EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 57 - December 01, 2001 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 6

How to Buy Books in Used-Bookstores and Resell them for Profit, Part I

By Craig Stark

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Perhaps the most persistent complaint I hear from struggling eBay booksellers is that it's difficult to find quality books, especially at prices that leave room for an acceptable profit, let alone one that will bankroll your next cruise. As a result, many of them struggle to overcome the dearth of high-end things in their inventories by selling "dogs" in large quantities. Anyone who has sold books via online auction knows how time-consuming it is to prepare a listing, especially if multiple pictures and detailed descriptions are used. Putting up books that won't generate final values of at least $10 quickly becomes a grind, not to mention a recipe for having your business take over your life. Who wants to work 60 or 70 or more hours a week for minimum wage?

When I suggest that used bookstores are a reliable source of good books, I'm often met with skepticism, most of it deeply felt and for seemingly good reason. Many brick-and-mortar dealers are savvy. They know the difference between a valuable book and a throwaway--and price accordingly. Also, compounding the problem, many of them also sell online themselves, usually congregating on non-auction venues such as Amazon Marketplace, ABE, Bibliofind and the like. Under these circumstances, it seems nearly impossible to beat the system.

But is it?

Think for a moment about what tends to sell for low prices in a used bookstore, or, for that matter, online venues, which don't support or invite the attachment of pictures and/or lengthy descriptions. Now think about what does create interest on eBay, and possibilities instantly open up.

Keep in mind that like collectibles, books do not have a fixed value, a price that is somehow intrinsic to the thing itself no matter where it travels. Prices depend not only on desirability, scarcity, condition, and other (intrinsic) factors but also, and sometimes very critically, on venue and presentationin other words, on where it's sold and how it's presented for sale.

As an eBay seller, you have two huge advantages over non-eBay dealers, and, if you exploit them, I guarantee you'll begin to see the vast holdings of used bookstores as an endless source of inventory.

The first advantage is this: your venue is the Earth itself. Potentially every person walking on this planet has instant access to your books every moment of every day. Compare this to how much traffic a used bookstore gets, and I'm sure you'll agree that there's absolutely no comparison. You might argue that book-dealers who also list online have this same advantage. But this is only true when buyers know what they are looking for and know where to find their listings. And the buyer must trust the seller's textual description of the condition, without photos, which is sometimes a large pill to swallow.

The latter point is especially important. I know from experience that many, many of my sales are the result of introducing a book to a buyer for the first time. Until the buyer saw my listing presentation, he didn't know the book existed. Thus, he would never have purchased it on a site like ABE, for example, where you generally go when you know what you are looking for ahead of time.

Your second advantage, and no less huge, is that you have the ability to attach multiple photographs of your book to the listing. This gives the buyer the opportunity to see what he's buying and gives you, the seller, the golden, glittering opportunity to seize his imagination.

In Part II of this article, I'll show in detail how these two advantages can be exploited to the fullest in your next trip to a used bookstore. In Part III, I'll discuss how to prepare your auction presentations to play into the strengths of the books you'll (hopefully) find and purchase.

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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