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ABA Launches BookSense.com Test
Ginger Curwen &Jim Milliot -- 6/5/00

Just days before much of the book publishing world headed to Chicago to attend BookExpo America, the American Booksellers Association announced that it was rolling out a live beta test of BookSense.com at the convention. Booksellers who participate in the test, which is expected to last three months, can do so at no charge. The test comes approximately six months after the ABA indefinitely delayed launching its e-commerce site due to problems encountered by iXL, one of the firms developing the site.

Len Vlahos, director of BookSense.com, appeared confident that BookSense.com would have a successful test and that it would launch commercially by the end of the summer. To help draw bookseller interest to the site, which originally had been scheduled to launch last August, ABA has lowered the cost of participating in BookSense.com. Monthly fees will now be $100, instead of $200, and will be waived until January 2001. The one-time set-up fee has also been reduced, to $350 from $500, and rather than charging a commission on all BookSense.com orders, ABA will charge a 4.5% commission on wholesaler-fulfilled orders only.

In another development involving BookSense.com, at press time last week, sources said that the ABA would announce at BEA that it was changing BookSense.com's primary database from Ingram to Baker & Taylor. B&T is Book-Sense.com's fulfillment partner.

Indies Explore the Web
With the launch of BookSense.com coming rather late in the e-retailer game, a PW survey of several major independents found many booksellers up-and-running with their own sites, while others are still waiting to take their virtual leap via BookSense.com.

Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., put up its Web site (www.bookpassage.com) about five years ago and last month became among the first to start webcasting author events.

Explained co-owner Elaine Petrocelli, "Book Passage has been in the mail-order business in a significant way for 20 years, so our site was sales-oriented from the very beginning." The Web site is now completely integrated into the store's sales and marketing operations. At press time, the site was promoting its newsletter, author events, its Travelers' Bookshelf and Book Passage University classes and was offering the opportunity to preorder the new Harry Potter title. With all this sophistication under its belt, d s Book Passage need BookSense.com? "I'm not about to drop what I've got," said co-owner Bill Petrocelli, "but I am interested. It's got the capacity to market a brand name nationally, [provide] direct sales from a hub site and feed you content."

In Missoula, Mont., the Web site for Fact & Fiction (www.montana.com/ffbook/) features quotes from Western writers, a page of signed copies and links to local institutions as well as access to more than one million books via Book-Site.com. Owner Barbara Theroux established her site a few years ago, designed by her son Brian and his friend, and some updating is scheduled for later this month when her son comes back home. "People seem to use it most for events and signed editions," she noted. Among the updates scheduled for the summer, Fact & Fiction plans to add more author links and get its own URL. Although signed up as a Softlink distributor, it has no real e-book sales yet. Theroux is happy with BookSite but plans to take a good look at BookSense.com.

Fact & Fiction will also get increased exposure on the Internet starting this month, as one of 36 independent booksellers providing content to Contentville.com (www.contentville.com), a new site from Brill's Content that was set to launch June 1. Independent booksellers such as Fact & Fiction are providing blurbs on three or four books weekly, "buzz from the floor" every other week and a two-month look ahead on upcoming books they're excited about.

When BookSense.com was postponed last fall, Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., moved quickly to add BookSite's database and search engine to its existing site (www.villagebooks.com), which started out primarily as a marketing vehicle. "We had been telling people that we were going to be offering an online ordering service and wanted to follow through," explained Dee Robinson, co-owner of Village Books. Robinson describes the store's online sales as supplemental and e-books sales as minimal. Village Books has been pleased with the BookSite service, but the owners will look at the ABA offering.

Dan Chartrand, co-owner with Bob Hugo of the Water Street Bookstore Inc. in Exeter, N.H., made a conscious decision a few years ago not to put up a promotional Web site. "So many people have come in and offered to design and put up a Web site for us, even for free, but you still have to have staff to do the content, and you still have to have someone maintain it," he explained. With the difficulty of finding staff in a tight labor market, it's not been a high priority. Chartrand has been waiting for Book-Sense.com to launch and is excited about participating in the beta test.

Similarly, Tom Campbell of the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, N.C., has been looking forward to BookSense.com. "We have a Web site that's been up for a few years, but we don't do as much as we'd like," due to time and staff constraints.

Mary Gay Shipley of That Bookstore in Blytheville (Blytheville, Ark.) put up her site about four years ago (www.bookweb.org/bookstore/blytheville) mainly as a promotional device to "tell the world who we are and highlight our author signings and special events." This summer will be the big leap forward. Not only is the bookstore looking forward to participating in BookSense.com but Shipley just hired a computer person, Lori Christian, to be responsible for both the newsletter and the site. Christian's upcoming plans include putting the newsletter online, getting a separate domain for the store and starting a regular e-mail update to customers.

Partners & Crime, a mystery specialty store in New York City, is now into its third version of its Web site (www.crimepays.com). One of the five partners, Kizmin Reeves, designed it back in 1996, updates it weekly and is its webmaster. The Partners site features an author events calendar, the Partner Picks, the 100 best mysteries, plus the online posting of its latest catalogue. The site generates 20%-30% of the store's revenues, estimated Reeves. Partners & Crime also participates in other ways online. It, too, is providing opinions on new mysteries to Contentville.com. The store also sells signed first editions via the Advanced Book Exchange, and it maintains a presence on citysearch.com so that browsers looking for New York City shopping links will find the store. What about BookSense.com? Partners & Crime will certainly check it out and see what it has to offer.
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