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Abebooks news: The scoop for LibraryThing

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1timspalding
Edited: Aug 1, 2008, 9:54am Top

From the blog.

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

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., Abebooks.com, Abebooks.de). Nothing has changed here.
  • Abebooks customers won't see much a difference. The name will survive and the Abebooks.com 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 moved two projects forward that demonstrate LibraryThing's commitment to open data and support for libraries and other book lovers.

Tim Spalding

2skittles
Aug 1, 2008, 9:57am Top

I'm glad for Abebooks.... if this is what they wanted.

I'm glad that you (Tim) still hold control over LT & the data..... please keep the security strong!!

3VisibleGhost
Aug 1, 2008, 10:04am Top

I don't know if Amazon is an investor in Shelfari but Jeff Bezos is. But then, Jeff is an investor in a lot of things. This is an interesting story.

4fluteflute
Aug 1, 2008, 10:34am Top

I'd forgotten about the Amazon investment in Shelfari!

I wonder whether they will abandon either LT or Shelfari?

Although TBH I'm more interested in the 'two more blog posts, both major'. :)

5timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 10:36am Top

I just wish it were closer to April fools. We could blog the launch of Libraryfari. (Don't worry, that particular turn of events would happen over my dead body.)

6skittles
Aug 1, 2008, 10:39am Top

please tell us you own a kevlar vest!!

7timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 10:52am Top

Like Neo, when the time comes, I won't need to.

8_Zoe_
Aug 1, 2008, 11:27am Top

>4 fluteflute: I have to admit I'm far more interested in the two major blog posts as well!

Also: As always, I want your feedback on how to make LibraryThing the best book site on the web.

In general, LT is by far the best when it comes to cataloguing books and making connections based on the books in people's catalogues. Its major weakness is keeping track of and making connections based on what books people are actually reading (as opposed to, say, series that they read 10 or 20 years ago), which I think a lot of people care about.

9SqueakyChu
Aug 1, 2008, 11:47am Top

I personally think this is very exciting news. Investment in a company comes when a product is good. LibraryThing continues to improve every day. I'm proud to be able to participate in your highly exteemed and awesome website. Keep up the good work!

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.

Excellent!!

As always, I want your feedback on how to make LibraryThing the best book site on the web

Continue the same path as you have in the past. Listen to your members; then make your own decisions as to the path of LibraryThing based on your personal instincts. So far, that has worked very well.

10AnnaClaire
Aug 1, 2008, 11:47am Top

<rant>

There's also, in my opinion anyway, no satisfactory way of keeping track of both reading and ownership without muddying the distinction. (Tags get brought up a lot at this point. I will again say that I have never found tags a satisfactory work-around.) I sincerely hope that 1) the Collections feature will handle this, and that 2) the Collections feature is coming soon (like before the winter Olympics).

</rant>

But other than that (and a few smaller things that I don't really care about as much), LT is great!

11timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 11:54am Top

>8 _Zoe_:

Yeah, I agree. That said, and without being dictatorial, I think we should try to keep this about the main Amazon/Abe issue, if that's okay. People with questions should feel the topic is still the topic.

12infiniteletters
Edited: Aug 1, 2008, 12:00pm Top

8: I agree with Zoe, but also think it would be nice to have some type of ordering for recent reading, since I can remember order better than literal dates. :) (Yes, I know, collections, just providing another pov).

11: Sidetrack duly noted. Yay Libraryfari?

13stephmo
Aug 1, 2008, 12:00pm Top

So does this mean that LT will be giving away free Kindles? You know, to people who signed up in, say, December 2006 (just a "random" month).

=P

Sounds like this could be the best of both worlds - LT is still LT and maybe you get some of that huge Amazon money to help make LT even more LT. If that makes sense...

14timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 12:03pm Top

I'll wear an Amazon t-shirt if I can get a photograph of Bezos in a LibraryThing t-shirt.

15AnnaClaire
Aug 1, 2008, 12:06pm Top

But only if you can use it as LT advertising, I hope.

Alternatively, why don't you see if you can get a photo both of you, wearing the shirts for the other's book-site?

16jcbrunner
Aug 1, 2008, 12:10pm Top

>9 SqueakyChu: Amazon's LT stake is purely ancillary (It comes with buying Abebooks). Amazon bought Abebooks not because of LT (also not despite LT). As an addicted book buyer, I do not look forward to the alliance of my two main suppliers, Amazon and Abebooks.

The Abebooks acquisition is highly anti-competitive (Coke buying Pepsi). A forward-looking regulator should prohibit it. Amazon is great for moving high-volume stuff but lazy and expensive for smaller/out-of-print titles. Amazon.de repeatedly killed accepted sales orders (declaring books-"out-of-print" and "unavailable" despite their Amazon.com four digit sales rank) and their customer service is mostly cut-n-paste (I think their first level even automated). Abebooks was a knight in shining armor (personally, I shifted much of my book buying from Amazon to Abebooks, halfing my business with Amazon). Now, that knight has been slain.

I expect their fees to be "synchronized" with Amazon. What major online bookseller remains? The brick-and-mortar with websites (Powell, BN, Borders) focus on local business (and are hardly interested in international sales). Ebay's interface is not suited to book buying.

Regarding LT, I hope it does not get shelfaried, a9ed or IMDBed. Amazon properties have this annoying, under-investing "just good enough" mentality (IMDB could easily be the LT for movies - it isn't.).

17infiniteletters
Aug 1, 2008, 12:36pm Top

16: Half.com, Alibris.com etc

18timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 1:18pm Top

The Abebooks acquisition is highly anti-competitive (Coke buying Pepsi). A forward-looking regulator should prohibit it.

In fairness, there are quite a few competitors—Alibris and Biblio come to mind. At least in the US, that would be enough to quash talk about anti-competitive action. I am not a lawyer, of course—and thank God.

Amazon properties have this annoying, under-investing "just good enough" mentality...

Do you think Shelfari received less investment than LT? I don't know, but I doubt it!

19lorax
Aug 1, 2008, 1:18pm Top

It looks like, and I'm fervently keeping my fingers crossed, that LT will be mostly unaffected by this. Data privacy issues are an absolute 100% dealbreaker for me, and the reason I haven't used Amazon for many years is because of a retroactive change to their privacy policy. So although I had a sick feeling when I saw the first sentence it looks like this will not be as bad as it could have been.

Where I think it's going to be bad is for buying used books online. I generally have used bookfinder, but abebooks is one of their major sources. Darn.

20bluetyson
Aug 1, 2008, 1:21pm Top

What date is this likely to happen, speaking of 16. and possibly yet another overseas fee increase.

Worth having a look at betterworld books too, jcbrunner.

21timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 1:21pm Top

>19 lorax:

No. Nothing changes with data privacy. What was Amazon's retroactive change?

BookFinder draws from everyone they can. They're completely agnostic, and greedy for data. If Abe appears a lot, it's because Abe has a lot. (And did you notice they use our tags?)

22Helcura
Edited: Aug 1, 2008, 2:45pm Top

So, Tim, how can we invest in LT?

ETA: Other than buying lots of gift memberships . . .

23stephmo
Aug 1, 2008, 3:15pm Top

>16 jcbrunner:

I could be wrong, but hasn't ABE been selling used books through Amazon for a few years now?

To be honest, I rather enjoy Amazon's used marketplace. They dictate shipping costs for books - which means it's not like eBay where you might think, "hey this rare book is only $1!" only to find out it's "only" that because the seller has decided they want $12.95 in shipping and handling charges to go media mail (only $22.95 to go priority + $8.00 for insurance).

Anyway, I bring that up because I believe this isn't out of the blue. Amazon and Abe have had an existing relationship. I think this is win-win for the simple fact that Amazon has made buying used goods incredibly simple for customers. If more small book shops benefit from this, I'm all for it. It's no so much Coke buying Pepsi as it is Coke buying an independent soda company because they know that they can make money simply by letting the independent soda company use a distribution channel and marketing that they could otherwise not afford.

...still holding out for free Kindles as a "just because" gift from Bezos...

24timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 3:19pm Top

>22 Helcura:

Send money to P.O. Box 999, US Virgin Islands...

I have to say, Amazon does some nice stuff, but I have *no* interest in a Kindle. Color me peculiar. I am happy with my computer and my books.

25AnnaClaire
Edited: Aug 1, 2008, 4:55pm Top

>24 timspalding:
And I have almost no interest in an iPod, and even less in an iPhone. I'm happy with my CD player and don't even need a cell phone.

26timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 4:55pm Top

>25 AnnaClaire:

Well, there we differ. I love my iPod and am trying to figure out how to justify an iPhone.

27AnnaClaire
Aug 1, 2008, 4:58pm Top

>26 timspalding:
At least you weren't waiting in line for hours for the new iPhone. (Or I take it that you weren't, since you haven't come up with a justification for one.)

28janehyde
Aug 1, 2008, 6:15pm Top

Tim (and LTers) -- I try really hard to stay on topic when someone (you) creates a talk post for a topic. But then people gather around the water cooler and chat -- and you're nice about it.
BUT I think you actually/sort of proposed TWO topics: one, how can we make LT better and better, and two (implicit) what do you the blogreader want to say about THIS post and tits topic of the merger. Want to subdivide? or just hang out...

On the second questions, the merger, I've already posted on the blog, but I have a couple of particular questions: 1) Will we still pay abe separate postage for items according, to the bookseller, since the bookseller ships it to us?; 2) How has Amazon gotten aroung this: do they have a huge warehouse of used books (like Powells.com, my frequent favorite --or do they order from each seller and then ship to us and somehow include the cost in our charge?
That's one question for now. Thanks. And as always, thanks. I like to see a Harvard man working for the common good, in the old colonial tradition (without the sometimes fanatacism of our forefathers). -- JLH, '65

29jkcohen
Aug 1, 2008, 6:32pm Top

This is worrisome news indeed. Amazon has proven itself to be decidedly anticompetitive whenever it can get away with it -- vide the whole LightningSource/POD imbroglio, and the 55% cut it demands from small publishers. The existence of Shelfari makes me worry that LT will be, if not done away with altogether, at least cut loose. I see nothing good for the consumer in this merger -- no smoking guns for regulators to seize on, but a pattern of institutional disdain that will make bookbuying even less of a pleasure than it is today. Dark days.

30infiniteletters
Edited: Aug 1, 2008, 6:44pm Top

28: "How has Amazon gotten aroung this: do they have a huge warehouse of used books (like Powells.com, my frequent favorite --or do they order from each seller and then ship to us and somehow include the cost in our charge?"

Amazon has sellers enter item/price condition, you get charged, Amazon pays sellers, sellers ship to you. Amazon charges a flat shipping cost ($3.99 per item) without supersaver free shipping; multiple items from the same seller do not have lower shipping.

31Morphidae
Edited: Aug 1, 2008, 6:47pm Top

>28 janehyde: tits topic

I think I'm in the wrong thread!

32timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 6:50pm Top

Interesting Techcrunch piece:
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/01/shelfari-and-librarything-awkward-bookends-...

It has a rather baffling attack on me at the end, particularly as LT is my first startup and before than I had no contact with startups—I was an HTML jockey in a big publisher and a graduate student in Greek. Ah, anonymity.

33timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 6:58pm Top

"... if not done away with altogether, at least cut loose"

We're not exactly drawing nutrition through an umbilical cord!

34timspalding
Aug 1, 2008, 7:01pm Top

"... if not done away with altogether, at least cut loose"

We're not exactly drawing nutrition through an umbilical cord!

35Heather19
Aug 1, 2008, 7:06pm Top

I have to admit that my very first thought was "OH CRAP!!". I don't hate Amazon, exactly, but I certainly don't *like* them. But, as usual, Tim explained things and I was reassured that LibraryThing wasn't suddenly going to turn into AmazonThing. lol

Data privacy issues are really no concern to me (I checked the option in my profile that gives reviews to "street gangs" is that's any indication), but it is nice to know that nothing will be compromised by this new development.

32: *shakes head and rolls eyes* @ article

36sabreuse
Aug 1, 2008, 7:06pm Top

Oh, TechCrunch! Always trying to be hot and interesting and gossipy like Valleywag, even when reporting that there's no actual story there! (Amazon will keep a minority stake in both, and they don't plan to merge! This is news?)

37jkcohen
Aug 1, 2008, 7:08pm Top

The mother-and-fetus imagery is all yours, Tim. All that I meant to suggest is that the tangible benefits of the LT-Abebooks deal could be withdrawn.

38timspalding
Edited: Aug 1, 2008, 7:12pm Top

>37 jkcohen:

Heh. That's true to some extent, although the main loss would simply be counsel. They're smart people, and have been helpful in that way, no question. We don't draw on their data or infrastructure.

>36 sabreuse:

I know. It's a good thing they don't have any of my steamy instant messages with Jimmy Wales.

39skittles
Aug 1, 2008, 7:54pm Top

#38:

steamy instant messages??

do you use alphabet soup noodles??

if so, then the messages have already been "digested"!

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