Why is There So Much Recent Interest in Online Bookselling?

Michael Mould

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It was only a few years ago that online booksellers had only a couple of options for listing their books on Internet marketplaces. Enter Amazon.com, and suddenly there were some radical changes in the landscape as well as a huge market for online booksellers. Amazon has modified the way many things are bought and sold through the Internet, but their greatest influence has without a doubt been with respect to books, CD's, and other goods with standardized numbering systems, e. g. , ISBN and barcode identifiers. When they began to allow third-party sellers to sell used items alongside the new ones Amazon was offering, many people, and certainly some other businesses, thought they were crazy, but Amazon.com maintained that they were customer-centric and intended to provide a marketplace where their customers could make their own decisions while being assured of a satisfactory experience.

Recently, some very interesting events have taken place that warrant at least a cursory look. Google introduced Froogle quite some time ago, but recently introduced Google Base which I believe is intended to be the long-term replacement for Froogle. Google Base offers a venue for online booksellers to list their Amazon inventory for sale and potentially a means for sellers to circumvent the sales commissions charged by Amazon.com. While Google Base is still in its infancy, once Google has all the details worked out and has integrated into their service a means for secure customer payment and seller notification, Base will in all likelihood be a real headache for Amazon.com. I say this because Amazon.com is accustomed to market domination and Google is not very well known as settling for being number two at anything. I am sure Amazon.com will counter with other incentives and features to maintain their position and market presence, but Google will go for position number one in online bookselling if they really decide to get into the business. The developments are going to be very interesting to say the least.

An even more recent development that lends credence to the value of the bookselling market was Microsoft's announcement that they will be launching an Internet book search feature which will target only books in the public domain and those that publishers ask to have included which are under copyright protection. Thus, Microsoft is now at about the same point where Google was a few years ago, but is not targeting all books like Google first declared they would be doing.

So, why are Google and Microsoft so interested in books? The only logical explanation is that both see a way to derive substantial revenues from the sale of books. What I do not understand is why it took them so long to see this. Amazon.com is a multibillion dollar company with very respectable annual earnings, and surely Google and Microsoft were aware of Amazon.com's business theme before now. Amazon.com did not get as big as it is by giving their services away.

Regardless of their motivation, it is great to see some industry giants coming into the picture; the competition for Amazon.com should only strengthen the industry and result in competitive marketplaces that offer booksellers and buyers a reliable and trustworthy transaction experience.

Now, if I could only raise the capital to start up a competitive co-op online marketplace that would only charge booksellers 5% - 10% commissions and no listing fees, I could jump into the action too. It would only take a hundred million dollars or so to get started, but the last time I checked my bank account I was a little short.

What I am realizing as a result of the big guys taking an interest in books is a surge in the public interest with respect to online bookselling. It is a huge market as evidenced by the involvement of Amazon.com, Alibris.com, Half.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Biblio.com, ebay.com, and dozens of other lesser-known marketplaces. With the addition of Google and Microsoft involvement, they must be expecting the future of online bookselling to be very lucrative, which begs the question of why more individuals are not getting into the business as either a full-time or part-time income source. The growth in the number of new online booksellers seems to be lagging the growth of the marketplaces, which indicates - at least to me - that there is substantial room for many more ambitious people to get into the business and realize a respectable income with enormous room for growth. One thing is for sure, those that get into it early and get established are the ones that are likely to be successful, and those that continue to procrastinate will be left in the dust by the ambitious.

Michael E. Mould is the author of “Online Bookselling: A Practical Guide with Detailed Explanations and Insightful Tips, " [Paperback ISBN 1427600708, CD-ROM ISBN 1599714876] and the developer of “Bookkeeping for Booksellers" [CD ISBN 1427600694], you can learn more about online bookselling at: http://www.online-bookselling.com


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