If an independent bookseller can’t get a book for a customer, but it’s available somewhere else, say Abe.com (Advanced Book Exchange), alibris.com or, don’t say it, amazon.com, what’s the bookseller to do? I’ve done some investigating and it seems Amazon does own abe.com outright and has a pretty swell set-up for out-of-print resellers on Alibris, but does that mean independent booksellers should not use them?
Here’s the scenario: a customer comes in wanting an out-of-print book, say, Ruth Carlsen’s classic, Mr. Pudgins. This book is easily available on Ingram’s professional level Ipage, so you can literally just add it to your selection list, click order and you’re done. The out-of-print resellers are on Alibris. The book ships net, you are charged freight and the charge is added right to your Ingram bill. The ease of this transaction makes this an attractive option.
Baker and Taylor offers a similar service, though it’s not quite as smooth. Out-of-print books are available, but the link takes you right to Alibris and you have to have an Alibris account and a credit card to process the sale. This can be cumbersome if a staffer who doesn’t have access to the store credit card is trying to place an order.
Because the book is net from Ingram or Baker and Taylor, so the bookstore gets no discount, now you have to decide if you’re going to mark up the book to cover your staff time in researching the book, or do you just order these types of books as a courtesy to your customers? Or is it enough to pass on the freight cost to your customer and have them come in the store to pick up their book? (I just played around on Ipage and learned you can set a default discount or price increase for Alibris books. So, when you’re searching the Hard to Find database, the price you’re quoting customers already incluce whatever pre-set mark up you’ve determined.)
Or, perhaps, you just give the customer the info he needs to order the book himself at amazon.com or any of the other places he could go?
The real question, I guess, is, do you want the customer to come to you for the book, regardless of where you get it, or is it easier and more efficient, staff time-wise, to have them go to an on-line competitor and risk maybe losing them?
We have a general rule at the Flying Pig: we’ll always get the books for older folks who maybe aren’t as tech-savvy as the folks who work at the store. Students coming in seeking books will sometimes get directions to websites so they can save the most money. But as more people come in seeking out-of-print titles, it has become a real dilemma for us.
In a perfect world, all our stores would be down the street from a great used bookseller and none of this would be an issue, but I’m really curious to hear what other bookstores do.