EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 63 - February 03, 2002 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 7

Selling on Amazon: Another Bookseller's Experience

By Craig Stark

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Like Edith Reynolds, who recently contributed an article on how to sell books on [], I too had heard others speak enthusiastically of robust sales.

Up until several months ago I had been selling books exclusively on eBay. Over a period of several years, as I gradually upgraded the quality of books I listed, I noticed that I began to accumulate books that fell short of meeting the criteria I had set for myselfómore specifically, they didnít seem to merit lavishing a top-drawer eBay presentation on. The potential payoff didnít justify it. And yet they were clearly too good to throw away or trade for store credit.

Many of these titles werenít collectible. Many werenít illustrated well (or at all), or, for one reason or another, simply didnít fit into what I had been doing successfully on eBay. However, almost without exception they were relatively uncommon titles. Most of them were newer books as well, published since 1970, and thus had assigned ISBNís or International Standard Book Numbers. The latter fact was especially important because Iíd been informed I could list a book on Amazon Marketplace in a matter of a few moments by simply typing in the ISBN and a short note on condition.

It was true. The same afternoon I completed my registration at Amazon (a not too painful process, by the way), I listed over 50 books, then listed another 100 in the next few days. Currently I have over 300 listed, and when time permits, Iíd like to increase that to several thousand.

My strategy is simple: I list only titles that are relatively uncommon (those with five or fewer comparables, though preferably one or none) and will typically command prices in the $7 to $30 and up range. If there are one or more other listings in place, I try to price my copy competitively, but if the lowest price seems out of line, I price mine higheróand often it sells anyway.

Sometimes Iíll list higher-end items as well if my instincts tell me they would be hard to move on eBay, or if Iíve already tried to sell them there with disappointing results. At present I try not to list anything on eBay that wonít net me at least $20 or $30, but at Marketplace I can afford to ratchet that down considerably because my investment of time is dramatically lower.

A word of warning: since the listing process is short and sweet, you might be tempted to list anything and everything you have, but the unfortunate fact is, Marketplace now resembles in that itís becoming inundated with listings of more common titles. Bottom feeders will put these up for as little as a penny, thinking (one can only presume) to make a dollar on the shipping allowance. I certainly have no interest in competing with this.

If I donít feel I can get at least $7 for a book, I simply wonít list it, though I donít doubt that another, perhaps more efficient seller could lower this amount and still do well. Keep in mind that the fees are fairly hefty. Although there are no listing fees, there is commission fee of $.99 plus 15% of the sale price once it sells. Even though a reasonable shipping allowance is provided, there are also costs associated with packaging and mailing.

How are sales? So far, so good. I average about a dozen sales a week with a year-to-date, per-book net, after subtracting fees, of about $22. In three months, Iíve sold over fifteen books in the $50 to $100 range and one at $250. Since I also signed up for a Pro-Merchant account at a flat rate of $39.99 a month, I try to add more than 40 new titles to my inventory each month over and above what I sell. In other words, if I sell 50 books in a given month, I try to list 100 or more new titles during that same time period to justify the cost. Another advantage of the Pro-Merchant account is that unsold books are automatically relisted every month.

Note that the Pro-Merchant account eliminates the $.99 per book commission fee, though you still have to pay the 15% commission fee. (If you've read Edith's article, you know Amazon's pricing is confusing!)

When you participate in the Pro-Merchant program, your listings will automatically appear in whatís called a z-shop, a sort of online store that you can also list vintage books inóthat is, those without ISBNís. I havenít investigated this in depth yet, other than to note that I havenít sold a single title in my z-shop to date. The format at Amazon doesnít seem to attract sales in this area, especially from those buyers not familiar with the system, and even experienced buyers must jump through hoops to find what theyíre looking for. For what itís worth, the few sellers Iíve spoken to who have had moderate success in their z-shops all insist that itís imperative to include a picture with each item and use cross-links, which expand the likelihood that your buyer will find you.

If you follow a strategy of listing only uncommon titles, chances are youíll occasionally come across something that has one or more buyers waiting. If you price your book at or below the amount a buyer has previously entered into the database, the sale is automatically consummated. Some sellers will start a price higher, wait a few hours to see if it sells, then periodically lower the price until the buyerís price is met. (Note that the buyers' prices are posted only as a single average price, and it isnít clear going in what you need to price your book at to guarantee the highest possible sale price.) Also, at present, there is no master list of buyers-waiting titles, but wouldnít this be an obscenely valuable tool for us sellers?

Like eBay, there is a feedback system, a one-to-five star rating that your buyer may participate in at his discretion. Since there is no means to respond directly to comments made other than to insert a short message, randomly, in your list of feedbacks, and because buyers have no incentive to accumulate feedback themselves, the comments tend to be much more candid and critical. Consequently, itís rare to see a seller with a perfect 5.0 rating, but I suspect that the impact of a negative comment here and there doesnít significantly affect the future sales of a higher volume seller.

Regarding help, I have had consistently good luck getting answers to questions that come up at the Seller Connection Discussion board. Tread softly, however. This forum is not rigorously moderated, and there are occasions when one does well to enter with a thick skin.

Overall, apart from a few minor problems, Iíve had a very positive experience selling books in this venue. Perhaps because I work so hard to succeed at eBay, the sensation I have is that itís virtually effortless to make money on Amazon. My advice is, give it a try, but only if youíre willing to exercise discipline in choosing titles carefully. Competition is fierce on the low end of things here, and many high-volume, low-end sellers have been complaining in recent months of reduced sales.

About the author:

Craig Stark is a full-time online bookseller and former Editor of The Bookologist, a newsletter from the publisher of AuctionBytes.

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