Selling Books Online: Book Listing Services vs. eBay - Pt. II

In Part I, we introduced you to the world of online book selling. Today, we dive into many of the popular book listing sites.

In Part I, we introduced you to the world of online book selling. Today, we dive into many of the popular book listing sites.

Getting Started
Some people believe if you put booksellers in paradise they would complain about the room service. This is an exaggeration, but booksellers love to bellyache, as anyone who has visited a seller's chat room can testify. Still, the chat rooms and bookseller forums offer valuable general information, news and bookselling hints for both the novice and veteran seller. Many members of the forums are helpful people, glad to answer questions posted to the sites. For these reasons, it is a good idea to subscribe to eBay and general bookselling forums as a first step in entering the online bookselling market.

In order to sell via the book listing services, sellers must have an FTP (File Transfer Protocol,) program to upload listings from their PC's to listing services servers. ABE offers a free program called Homebase, which also works with other listing services such as Alibris and Biblio. But those lacking Homebase or an alternative will need a commercial program such as Booktrakker, Book Hound, or software that works with Excel spread sheets.

An Open Secret
Whether selling through eBay auctions or on the multi-dealer listing sites, the primary tool for anyone seeking to sell or buy books on the Internet are the Metasites, or book search sites. For checking book prices, availability and general bibliographic information, the main book search sites are far more comprehensive than the search pages on eBay or the largest book listing services in that they search the databases of all the main listing services (and parts of eBay and the Barnes & Noble site,) for any given title. Results are displayed up to hundreds of listings by simply typing in the authors name and title. Search results can be refined by specifying 'first edition,' 'signed copies' and other qualifying filters on the search engines. The sites are free, deriving their income from banners and other advertising. Despite their superiority over other book search engines, the sites remain unknown to many book buyers and sellers.

There are two main book search engine sites: This is the larger of the two search engines, currently covering books listed on at least 39 bookselling sites, including a partial search of eBay and Barnes & Noble. BookFinder allows for keyword searches and will sort books by lowest price and selling site, and can be set for French, German and Italian searches. Because of its wide net, the average search time with a fast web connection is about 24 seconds. (This time can be decreased by omitting either the title or author's name when either is unique such as "My Life As An Aardvark" or Carl LaFong.) There is a link on the site allowing for a subscription to the Bookfinder seller's forum, "Insider," one of the better bookseller chat rooms. It's a free service that is emailed out daily. Smaller, covering at least 16 of the larger selling sites; the benefit is a quicker average search time of 16 seconds. Add/All offers the advantages of sorting by lowest and highest price books, by dealer, and allows alphabetized searches. They also offer entertainment in the form of famous quotations shown during the search time.

Google and other general search sites can not search databases, so many books on the specialized book search sites will not appear. But Google has great ability to search static pages where many booksellers advertise their books. Can be used as a last resort when BookFinder and AddAll fail to find a title.

Sorting the 'Pass-Through' Book listing Sites
Sellers want to sign on a with sites that generate good traffic and market penetration reaching the widest range of potential customers for their specific inventories — at a reasonable cost. Simultaneously, ease of operation is important when listing thousands of books, as is good technical support. No one site contains all these qualities, but several stand out in the pack.

Sales being the name of the game, it follows that the sites that sell the most books are the best sites on which to list. But sales are sensitive information, not shared by many sites except in claims that are often doubted within the trade and impossible to confirm. An alternative means of determining the sales-generating potential of a site is web traffic and the number of sellers using the service. The following guide to some of the major book listing services contains stats supplied in part by the IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association;) the opinions are those of the author.

ABE (Advanced Book Exchange)
Monthly Listing Charge: (20,000 books) $53-65
Commission Rate: 8%
Fulfillment Rate: 80%
Participating dealers: 13,000
Total Listings: 70 million
Joining fee: $25
According to spokesperson Richard Davies, ABE claims to sell between 20-25,000 books a day on its five North American and international sites. This claim is difficult to confirm and dubiously viewed by some in the trade. But in any case, ABE is the largest and probably the best sales producing site for used and antiquarian books. The commission rate is moderate and the site offers a free book uploading database, Homebase. ABE's monthly listing fees begin at $25 for less than 500 listings and range up to $300 for 150,000 or more books. (There are, according to Davies, no less than 80 sellers with greater than 150,000 listings on ABE !)

The site offers affiliate programs including linkage with and Akaikutsu, a Japanese bookselling site; however, these affiliations tend to change with fair regularity — as does the site's commissions and dealer rules. For instance, ABE's current affiliation with will end in October, at Amazon's behest.

The "fulfillment rate" on ABE refers to the percentage of received orders that are filled, though dealers are not rated for public consumption nor directly penalized for falling though the 80 percent fulfillment threshold. ABE allows full contact with its customers, and charges no commission on dealer-to-dealer sales. But again, 'perks' such as these, as well as affiliations with other sites, seem to be in a constant state of flux on the major book listing services.

Monthly Listing Charge: $40, (20,000 listings)
Commission: 15%
Total Listings: 35 million
Participating Dealers: 10,000+
Joining Fee: $50
Fulfillment Rate: 85%
Total Listings: 35 million
Alibris — formerly under the name Interloc — was the first major antiquarian book listing site, founded in 1996. While trailing ABE in size and almost certainly, total sales, Alibris has spent large sums in advertising and achieving a major used/antiquarian market presence: the site sells books. Currently, dealers listing less than a thousand books can opt to pay a $1 surcharge per sold book and the 15 percent commission on sales, avoiding monthly listing fees. Tech support is available only by email. Returns on $100 or lesser books are absorbed by Alibris rather than returned to the dealer — perhaps the only site that does this. Alibris rates its dealers with a five star system visible to potential buyers. It offers an extensive array of affiliate programs including an exclusive affiliation with Barnes & Noble and, as well as 7,500 research libraries — among a total of 12 such programs.

Monthly Listing fees:$40-47 (unlimited listings)
Joining Fee: None
Participating dealers: 20,000+
Total Listings: 70 million+ (estimated)
Founded in 1995, Amazon now claims 13 million customers in 160 countries. While many of these buyers drop in for music, CDs electronics and toys, etc., Amazon began by selling books and it remains easily the largest Internet bookseller. The company's tentacles stretch across the entire bookselling market, including new and in-print titles, rare and collectible books and book auctions. Antiquarian books are offered through its Amazon Marketplace and shops programs.

By all accounts, Amazon Marketplace is becoming an effective platform for selling used books, as it remains the top site for shifting new books. Sales are apparently going so well with used books, Amazon is abruptly ending its affiliation of many years standing with ABE and Alibis in October, requiring ABE and Alibris sellers to sign up separately with Amazon and pay additional Amazon monthly fees to list their books on the site — pricing out many small sellers from the site.

A victim of its size, Amazon's seller rating system is thought to be subject to manipulation and its search/match facility faulty. There are elaborate rules for listing to the various Amazon sites, many differing from the other listing sites. Some can seem challenging — ISBN numbers for instance, must accompany any book published from the early 1960's on and BASIN's assigned ISBN numbers for earlier titles. Further, allowed shipping fees are frequently below cost and must be absorbed to do business on the site. That said, Amazon remains a superior marketplace for selling every manner and form of book.

Barnes & Noble.Com
Widely believed to be second only to Amazon in total sales, B&N sells new and in print books on its Web site, and in its hundreds of Barnes and Noble and Borders stores. Currently, Alibris has an exclusive affiliation with B&N for its dealer's used books — a major perk for Alibris sellers.
Monthly fees: 15% commission and no listing charge decreasing down to 7.5% with $40 commission cap on individual book sales
Participating dealers: 3,500
Joining fee: No fee
Total listings: 25 million
The largest of the commission-free sites, this is a lean and hungry North Carolina-based outfit offers excellent phone tech support, total dealer-buyer contact and, generally, a high caliber of booksellers with quality books. Reseller program Biblio-Oz Australia. Biblio has experienced considerable growth in the past year, in part due to favorable dealer terms, in part because it is well run and does generate sales. Not in the class of ABE or Alibris, but shows the potential of becoming a major player in the used/antiquarian book market.

Commission Charge: 10%
Joining Fee: None
Participating Dealers: 1,980
Total Listings: 12 million
ChooseBooks recently combined with a large German-based European site. Full contact details for seller listed. The site offers an option of listing fees with smaller commissions.

eBay Stores
Monthly Listing Charges: $50 (variable)
Commission Charge: 8%
Joining fee: None
Participating dealers: 10,000+ (estimate)
Total Listings: 2 million (estimate)
eBay is geared towards its auction programs, with the Stores still widely considered a weaker venue; (an indication of this is the low estimated number of total listings verses the total seller estimate). Buyer/seller contact is similar to the auction format and dealer ratings via the feedback system.

Monthly Listing Charges: None
Joining Fee: None
Participating Dealers: 3,000 (estimated)
Total Listings: 15 million (estimated)
Froogle is the product division of Google and listings cover a large range of products beside books, which makes a book search on the site slower than on dedicated book listing services. On the other hand, the price is right and bookseller Web sites are listed with full contact details. Judging by the recent rush of sellers onto the site, it may grow into a legitimate player in terms of sales.

Monthly Listing Fees: $45
Commission Charges: None
Participating Dealers: 200
Total Listings: 1.5 million (estimated)
TomFolio is a bookseller's co-operative with a $500 buy-in share fee required. Tom Folio seems to be a labor of love populated with book-loving, dedicated sellers and high ethical standards policed by an ethics committee. By most accounts, sales are as sparse as its sellers are fiercely loyal — almost messianic in their belief in the site.

The above is just a partial listing intended to give a general view of the resources available in the current book listing service marketplace. (Log on to the IOBA website for a complete list.) Sellers need to find the proper niche for their specific inventory of books.

By most estimates, only 10-15 percent of online book sales are for used books. This leaves the lion's share of the Internet market to new, in-print, and niche markets such as college textbooks (a currently explosive segment of the market,) bulk sales, paperbacks, bargain books, etc. The problem here is the ferocious competition for readily available titles, a competition frequently won by the largest sellers with the lowest prices. Scarce, used, and out-of-print books are difficult to acquire, research and market, but will sell at a quicker pace with less competition.

In order to cast the wider net in a competitive market, most Internet booksellers subscribe to several separate listing services — regardless of inventory or specialty. Previously, participation in either or both ABE and Alibris with links into Amazon affiliate programs has been most common, with participation in the smaller, high quality or specialized sites as well. With the impending Amazon policy change, booksellers will have to join the Amazon program on the site in order to sell books there. The extra fees will probably prove burdensome to marginal sellers, forcing many to choose between the three major sites, and consider participating in commission-free platforms.

Some listing sites automatically delete listings once you've processed an order as 'shipped.' But if you also sell books on eBay or in other venues, it is important to delete the title from the listing services. Orders received for previously sold books that cannot be filled, count against your overall reliability rating on sites such as Alibris and Amazon and can affect whether a buyer purchases from you.

In Part III, we examine the eBay bookselling marketplace.

Frank Fortunado is a contributor to and an avid eBay seller.

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