Aug 3 2008 3:12pm

AbeBooks acquired by

A few short days ago Avram Grumer sang the praises of AbeBooks, an online marketplace for used and rare books, right here on this very site. Well, it turns out that Amazon's been paying attention too. The 800 lb. gorilla of online sales has acquired AbeBooks in a deal supposedly worth $90-$120 million. It seems like these days, you can't run an independent business without some bigger company gobbling you up. So let's get these guys out of the way--complete each phrase for full credit:

I for one...
All your base...
Resistance is...

Now, let's move on to your comments. Is this good or bad for the used/rare book market? Will this affect prices on the collector's side of things? Will Jeff Bezos finally get his hands on his very own copy of the Necronomicon? Remember, Jeff, it's “klaatu barada nikto...

1. Peterxxx
Damn :( Amazon's used books sucks if you're not in US or a few other countries and its their general stance: if you're outside of US, we couldn't care less. AbeBooks, on the other hand, is absolutely great in this respect...
2. Dan Blum
Everything I've seen so far indicates that ABE will still run as a separate business, so it's quite possible that Amazon will not change much.
Christine Evelyn Squires
3. ces
So, Peterxxx, who did you talk to at Amazon.Com that said "its their general stance: if you're outside of US, we couldn't care less."? Enquiring minds want to know.
4. Techslave
Amazon's got its uses.
Generally, I consider them to be looking up when new books will be released. Or, at least, I did. Until they kept up the fail-o-copter antics with keeping things up to date. While I have ordered from them, it is typically to ship things across the country as gifts. In general, Amazon is harder to buy books on than any of their other products now.

ABE was always awesome - especially when you seek the rare out-of-print work by an author who even originally had low circulation of their books.
Darn you, The Man! Darn you!
We can hope Amazon doesn't interfere, but even if they just force ABE into their marketplace-system ...*shudder*... The interface horrors. THE GUI! THE GUI!
David Bilek
5. dtbilek
I think it's a neutral thing as I don't expect very many changes to ABEbooks. In any case until we know what, if any, changes will occur it's impossible to say whether this is good or bad.

In general, though, Amazon was the greatest thing to ever happen to book lovers as a whole. Followed in second place by Borders book store.

The dirty little secret of book lovers is that until Borders (and B&N I guess) came along, most bookstores sucked. Waldenbooks stunk. B. Dalton's stunk. Most independent bookstores stunk even more.

Yes, there were jewels to be found. But they were not anywhere near many-if-not-most people. Those people had to be content with a lousy Waldenbooks if they were lucky. If they weren't lucky, they had no bookstore at all.

Hooray for Amazon.
Bill Johnston
7. booksellerbill
I work at a used bookstore that lists on many online sites, including ABE and Amazon.

Amazon can be a frustrating venue for US-based used booksellers. Amazon reimburses sellers a fixed amount for shipping: about $2.60 for 'standard' (i.e. Media Mail), and $5 for 'expedited' (Priority Mail), and $10/$11 (I can't remember offhand) for 'international.' (Amazon actually pays $3.99, $5.99, and $11.95, but then charges you an extra $1 or so in addition to the 15% commission they take from the cost of the book.) If your book fits inside a flat rate Priority Mail envelope, you can sell it internationally and get fair compensation for the shipping; otherwise, it's just not worth it, since all international shipping from the US must now be done via Air Mail.

In addition, Amazon only lists used books that have an ASIN (I think that stands for Amazon Standard Inventory Number) in its system. This is the ISBN in most cases, but for books published before ISBNs were issued, Amazon must create an ASIN. I don't know how ASINs are assigned, but I do know that we have many books listed that don't appear on Amazon because they don't have ISBNs.

These are not issues on ABE Books. Sellers can set their own shipping rates and can request extra shipping in the case of heavy items, and ABE doesn't restrict you to listing just books with ISBNs.

I hope ABE continues as a separate service. If Amazon wants to integrate ABE into its website, I hope it maintains ABE's distinctive features which allow for a broader variety of titles to be listed.

I don't see this having an impact on the price of collectible books. There are still a number of alternative services out there (Biblio, Alibris, and ILAB, just to name a few); prices should stay competitive and there are some good meta-engines (, for comparison shopping. If a book is truly rare it will command an appropriate price.
Avram Grumer
8. avram
Damn, and I didn't even get a commission!
Debbie Moorhouse
9. GUDsqrl
Here in the UK we're now left with Alibris and Alibris and, umm, Alibris for secondhand book-buying online (altho' fortunately there are still a lot of independents on the high streets). Just as locally for new books we now have Waterstones, Waterstones, and Waterstones, rather than Waterstones, Ottakars and two indies.

This can't be good for purchasers.
10. Leigh Kimmel also has a history of arbitrarily removing booksellers from the Marketplace program without recourse. In theory it's a way of ensuring quality by eliminating sellers who violate their policies, but in practice there have been multiple cases in which people were falsely accused of violating a policy by a rival, and were left in the impossible position of having to prove a negative.

Not to mention the problem of constantly being at risk of having one's feedback scores (which are an important thing Amazon Alliance looks at when deciding whether to terminate a seller) held hostage by unscrupulous buyers who falsely accuse you of sending damaged books. Some will even go so far as to buy a copy of a book that they already own in worse condition, then falsely claim that it arrived damaged and send their damaged copy to the seller when asked to return it for a refund. Thus they get a nice copy of the book for the cost of the return postage (or completely free if they can frighten the seller into finding a way to refund that as well).

Amazon's attitude is that the customer is right by definition, and trying to fight these sorts of scammers can get you kicked off for bad customer service. A big company like Amazon can afford to absorb the losses caused by the occasional crook. A small mom-and-pop shop simply doesn't have that margin -- and unfortunately there are a number of people who will gladly pull stunts on online sellers that they would never dream of pulling in person, simply because they never see the online seller and thus can treat them as a faceless corporate entity, not a human being that's struggling to make a living.
11. Randolph
I call Amazon a medium-evil empire. They do provide a useful service. On the other hand, they're hard on their employees and on the independent booksellers and small presses. Heck, they tried to patent the idea of pressing a button to buy something, apparently never having head of the vending machine. So my guess is that small booksellers and rare book buyers are going to get a poorer deal, though not a hopeless one.
Bill Johnston
12. booksellerbill
@GUDsqrl: are you talking only about online bookselling venues based in the UK? There's always Antiqbook, a Dutch-based company. I know several UK sellers list there, and it seems to be the default service used by many European buyers.
Jeffrey Richard
13. neutronjockey
What won't Amazon acquire?

I expect an Amazon acquires Borders, Inc. announcement...
Tara Chang
14. tlchang
I'm trying to nervously stay optimistic. However, bigger is almost never really better... I loved Abe just as it was....
Debbie Moorhouse
15. GUDsqrl
Thanks, @booksellerbill--I'll look into that :).
Glennis LeBlanc
16. Glennis
Anyone remember Bibliofind? Amazon bought them years ago. Most of the large sites take a cut of price of the book sold and a cut of the shipping charged. ABE may allow you to set your own postage rates but they now decided to charge commission on it as well. Smaller sites and co-ops are still good to the used book seller. is one of them.
Disclaimer, I don't list on them so I can't tell you if they are a great service or not.
Liza .
17. aedifica
I will hope for the best--I love ABE, and I'd hate to see it lose the flexibility and the detailed (and honest) book condition descriptions that first drew me. At the same time, I'm fearing it will become nothing more than Amazon's Marketplace (which is better than nothing, but not nearly as good as ABE).
18. James Viner
I'm an ABE bookseller, perhaps this would be of use to Mr Bezos,

Seiously, though I love ABE for both buying and selling and hope it won't be broken.

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