Despite the fact that so much readable content is online and people carry around their vast CD collections as music files in iPods, we as a society are still obsessed with the printed word. We buy books – fiction and nonfiction alike – by the truckload each and every day to read on the bus or plane, at home or away, and about everywhere in between. Since physical bookstores like Borders only have so much space to carry your favorite titles, many shoppers have turned to online bookstores to satisfy their reader cravings. We took a peak at the online bookshop scene so we could present you with some solid ideas for places to find your next great read.
Powell’s is the online arm of Powell’s Books, one of the world’s largest independent bookstores based in Portland, Oregon. As the bookstore itself is huge, so is the Powells.com inventory, which draws not only from the bookstore’s various retail locations, but also from a dedicated warehouse. The online inventory of Powell’s is as eclectic as that of what you find when you browse their physical shelves – a large mix of new and used books. Given that Powell’s does a ton of business with used books, you are more likely to find obscure titles through their website than almost anywhere else online. They, like Amazon, offer many new titles at below list price.
AbeBooks, like Powell’s, deals in the realm of independent bookstores. AbeBooks however, is a virtual community of over 13,500 independent booksellers who have pooled over 100 million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books into a vast database one can order from. Like Powell’s, AbeBooks is also another great place to search for more obscure titles. Unlike Powell’s and Amazon, which mostly handle inventory shipments directly to consumers, AbeBooks acts as a go-between for booksellers and customers so that the company itself maintains no inventory of its own. Prices for books will obviously vary somewhat depending upon which bookseller you purchase from.
Alibris, another longtime online bookseller, deals in new, used, and rare books much in the same way AbeBooks does: through a network of independent booksellers. Alibris has more of a hands-on approach though, since books are shipped either from the smaller bookseller or from warehouses. The selection is somewhat smaller – an estimated 60 million books – but we have to imagine you’ll still have some luck in finding those hard-to-dig-up titles. One cool feature on their website also lets you donate books to libraries and non-profits.
Barnes & Noble (www.barnesandnoble.com)
As far as traditional bookstores making their way online has gone, Barnes & Noble seems to have “gotten it” the most at this point (Borders, which most would consider Barnes & Noble’s chief competition, currently has their site maintained by Amazon). They have an inventory of over one million titles available via what the bookseller says is immediate delivery. Being able to leverage the Barnes & Noble brand name has helped out the online operation significantly in terms of offering deals on new books. Additionally, eligible orders of over $25 are delivered in three or so business days, at no additional cost to the shopper.
It goes without saying that no list of top online booksellers is complete without a reference to the largest one of them all. Amazon, which first debuted in 1995, is a long-time Web stalwart which nowadays offers millions of products across a Wal-Mart-sized listing of categories. The book section, being the oldest part of Amazon’s varied offerings, has a huge number of books available in new and used formats in about every book category you can possibly think of. Many of the books they sell, including bestsellers, sell at below list price, and the company also offers a special shipping program in which you prepay $79 for a year of free two-day shipping.
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