Back in January, I was contacted by Lucy Orbach, the co-founder of an online business called BooksPrice.com, regarding a new service they had created and a press release that they had sent out about it. The idea is actually pretty innovative, in that I haven't heard of similar products from others, and it makes sense for the online competitive shopping services that BooksPrice.com offers.
In short, BooksPrice.com is a site that compares the price of a book across various online stores. While plenty of services are competing in this space, BooksPrice seeks to set itself apart by offering the chance to compare the price of not just a particular book but a bundled "cart" of media. In her e-mail to me, Orbach wrote, "BooksPrice.com is a self financed start-up that offers a twist on the standard price comparison services. While other price comparisons used to compare a single price at a time, BooksPrice offered a way to compare the complete content of a card (including books, dvds, cds, and video games)." The site launched in April 2005 and is based in New York City.
Orbach wrote me about the company in January, touting 75,000 monthly users. I'm not sure if that number has fluctuated by now, but I am interested in the product that launched in January--an "RSS Price Watcher."
Of course, it's a logical extension, but the idea of having an RSS feed that follows the price of a package one is interested in buying on multiple sites makes sense when one is trying to catch the best deal on their "wish list" while waiting for the funds to buy. I'm sure many of us have had some TV show on DVD we wanted to buy but just couldn't afford it at the price listed--an RSS update on the price would be a lot easier than repeated trips to Amazon.
The press release touts, "The new approach introduced by BooksPrice.com turns RSS feeds into an excellent tool for shoppers, keeping them posted about price drops while freeing them form the need to constantly monitor the seller sites." The press release also points out that this avoids having to create profiles or register to get updates from individual sites in e-mail form on price changes.
The RSS feed can also "be customized by several parameters including filtering used books, adding shipping costs to any global destination and selecting a different price currency, so that users will truly be able to find the product they need at the right price."
The reaction to the services seems promising. On Thursday, Ashish SInha at PluGGd,in wrote a review emphasizing the way in which BooksPrice is "not just limited to particular geographies." However, the book he was using BooksPrice for appeared to be cheaper through another site, uGenie. myTriggers is another comparison shop search service, and there is also Yan Bezugliy at ProBargainHunter provides an interesting comparison of some of these services.
I was amused to find that Lucy Orbach had actually personally written him back in the comments section, pointing out that he had been searching for the deluxe edition and that the regular hardcover edition was actually cheaper at BooksPrice. She writes, "The best way to compare a book is by its ISBN. While books may share titles, authors, publisher etc the ISBN is always unique and reflects a difference in the content or edition and in most of the cases in the price."
And Ashish responds, "Thanks Lucy for the clarification. From an end user perspective, it's not at all feasible to know/remember the ISBN numbers!! And that's a challenge for you guys as well. i.e. hide these complex details and provide a clean UI!!"
Launching a service that is a logical extension of comparison pricing, such as BooksPrice's original service and now the RSS feed, does open up these continued technical problems, such as distinguishing among book types across multiple sellers, as Ashish's question raises, but I'm sure this is the type of nagging particular details that BooksPrice and their competitors will be refining over time.
The site Digital Alchemy wrote back in January when the service launched that the site's "major disadvantage is a somewhat unappealing interface. There's a palpable difference when comparing it to Ugenie," but the aesthetic of the site doesn't seem to be of particular importance if the service is primarily used for its RSS Price Watcher service. The site seems fairly straightforward, whether it's slick enough for their tastes or not.
Seems functionality versus aesthetics is a juxtaposition often faced with online sites, as I wrote about back in November.
Either way, I'm interested in seeing what the tipping point is for services like BooksPrice to hit the mainstream, especially by marrying itself to technologies like RSS feeds that make it exceedingly simple to comparison shop. The service does transform the online media consumption experience in a meaningful way and also seems to distance people from brand loyalty in online stores in the way TiVo does for network loyalty.