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Business Profile - Biblio.com: Your one-stop shop for hard to find books


Biblio.com Press
Contact Information
Our postal address is:
Biblio.com Inc.
PO Box 1211
Asheville, NC 28802
We can be reached
via e-mail at
You can reach us
by telephone at:
(828) 350-0744
(800) 813-9432
From the WNC Tech Journal - September 2005 Issue

ASHEVILLE, NC - September 2005 - Imagine you've gone in search of a hard-to-find book; perhaps you have a project that you need information for or you're looking for a how-to manual for your next hobby. Nothing can be more frustrating than finding out the publication is out of print.

"We receive e-mails every day from people who have been looking for a long-lost childhood favorite, or maybe an obscure technical manual," says Brendan Sherar, CEO and original founder of Biblio.com, Inc. "They are simply delighted to have been able to locate a copy after many of them have spent literally years searching."

"Most people don't realize that more than 95 percent of all books ever published are now out-of-print," Sherar said.

Biblio.com offers an online retail shopping site with more than 11 million books available for purchase. The books listed on the website represent the stock of almost 2,000 independent bookstores and booksellers from more than 20 countries.

A prospective customer on Biblio.com is given options to search this combined inventory by various criteria, or browse by bookstore or category. When a customer makes a purchase, their orders are securely delivered to the booksellers who have the books which they are purchasing, who in turn ship the order directly to the customer.

Sherar cites a number of advantages that this "grassroots" network offers customers over an online auction or more traditional online superstore. "It allows customers to choose from a much wider selection of prices and titles. In my mind, though, the most valuable thing we offer customers is the expertise and knowledge of our booksellers."

"Many customers have experienced the frustration of having made a purchase online through an auction venue or superstore, only to realize that the book was inadequately described, or, worse, that they never received the book they ordered."

Biblo.com puts customers and professional booksellers in direct contact with each other.

"At some point, I estimated that the combined real world bookselling experience of our members exceeds 7000 years. You just can't get that kind of experience to back customer service anywhere else," Sherar said.

The service which Biblio offers also has tangible benefits for smaller bookstores who struggle to survive in the new economy. "Few independent bookstores have the resources or expertise necessary to establish an online presence, much less to adequately market it to potential customers," explains Sherar. "We are able create competitive opportunities for our members, through providing them technology and marketing support so they can leverage their collective resources."

As with many internet companies who survived the dot-com bust, Biblio's business model has evolved over time. Initially, the site was a metasearch engine for used, rare, and out-of-print books, helping people to locate hard-to-find items and comparing prices among books from about 15 major internet retailers.

During the rocky years that followed, the out-of-print book industry underwent a number of changes, including consolidations, buyouts and failures. These changes "left independent booksellers feeling as if they were destined to become subsidiaries for a large corporation," Sherar said. "A need emerged for a service which would directly cultivate the strengths of independent booksellers online."

It was then that Biblio began to shift its focus to develop database tools and software that would allow it to manage a large network of independent retail businesses, and to provide a unified e-commerce system to support that network. Biblo continued to run its metasearch engine, but began reinvesting nearly all of its revenue in the equipment necessary to sustain its new product.

Biblio launched this service in February 2003 amidst a market dominated by several major companies, as well as more than a dozen smaller competitors.

"When we announced our intentions prior to launch, a lot of people in the industry thought we were crazy, and didn't hesitate to tell me so," Sherar remembers with a chuckle. "But, when we launched, the reception in the bookselling community was immediately transformed into excitement and support. This was and continues to be critical to our success."

Less than a year and a half later, Biblio has now emerged from the crowded field as one of the top three sites worldwide for used, rare, and out-of-print books, with its inventory of more than 11 million books and 1800 bookstores.

Programmer and designer Phil Cogbill describes the technology needed to sustain and grow Biblio as requiring "a lot of forethought" and listening in order to anticipate and respond to customer's needs, sometimes even before they ask.

The majority of the tools which Biblio uses in its software and database development are based on open source products, which, according to Cogbill, provide a cost-effective solution that allows Biblio the flexibility it needs, while providing robust software that is "comparable or better" than that provided by proprietary software vendors..

"Rather than force ourselves to buy into proprietary methodology, they [open source tools] allow us to remain flexible. And, open source technology seems to innovate much faster than proprietary technology," said Cogbill, adding, "Besides, open source tries to do what we [Biblio] are trying to do, by seeking to appeal to people in the community as a whole."

Gene Perry, senior client services analyst, worked for a number of dot-com startups which invested heavily in technology. While Perry also stresses the importance of software development and technology, he believes Biblio's investment in building relationships, providing outstanding customer service to its clients and "have[ing] people rally to you because they feel the same way" has been the key ingredient to its success.

Customer service and technical support is a key factor in Biblio's operations. Its role in providing customer service is complicated by the fact that they have two different sets of customers. "For every transaction which occurs on our site, we essentially have two customers: the buyer and the seller," explains Sherar. "For the most part, we try not to interfere or place any barriers between the buyer and seller, but there are times when we need to play a more active role in facilitating the relationship."

So, with so much behind it in a short period of time, what lies ahead for Biblio?

"Obviously, we're going to continue to concentrate in strengthening our core product base. We want to be even better at what we do. That said, we will be expanding our operations by adding additional services to our business model over the coming months," Sherar said. He declined to disclose specifics, but he did say, "One of the things you will see from Biblio is an increased focus in reaching out to communities."

Sherar points proudly to a collection of photos of Morado K'asa, Bolivia hanging on his filing cabinet, and describes the library that Biblio is financing for the small impoverished community in the Andes mountains. "Obviously, we don't expect direct returns in terms of sales from this project, but we were fortunate to be presented with the opportunity and ability to do it, and this is the kind of organization we are."

"We're committed to growing 'the right way', by focusing on things we can do that serve the needs of communities, and always putting people first in all of our decisions. As long as we center our efforts on serving and empowering people, I believe our business success will continue to follow," Sherar said.

Perry agrees. "It's simple. Biblio's expertise is in software, but its focus is on people."

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