My Happy Time at AbeBooks


I recently described a rather bad experience buying from AbeBooks (the worst packaging ever). But since I have bought dozens (hundreds?) of books from AbeBooks where the service was exemplary, I thought I’d better redress the balance.

turgenev on the eve from abebooksOne purchase in particular comes to mind. In one of AbeBooks’ front page promotions I saw this this nice edition of Turgenev’s On The Eve and managed to acquire a copy from Canadian bookseller Alex Simpson.

Not only was the book well described, excellently packed and speedily dispatched (with a polite accompanying email); the bookseller also lowered the shipping (international airmail) since it was cheaper to send than expected.

I won’t say the experience was revelatory because, as mentioned, almost all the service I’ve received has been excellent, but it reminded me that shopping for rare and used books can be different. It put me in mind of a earlier time, one of conscientious, bespoke service. Where someone diligently made sure you got what you wanted, even if it is a relatively cheap item.

In the days of Amazon, where broken warehouse employees are bossed about by algorithms, and the Megalisters, where books are bought and sold by the pound, we’ve lost that feeling.

This is not to say the Megalisters don’t try to be helpful – in most cases they deal with problems quickly and generously; when I received an entirely different book to the one I’d ordered they refunded and let me keep the book (it was only fit for the skip, but still…)

These new, inhuman methods of selling books can be counterproductive. Books are not widgets, they are tactile, emotional, esoteric, beautiful objects. A lot of the value we place onto them is subjective, it’s important that the seller appreciates this. Thankfully the great majority of AbeBooks sellers still do.

In such a competitive market we have to be aware of how we can add value. Offering a good user experience is one way and it starts before a book is even ordered.