...And not a book fair in sight...
It does occasionally happen. But — we're here to help! This-here is your one-stop bookfinding shop!!
Basic fact: When they're not exhibiting at fairs, book and ephemera dealers tend to be hunkered down in their lairs, cataloguing away. Many of them issue occasional e-lists, and some of them issue print catalogues. But almost all list their stock somewhere on the Internet, in what are called "marketplaces." The most important of those are listed here.
Also, we've included links to our favorite "meta" search engines (i.e., those that search a bunch of sites at once, doing a lot of the leg work for you), and a couple of the premier "indie" booksellers, like the Strand and Powell's, and also Indie Bound, in case you want to go direct.
There are different reasons to use one search method over another (we use them all, all the time), but never fear: As is our wont, we're on board to give you our highly subjective opinions about each!
(Wait — you think we're wrong? My goodness. How bewildering. That's never happened before... Tell us about it at Editor@BookFairs.Com!)
The largest of the used-book marketplaces, with a clean, uncluttered design. Easy-to-use check-boxes let you quickly fine-tune your search results; a large subscriber base (a majority of professional antiquarian booksellers list here) guarantees those results will be generous. We often start our search here just to get a feel for what's out there.
Meta search engines crawl multiple sites. AddAll is one of the oldest, and its page design shows it, but it's useful for locating the hard-to-find in a single stroke — it searches all of the domestic and international sites of ABE Books, Amazon, and Biblio, as well as other international sites, independent sellers like Powell's Books, and more.
Mid-sized marketplace Alibris has undergone a redesign in recent years, and is very streamlined and easy to use. In addition to used and antiquarian material, they offer new books, bargain books, and remainders, and they've also expanded into music and movies, for which they offer rental options in addition to sales.
The smallest of the major marketplaces, it prides itself on being the most attuned to the needs of the independent bookseller; its relatively low subscription fees and commissions attract dealers who might not list on marketplaces with higher barriers to entry, so you'll often find deals here. It's worth checking.
Another meta search engine, similar in age and interface to AddAll, but with an interesting way of sorting its results: either grouped by author/title, or by marketplace. (We prefer marketplace — to change the setting, use the "preferences" link and select "Classic 1999 emulation mode." This can be super-helpful in distinguishing between copies listed on more than one site.)
The newest of the meta search engines, BookGilt is still very much a work in progress, but shows promise. Clean, elegant design, rapid response time, and a choice of viewing options are just a few of the aspects we like about this site, which is also optimized to play nicely with mobile devices.
Indie Powell's Books of Oregon is in a class by itself. (Well, there's the Strand in New York. Let the East-Coast/West-Coast battle begin!) Arguably America's largest independent bookseller, we would be remiss if we didn't include them here. Yes, all the meta-search engines include Powell's in their searches, but for browsing, a direct keyword search can be fruitful.
In addition to domestic sites, this meta search engine scours more international sites and independent sellers' own sites than any other. It's our go-to to get a sense of the market for scarcer material, especially when there's just too much "noise" on the individual marketplaces. (Plus, check out its nifty links to lots of cool stuff, like bookseller catalogues!)
New York City's premier used indie bookstore (8 miles of books!), and an utter delight to visit in person (go see the rare book room on the third floor!). Not linked-to much by the meta-search engines, so definitely worth checking into (plus, they're always running great giveaways — everyone needs a Strand tote bag, for goodness' sake!).
Just feeling the need to rub shoulders with other book lovers? Indie-Bound can help you find a local independent bookstore near you!