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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Celebrity Endorsement #2

I rarely give plugs to commercial products or services here on my site.  In fact, I can remember doing so only once before, almost three years ago. But I just have to share something with you that makes me smile every time I think about it... knowing that I have such a valuable service available to me anytime I may want it.

You see, I have a love-hate relationship with bookstores.  I love browsing bookstores... but I hate plunking down the king's ransom full retail price for new books.

When I was attending Hebrew University back in the mid 80s, one of my favorite hang-outs was a used bookstore in Jerusalem called 'Sefer V'Sefel' (Book & Mug), that doubled as a coffee shop.  They even offered a nice selection of their own home-made ice cream! 

I loved that I could go in there and sit around and read for as long as I wanted... and then walk out with more used books than I could carry for less than the cost of one new book in one of the big retail chains. 

And once I'd finished reading what I'd bought, S&S would buy them back for only slightly less than I paid.

Of course, the downside to such an arrangement is that the limited size of any such bookstore makes it unlikely that you'd find exactly what you're looking for on any given visit... or if you happened to luck out, that the book would be in good shape.

However, with the exception of a few college towns, the days of the used bookstore are pretty much gone.  The profit margin on used books is apparently so minuscule that finding a store like Sefer V'Sefel these days is a truly rare thing.  In fact, I had started to think that most of the used books in the world were now located in old milk crates and cardboard boxes at flea markets.  But not long ago a friend tipped me off to an on-line company that has simply blown my mind.  It's called Abebooks.com and their mission statement kinda sums things up nicely:

"...to help people find and buy any book from any bookseller anywhere"

And you can take them at their word!  They are a portal through which you can search for over a hundred million new and used books located at more than 13,500 bookstores worldwide.

Let's say you are looking for a used copy of Nevil Shute's post-apocalyptic novel, 'On the beach'.  You could...

a) ... drive down and waste your only free afternoon trying your luck at that charming little used bookstore/jumble shop run by those two rather, um, earthy-looking women who smell vaguely like tofu and seem to have more body hair than your uncle Bob...


b) ... simply log onto Abebooks.com and search for what you need by title, author or one of several other criteria.  Within seconds you will be looking at a list of pretty much every used copy of the book available for sale in the world.  Not only that, but you can compare prices and book condition, as well as the most convenient bookseller location to where you live. Then... once you've settled on a book, you can buy it right there from within Abebook's site.  They deal with sending the instructions and payment to whichever bookseller you selected.

Heck, in the end you might actually end up buying your copy of Shute's book from the tofu-smelling, leg-hair-wearing gals down at the 'Bean Curd & Books' outlet via Abebook's seamless portal.  But then again, you might find that a bookseller across town... or on the other side of the world... has a better price or a copy in better condition.

Not only that, but this site is an excellent place to locate those used textbooks you need for a fraction of the price you would have to pay at the campus bookstore.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.


Posted by David Bogner on April 18, 2007 | Permalink


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I remember Sefer V'Sefel - what a great place! They actually had a pretty good selection of American novels for a (pardon the expression) foreign bookstore. For a lonely American yeshiva student jonesing for some Stephen King, the place was a godsend. (And the ice cream was pretty good, too.)

Posted by: psachya | Apr 18, 2007 11:54:39 AM

Sefer veSefel is still there, though it doesn't compare to what it was in the Golden Age.

The only trouble with buying via Abebooks is that the shipping charges are usually about twice the price of the book :)

Posted by: Simon | Apr 18, 2007 12:08:46 PM

Umm...is half.com similar to abebooks, or is it just a misunderstanding on my part?

Posted by: tnspr569 | Apr 18, 2007 1:39:56 PM

psachya... The ice cream was fantastic!

Simon... Yeah, someone told me it is still around. But I would rather recall the glory days and enjoy my memories than see the new incarnation in its present state. As to the shipping issue, everything is relative. If you buy the book for 1 or two dollars (very common) who cares if the shipping is double the asking price of the book? also, since you can select a seller by location, you have the opportunity to minimize shipping costs.

tnspr569... It is a misunderstanding on your part. Half.com is an ebay company where you can buy and sell books. However it doesn't have even a tiny fraction of the books that Abebooks.com has. Also, the user interface on Abebooks.com is simple and smooth while the half.com interface is cluttered and confusing.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 18, 2007 2:00:35 PM

I loved their ice cream.

I even worked there for a short time in 85/86 so I could have their delicious coffee ice cream anytime.

Too bad it's not there anymore. Have tried the libraries? Many libraries around here have use bookstores attached.

If they don't, perhaps it could be an idea for your local synagogue or library to start one as a fundraiser. All the books in our libraries' bookstores have been donated, then turn around as a profit for the libraries.

Posted by: jaime | Apr 18, 2007 3:31:14 PM

Ok... nice plug for the online used book service, but at what cost?

To use the stereotypical "earthy dyke" that you implied is running that local book store that you loved???!!! What kind of description was that?
C'mon Dave - - admit it, that was unnecesary, wasn't it?
Play nice and all that stuff, mmkay?!

Posted by: val | Apr 18, 2007 4:26:50 PM

We have a great Used bookstore here, Chamblin's Book Mine. I can spend hours in there. There is also another in downtown Colorado Springs that I used to enjoy... Now I have a new one to visit on my next trip to Jerusalem.

Posted by: Oceanguy | Apr 18, 2007 4:30:26 PM

Dave, I think you are going soft on us...breaking the rules...what's next....buying a grill at any store anywhere? Oh that's me sorry...

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Apr 18, 2007 5:05:24 PM

This is a great site! A book I've been searching for that everyone told me was out of print has hundreds of copies there! Woo Hoo! I will also check this site when my older son has to begin college to see if we can save money on his textbooks! Thanks! This is great!

Posted by: Tracey | Apr 18, 2007 5:24:54 PM

Hi David,

I saw this article on beekeeping and thought I'd pass it on to you:


I don't know if it's any good, but I thought you might have an interest in it.



Posted by: Maksim-Smelchak | Apr 18, 2007 6:22:54 PM

OK, a book I've had my eye on for more than a year ($200, impossible to find used) was listed for $1. Wahoo! I love that site! It'll probably be my default online bookstore from now on. Thanks David!

Posted by: Fran | Apr 18, 2007 9:43:17 PM


did you know that there is such a used bookshop in Beer Sheva? (without the coffee and ice-cream though) It is called Minibooks and you will find it in the passage opposite the post office in the old city.

Posted by: Ruth | Apr 18, 2007 10:01:53 PM

the tofu-smelling, leg-hair-wearing gals

If that meant to denote (ridicule) women who follow an ecologic, wholefood approach of life, then thanks for the compliment, Trepp.
One does not smell from eating tofu, but let me tell you that caffeine addicts sweat out every mililitre caffeine...and it seldomly smells as good as a fresh brew. :P

p.b. yes, Abebooks is great. We recently found a rare book that we were giving away on a 85th birthday to someone who had given up all hope of ever seeing it again.

Posted by: a. | Apr 18, 2007 11:11:41 PM


For once, I have to disagree.

I mean, don't get me wrong. I love reading. But I think we can all agree that the best thing about "On The Beach" was Ava Gardner.

Posted by: dfb1968 | Apr 18, 2007 11:31:02 PM

In 1965 most English language used books went for about 25 cents and I sold them back for a little less. When I left Jerusalem in 1967 I never again read as many books as I did in the two years I was in Israel.

I used to buy a copy of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" every month and leave it in restaurants, on park benches, etc. Call me the Johnny Appleseed of Objectivism but I like to think that in my small way I helped Israel become the most entrepreneury country in the world. (is there such a word?)

Posted by: bernie | Apr 18, 2007 11:52:00 PM

The used bookstore in downtown Fort Worth (where I found Booth Tarkington's complete "Penrod" series) closed a decade ago. It's like a dead in the family.

Posted by: Bob | Apr 19, 2007 6:17:14 AM

Back in my very-distant youth, I was a Rocky Horror fan. One of the symptoms of this dread disease was that I developed the habit of saying "callback lines" to everything.

One night, I was with some friends at some musical establishment where the band was playing "American Pie." When the singer got to the lyric "I went down to the sacred store" I turned to my buddies (who'd been to Israel with me), and said "Sefer V'Sefel!"

Guess you hadda be there. Somewhere in my Israeli photo archive is a picture of my bed covered with books from Sefer V'Sefel. *sigh*

Posted by: efrex | Apr 19, 2007 7:02:05 AM

jaime... Hey, I was still in Jerusalem in 85 (I worked at Richie's Pizza). Maybe you served me Ice cream back then! Who knows.

Val... Who said anything about dykes??? Are you implying that only lesbians can be described the way I portrayed (quite accurately, I might add) the two women who run the used bookshop I used to frequent? If so, then I'm not the one guilty of negatively stereotyping. I'm just saying...

Oceanguy... While Sefer V'Sefel is still extant, it is no longer the coffee/ice cream stop it once was. I suggest you stick with Abebooks.com.

Jewish Blogmeister... For the record, it doesn't matter where you buy a grill so long as you use it correctly (i.e. slow smoking at low temperature).

Tracey... See, there you are. I'm not trying to run down local used book joints. They are treasures to be preserved and frequented. But quite often their selection is quite limited. Now that many of them are plugged into abebooks.com's network you can get the best of both worlds. Glad it worked out for you.

Maksim-Smelchak... Thanks, I've seen that (and many similar) article. The bottom line is that nobody knows at this point what is causing the collapse of so many hive colonies. Thank G-d mine seem to be OK at this point.

Fran... Great to hear! Make sure to pass it along. For the record, I have no financial stake in this company... I simply love telling others about great products and services when I find them. I should really do it more often.

Ruth... Thanks, but most of the books there are Hebrew and Russian titles. English books are rare enough in Israel... and pretty much non-existent in Beer Sheva.

a. ... What is it, first my sister and now you??? Look if I had written a post in which a lampooned the fat guy with the 'plumber's smile' that always seems to be the one bending over the hood of my car when I come to pick it up at the mechanic's, nobody would have said a word. Are women exempt from having fun poked at them if they happen to conform to certain (funny) appearances/attire/lifestyle? :-)

dfb1968... I haven't seen the movie, but once I finish the book I'll have to hunt down a copy. Thanks for the tip.

bernie... My suspicion is that you supplied a lot of Israelis with doorstops. I mean, you can led a horse to water, but you can't make him/her read. :-)

Bob... I know what you mean. With rents rising and profit margins shrinking, it's hard for the mom & pop stores to compete with the big chains and corporate giants. Sad.

efrex... "Back in my very-distant youth, I was a Rocky Horror fan". Why does that not surprise me?! :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 19, 2007 9:09:59 AM

You might also try


a/ I think it was started by an Israeli guy;

b/ it is also a "comparison" book-shopping portal that includes hundreds of resellers (including abebooks).

I have used it with much satisfaction.


Posted by: JPeditor | Apr 19, 2007 9:52:39 AM

"Funny?" As in Ha-ha?

Hey, babe... I think the word you were going for was "unconventional..."

Just sayin'....

Posted by: zahava | Apr 19, 2007 10:18:18 AM

I also like to buy books from http://www.betterworld.com/ as they promote literacy.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Apr 19, 2007 3:04:06 PM

You should also look at Alibris, www.alibris.com - same basic concept as Abebooks but an easier site to navigate and at least as much used inventory.

Posted by: meg | Apr 19, 2007 4:50:32 PM

Just bought an Adin Steinsaltz book that was hard to find on Amazon ... and it was about 1/2 the price on Abebooks!!

Posted by: Drew | Apr 19, 2007 9:17:04 PM

i was in a yeshivah in the middle of nowhere. one of the places i always headed to when i reached jerusalem was sefer ve-sefel. but i don't remember ice cream (this was 1992).

i never pay retail for books. i've used abebooks a lot, but there are some other good sites out there too.

if you ever get to new york you should his strands (both locations, as each is different)

Posted by: ari kinsberg | Apr 20, 2007 6:09:52 AM

Are women exempt from having fun poked at them if they happen to conform to certain (funny) appearances/attire/lifestyle?

I am generally not a big friend of such fun stuff, because, as explained with the case of tofu, they're often not true.

And besides ... what are your eyes doing on other women's legs, shaved or not, and on men's behinds???

Posted by: a. | Apr 20, 2007 4:06:10 PM

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