Tuesday 6 April 2010

Buying second hand books online

can be an unsettling, feverish experience. On the one hand, pretty much any book you care to mention will probably be available online somewhere, whether it's on Amazon, AbeBooks, Biblion, or countless other internet aggregators and dealers. On the other hand, having so much information at your fingertips is often bewildering. Quite apart from questions of cost (thanks to the interweb, old books may be more available than ever, but they can still be bloody expensive), condition (can you really trust whatever scant description of a book a dealer's bothered to offer?) and shipping (what if a book's only available overseas? Do you take the chance it'll make its way to you safely?), the sheer number of dealers online makes comparing and contrasting a logistical nightmare.

Take Amazon. You'd think that any dealer worth their salt would sell their books through the biggest online retailer. But you'd be wrong. There might be copies of a book you're looking for on Amazon, but there might also be further copies on AbeBooks that aren't listed on Amazon, despite the fact that Amazon now own AbeBooks. There might also be more copies on Biblion, or Alibris, or on some small bookshop's own website. Working out who's got what (and in the case of the non-Amazon aggregators like AbeBooks, if they even still have it; the listings on these websites don't always get updated once a book's sold), what they're selling it for, and where it is is time-consuming and frustrating. You could try BookFinder (which I've only just discovered; sigh), which aggregates results from loads of dealers, but I doubt even that will give you the whole picture.

But even simply looking on Amazon can be confusing. For instance, I've only recently discovered that there are "hidden" listings on Amazon – or at least hidden to me until I worked out they were there. When I've been searching for a book on Amazon, under the (hopefully, but not necessarily) correct edition of the book, I've been clicking straight to the "3 used" link under the title, which I've taken to mean there are only three second hand copies of the book available. But I've been missing a trick. Because if you click on the actual title of the book and go to its full listing, you might also find there are other copies available under "collectible". These don't always show up on the short listing, so unless you click on that edition's fill title listing, you'll miss them completely.

Which I have been. Until now. Luckily, with all the Allison & Busby Richard Stark/Parker novels I've been picking up, there's only one instance where I've seen a very slightly cheaper copy than the one I bought. But it's a close call on a couple of others. And I've just nabbed another A&B Parker on Amazon that I had no idea was there.

I guess I shouldn't really complain. Pre-internet, getting hold of these books would've been next to impossible. But a part of me slightly hankers after that more innocent time. Things were so much simpler then.

1 comment:

  1. If you can’t find what you’re looking for secondhand then it’s worth checking if your local independent bookseller offers online shopping. Quite a lot do – my favourites that offer UK wide online shopping include Golden Hare Books , Nextonly.uk(who have great kids books and specialist art books), and Word Power . All come very highly recommended from me.