Membership Monthly: Biblio and Selling Used Books Online

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Join for the camaraderie, stay for the savings: a monthly column about the hidden gems of ABA membership, written by ABA Member Relationship Manager Catherine Cusick.

Comments and suggestions are welcome at info@bookweb.org.


Selling used books can be a daunting task. While selecting titles, buying, pricing, and shelving are often lengthy, labor-intensive processes, booksellers generally consider the payoff worth the extra effort.

Luckily for bookstores with websites — e-commerce-enabled or not — the American Booksellers Association has teamed up with Biblio.com so that member stores can direct their customers to Biblio’s database of used, rare, and out-of-print books via a simple search box placed on their store sites. Biblio’s white-label affiliate program enables stores to give their website visitors instant access to millions of titles, from more than 5,000 sources, via a customized co-branded portal.

ABA members also have the option to upload their own used book inventory onto the site. However, if a store focuses on new inventory and doesn’t stock many used books, members can simply help their online customers search for used books from other sellers on Biblio via their co-branded portal. If a customer makes a purchase via the portal, the store earns an affiliate commission fee.

Biblio provides booksellers with all of the banners and search boxes to put on their store websites, and customers visit a co-branded version of Biblio that features links to the affiliated store site.

For more information and sign-up instructions, a Biblio FAQ page can be found here.

ABA Members Weigh In

While Susan Burwell, co-owner of Reston’s Used Book Shop in Reston, Virginia, does not sell Reston’s own used book inventory on Biblio, she has chosen to provide her customers with access to Biblio’s marketplace via the store site. “It’s all about customer service,” Burwell said. “If we cannot find a book for a customer, especially if it is a little obscure or unusual, we invite them to go through our website to get to the Biblio site to find that book.”

On Reston’s website, which is not an e-commerce site, the homepage informs customers of the new offering beside a search bar that says Powered by Biblio. “We know that we can’t always put the book you are looking for into your hands,” the web copy acknowledges. “Through an alliance with Biblio.com, we can now offer books online — not our books, but the books from hundreds of other book shops. If you find the book at a price that you like and order it through Biblio.com, we get a small commission.”

Reston’s used books are not inventoried or listed via a computer database, so its affiliate relationship with Biblio is a good fit; however, for other stores, uploading their own inventory to Biblio.com to reach a different customer base is a key benefit.

George Rishel, the owner of The Sly Fox, is the third generation in his family to operate a retail store in his brick-and-mortar location in Virden, Illinois. “Although The Sly Fox is now online, [at the store] we still do many things the old-fashioned way,” Rishel writes on the store’s website. “We still write out each sales receipt by hand and make change from a wooden cash drawer.”

Rishel, who signed up with Biblio several years ago, uploads and sells his own used book inventory on the site to reach a whole different audience than those who shop in the store. “All of the customers I have on Biblio are ones who have not been and are unlikely to ever be in the store, even if they live within 100 miles,” said Rishel.

Rishel does warn that online sellers should manage their expectations. While his Biblio sales do come from new customers, the number of books he sells on Biblio annually is modest. “There are just too many sellers offering books at ridiculously cheap prices,” he said.

Echoing Rishel, ABA IndieCommerce Director Phil Davies described the online used book marketplace as “an inventory-saturated market that lowers prices and sales volume.” Davies advises booksellers who are just starting to sell used books on Biblio to check to see the current prices of other online listings for any given title first. “Customers searching for a title will often see many listings for the same title, but prices will vary,” he said. “If all the copies of a book are being offered by reputable merchants and the book’s condition and shipping costs are the same, the customer is going to purchase the least expensive option. Making sure that your books are listed at or slightly below market value is extremely important.”

As is often the case in the used book market, “what used book sellers pay for the book is probably more important than the price that they list the book for online,” Davies said. That difference will be what determines “how low they can list the book for sale and still make a profit.”


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