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AbeBooks Outage Shows the Value of Niche Retailing in the Age of Amazon.

If you relied solely on media coverage you could easily get the mistaken impression that is the be-all and end-all of both book sales and online retail.

Over the weekend used book marketplace AbeBooks went down. The story was first reported by Geekwire, and at first it didn’t look like a big deal – sellers will just make sales elsewhere. But the Bookseller says that when Amazon’s site for vintage, antiquarian, and first edition books, it cost indie sellers business:

Ian Gallagher, co-owner of the Tombland Bookshop in Norwich said the company’s radio silence during the outage was unhelpful and added that he expected better of a global company owned by Amazon.

“I’ve come in today and have no orders, I’d usually expect around four or five books to have been ordered over the weekend," said Gallagher. "The stress levels were definitely higher than usual. The main difficulty was the lack of information from Abe… We didn’t know if it was being hacked , or if any financial detail had been stolen. It should’ve been handled better by Abe. It’s a global company owned by Amazon, they should have had a mirror site or some other kind of back-up in place.”

Chris Howard of Wormhill Books in Hereford said it has been a "really worrying" experience, not least because every sale counts for small booksellers, and sales were lower than usual over the weekend.

“Abe is a small part of my turnover, but as a small bookseller it’s hand-to-mouth, every loss of turnover makes a big difference," said Howard. "I was getting really worried over the weekend. It was just a hiccup but if it carried on for a week or a month, it would have had a really significant effect. When it went on for more than a few hours, and then more than one day, I didn’t know if the outage was ever going to end. It was really worrying at the time.

“It’s only a small business so we only make around £1,000 a month from Abe, so its difficult to say how much money I lost out on. Probably only around £100. But if the outage had lasted longer it would have been serious.”

When I first read the headline I thought that this outage could not possibly be a big deal; if consumers want to purchase books then they’ll just shift to another site, and someone will get the sale.

But apparently AbeBooks is the go-to site for its niche.

That’s an interesting factoid on the value of niche retailers in the age of Amazon, but it is also a lesson in how one should not rely on any single site (like, say, Amazon).

image  by Ted Van Pelt

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Ingo Lembcke, Germany, Hamburg September 5, 2017 um 5:19 am

AbeBooks a Niche? It was bought by Amazon in 9 years ago to nearly the day, August 1st, 2008, as a quick Google shows.
For me it is another way for Amazon to sell books, neither independent, nor niche.

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2017 um 9:01 am

AbeBooks focuses on one type of print book sales just like Zappos focuses on shoes. Both have their niche, and are niche retailers.

greenwitch September 5, 2017 um 7:23 pm

its not niche. its used.

Allen F September 5, 2017 um 7:37 pm

It may be 'owned' by Amazon, but I couldn’t even find an Amazon link on their homepage. As I understand the big boss doesn’t directly control most of the things he picks up I’m not sure why we have all the ADS over an outage (which seems to have been cleared up.)

Next when Whole Foods runs out of bananas people will blame Amazon for it.

Andy September 7, 2017 um 6:52 pm

Just to point out that Abebooks is not the only game in town, there’s also Thriftbooks, which is handy to have around.

For me it’s usually where I go to for used books, if I don’t like any of the options on Amazon itself. I guess … I could try eBay or Abebooks?

This is only when the eBook is just too darn expensive, mind you.

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