19 August 2010

Online book hunting- What you need to know

If you’re an online book hunter there’s one thing you already know too well- It can be absolutely maddening. Finding things can be difficult, finding prices and being sure of suppliers add to the “surprise factors” all readers presumably can’t live without. If you’re looking for large print books, you may have trouble finding a supplier who even knows what they are. There are very good online suppliers, and horrors.

The problem is that while many online suppliers are OK-ish, not all of them are dedicated booksellers. Some suppliers understand the idea of ordering, others don’t. The real booksellers are the best bet in this regard, and can follow the logic of trying to hunt down specific books without major surgery being required.

Basic online book hunting

The rules for book hunting are simple but sometimes forgotten:
  • Shop around carefully: You can find a huge range of prices, and you can buy ten books on one site for the price you’d pay for one on another. Just be patient, and you will definitely find something worth getting. 
  • Second hand books: Someone else’s idea of the condition of a second hand book doesn’t mean much, if anything. The professional booksellers are infinitely better in this regard, and use market standards which most real readers will know.
  • Special interests: Many good online suppliers are specialists in things like history, military books, arts, etc. They often have a huge range, and if you can find them, they’re gold, particularly if you’re doing research work. 
  • Terms of sale: The best online suppliers have very simple, no-fuss terms. They prefer a straightforward transaction, and they don’t create obstacle courses for refunds or crediting your account if they can’t fill an order. Many issue refunds automatically through PayPal or credit cards. 
  • Service: Good online booksellers are often extremely helpful. They can find repacked books like “collections” when you’re looking for a specific book, or track down obscure authors from their own database. This is far more information than the average consumer can expect to find on their own.
  • Customer reviews: The book market has the most highly critical customers on Earth. Suppliers aren’t forgiven for anything. One of the risks of working in a market where people can read and write, you might think, but a screech from fellow readers will turn off would-be customers quickly. 
Advanced book hunting

For book hunters looking for the books they used to have or obscure hard to find things on favorite subjects, the online book search is easier on the feet, but no softer on the nerves. This market isn’t well developed commercially, and it’s necessary to do some spadework to find these things:

Check out aficionados and book societies. They have good forums, and their own preferred suppliers. You can start looking in these areas with at least some sort of character reference to the booksellers. You also get specialist suppliers who are familiar with your subject, which can be priceless, and solve your problems instantly.  

Be patient, be focused, and don’t get put off by the sheer number of suppliers, and you will find what you want. 

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Maira Gall