left white-collar careers to become booksellers – the most common previous professions were jobs in teaching,libraries, sales, and management;
-11% work between 51 and 60 hours per week, and 9% are working more than 60 hours a week with the online cataloguing of books being the most time-consuming task;
-25% will increase their online book inventory by between 10% and 25% in 2007;
-21% plan to launch their own e-commerce website;Sellers acquire books through a large number of sources – many of which require time on the road – including library sales, estate sales, private sales, and auctions.
-26% had traveled up to 100 miles to buy a book and 9% had gone abroad to buy books;Many sellers also sell through other online marketplaces and 74% had set up their Internet selling operation without outside IT assistance
-60% of sellers polled operate purely online – the others had bookstores or showrooms;
-64% of the sellers offer mostly out-of-print books and most specialize in a number of genres – history, fiction and children’s books are the most common;
-68% list falling book prices as their biggest fear for the future but 38% are also concerned that fewer young people are reading books now;
-Despite their long working hours, 33% read between five and 10 books per month

The press release ends with these comments from their CEO Hannes Blum:
-Hard work is the key to successfully selling secondhand books on the Web
-Online bookselling “requires dedication to build up an online inventory of books and considerable effort to find books ideal for the Internet”

Keep in mind, as with a past Abe surveys, there are some potential reliability gaps. There are over 8000 people selling books on AbeBooks in the U.S. and this survey is built on the polling of less than 2000 of them.
Also, a Friday press release is always a little suspect. You always want the good news out early in the week so people can run with it and not before the weekend so people can sit with it.

And to call it “A major piece of research into online used bookselling in America” is a little bit of a reach, but hey this is a company whose new ad campaign boasts “If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist.”

The other story might be why 3/4 of their booksellers either didn’t respond to the survey or weren’t asked to participate.
Maybe the rest of them are slackers instead of “Silver Surfers.”

Also, where is the research on the effect “factory sellers” are having on the online bookselling industry, and especially the small independent book stores who also sell online?
Right now on ABE there are at least a handful of these type of sellers, each with over 1 million items listed for sale. In the history of bookselling how many bookshops have had over 1 million books in their inventory? Now, since the advent of AbeBooks and online bookselling, they’re all over the place. Then there is also the sticky issue of whether or not these sellers are even selling books they own?

The statement Blum makes about online bookselling and how it takes ” considerable effort to find books ideal for the Internet” is the harbinger here. For now we have evolved to where we have books and we have “books ideal for the internet.”

So now we know why bookshops will always be around.

There will always have to be places for people to go to find the books that aren’t ideal for the internet!

Mutterings of a Mad Bookseller has a good post on the new rating system.

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