Russell Books

Russell Books, located in downtown Victoria, is a classic family-operated bookstore, owned by Ron De Pol and his wife Diana. Ron and Diana are proud to have been an online bookselling pioneer.

“Keith Waters and Rick Pura would spend hours in our shop trialing the software and discovering what worked and what didn’t,” said Ron. “They also spent a lot of time talking to us about what we needed. They were still employed by the government at the time so it was the very early days. It was wonderful to see the company growing and for it all to happen right here in Victoria.

“When they told me about what they wanted to do, I immediately knew it would be a success. I thought, 'this is the future of bookselling'. Rick and Keith were astute programmers with a great idea.”

Today, Russell Books has one person dedicated purely to handling its online bookselling with another employee working on distribution for internet sales.

“We load up more books on a daily basis,” said Ron, who currently has around 25,000 books listed on AbeBooks.com. “We probably have a million books and more than half of them aren’t available to buyers because they are in storage. There is only so much room in the shop and downtown rents are prohibitive so that rules out expansion. Word of mouth is still the main driver of walk-in business but anyone can see your books on the Internet.”

Wells Books

Wells Books was actually online with its own homepage before AbeBooks.com went live in 1996.

Owned by Diane Wells and Jeri Bass, Wells Books was one of Victoria’s most recognizable antiquarian and used bookshops for many years before moving across Canada to Nova Scotia in 2005.

“We got to know Cathy Waters when she was buying books to set up her bookstore,” explained Jeri. “We had already set up our own homepage, although it wasn’t very sophisticated. At that time, no one really knew how to find books on the Web so it was fascinating when Keith Waters and Rick Pura came in with their laptop and explained what they were doing.

“They came to our house and we brainstormed about exactly what people needed from the site. And then AbeBooks just started to grow. Cathy and the others went to many antiquarian book fairs to meet booksellers and the news started to spread by word of mouth.

“I remember saying to them – ‘imagine if we had 10,000 books online.’ They said: ‘Wow, that would be amazing.’ Now, of course, 10,000 books is not a large online inventory. It was a really exciting time. We saw them quit their jobs and take this huge gamble, and it paid off.”

Today, Wells Books is still going strong with around 70 per cent of its sales coming via the Internet. “We’re located in a small town called Liverpool, south of Halifax,” said Jeri. “We’re the only bookseller for miles around. It’s a great place to live and it has high speed Internet. We looked at another beautiful town here called Royal Annapolis but it didn’t have high speed Internet.”

Peter Gray

Peter Gray entered professional bookselling 18 years ago, when he purchased a small upstairs used bookshop in downtown Victoria. He eventually moved to larger premises and became a valued adviser to AbeBooks' founders.

“Rick Pura, Keith and Cathy Waters visited my bookstore and explained what they wanted to do,” said Peter. “In some ways, I was the ideal person to speak to because I was completely computer illiterate, and they were going to be dealing with many people like me. I’d actually sold some books to Cathy when she opened her bookstore, so I’d known her for a while.

“I hadn’t grasped what the Internet would become, but I don’t think anyone had. The idea of AbeBooks made sense and seemed interesting but I doubted whether someone like me would ever use it.

“I was invited into AbeBooks several times to see how it was going. They were very keen to learn from booksellers. At that time, business was good in my store and I didn’t really put a lot of time into online selling because I didn’t have the time.

“It took me some time to get to grips with the Web. In the end, I felt tired and burnt out from running the bricks-and-mortar store, and I closed it and went purely online. AbeBooks.com and the Internet allowed me to spend several valuable years at home, where I could see my children growing up.”

Today, Peter still sells online with AbeBooks but has returned to the bricks-and-mortar side of the industry after opening a bookstore in Chemainus, a small town about 50 minutes north of Victoria, where he is steadily developing its business.