Alibris Launches Movie and Music Marketplace

Book NewsAlibris has officially launched it’s new movie and music marketplace. The cornerstone of this enhanced marketplace is the “powerful search experience” Alibris offers users. Now, let me preface the rest of my post by making it clear that I worked at Alibris for three years, leaving as Director of Marketing and Sales at the beginning of 2007.

It’s been a year now and I recently was forced to make a purchase through another online venue to ensure Commission Junction didn’t close my affiliate account. Though I wasn’t pleased at the threat of closure, it was interesting to revisit some of my old competition (Abebooks and Biblio) with a more objective eye. I decided I’d fill the gap in my Richard K. Morgan library and get Woken Furies.

The result was a confirmation that the Alibris search interface was superior. I’m not saying Alibris has the best inventory, or the best prices. But, in terms of finding what I want quickly and easily, they get top marks based on my experience. Let’s start by comparing author searches.

At Abebooks and Biblio all of the titles are lumped together into one laundry list sorted by price. So I have to search for the copies of Woken Furies amid all the other titles. At Alibris, each title is listed separately, allowing me to quickly find the best copy of Woken Furies. In terms of pure navigation and time savings (a big plus for me) the Alibris presentation wins by a wide margin on author searches.

But what if I was more specific and searched by title?

The gulf based on title search isn’t as wide. However, I like the synopsis at the top on the Alibris search. What’s disconcerting at Abebooks was the number of images that didn’t match the title. Images for Worlds by Joe Haldeman, Minority Report by Philip K. Dick, Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan and Harlequin’s Dance by Tom Arden are all presented. My confidence that I’m going to get the right book at Abebooks, even if it is the right image, is definitely shaken.

Having been on the inside, I know some of the downsides. Alibris only uses stock photos, not those provided by a bookseller. Yet, that uniformity is actually comforting on non-collectible purchases. In addition, there’s a sort of black hole for books that aren’t entered in a certain way or don’t match the Alibris catalog. These items do exist but are not presented in the normal search navigation. Finally, advanced search and filtering options are satisfactory at best.

Yet, at the end of the day the basic search Alibris employs is, in my opinion, better. Will it help in searching for movies and music? Yes. Is expanding into the secondary market for movies and music a good strategy? No, I don’t think so. But that’s fodder for a whole other post.

What do you think? Which online bookseller has the best search?

7 thoughts on “Alibris Launches Movie and Music Marketplace

  1. Oh please do tell us why venturing into the secondary market for music and movies isn’t a good idea!

    Personally, my husband’s got more old albums than any sane person, and I’ve been considering making him list them all on Alibris (which would keep him out of trouble for a decade).

    So what’s your insight on this topic?

  2. The secondary market for music and movies will shrink exponentially as digital technologies become the standard for these mediums.

    iTunes continues to disrupt the music industry and downloadable music is sure to be the standard for some time. We have iPods now, not Walkmans (cassettes, cds) or 8-tracks or turntables (vinyl).

    Movies aren’t far away. Netflix is already putting brick and mortar distribution out of the market. Yet, the next step (and not far away) is downloadable movies. Netflix is already testing it and many others are inching closer to this reality.

    I’m not saying your husband can’t sell some of his old vinyl. There is a collector’s market out there. An … antique market. But building a business strategy around dying distribution methods isn’t a winning model in my book.

  3. Okay – you admit you are biased as a former director of marketing at Alibris – but seriously, isn’t the “best” search interface one that will let you find what you want easily MOST of the time – not just when looking for a reading copy of a common recent book –

    for example, you stated:

    “The result was a confirmation that the Alibris search interface was superior…. Let’s start by comparing author searches. At Abebooks and Biblio all of the titles are lumped together into one laundry list sorted by price. So I have to search for the copies of Woken Furies amid all the other titles.”

    No – you don’t – all you have to do is change the search order to “by Title” either A-Z or Z to A –

    so maybe the synopsis on the top of the page is “nice” – but is it really essential when you are doing a search? after all, you already know you want to buy the book, so presumably you know something about it –

    but let’s move on to another search: you mentioned that you collect advance reading copies and uncollected proofs. How easy is it to find these on Alibris? Is it even possible to do a really good search for them?

    for Robert K Morgan, it takes seconds on AbeBooks – enter the author’s name and “advance reading” or “uncorrected proof” or “ARC” in the keywords and the results come back instantly, sorted either by price or by title, etc, as you choose – (in the interests of thoroughness, you can enter different keywords, since different sellers use different terms, or you can do one combined boolean search)

    but how do you find these on Alibris?- all of the keywords and author name came up with no results. I tried using softcover binding and highest price first hoping that some ARCs would show up – but got discouraged after coming across #10 on the list (“Still Another Pelican in the Breadbox ” by Kenneth Patchen)

    so then I tried “soft cover” and “first edition” – and I did find one – of course, I had to look thru all 26 results to make sure that was the only ARC/proof copy –

    and I wonder how many are being missed on Alibris ….

    (and I won’t even mention the fact that several searches I did on the “advance search” came up with NO results even though they were for books actually available in abundance and I was just using author and title – maybe that was just a temporary glitch…)

    Best search interface? not by a long shot, in my book…..

  4. Thank you for weighing in Chris and I agree with some of your points, particularly on the advanced search capability on Alibris. No question, it ultimately fails to deliver substantial value to those searching for collector’s items or any refinement of a normal search.

    However, in general, my searches (and those of many others) fall into the more mundane. Here, I still believe Alibris has a superior presentation. Sorting by Title A-Z still forces me to page through to find the title I seek.

    How many pages am I sorting through when searching for Philip Roth or David Brin? Too many. In addition, I can’t then sort by price for a specific title. The laundry list search result as the first level of results is overwhelming in my opinion. And there’s evidence that it negatively impacts purchasing behavior.

    So while it may not be the best search for a super-user like you, I believe it is the best search for the majority of Internet users.

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