Bruce Smith submitted the following thoughts and tips on using web sites to locate used and rare books. -EditorThe biggest stand-alone used book site is ABE Books, which offers more than 100 million books from 13,000 sellers around the world. The address is www.abebooks.com. The site Bookfinder.com simply searches other sites such as ABE and Alibris, and in theory should list more books than any other site. However, for some reason there are lots of books available on the other sites which do not turn up on Bookfinder. This may have something to do with the individual sellers' contract with their home site. I sell books on ABE, Alibris, Biblio, and Half.com.
This last site is now owned by Ebay but runs separately. The difference between Half.com and the other sites is that on Half.com the listed book must have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) number. These numbers (originally a 10 digit number, now there are also 13 digit numbers) were first used in the mid 1970's, so if the book you are looking for was published before then, chances are you won't find it on Half.com.
There are exceptions, however. If a book has been reprinted since the mid-1970's, it usually gets an ISBN number. Some sellers (myself included) will sometimes list an old book under the ISBN of the reprint, with a note that it is actually an original. The other exception is that some big sellers are able to create acceptable ISBN numbers for old books. I don't know how they do it, but when I check the price of a book I am about to list, sometimes the "created" number shows up, and I can list the old book on Half.com (as well as ABE, where I normally list all pre-1970 books).
Some things to keep in mind. The first few digits of the ISBN number indicate the printer. If a book was printed by more than one printer, there can be more than one ISBN number for it. This is particularly true when a new release is printed in both the USA and Europe. Different editions and reprints of a book may or may not have different ISBN numbers. Also the paperback and hard cover versions normally have different ISBN numbers.
And a tip. When searching for a book on one of the book sites, enter the minimum possible information in the search boxes to get the best results. That means, don't list the author's full name, just the last name. And you only need to type in the important words of a title, not the full title. The search engine automatically deletes works like a, an, the, to, of, and, and so on.
Each seller lists his books differently. Some list the whole name, including middle name, some list only first and last name, and some use initials. If you enter the full name, your search will only find those books which were listed with the full name --- you will miss all those with an initial for the middle name and those in which the middle name was omitted.
So if you want to find The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, all you need to enter is "Gibbon" and "Decline Roman Empire". You could leave out "Decline" but it may pull up other books on the Roman Empire by some other guy named Gibbon. Your goal should be to pull up the maximum number of examples of any book you are looking for. Chances are the lazy seller who entered the minimum amount of information in his listing probably has the lowest price for the book.
By the way, most of the book sites have a "Want List" feature, which you can set up to notify you automatically when a copy of a particular book comes up for sale. And keep in mind that these book sites are fixed price sites -- when you see a book for sale, you can buy it immediately at the price shown.
One book I had been looking for for 20 years turned up in an automatic email one day. The book is worth $200, but it turned up at 75 cents. I thought it was a mistake for $75 and ordered it immediately. No mistake -- I got the book for 75 cents plus postage. The seller had just bought out another dealer -- tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of books -- and rather than look up each one, he just listed everything at 75 cents to bring in some quick cash! Good Hunting!
Wayne Homren, Editor
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