Finding an Elusive Book

Note: this guide assumes you’ve already been in touch with us and checked to see if the book is in our collection. If you haven’t, go to our Request a Book page.
With over a million books published a year, no single bookshop or even chain can have them all. Sometimes you need to go searching for that elusive copy you're after. This is especially true if the book is now rare or out-of-print. Outside of TradeMe though, most people don’t know where to start.

One particular problem in New Zealand is the cost of shipping second-hand books here from overseas. Especially with low value books, shipping can make up a large part of the final cost to you. And it also means sometimes the cheapest copy isn’t always the best value copy once shipping is included. 

A great website for shopping around is www.isbns.net. It isn’t a book retailer. Instead it markets itself for “book price comparison made simple.” The idea is great - it searches hundreds of online stores and marketplaces and then tells you where to find the book the cheapest with shipping included. One limitation for New Zealand however, is that it doesn't search TradeMe
. It is worth double checking there first.

Note: when checking isbns.net the results don’t include GST, which all major international book sites now charge. The conversion to New Zealand Dollars at the time of your search is also indicative, but your credit card company’s exchange rates may also differ and card charges may apply.

But let’s see how it works.

First the landing page:
Nice and simple. In the search bar you can either put in the ISBN number of the book you’re looking for (if you want a particular edition) or you can add the name of the book and the author.

We’ll try looking for Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati. You could look for anything, from the rare to the mundane. It even does a good job with New Zealand books. After hitting the search button you’ll be presented with the different results.
We found the one we wanted and clicked on it. You could however choose a couple of editions by right clicking on them and opening them in a new tab. Either way, you get a result like this:
The first thing you do is make sure you have these two drop down menus correct:
This makes sure all the calculations are in New Zealand dollars and shipping is calculated to New Zealand. This is important, because you’ll see that one copy is US$1.38, but it has $14.99 shipping. Another is US$4.39 but shipping is only US$9. This is common and why it pays to use isbns.net rather than searching the individual stores. It means you can narrow down your search to just compare a couple of copies.

Now click on each listing to expand. You’ll see the bookseller’s notes.
​You can read how the booksellers describe their copies. A lot of these look like boilerplate copy and paste descriptions that they apply to everything. You’ll often find this for fiction when they’re selling a copy for a few dollars, they’re not going to spend time describing it. But be warned - the book might have all those things wrong with it, or it might have none of them. It depends whether you want a nice book for the shelf, or something you can read. For more expensive books the descriptions are generally specific to the copy in stock. Read them carefully. 

Once you’ve made your choice, you can click on ‘Buy it’ and go to the specific store.
The three most common stores are AbebooksBiblio, and Alibris. These are online marketplaces where thousands of booksellers (including New Zealand ones) list their titles, a bit like TradeMe or eBay for books. Isbns.net may also direct you to Book Depository if it finds, once shipping is taken into account, it would be cheaper for you to buy the book new from their store. Sometimes it brings up New Zealand retailers like Fishpond or the Nile. 

Once you’re on the retailer’s website you’ll need to follow their instructions and sign up for an account or checkout as Guest (depending on the website). It pays to check you’ve got the right edition and read the description of the book on the retailer’s website in case they have more information that isbns.net missed. Again, remember they will almost certainly charge you New Zealand GST on top of the listed price and shipping. 

Most of the major stores have pretty good customer service and return policies, but individual stores will have their own policies as well. Check these out and do your due diligence before you buy. While most booksellers are reasonable people, buying from overseas means you don’t have the same protections as you’d have in New Zealand. 

​If this was helpful or you'd like us to expand on some aspects of this in future articles let us know.

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