Better Search for Long Tail of Books

Search tools for the long tail of books (and CDs and DVDs) just got better. A company called booksprice.com has launched a utility that I’ve been waiting for: price optimization for bundles of books. I gave it a trial run. The site is rough around the edges, but offers two basic functions:

  1. Compare prices for any book across 58 online booksellers. For example, click “Compare Prices” for the second result in this search for Tom Sawyer. Right now, the least expensive option is a used copy at Biblio, for $4.50 plus $2.80 shipping.
  2. Compare prices for any basket of books. For example, for four volumes of Mark Twain, the best price is at Alibris: $25.34 plus $7.96 shipping. The books are less expensive at Amazon ($19.88), but shipping is more ($13.96). For a basket with twelve items, booksprice.com proposed three solutions.
    • For all new copies, the best solution was to buy 1-3 items from each of six booksellers, including Amazon UK, Abebooks UK, and Wal-Mart, for a total cost of $169.73 including shipping.
    • For a mix of new and used, the best solution was to buy 1-3 volumes from each of seven booksellers, for a total cost of $125.67, including shipping.
    • To buy all 12 from a single source, the best solution was Alabris ($202.52 including shipping). Sorry I can’t give a link, but look below the fold for the books I used.

Why is this good? Wired Magazine editor Chris Anderson says that a Long Tail market can arise if storage and distribution costs are low and searching and filtering are easy. (The Long Tail is Mr. Anderson’s theory that, in aggregate, niche markets are as large as mass markets. Here is his Long Tail FAQ and here is the Wikipedia entry.) Booksprice.com is growing the Long Tail for books by removing another layer of frictional costs from searching.

For example, I keep a list of books that I’d like to own if I can find them used. It’s easy enough to find them on Amazon, but shipping can eat up the savings. Using booksprice.com, I’m more likely to order ten or twelve items at once.

Booksprice.com has plenty of opportunity to improve. Its weakest point is that you still have to place all the orders manually, in some cases searching again at each bookseller. Prices may be stale, and probably don’t include deals like Amazon’s pairing discounts. Additional features, such as recommendations, wish lists, smart preferences, RSS feeds, etc would be great. Still, the company is doing the right thing by putting the core product out in the market.

Thanks to Josh of System 13 for the link. Booksprice.com’s viral marketing campaign is paying off!

More: The Book Industry Study Group’s 2006 conference on long tail marketing.

Here are the 12 books from my test basket:

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Unabridged Classics), by Mark Twain
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Illustrations by E. W. Kemble, by Mark Twain
  • Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings (Perennial Classics), by Mark Twain
  • Roughing It (Signet Classics Paperback), by Mark Twain
  • The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis
  • The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis
  • The Radicalism of the American Revolution, by Gordon S. Wood
  • Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, by Edward R. Tufte
  • Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy
  • Trouble for Trumpets, by Peter Dallas-Smith
  • The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory, by William Manchester
  • The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940, by William Manchester
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3 Responses to “Better Search for Long Tail of Books”

  1. Josh Says:

    Timothy,

    Glad you find the site useful. As you said, they certainly have a lot of areas to improve in, but even now, its a nice system to use.

  2. Josh Says:

    Ah, forgot to mention: thanks for the link!

  3. Timothy Says:

    Sure, no problem. I’ve wanted to be able to do this for a while, I’m glad someone set it up. Glad to hear from you.

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