Archive for the ‘abebooks’ Category

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Local Book Search: A new way forward for bookselling

We’ve just released a slew of new features (see overview). We hope members like them all, but Local Book Search is the most important. I won’t mince words: it is intended to change bookselling forever.

The Idea. It’s a simple idea: a location-based search for books. After all, you can ask Google for pizza where you live. But you can’t do it with books, until now.

Just Show Me the Feature! Here are some sample links:

Imagine if all the bookstores and libraries in central London were searchable.

The Vision. More and more people look to the web, even for local information. I can’t remember the last time I checked a newspaper for movie times or local music. Bookstores, however, have largely stayed off the “local web.” Those that expose their holdings do it inconveniently. Many don’t at all, either because their systems are old, or on principle. And nobody has ever tried to tie it all together, like Local Book Search attempts to do.

Physical bookstores often complain about online prices, but a lot of the problem is just convenience. If I lived in San Fransisco and wanted a copy of Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down, I probably wouldn’t bother to call up all my local bookstores; Amazon is quick and easy, and will surely have it. Local Book Search find a half dozen copies, new and used, in just seconds.

At a minimum, this is a cool test. Maybe bookstores will prefer to keep their holdings information to themselves and shut us out. A bookstore near me won’t participate because they think the information is “valuable” and, if it were online, “people would know what we don’t have.” I think that sort of thinking is the road to a world without bookstores.

Online bookselling is here to stay. It’s a wonderful thing. Same-day online delivery, as recently offered by Amazon, is something new. But physical book stores are also very important. We hope local book search can be one of the things they need to survive and prosper.

Who are you searching? The list currently stands as follows:

How are you doing it? We’re doing it in a mix of ways. A number of bookstores, including Powells, Porter Square and City Lights, send us their files. We have special permission from Abebooks too, so we pre-parse the Abebooks sellers.* (Members have helped us connect them to LibraryThing.) Indigo/Chapters gave us their blessing, and a convenient way to do it.

The rest involve just-in-time searches. Every system is different, so we’ve written a special connector for each, but the usual pattern is some sort of multiple-ISBN fetch. In every case, we’ve obeyed a site’s “robots.txt” file–going only where we’re allowed, and hitting a website no faster than once per second. That’s also why we’ve stayed off some biggies, like Barnes and Noble–their store holdings pages are prohibited by robots.txt.

Why aren’t there more indies? We introduced basic bookstore integration back in 2006 (!), taking only indies. It never really took off, because we couldn’t convince IndieBound to offer access to the files, and, I think, asking booksellers to upload their file to IndieBound and then LibraryThing was a hard sell.

Since then, we’ve pushed hard to get indies involves, with no success. We even lost our first participant, when Ann Arbor’s Shaman Drum went out of business. Those who follow our Twitter stream will remember a lot of hand-wringing over the topic. (In fairness, IndieBound has expressed interest, but they are still working on their platform.) So, we went and did it outselves, with whom we could.

The “connectors” all take about the same amount of time, whether we pick up 400 stores in Borders, or a single store in the Strand. So, by time, we’ve spent most of it integrating with indies. We have a decent list of other indies to add, when we get the chance.

The Future. Obviously, we know this is bigger than LibraryThing. If you have an idea about where it should go, chances are we’ve had it too. We’re working on it.

We are, incidentally, aware that we’re weak on the library front. We have 40 libraries now and, if all LibraryThing for Libraries sites agreed, we could get up to 170 systems (more than 1600 buildings). Unfortunately, you can’t really screen-scrape most library systems; they tend to break under the strain. Nobody really has the data necessary, except perhaps for OCLC.

So, OCLC, how about it? Our peanut butter. Your chocolate. Don’t libraries deserve to be part of this? Can we let bygones be bygones?

What we need? Bookstores who want to participate should send me an email ( or a Tweet (@LibraryThingTim).

Bookstores concerned about LibraryThing servers hitting them too hard should also write us. We’re keeping close tabs on how often we scrape sites. (We also cache results for 24 hours.) In many cases, we could do it more efficiently, if we were allowed to access search pages, not just product pages. And we can try fewer ISBNs. Or, if you are able, we can parse your files and never hit your site.

All told, we think the traffic is good for you—it will get you sales. But we are conscious of limited technology budgets, and will work with you to increase the benefit, and decrease the potential cost.

Kudos. Thanks are owed to:

  • LibraryThing members who are helping us connect Abebooks to LibraryThing.
  • Abebooks. In theory, local book search could cut them out of the equation, as people walked into a store, instead of buying online. But they saw it as a valuable service to their members, and an overall win. Abebooks deserves applause for taking a risk.
  • Indigo/Chapters. Every time I deal with them, I marvel at how easy they make things. No meetings, just agreement to test it out. Indigo, like Abe, is Canadian. Is there something in the water?
  • Powell’s, Porter Square Book and (tiny) City Lights Books in Sylva, NC deserve thanks for being with us from the first. Because their method–sending us files–is so much easier for us, we’re planning to create some special features for them.
  • Programemrs Chris and Mike, and non-programmers Dan and Stephanie. The “Get this Book” and “Local Book Search” project took over two months, and involved huge amounts of new code, and also data entry. As Chris remarked, for most companies, “this would be a site.” It is an awesome achievement.

Come talk about it. Come talk about all this on Talk.

* sellers already total over 1 million books, and we haven’t caught up with all the Abe-to-LibraryThing work members have done. We think they’ll end up around 1.5 million books total.

Labels: abebooks, booksellers, bookstore integration, bookstores, local book search, used bookstores

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Help put used bookstores on LibraryThing

We’re about to push a slew of new “local” features, including the first-ever “local book search.” To make this as good as it can be, we need to connect as many bookstores as possible to the LibraryThing Local system. We previously asked for help with IndieBound stores. We’re now asking for help with a really hairy category category—used bookstores.

Check out this page and pitch in: Help put used bookstores on LibraryThing

It lists all booksellers—mostly, but not exclusively used—and allows LibraryThing members to connect them to LibraryThing Local venus. Once connected, the local page gets a link to their Abebooks page, and is entered into our upcoming Local Book Search feature.

I’d like to thank Abebooks for cooperation here—allowing us to include results from their affiliates. I say “generously” because “local search” has the potential to cut Abebooks out of the transaction. They feel—and I think they’re right—that the loss will be small, and will be offset by the value of giving their affiliates another way to expose themselves to the world, and book lovers another way to discover their books.

As usual, we have a Talk discussion going on about this—how best to do it, etc.

Update: We pushed this a few hours ago, and the response is already huge—more than 130 linkings, by two dozen members. As with IndieBound, I’m in shock at how readily members take up the call. We won’t let you down—the upcoming feature is going to be great, and all the better for this work.

Labels: abebooks, indiebound, local book search, used bookstores

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Abebooks news: The scoop for LibraryThing

Today Abebooks, the Canadian bookseller, announced that it was being acquired by Amazon, a company that needs little introduction. (See Amazon press release.)

Abebooks owns a minority stake in LibraryThing. This means that, after regulatory approval and finalization, Amazon will become, through Abebooks, a minority investor in LibraryThing.

I congratulate Amazon on a shrewd acquisition. Abebooks is a great company, full of wonderful people. They have accomplished great things (link). I have no inside info, but I can foresee Amazon’s extraordinary technical infrastructure giving Abe a big lift.
Here’s the scoop:

  • LibraryThing did not have any knowledge of or influence over this deal.
  • The majority of LibraryThing is in my hands. Abebooks holds a minority of the shares, with certain notable but limited rights. This situation does not change when Amazon acquires Abebooks.
  • Amazon will not get access to your data. The LibraryThing/Abebooks terms are specific. Abe gets only anonymized and aggregate data, like recommendations, and they can only use it on Abebooks sites (eg.,, Nothing has changed here.
  • Abebooks customers won’t see much a difference. The name will survive and the site will continue. Both employees and management will remain in Canada.
  • LibraryThing remains LibraryThing. We will continue to uphold and advance LibraryThing values, including open data, strict privacy rules and support for libraries and independent bookstores.

As always, I want your feedback on how to make LibraryThing the best book site on the web. I’ve started a Talk post to talk about all of this, or you can comment here.

Stay tuned for two more blog posts, both major. We have rushed two projects forward that demonstrate LibraryThing’s commitment to open data and support for libraries and other book lovers.

Tim Spalding


  • Check out the blog post of Boris Wertz, long-time COO of Abe and co-founder of JustBooks.
  • Local Victoria TV has a story with a good photo of Hannes, the CEO.
  • It’s funny to watch the news fly by. 90% of the news stories rehash the press release without pointing to it, as if they are engaging in reporting. Odd

Labels: abebooks, amazon, canada

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

AbeBooks book review contest

Just passing along a link to a Summer Reading contest that is running. Write a book review, win $200 cash!

The contest (and rules – note, it closes August 31, 2007, at 9:59am PST).

(And remember our own Harry Potter bookpile contest!)

Labels: abebooks, contest

Monday, March 5th, 2007

LibraryThing recommendations on Abebooks

Today unwraps a new feature–LibraryThing’s book recommendations. Selected books sport up to six recommendations, which link to books offered by Abe’s 13,500 independent booksellers.

It’s a relief to see our recommendations finally escape! We’ve known for a long time that they were good and getting better every day. Personal collections and personal tags are an amazingly rich source of recommendations. Abe was an ideal venue. LibraryThing people and Abe people are hard-core book-lovers, and LibraryThing’s focus on collections acquired over time matches with Abe’s unmatched strength in the long tail of out-of-print books.

You can see LibraryThing recommendations on books like:

SOURCE AND COVERAGE. The data comes from the “combined” recommendations visible on work pages. These are drawn from LibraryThing five distinct recommendation algorithms, including our “people who have X also have Y” algorithm, our tag algorithm and the mysterious “special sauce” algorithm.*

As of today, LibraryThing recommendations appear on about 10% of Abe titles. That’s just to start. We’ll be scaling up the coverage dramatically in the weeks and months to come. We’ll also iron out a few kinks, and take advantage of the 25% growth in LibraryThing since the last time we generated the combined recommendations. So far it’s US and UK-only, but Abe’s non-English sites are a logical next step.

CONCERNS. Now is a good time to repeat and reaffirm what I said back in May when Abebooks bought a minority stake in LibraryThing:

“There is no down side. LibraryThing’s stringent Privacy Policy remains intact and in effect. The contract forbids LibraryThing from giving Abe ANY user data—not one user name, real name or email. Reviews will not leave the site without explicit permission (ie., not some buried legal clause). LibraryThing will not suddenly sprout Abe ads all over the place or prevent you from buying from other booksellers. Rather, LibraryThing will provide Abe with certain anonymous and aggregate data, like book recommendations or tag clouds, to help Abe users find books they want.”

None of this has changed, nor will it. We’ll see about tag clouds on Abe? (Can I hear an amen?)

MEANING. Today’s announcement doesn’t change anything on the LibraryThing site. But it means something even so. On a practical level, it’s good news for our growth–another step along the road to world domination.** More interestingly, it puts the collective intelligence of readers at the center of the Abe experience in an utterly new way. And it advances “Social Cataloging,” “Social Networking,” “Web 2.0,” “crowd-sourcing,” “the long tail,” “folksonomy” and other trendy—and not totally bogus—buzzwords.

Now that Abe is out of the door, Abby, John and I are going to be turning our attention to getting LibraryThing data into libraries—recommendations, tags, tagging services, and whatever else they’ll take—and for a fraction of what they’re paying now for services like NovelList.***

Me? I’m going to Legoland! That’s right, I’m sitting in the Copenhagen airport right now, waiting for a flight to Århus, where I’m talking to Danish Librarians about LibraryThing and library catalogs. The organizers of Mit Bibliotek (My Library) saw my blog post Is your OPAC fun? (a manifesto of sorts) and wanted me to turn it into a talk. For a chance to visit Denmark, I’d turn it into a juggling routine!

*Apparently the phrase “special sauce” causes our non-English site translators no end of grief.
**World domination through work combination!
**Anyone want to help me find a URL for NovelList that isn’t a password-protected link to the service? It’s seems—dare I say it—ungoogleable.

UPDATE: The Abebooks blog covered it, stressing that Abebooks has always been about finding the exact book you’re looking for. Visitors arrive with a book in mind, not to browse. Search is still their strength, but BookHints adds some browsing to the site.

Labels: abe, abebooks, recommendations