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Searching AbeBooks

Savvy Search Tip: The biggest mistake that people make when using the AbeBooks search function is putting in too much information.

On the Advanced Search screen, I entered "Heinlein" as Author, "Menace Earth" as Title, and "Gnome" as Publisher. Every piece of data you enter will potentially exclude listings from the results. This is a good thing - to an extent. You could just enter "Menace From Earth" as the Title, but the results would include an unmanageable number of reprints and paperbacks. You want to strike a balance between too few search criteria that forces you to wade through page after page of listings and too many search terms that exclude something that you really want to see.

Savvy Search Tip: Selecting Hard Cover as the binding type in AbeBooks searches will sometimes exclude copies that are hardbacks. This is most likely due to data entry problems - i.e., the seller incorrectly put "paperback" as the binding or used some odd binding description that the AbeBooks systems don't recognize. This happens far more often than you would think.

In the example at hand, selecting "Hard Cover" and specifying "Gnome" as the Publisher is redundant - as a rule, Gnome only published hard backs. [Exercise for the Reader - research Isaac Asimov's I, Robot from Gnome Press, in paperback format; then tell me if it is worth knowing exceptions to rules.] The only thing that selecting Hard Cover will achieve is preventing you from seeing the copies that are incorrectly catalogued as something other than Hard Cover. At the time of writing this article, there are 10 copies of The Menace From Earth that show up when I specify "Gnome" and "Hard Cover." If I remove the Hard Cover filter, there are eleven copies. If that extra listing happened to be a newly listed and bargain priced copy, my search savvy might well have given me first shot at buying it.

Savvy Search Tip: AbeBooks searches work on partial matching.

That is, you don't have to key in "The Menace From Earth" as the title; "Menace" or "Earth" will do. I like to use as few words as possible, again on the principle that entering too much information might screen out copies I'd want to see. For example, I suggested using "Menace Earth" in the Title field; this would show me a listing even if the seller entered it incorrectly as "The Menace Form Earth." Common typos will often doom a listing to obscurity. But some search savvy and a little luck can turn up these "lost" listings, along with some bargain buys.

So, on examining the 11 AbeBooks listings for Gnome copies of The Menace From Earth, I noticed something interesting: While 9 of the descriptions make no mention one way or the other of a price on the dust jacket, one listing explicitly states "no price on dust jacket" and one listing states "NOT price clipped." That the majority of listings make no mention of a price suggests that either there is no price or there is a price but it is not a significant point in identifying the first printing. The listing with "no price listed on dust jacket" doesn't tell us much, since from the original query we already knew that there are copies with no price out there. The real puzzler is the "NOT price clipped" listing - on the face of it, this seems to indicate that the copy has a price on the dust jacket, but if so it is not explicitly stated. Time to look elsewhere for more data.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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