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Amazon's AbeBooks backs down after booksellers stage global protest (www.theguardian.com)
143 points by ilamont 5 days ago | hide | past | web | 45 comments | favorite

AbeBooks is a great place to buy the non-US versions of textbooks (which are almost always identical to the US version, but in grayscale rather than in color).

For instance, on Amazon, the K&R C Programming book goes for $28.52 used, $61.74 new, or $28.70 for a one semester rental [0]. For a book that hasn't changed since 1988, these prices are absurd.

While as on AbeBooks, the international edition goes for $10-11 [1].

[0]: https://www.amazon.com/Programming-Language-2nd-Brian-Kernig...

[1]: https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?bi=0&bx=off&c...

I bought two books for school from them that would have been normally $100 each, for like $30 each. The pages were as thin as a phone book, and had a Xerox quality. Basically pirate copy

Results are somewhat variable yes. I’ve had reprinted scans turn up and totally trashed books. Success rate is about 3 in 5 though which isn’t bad considering the failures are quicky refunded.

Some of the eBay sellers are better priced and have better overall outcomes though due to the very short span that hooky sellers last.

I stopped using AbeBooks when I stopped using Amazon. ThriftBooks and BetterWorldBooks are good alternatives unless you are on AbeBooks for antiquarian books.

I would encourage people to support ThriftBooks. Used to compete against them when running KudzuBooks.com. Kudzu went bankrupt shortly after owner sold AcademicBookServices.com (used K-12 books) to Follett's used k-12 division. ThriftBooks has been around since the Kudzu days and have continued to run a tight ship and improve their site with little to no resources. It's good to see them around. Margins in the remainder business are extremely tight and it is difficult to get good remaindered stock with the consolidation of publishing houses and the closing of so many bricks and mortar stores. Remaindered book = book returned to the publisher who puts a black mark somewhere on the loose page ends and resells to bargain market (usually wholesalers) at 5-15% of retail price. They in turn get resold to brick and mortars for bargain book tables or online (should be sold "Like New" but some are sold "New" if the publisher forgot to mark the book).

I just went to check out thrift books and found something surprising. I looked up an old childrens book that’s an old favorite of mine and saw a review that looked really familiar and triggered something in my mind. I went over to Amazon and found the exact same review...word for word. I wonder what’s going on here...does Amazon sell review text to other vendors? Is there a public API for reviews that other sites can use?

Related question - are review copies considered "remaindered"? There's a store in NYC called Strand Books that is notable in it sells new hard cover releases priced about 5 to 10 dollars less than the cover price. The condition however is perfect on all these. I always suspected these were review copies.

+1 for BetterWorldBooks. They donate their profits to fund literacy programs. Plus free shipping. Love them.

> $28,421,885 Funds raised for literacy & libraries

Woah, that's cool. I'm definitely using this site. How can ‘they afford the free shipping?

Edit: And they ship free to Canada... no "free shipping" thing ever works to Canada unless you spend a lot of money.

I think they can afford free shipping via a couple of ways. First, there's book rate with the USPS that's used to ship books and reading materials at a discount. Second, since they're a nonprofit, albeit a B-Corp, they might qualify for an additional discount since they're a volume shipper.

I bought used textbooks from them years ago on Ebay (this was right as Amazon was getting popular/starting to dominate the market of online textbook sales) and I was rather satisfied. Got exactly what I ordered exactly in the condition stated in a reasonable time frame for a student-friendly price. Can't ask for much more than that.

AbeBooks is a great resource for older and out of print books. Amazon itself is completely overrun with trash-quality fly-by-night POD and counterfeit publishers. Even when you do find a legitimate copy, it's often ludicrously overpriced.

I buy a lot of antiquarian books, many of which are not just out of print, but in the public domain. YMMV.

Powell's, in Portland, OR, has an online arm.


Local bookstores can typically order virtually anything.

> Local bookstores can typically order virtually anything.

This. Unless you're in the mindset that you need to buy something and you need to have it delivered now (why?), a local bookstore does the job. I typically order books on my closest one, all it takes is an e-mail or gasp I pass by and tell them what I want in person. Never failed.

Unless, you live in a town with no local bookstore, like I do. I can drive 20 minutes to a Barnes and Noble and that's my only option.

If it's not inprint aren't they likely ordering from ABE?

Alibris is a good option too.

Yes! I buy technical books here from the Seattle Goodwill "store". If you are in Seattle you can let them know you want to pick it up and they will refund you the shipping and you can usually pick it the next morning.

Thank you! I've used AbeBooks to get a hold of out of print books - there seems to be a number of Australian sellers that use it. Hopefully I can find a way to buy from them directly.

Many of the books on that site are pirated reprints. Great way to get cheap textbooks, but it's not surprising that they would attempt to ban some of the countries often responsible for those.

I don't think they are pirated per se. More likely, they are student/international editions.

Counterfeits are actually a very big issue in the textbook industry. Anyone who deals with used textbooks knows this and they need to be very careful to avoid legal action from publishers. Do a google image search on "counterfeit textbook examples" and you'll see how many of the counterfeits look pretty similar to the authentic books (often it's small things like coloring that give it away).

Obviously textbooks get expensive, but the thing that makes textbook counterfeiting especially successful is that most consumers who get cheap counterfeits don't care. The content is usually the same and it's not a status symbol like an authentic Gucci bag. So as a consumer, there's really not much difference to you, especially if you got the book for cheap.

Typically, counterfeits are lower quality, but someone who works in the industry once told me that he's seen counterfeits with higher quality printing than the originals, which makes the real books look like fakes!

I would replace "consumer" with "poor student who isn't given a choice on what textbook they can buy", and why they don't care makes a lot more sense.

To me the greater issue is the highway robbery that is college textbooks. A lot of professors force the newest and don't care that a single one costs several hundred dollars, nevermind if the material is literally centuries old (e.g. calculus). If textbooks were a reasonable price, the counterfeit effect wouldn't hhappen.

When I was in engineering school, many people who weren't me would just torrent copies of the textbooks. Especially in the case where the book was only necessary for the problem sets, because there was much better presentation of the information available elsewhere.

Many professional books these days have issues with registration, bleed, trimming, etc. The quality is quite poor, to the point where I have fatigue determining if a book is "legit" or not.

Not to mention that the actual consumers of the books - the students buying them - don't have any choice in book selection.

> The content is usually the same and it's not a status symbol like an authentic Gucci bag.

If the content is the same, in what sense is the book a "counterfeit"? That's just a copy of the book.

The same way a pirated DVD movie that comes in an identical DVD jewel case to the original is considered counterfeit.

It... isn't.

It's a long read, but it may be worth it:


There is actually a lot of pirated textbooks.


International editions aren't really a "problem" because they are legal, pirated books are not.

There are lots but most of what abebooks has are international editions.

You can buy some otherwise insanely expensive computer books for < $10 because they're Bangladesh editions.

Yep: e.g. the hardback vs paperback versions of https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/computer-systems-a-programmers... - note the different ISBNs.

They probably are a problem because of market segmentation (this has been a sticking point in other industries, at least). But piracy represents a larger problem.

No, they are not a problem, nor is this a grey area, they are 1000% legal to buy and sell in the United States. Even importing books for the sole purpose of resale is legal.


>Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 568 U.S. 519 (2013),[1] is a United States Supreme Court copyright decision in which the Court held, 6-3, that the first-sale doctrine applies to copies of copyrighted works lawfully made abroad.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of book resale, regardless of publisher's market segmentation.

I bought a copy of SICP from them, it definitely did not look pirated, but it was wikdly less expensive than a normal copy.

But it's also one of the best places to buy secondhand books that are rare and/or out of print.

Don't mess with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers!

I was able to find some of my college textbooks new or used in great condition for far cheaper than my bookstore at AbeBooks, including saving hundreds of dollars off books within my major if I purchased the international edition.

Hate to see that opportunity removed as an option.

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