As a specialist seller of vintage paperbacks I am constantly frustrated by just hard it is to compare book prices on a comparable basis between Amazon and Abebooks.
Once upon a time Amazon was mainly used to sell modern second hand books which had an ISBN number; hence all newish books are easily identifiable by this unique identifier. It is increasingly becoming the case that more vintage books (prior to the ISBN system in 1970) are being listed for sale on Amazon, and without adequate descriptive controls. Any trader who sells more than 40 items a month can create a new “page”/Entry to list a book even though a similar but not necessarily identical one may exist already.
Abe’s Superior Search Function.
Suppose we want to buy a particular orange penguin ; Ernest Hemingway’s Men Without Women (Short Stories) which was published in Penguin in 1955. On Amazon the best I can do in the entry bar is to search on “Men Without Women Ernest Hemingway Penguin” and then manually look though all 16 separate entries until I find four that have 1955 in brackets after the title. Then its a case of going into each of the four to look at the prices and condition. The first one I hit on under 1955 says “1960 reprint”… it takes a good ten minutes to wade through until I find one I’m happy with. An analysis of 100 Vintage Penguins (below) found that on average for each title on Amazon there are at least two Entries per title hence Amazon is riddled with poorly labelled duplicate listings; wo betide the buyer who misses a bargain because he’s lost the will to carry on searching !
In Abe you have the benefit of the vastly more sophisticated Advanced Search Facility. All sellers use a similar screen to enter up to 24 fields of information per book in order to comprehensively describe each and every book. Hence I can in one hit specify that I want a specific book, title, publisher and within a specific date of publication i.e 1950. Voila in one search the full list of 10 copies are displayed. Other fields to filter on are First edition/dust jacket/signed and a keyword such as a name of an illustrator.
You are more likely to find a specific edition of a Penguin on Abe than Amazon; in the analysis 63% of titles were found on Amazon vs 74% on Abe; and more copies per title were available on Abe giving a greater range of conditions and prices.
More Consistent and Sensibly priced books on Abe.
For the 63 titles listed on Amazon the average pricing from Acceptable upwards was £9.41-£22.84. For the 74 on Abe it was £5.15-£15.83. There are some cheeky sellers on Amazon ; one case being “Explosives by John Reid” ; an early 1942 Pelican on sale at a mere £300.
Most Sellers should offer postage (and maybe other discounts) if asked nicely when approached directly for multiple orders. Over the last two years Abe have developed their pictures facility , such that up to 5 can be displayed per book. This makes it easier to create mini catalogues such that you can see all available stock for a particular author/titles from one seller.
To conclude Amazon is for good for books with an ISBN number, or for standard editions of older books where the large quantities of stocks available will guarantee a sensible price. But Abe is for the discerning collector, the special big birthday gift or the investment.
Don’t read on for how I got to the numbers or the numbers. On the other hand if you’re also a seller or collector of Vintage Penguins you may like to know where the gaps are and what first editions are fetching on both channels.
100 Vintage Penguins
The list is compiled from the Penguin postcard box set “One hundred book covers in one box” (all except 2 which I’ve sent to clients already). Hence it is not the first x numbers (which would bias the list towards older stock) and dates range from 1935-1982. Most are first editions but not all; whatever the date of the cover specified on the reverse of the card is the one searched on.
On Amazon where hundreds of entries have emerged I have kept the search to the first two screens. On Abe I have limited it to UK only. No further attempts are made to comment on condition ; that maybe the subject of a later post.