17 May 2009

Books: that obscure object of desire

To track down books that are out of print, highly specialised or otherwise unlikely to be carried by the local bookstore, check out www.abebooks.com.au, the website of AbeBooks Australia-New Zealand, the local site for AbeBooks International, an online bookseller offering more than 110 million new, used, rare and out-of-print books from a worldwide chain of thousands of booksellers.

Founded in 1995 by two couples from Victoria, British Columbia, AbeBooks went live in 1996 and has been a highly successful operation. It was acquired by Amazon.com in December 2008 but remains a stand-alone operation with headquarters in Victoria B.C. and a European office in Dusseldorf.

Australia-New Zealand readers logging on to the ANZ site have the option to have ANZ booksellers listed first, followed by all other booksellers. It can be set so that within those two lists the options are listed in rising order of price, which makes it easy either to select a good second-hand copy ahead of a new copy, or to compare prices of new copies from different booksellers.

There is a very good search engine; it is not necessary to have complete details of author, title and publisher – it will return a list of all books which comply with any word entered into any of the search fields. If the list is too long it can be narrowed by a follow-up search of that list. In my experience the descriptions of second hand books are very reliable – when a book is described as “very fine” or “as new”, that is the way it is. Books are well wrapped and all the ones I have ordered have arrived undamaged.

There really is an enormous range; I have been able to acquire items ranging from a 1963 paperback edition of Richard N. Frye’s Heritage of Persia for $US1.00 plus postage (a lot more than $US1.00!) to a new copy of the latest edition of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World.

Finally, a tip. Do not assume that the ANZ option will be the cheapest for ANZ buyers just because the postage will be less. It is worth looking at overseas options – I have found new books at U.S. booksellers for which the delivered price is about half the delivered price from a local ANZ bookseller.

North American readers can go direct to the U.S. site www.abebooks.com, and U.K. and European readers can go to the U.K. site www.abebooks.co.uk, which quotes prices in GBP rather than USD.

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