Thursday, August 9, 2012

Yams! The Game

I am pleased to announce that my company, Westcott Books and Games has released its first product: "Yams! A Game of Glory and Power in the South Pacific," a strategy card game for two to four players.  Yams! is based upon the writings of 19th century anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski; in it, players take up the roles of rival claimants to the position of Paramount Chief of the Trobriand Islands.  The gain power through gathering followers, hosting grand feasts, undermining their enemies using magic and deception, and pursuing the legendary "kula" objects that made this region of the Pacific famous.

In order to raise funds for the first printing, I have launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com where supporters can preorder games.  I will also soon have a website-- http://www.yamsthegame.com/ --up and running where orders can be taken.  The Kickstarter campaign is only up for the next 14 days (until August 23rd, 2012), then orders can be taken from the site.

Here is a sneak peek at one of the cards, "Poison Curse":

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Seven Good Reasons to NOT sell your old textbooks on Bookscouter

So I received an interesting email the other day from the good folks over at Onlinedegreeprograms.com suggesting their recent post "7 Good Reasons to keep your Old Textbooks."  While I talk quite a bit on this blog about techniques for selling old books in general and textbooks in particular, this is a bit of cover for the fact that I keep a vast quantity of books for myself, including a large number of textbooks in my chosen field of Anthropology.

Looking through ODP.com's reasons, I find a few of them resonate.  In particular the importance of old books for reference; in anthropology we rely upon extensive texts called "ethnographies" over articles and for much of what I do, a book is a necessary and good thing.  My medical doctor friend says the same about his anatomy books.  I also lend many of my books to colleagues (always put your name in them!), one of ODP's other ideas.

Their idea of visuals is a neat one: obsolete books could be scavenged for their images for collages, wrapping paper, etc.  The use of books for decoration I find amusing, though I do have a few nice leather books in my living room, most of my useful textbooks are far too beat up to be decorative.

This leaves two of their uses: donation to homeschoolers and to charity.  I've actually found that obsolete textbooks are not appreciated at most charities, in particular library book sales that look askance upon such things.  The relevance of most college-level texts to homeschoolers seems a bit of a stretch, you'd have to find just the right student I suppose.  Moreover, if a book is still relevant enough for a homeschooler, it's still probably relevant enough for me!

I find that obsolete textbooks, if they're not cut up for pretty pictures are, unfortunately, often only bound for the recycling, but I do appreciate ODP's enthusiasm.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shipping as Customer Service- a confirmation

About a week ago, I shipped out a lovely copy of Japanese Wood-Block Prints, a pretty standard order.  But, as I explained in my post "Packing Books for Shipping", I was careful to give the shipment a professional look.  I added a company bookmark, wrapped the book in paper, then packed it tightly in foam, then added a personal thank you to the packing slip.  The goal here is to present an aura of professionalism and care, since this is the only interaction we have with our customers and we desire for repeat orders.

This approach was largely philosophical, without direct evidence, until I received a message today that read:
Thank you, so much, for my book.  I am delighted with the edition of "Japanese Wood-block Prints."    I had received a copy as a gift and wanted another to give as a gift.  I was particularly impressed with your packaging.  I will look for your company in the future when I am shopping for books.  Thanks Again, [Name Erased]
Thus, I re-emphasize the point that your shipping is your primary face to the customer, your one chance to impress.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fantastic Frontispiece 2: Matthias Klostermayr (1772)

Click for full-size image
This is the second of my series called "Fantastic Frontispiece" (here is a link to the 1st)  As I described in my discussion of the parts of a book, a frontispiece is a decorative image that is on the facing page from the title page.  These can be beautiful additions to high-quality books and are worth looking for in the books you purchase.

This frontispiece is from a 1772 German biography of the great outlaw and rebel Matthias Klostermayr.  In addition to the great detail on the frontispiece itself, I also admire the archaic script used in the title page, it is a German system called Blackletter or Fraktur which fell out of use in Germany in the mid-20th century.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Accounting for Textbooks Sales using Bookscouter.com and Excel

Since the beginning of this blog, my article on selling textbooks through Bookscouter.com has remained the most popular and so I thought it was about time to make a follow-up post.

Textbook sales are particularly complicated because every textbook buyer requires a minimum order size to justify paying for shipping and when using Bookscouter.com you receive (when you're lucky) numerous competing offers.  It would be nice, of course, to simply pick the highest offered price and sell to them, unfortunately however, sometimes the highest price doesn't cover that particular company's minimum or it is necessary to sell a few books at a lower price so that you can sell everything you bought instead of having books left over from companies whose minimums you didn't meet.

To do this, especially after a trip to a book fair where you have a pile of books to sell, is easiest when you use a spreadsheet.  I previously described a spreadsheet to be used to keep general accounts and this textbook spreadsheet is designed to work in tandem (probably in different tabs in the same Excel or OpenOffice Spreadsheet file).
Click Image for Full-Sized View
 The system here is similar to that of my other book spreadsheet.  Column A is the book's title, column B was the cost of the book for me and column D is the book's ISBN (for more on ISBNs, see my post on the matter).  I will get to Column C in a moment but it is the highest price column.

The rest of the columns are listings of companies that buy books via Bookscouter.com.  So "BookByte" is Bookbyte.com, TextRUS is textbooksrus.com and TB.com is Textbooks.com.  I write the ISBN into the spreadsheet and then cut and paste it into the Bookscouter.com search engine, I then copy down all of the prices (if any) into the appropriate column.  It tend to bold the highest price and then write that company's column letter into Column C.  So, on row 11 (Plato's Symposium), the highest price was Bookbyte, which offered 75c and is in Column E, so I wrote "E" into Column C.

Row 12 (and it varies because you need to add a row in for every new book) is one of the few formulas, which simply totals all of the prices for that particular company.  So the formula for BookByte (column E) is as follows:

=SUM(E3:E11)

The first letter changes depending on the column, and the final number (in this case the "11" in "E11") is the last row before the total row, so as you add more books, it gets higher.

The next row, Row 13 in our example case is fixed and it is a listing of the minimum prices that each company will ship for.  The ones you're most likely to use are:

Bookbyte: $10
Textbooksrus: $15
Textbooks.com: $10
Bookstores.com: $10
1st Class Books: $15
Powell's: $5 (nice!)
Valore: $10
Sellbackyourbook: $5
Bookitbuyback: $10
Moola4books: $8
Webuytextbooks: $5

From here on out it's just a matter of comparisons and a bit of math.  If you have a large number of books, such as after a book sale, you may have to juggle a bit.  I highly recommend selling books as quickly as possible as prices change rapidly (and, in my experience, downwards), so you may not always get the best price for your books in an attempt to fill the orders and sell as many as possible.

P.S.: Those of you who want to know more about how to work Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice Spreadsheet, here is a good primer

Good luck!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Parts of a Book Part III: How Books are Made (Sewn vs. Glued Bindings)

In this third and final installment of "Parts of a Book," we will be exploring the process by which a book is physically constructed; in previous sections we examined the outside of the book and the inside of the book.

This information is important to a bookseller because when we understand the mechanics of a book, we are better able to judge whether it was:
(a) well made and 
(b) has stood the test of time.

Books begin their lives as groupings of consecutive pages called signatures, which have been printed, trimmed and folded.  Signatures are organized in order, have the covers added and then are bound.  There are several types of binding: sewing (the most traditional) using thread, stapling, and perfect binding (using glues).

To tell whether your book has a sewn binding--a generally desirable trait as it makes the book more valuable--open the book, turn it on its side and look at the headband (guide to parts of a book).  According to Leonard's Books you:

can (sometimes, or often, or usually) tell if the pages appear to be side-by-side in neat little folded groupings like tiny booklets. These booklets are called signatures. This is usually a clue that the binding is sewn.
But not always!
Now, if you can get to the center of one of the little signatures, look for sewing or stitching running down the length of the spine edges of the pages — in the gutter, in the center of the folded middle page. If you see threads, you have a sewn binding.
If your book is beginning to come apart, you can look in between the signatures and see the threads; note that a mesh-like cloth along the spine is not threads, but a material used in glued bindings.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fantastic Frontispiece 1: "Wings" (1931)


This is the first in a new section I am calling "Fantastic Frontispiece."  As I described in my discussion of the parts of a book, a frontispiece is a decorative image that is on the facing page from the title page.  These can be beautiful additions to high-quality books and are worth looking for in the books you purchase.

This frontispiece is from a book entitled Wings by W.E. Johns, a collection of short stories published in 1931.

Share your favorite frontispieces and I'll post them up here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Parts of a Book Part II: Inside

Previously, I featured a post that discussed the external parts of a book, today-as the next installment of our three part series-I wish to open the covers and explore the internal divisions of books.  The goal here is to provide you with the knowledge and, especially, vocabulary necessary to be able to evaluate, appropriately price and sell your books.

For this exploration of the interior architecture of books, I will start inside the front cover and work my way to the back.

Depending on the book, the first pages may in fact be blank.  These pages are called the gathers and are a product of the mechanical method in which books are created, which we will get to in our next segment.  Basically, there must be an equal number of pages in each subsection of the book when it is bound and if there are not, the machines put a few extra pages in the front to balance, hence the gathers.  Sometimes the gathers are at the end of the book, depending on the publisher.

Working in from the gathers, one next encounters the title page.  Here you'll find the full title of the work, the author, publisher and year.  This is an immensely important page for us as is the next page, the edition notice (or copyright page), which contains the ISBN number and the edition number (click for my posts on how to read ISBNs and how to identify first editions).  With these two pages, we have information on: the title, who wrote the book, when it was first published, what edition this copy is, who published it, where and what the ISBN is.

There are two minor variations on this theme: a "half title page" and a "frontispiece."  The half title contains nothing more than the main title (so no subtitles); the frontispiece is a decorative image which is on a page facing the title page, these are a bit old-fashioned and were often beautiful wood-cut prints.  A nice frontispiece can add value to a book.

When looking to see if a book has been signed by the author, check out the title page or the half title.

After these technical pages, we begin to come to more content-oriented pieces: the acknowledgement, the dedication, the table of contents, forwards, prefaces, introductions and prologues.  Of course, not all books have all of these things, unlike the title page and edition notice, which are standard for all commercially published books.  Together all of these elements, from the title page to the final prologue constitute the part of the book known as the Front Matter.

This is followed by the main body of the book, which is known as the Content Matter.  It is a bit ironic that while books are written for their content matter, it is often what is contained in the external condition of the book and in the information of the front matter that determines the value.  A terribly written text can become valuable simply because of who wrote it, when they wrote it or what condition it is in.  When evaluating books, however, I simply note what the contents are (if the book is well known or is in a subject that I believe sells well) and then move on.

Finally, we come to the last element of the interior of the book, the End Matter.  This includes epilogues, afterwords, glossaries, postscripts, appendices, the index and the bibliography.  This material influences price far less than either of the other two, in fact it can be missing altogether and still be a valuable book.  The only tiny footnote to this is that if you have a book that you believe may be valuable as an academic text, the absence of a good index and bibliography basically means that its value is limited to scholars, was put together shabbily or simply isn't a serious book.

This concludes our discussion of the interior geography of books, I hope it helps you not only to better evaluate the price of a book, but also to appreciate their craftsmanship.

Next Post: Part III- How Books are Made.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Report from the Syracuse Hazard Branch Library Sale

While sifting through Craigslist's Books and Magazines section last night I ran into an ad "$1 bag book sale tomorrow" at the Hazard Branch Library here in Syracuse.  While the Hazard isn't in my usual hunting range, it is close enough to warrant the trip.  The sale started at 9 and I got there a bit after 10 (what can I say... I like to sleep late on Saturdays).

The Hazard Branch is a pleasant, open space, on the big side for Syracuse's branch libraries.  Near Syracuse's beautiful Polish Sacred Heart Basilica, it obviously serves the large European ethnic communities in the neighborhood, with books in Polish, Ukrainian, and German as well as a Irish newspapers for the community based out of the Tipp Hill neighborhood.  These are old neighborhoods, high up on the city's western hills with ethnic communities going back over a century--it was originally popular with Catholic workers who were not welcome in the old city core (today's Downtown).  On my way home, I stopped by Harrison's Bakery which is just down the road from the library; the Bakery itself was worth the trip and I highly recommend a visit.

The book sale itself was decent, with around a dozen tables or racks sorted into fiction, nonfiction, mass market paperback, children's and non-English books (the had both Polish and German books).  There were only a handful of used library books, which is good as they a lower resale value.  Overall, the pickings were not fantastic, I found about $12 worth of resale textbooks (mostly cheap paperbacks bought for less than $0.50).  The fact that it was a bag sale freed me from having to be highly constrained by cost calculations, which was pleasant.

The one interesting find was a first edition of Aldou's Huxley's "Ape and Essence."  Huxley (the author of "Brave New World") wrote this dystopian novel in 1948.  The book had a bit of water damage, but was still well worth the price of a $1 bag sale.  I posted it up on ebay this afternoon, setting a beginning price of $4 and a buy it now of $6.50 ($3.50 shipping).  If the book wasn't 1st edition, the lack of dust jacket and the water damage (which is only to the cover) would make it pretty worthless, so I am hoping that the low price will bring in buyers who are not necessarily collectors but interested in the content as well.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Parts of a Book Part 1: The Outside

A book dealer needs to understand not only the ways in which the contents of a book influences its price, but also how the role of a book's physical state affects its value.  We must be able to accurately judge and describe the books we sell and in order to do this we must have a familiarity with the lingo regarding the parts of the book and a basic understanding how books are put together.

This is a rather large topic, so I will divide it into three parts: this first one dedicated to the surface of the book--the covers and edges.  The second will focus on the internal divisions of a book and the final segment will detail how books are created.


Starting on the left-hand picture, the inside of the front cover, we see a single sheet of paper, the endsheet, often decorative and of heavier stock than the rest of the book.  One half of the endsheet is glued to the cover forming the pastedown, the other half is the flyleaf, which is intentionally left blank.  At this point, we can also see the book's edges.  The long edge that runs down the page is called the fore edge, and the bottom is called the tail and the top is called the head.  The edges are sometimes gilded or colored, a process where they are coated in a material like gold which serves not only to beautify the book but also to protect its pages.

Turning to the right-hand picture, we see the outside of the book.  This leatherbound book is traditional in its structure and not all books will have the same elements.  The most important parts here are the covers, which protect the front and back of the book, and the spine, which protects the book's bindings.  Connecting the covers to the spine is a narrow flexible area called the hinge (or the joint) which allows the cover to open.  At the top, where the binding meets the head, there is sometimes a protective piece of cloth called the headband.  Along the spine there are sometimes ridges called raised bands, which used to have a function in covering the cords that bound a book together but today are decorative.

As we examine a book for purchase or sale, we need to be fluent in these terms so that we can give a good description of the text.  In particular we need to see that the spine is straight and uncreased or warped, and that the edges are not worn.

Next Post: The internal parts of a book.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Selling other stuff #2: Silver Coins and Bullion

In the ongoing hunt for books, you will inevitably come across other, non-book materials that might be worth your while to pick up.  Some of these are quite obvious overlaps, such as CDs, DVDs, comics and posters, but one you might not think of is silver.  I have found silver for sale in antique shops, flea markets and even, on one occasion, a pet groomers/trading card shop.  If you have a good, rough estimate on the current value of silver, you can sometimes pick up good deals that are excellent long term investments.

The primary advantages to purchasing silver are the fact that it has over the decades slowly increased in price.  It is thus safe and easily traded most anywhere.  The second is that it can be purchased in small dollar values that fit any budget.

There are two types of silver easily available: bullion and coins.  Bullion is the term for privately produced silver rounds (they look like coins but can't be called them for legal purposes) and bars.  Coins are produced by governments and include both fancy, large ones produced by modern mints and the smaller dimes, quarters, 1/2 and 1 dollars minted before 1965, when the US coinage still operated on a precious metal basis.  These are some of the easiest since they are universally recognized and have a set, easily compared weight (so a quarter has 2.5 times as much silver as a dime and a dollar has 4 times the silver of the quarter).

So, how to know what a fair price is?  Start off by checking the "spot price" for silver, either in your newspaper or on a site like CNN Money.  This will give you the price of a Troy Ounce, or $1.40 face value of pre-1965 coinage.  I have constructed a spreadsheet on OpenOffice Calc (you can use the same formulas in Microsoft Excel) where I can put in the bullion price (cell C4) and it automatically tells me the spot prices for various other values as well as what they would cost with markups of 10%, 20%, 30% and 50%.  Smart sellers always have a markup, so don't expect to get spot price most of the time.
Click for larger image
I have included the needed formulas for reproducing the spreadsheet on your home computer in red.  Column A is simply written in, as have cells B4 and B5.  The leftmost formula [ =(B5/4) ] is to calculate 25% of $1.00's face value of coinage.  Other cells would divide B5 by other rations (such as B5/10 for B9 which is $0.10 face value).  In Column C, C4 is written in as it's the bullion price, the remainder of the column is based upon a calculation [ =(C4*B5) ] this is a simple one to convert, for the next row it would be =C4*B6, and the next one =C4*B7.  The remainder of the chart helps you estimate the current markup.  The only alteration is that in Row 3 it reads =SUM(C3/10;C3) and in Row 2 its =SUM(C2/10;C2).  For other columns the alteration is in the divisor.  So for 20% the formula is =SUM(C4/5;C4) and for 30% its =SUM(C4/3;C4) [NOTE: Yes I know it's really 33%, I am rounding] and for 50% its =SUM(C4/2;C4).

If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Identifying First Edition Used Books

When I started this business, one of the few things I "knew" was that first edition books were the most valuable.  So, I looked through piles of books around my house to find the first editions for sale... to my surprise I soon realized that it is sometimes a challenge to identify a first edition, much less sell it.

The art of identifying first editions is a relatively complicated one, in part due to variations between publishers.  Alibris publishes a full guide to the issue as does Bookseller World and you might consider picking up a copy of A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride, but here are some hints to get you started:
  • Start by looking at the dust jacket or wherever the price is normally located.  If there isn't a price tag, chances are it's a Book Club Edition and is probably worthless.  The dust jacket may even be labeled "Book Club Edition"
  • Go to the Copyright page.  Look for the words "First Edition" or "First Printing" or look for a string of numbers for instance these from my copy of Attila the Hun by John Man:
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
If the number "1" is the first in the sequence, it's a first edition.  If not, even if it says "First Edition 3 5 7....", then it's not a first edition.  Some publishers use letters instead and "A" replaces "1."  The one exception is Random House, which does write "First Edition 3 5 7...." for its first edition.  Confused yet? 
  • When the numbers are missing, editions are labeled as such.  However, if the copyright says something like "First Penguin Edition 2009" and then below the title the word "2010," it is not the first edition.  Basically, if there are ANY dates later than the first edition date on the page, it's not a first.
  • As the book rises in rarity, be more wary of fake dust jackets.  This issue is handled well on artbusiness.com, and I suggest you take a look there before buying a 1st edition Great Gatsby or Color Purple, but for the moment it pays to double check dust jacket information with the copyright page for rarer books.
Happy Hunting!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 23: World Book Day (Dia Mundial Del Libro)

Happy World Book Day 2010!

This "holiday" is recognized by UNESCO as "World Book and Copyright Day," but let's face it... celebrating copyright is pretty boring (not to mention a far more complicated issue than can be represented in a holiday), while books are one of humanity's finest collective creations.

While this holiday is not well known in the US, it is more popular in Europe, especially in the Catalan Countries where it grew out of the festival of St. Jordi (or "George" as he is better known in English).  In Spain, it is also the date of the awarding of the annual Cervantes Prize [Spanish] by the King of Spain; it is the most prestigious prize in the Spanish language.

I first encountered the festival in 2004, I spent a semester living in Spain and I had the great pleasure of being in Catalonia on April 23rd.  I was charmed by the basic thrust of the holiday: people give each other a book or a flower.  This is not just between parents and children or spouses, but between all sorts of people who respect each other: friends, teachers and students, colleagues, etc.

The day is also relevant in the wider book world as the birthdays of: Miguel Cervantes (author of Don Quixote), William Shakespeare (the Bard of the English Language) and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (early historian and chronicler of Latin America). UNESCO notes that "23 April is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Maurice Druon, K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mej√≠a Vallejo."

UNESCO has declared the official theme of this year's festival as: "Translation" (you can read their formal statement here).

Today I hope to enjoy books by writing one and writing about others.  I've been stalled in my writing process for several weeks now and, after a few days off, am jumping back into it.  Do you celebrate World Book Day?  If so, what do you plan to do?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Link: Book Blogs

I am pleased to announce a new addition to the link list: Book Blogs.  Based on the Ning platform, Book Blogs is a social network dedicated to people who write and write about books.  I signed up, as I have for a number of similar sites to promote this blog, not expecting much to come out of it.  To my pleasant surprise, I've found that the good folks on Book Blogs are very welcoming: they've sent me messages, visited this blog and invited me to stop by theirs.  While the blogs tend to be more about writing and reviewing books, rather than selling used ones, if you're interested in books this is a central hub worth looking at.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

ISBNs

One of the elements of the modern publishing industry that book dealers frequently come into contact with is the ISBN, which is short for the "International Standard Book Number", a series of either 10 or 13 digits that serves as a unique identifier of a book anywhere in the 160+ countries that use the system (which includes every English-speaking country in the world and even relatively isolated places like North Korea, Kosovo, Iran and Zimbabwe).

The system was first created as the SBN ("Standard Book Number") for W.H. Smith company (the largest book retailer in Britain) in 1967 in order to computerize their warehouses.  The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international body that creates trade standards, picked up on the idea and by 1970 it became adopted by the ISO in general.  Traditional ISBNs have 10 digits, but the new "Bookland EAN" 13 digit system was adopted in 2007.  The extra three numbers allow the ISBN system to be integrated into the UPC barcode system.

One can learn a bit about a book by looking at an ISBN, which are usually found both near the barcodes on the backs of recent books and on the page at the beginning of the book which has the publication information.  Sometimes they are found on the dustjackets of older books.  Each ISBN is divided up into 4 (for ISBN-10) or 5 (for ISBN-13) parts:

Example #1 is from a copy of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, a good read if you haven't already, and examples #2 and #3 are from a small Buffalo-based literary journal called Living Forge.  Like many recent books, Living Forge v. II (2005) had both ISBN-10 and ISBN-13.  The parts are:
  1. EAN: In an ISBN-13 the first three digits (the EAN) indicates the industry, "978" is the number for books.
  2. Group:  The next two numbers are the 'group,' which signifies the part of the world where the book originates.  If the first number is a "0" or a "1," it comes from an English-speaking area, "2" for French, "3" for German, "4" for Japanese, "5" for Russian, and "7" from China.  The group also informs the reader what country the book is from with the second (or more in some cases) numbers.  Canadian ISBNs are issued with both  English and French codes.
  3. Publisher:  Publishers buy large groupings of ISBNs simultaneously and obtain their own numbers at that time.
  4. Title:  Pretty self explanatory
  5. Check Digit: This is a computerized check built into the system to protect against error through a mathematical calculation (more on this complicated calculation here)
ISBNs are distributed differently in each country.  For instance, the Canadians handle it through Archives and Libraries Canada and give out ISBNs for free to Canadian publishers.  The US and UK, however, have privatized this function.  In the US this is done by a private company called R.R. Bowker which charges as much as $125 for a single number.  In Britain a company called Nielsen distributes them and in Australia Thorpe-Bowker.  I personally admire the Canadian system which evens the playing field and promotes small and individual publishing and it angers me that a private company benefits from what is essentially a public monopoly.  It is possible to publish without an ISBN, but they are required for admission into libraries and sales at large book stores.

Important Points: For the purposes of our book dealing, the possession of an ISBN-10 signifies that our book was published after 1967 (and probably 1970 for American books) and an ISBN-13 means it was published in the 2000s.  This is a quick reference for those seeking to sell textbooks... an ISBN-13 is a good sign that the book is recent enough to warrant further investigation.  Outside of textbooks, ISBNs are handy tools for looking books up in databases, as they encoded not only the name but also publisher and edition and therefore are a more accurate search tool.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Selling Other Stuff #1: DVDs and CDs

It's inevitable: you will encounter DVDs and CDs at good prices and you will think about selling them.  While I don't usually go out of my way to find these materials, I do pick them up when I get a chance.  Here are a few rules of thumb:
  1. Don't pay more than $1.00 for a DVD (+$0.50 for each extra DVD in a box set), $0.50 for a CD
  2. Aim to get $2-$2.50 online
  3. Always check the playing surface.  If it's scratched, don't buy it
  4. The box is less important but pretty boxes do sell better (as you need to include it in your description)
  5. I always clean my DVDs with rubbing alcohol (clean in straight lines away from the center, never clean in a circular pattern) and test them in my DVD player.  Then I can say "All DVDs are cleaned and tested before sale."
  6. If you've never heard of the film, there's a good chance no-one else has either, hesitate before you buy it.
DVDs and, to a lesser extent, CDs can be a nice supplemental income, though you probably won't get rich off of them, just a few extra bucks.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Tourism in Upstate New York

For bookloving readers who live in Central New  York, there was an interesting post up in the Fine Books Blog entitled "Literary... Rochester?"where the authors discuss the Literary Tourist's recommendation of Rochester, NY for book tourism because of the
...rare book collections at the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Eastman House, and the Strong Museum; plus two literary landmarks; and six (!) used bookstores. (Also, Yesterday's Muse in Webster, NY, is just east of town.)

Here in Syracuse, NY where I live we don't rate so highly but there is an ongoing free exhibition at the Rare Book Archives of Syracuse University (top floor of the Bird Library) entitled The Power and the Piety highlighting selections of books form their collection around the threshold of the invention of printing.  They have beautiful illuminated manuscripts, an early copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, a page from a Gutenberg Bible and many other pieces up.  The exhibition lasts until June 22nd.



Thursday, April 5, 2012

Selling Textbooks and Bookscouter.com

There is much talk on the internet and on college campuses about the trade in textbooks,  even Obama mentions it on occasion.  I have to agree with him that it's largely a big scam which, in the end, truly profits only the textbook companies.  I had an archaeology professor who once told me that with all of his royalty checks for a specialist textbook he had authored a few years before, he could afford a six pack of beer.  He did note that it could probably be really good beer.

That aside, you will undoubtedly come across not just formal "textbooks" in your travels, but all sorts of books that are taught in classes and, therefore, bought by online textbook firms.  These are the big players: Textbooks.com, Powell's Books, Chegg, etc.  However, I never go directly to these websites.  Instead, I always start with Bookscouter, where you put in the ISBN and they automatically search 44 different companies and give you comparative prices.

There are a number of distinct advantages to dealing in textbooks:
  1. Guaranteed Profit:  If they offer you a price and you accept it, you know you'll make a profit.  These are guaranteed sales.
  2. Prepaid Shipping:  The legit companies offer shipping, all you need to do is print off the label and slap it to a box (more on strategically shipping).
  3. They're usually books you can't sell elsewhere: They are softcovers, recently written, etc.  This means you're not drawing from your carefully selected stock of beautiful old books.
There are, of course, disadvantages as well:
  1. Prices Change:  Most of these websites are seriously sneaky and are constantly changing their prices.  Hence, don't sit on the books, buy them and sell them that night in order to lock in the price.  The exception is Textbooks.com which guarantees their prices for a month.
  2. Minimum Orders:  Every one of these sites has a minimum price or number of books (usually price), below which they will not buy your books.  They don't want to ship your single copy of The Merry Wives of Windsor across the country as it cuts into their profit margin.  These minimums are different for each site and you should make note of them.
  3. General Sleaze:  The textbook companies are bottom-of-the-barrel parasites.  I don't feel particularly good about working with them.
So, how do I work this?  I generally try to get a number of these books simultaneously, sending ISBNs to a partner via textmessaging who tells me which to buy.  Then I come home and try to cobble together the best deal.  Soon, I will be posting a guide to the spreadsheet I use to help me with these calculations.  Alternatively, I look on Craigslist for people selling single textbooks that are above the minimum, I have made $30 in profit on a single book in this way before.

Make sure you check the ISBN of any book you buy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One Month!

I am pleased to say that this blog has now been in existence for a month!

One complication of this tremendous longevity that previous posts are not easily visible on the right-hand sidebar, so I have created an organized subpage of posts relating to information useful to new book sellers.

If you look to the right you will see a line that reads "Getting Started? First Time Here? Begin here"  If you click on the link, you'll come to a page of links organized by theme.

Happy Book Hunting!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Basic Accounting: Creating a Spreadsheet of your Stock

Click image for full-size view
As you begin to accumulate enough books that you don't remember all of them, the prices you paid for them, etc, it becomes necessary to keep an accurate list of your stock and pertinent details.  For this problem, I have used a simple spreadsheet program such as OpenOffice Calculator, which is a free, open-sourced software that I recommend.  Many readers may be more familiar with the very similar Excel Program from the Microsoft Office Suite.  My instructions here work for either program.

I have 17 columns of information for each book, some of which are filled out upon acquisition and some upon sale.

 

Description of the Book

Column A and B (Book Name and Author, respectively) are straightforward and filled out at acquisition--I prefer to put author last name first and put works like "The" and "A" after the rest of the title.

Column C is status, which is a shorthand for me to know what position this book is in.  Is use the letter codes: "A" for Acquired (a book which has been purchased but not put into an online sales program), "AC" for Academic (books which I hope to sell to textbook companies and have not put online), "P" for Posted (e.g. on the Amazon Marketplace), "E" for Ebay (and not Amazon, my usual default), and "S" for Sold.

Column D is the ISBN, which is filled out at acquisition; for books before 1966 I write "Predates ISBN" and for those after 1966 for which I cannot find an ISBN I write "Unknown ISBN."

After these four columns, I typically switch to Columns O, P and Q which are "Type," "Condition" and "Description," respectively.  For "Type" I use letter codes: "HC" = Hardcover, "SC" = Softcover, "TB" = Textbook, "MM" = Mass Market Paperback, "OT" = Other.  Condition Codes are pretty well established (I went over them here), but for reference are "N" = New, "LN" = Like New, "VG" = Very Good, "G" = Good, "A" = Acceptable, and "P" = Fair.  The final section, "Description" is a one to two sentence thumbnail of the book's physical condition.  Here is an example:

"Straight and tight spine. Slight wearing on spine jacket. Name on inside cover"

Descriptions are used in all of your postings and having this here helps you save time.

Calculating Your Minimum Price

Column E is the weight, in ounces, as measured by my kitchen scale.

"E Ship" (Column F) and "E Fee" (Column G) are for "Estimated Shipping" and "Estimated Fees."  This is a rough number that I put in so that I can estimate my minimum price (column M)-which is the lowest price I could charge for the book and still make a profit.  Estimated Shipping is based upon the weight plus a few ounces for shipping material compared to the USPS Media Mail Rates (don't forget to add $0.75 for tracking).  Estimated Fees is based upon the Amazon Estimated Fees and Pricing; as Amazon tends to be the most expensive site I use, I base my minimum prices upon it.

Column H, "Cost," is pretty straightforward: how did I pay for the book?

With Column A - H completed, I am able to calculate Column M (Minimum Price) and begin posting the book online.  Column M actually contains a formula which reads (for the first row):
=SUM(F3:H3;3.99)
The $3.99 is the automatic shipping rate Amazon adds to all books.  As rows F-H are written in negatives, this will typically produce a negative result.  You need to mentally delete the negative signs in Row M which will give you an estimate of the lowest price you can post this book on Amazon and still break even.

With all of the previous columns filled, you have all of the information needed to post the book online and begin selling.

 

After the Sale

Columns I - K are filled out after the sale.  Column I is for the actual internet fees for sale and J is for the actual shipping costs.  Like F and G, they are written in negative numbers.  Finally, Column K is for the sale price of the book.  With this data inputted, you should be able to calculate your profit in Column L.  Here is a formula you can put in that will do it automatically for you:
=SUM(H3:K3)
The only remaining column, N "Site," is for you to note on what website you sold the book as a reference.  Don't forget to change column C, Status.

 

Uses and Other Info

This spreadsheet allows you to keep track of how many books you have pending and how many you've sold (you might find it convenient to add a column for the date sold as well), where you've sold them and what your profits have been.  This can be done automatically for you by putting a little formula into line L2:
=SUM(L3:L244)
These formulas have also been used in lines F2, G2, H2, I2, J2, and K2 to produce ongoing totals of your expenses and profits.

Best of luck!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Romance Novels are Radioactive

Anyone who touches a toe into the pool of book dealing will encounter the great, cracked-spine, worn-cover hordes of romance novels (such as the famous Harlequin line).  Don't touch them.  Here are two illustrative examples of why not:

Example #1

A few years ago, I helped a friend out in a small used book store he ran in a college town.  Generally speaking I wasn't authorized to buy books, but we did have a "buy list" of stalwarts that we always purchased, with accompanying prices.  On this list were "romance novels about cowboys (must wear cowboy hat on cover)" for 25 cents.  There was a young woman who stopped by once a week to inquire about these books and was willing to pay a hefty $1 a piece, provided the cowboy had a cowboy hat on the cover.

Example #2

Much more recently, I was collecting a wide variety of books to prepare for a flea market stand that never materialized.  On Craigslist I found an offer for a romance novel collection, which had to be bought in total for what worked out to around 5 cents a book.  They became an albatross around my neck as the box came to live in my car, accompanying me to every used book store I visited.  My library wouldn't even accept them for free for their sale.  I eventually, months later, unloaded them for about 3 cents a book on Craigslist.

Reflections

Example 1--a standing buyer willing to pay x4 the price you paid--is just about the best you can hope for.  However, my friend still only made 75 cents a book and most weeks didn't find any romance novels with cowboy hats.  While the payback was worth a minimal, passive effort, it certainly wouldn't pay his bills in the long run and was more valuable as a laugh.  The second example is actually not a worst case scenario, the worst case would be unloading the books into a bonfire, but it is far more typical of dealing with these books.  I took a hit, not just in up-front costs but also in time, gasoline and pride as every book dealer in the city came to think "oh, there's the guy who thinks he can sell Harlequin novels."
Life Lesson: Romance novels are radioactive.

PS: For all those looking for a bit of beefcake (or a laugh), here's a video on The Making of a Romance Novel Cover.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ebay or Amazon

For a small-scale seller, Ebay and Amazon present the easiest options for selling books to a wide audience: both are (relatively) user friendly, require no up-front payments, and provide sellers with some protection from fraud. 

So which one is better?

In truth, I use both sites because they offer a different style of sales.  Ebay--while offering some semi-permanent sales listings--is primarily an auction site where buyers bid on multi-day auctions.  Meanwhile, Amazon Marketplace offers sales via permanent postings with unchanging prices.

Ebay

Advantages: Especially since Ebay has begun offering 50 free posts a month it is the site with the lower fees.  If you don't sell, you don't have to pay.  Even if you do sell, the fees are relatively low: $0.50 for listings between $10 and $24.99 (full fee list here). Ebay also allows you to put up individualized images (helpful for really beautiful or unique books) and give in-depth descriptions.
Disadvantages: Ebay has two really big pains for sellers.  The first is that writing up a new listing--especially one for which they don't have a standard listing on file--is a long process.  You really need to carefully look up details on the book, take photos, etc.  However, the bigger pain by far is the fact that PayPal (a division of Ebay) holds seller payments for 21 days.  While there are exceptions and it is possible to have early releases if your buyers give you favorable reviews, it is annoying and, at times costly to have your money held by PayPal. 
When Do I Use It:  I typically have a few items up on Ebay at any given time and they are my more expensive, higher-profit books.

Amazon

Advantages:  On the Amazon Marketplace, sellers create listings and prices for their books which remain present until sold.  This means you can spend an afternoon listing a hundred books and then they basically sell themselves, unlike Ebay which requires more regular tending and updating.  I have almost my entire stock up on Amazon at any given time.  Also, when a book is sold on Amazon, payment is released as soon as you put in the tracking number.
Disadvantages:  Amazon is pricey.  While there are a number of variables, they inevitably charge several dollars--several times the fees on Ebay.  Make sure to price your books accordingly.  Also, you are required to buy tracking.
When Do I Use It:  I put almost all of my books up, especially the lower-end ones.

Final Analysis

Neither one of these services is perfect, though if you have the patience to update Ebay and wait for payments to be released, it is almost always the more profitable option.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Link: Fine Books Blog

You may have noticed the list of links to the right hand side.  I have tried to pick out useful sites that can help you learn or provide resources to improve sales.  I will try to make sure they stay alive and will keep readers up to date on any additions.

Today I am adding the Fine Books Blog, a project of the quarterly Fine Books and Collections Magazine.  Their blog is an excellent one, covering all areas of book collecting, loving, preservation and sales.  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Hunting

So, you've scoured your shelves, begged from your family and run out of books on hand?  The time has come to begin book hunting in earnest.  There are three primary techniques that I have found useful for finding more stock for your shelves: (1) the Internet, (2) deals with acquaintances, (3) sales and shops.

(1) Internet
There may be other options out there--and I'd love to hear about them--but the best places I've found for buying books online are Craigslist and Freecycle.  Craigslist is a classified ads service that is free in most parts of the country.  It has a dedicated book section which is a bit of a crapshoot but it is possible to find great deals on books, especially when someone is selling off a collection.  Freecycle is a posting service where people put up objects they want to give away to the first comer.  Books are far rarer on Freecycle than Craigslist, but it offers a convenient daily email service which is worth a look.

(2) Deals
Once it becomes widely known that you are interested in books, people who have them but aren't able or willing  to sell on their own may approach you.  Sometimes these can be very profitable, such as a deal I had with a nonprofit in my town that was liquidating its library, I handled all the sales and we split the proceeds, what I didn't sell, I brought back to them for a rummage sale.  I had a similar deal with a friend for whom I sold a collection of Star Wars posters, my single biggest sale to date.  Figure out what you think is a fair trade, make sure to account for shipping and other costs and present these partners with an offer.  Sometimes it might be worthwhile to let potential partners know what your deal is--either by email, personal conversation or a post on a social media website.

(3) Sales and Shops
This is where the thrill of the chase really kicks in.  Thrift stores, garage sales, and library sales are major sources of books and I try to make the rounds once a week to look for stock.  Big library book sales can be a bonanza, though they often require long drives, commitment of a day and early mornings (best to get there when they're opening).  Check out Book Sale Finder for locations near you.  Less dramatic, but also useful are the everyday types of sales many libraries have.  These are worth checking out, especially as librarians often presort out worthless books.  The best deals come from thrift stores: Goodwill (Store Locator) and the Salvation Army (Store Locator) in the United States; in Britain I found Oxfam Stores to be good stops (Shop Finder).  Garage sales can be good sources, though I find that the big estate sales are better than small sales: when someone is selling a handful of objects they tend to price them higher than you want to pay.  Books available in big estate sales tend not to be priced with nostalgia in mind, meaning that the prices tend to be lower.  Flea markets/Swap Meets/Car Boot Sales can sometimes have good finds, but they tend not to be book-heavy locations.

Good luck and don't forget that when you're buying don't forget the calculation: Profit = Quality - Condition - Cost

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Making your own Book Wrapping


**Always check the shipping requirements of any website you sell through to ensure you utilize their standards**

Some times, you simply don't have enough boxes, or boxes of the correct size, to ship all of your books (for more on conventional shipping, check out this post). There is an alternative manner of shipping books, which I call “wrapping” books. It involves a single large piece of cardboard, roughly 2.5x as wide as the book and 1.5x as tall.

This system of wrapping only works with tightly bound, strong books—or similar goods like DVDs in cases. Do not use it with fragile books, or those that are particularly valuable; I only use it with recently published books in excellent condition. Sometimes it helps to first wrap the book in a protective foam sheet or other protective material.

The process works like this.
  1. Lay the book or DVD out on the cardboard, roughly twice the thickness of the book from the width dimension on the right side and in the middle on the height dimension.
  2. Draw lines with a ruler along the upper, lower and right-hand sides. Make the lines a bit away from the edge of the book to give the cardboard space to be bent over.
  3. Cut out the corners as demonstrated. This creates an easily foldable flap on the right-hand side.
  4. Bend over the right hand flap—it may help to run a pen or the ruler's edge along the line to make an indentation. Replace the book and draw a line down the left-hand side of the cardboard.
  5. Cut out the top and bottom edges to create top and bottom flaps.
  6. Bend over the edges on the top, bottom and short flap. Crease the fold lines if necessary. You may want to trip the top and bottom flaps if they are particularly long.

  7. Bend over the top flap, creasing it as needed. Trim the cardboard so it does not overlap the top. Tape all of the edges.

You may wish to reinforce the corners—the weakest part of this wrapping—with an extra layer of cardboard inside.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Packing Books for Shipping


**Always check the shipping requirements of any website you sell through to ensure you utilize their standards**

The safe packing of books is a crucial technical skill for successful sales. A good package performs three roles:
  1. It ensures that your books arrive safe and sound at your destination without damages.
  2. It presents your customers with an image of professionalism which leads to more positive reviews.
  3. It is as light as possible, keeping down shipping costs
I attempt to pick up packing materials as often as possible—I avoid paying for them by asking friends and family for used boxes and picking them up from the mail department of work—in fact, the purchase of boxes can be avoided all the times if you keep your eyes out.

You want to avoid using boxes from specific products (like shoes), using only relatively plain brown boxes. This adds to the professionalism of your product. You particularly want to avoid using un-reinforced cardboard—such as is used in cereal boxes.

If the website you are using provides a shipping list, make sure you print it off and include it within the box. Also include any company-specific materials you might have (such as book marks or thank-you notes). You may want to add a personal note—such as “Hope you enjoy the book! [You Name]”--so that your customer has a personal connection to you. This builds potential for return customers and your chances of having positive reviews.

However, when employing used boxes, it is important to carefully remove all labels with shipping labels, completely black out (using a sharpie) any shipping marks (“Media Mail,” “First Class” etc). If the box is damaged at all, but you still judge it as usable, you can reinforce its corners and edges with packing tape.

You should always choose the smallest box possible that will fit your book to keep down the weight. Inside the box, you will want to add packing material as tightly as possible. Avoid using newspaper on books that might be damaged by smudging ink.

If you sell textbooks (a topic I will go over in a future post), the rules are altered. As the textbook companies are paying the shipping bills and care not a wit about how the boxes look. I save my uglier boxes for this type of shipping and utilize the heavier newspaper as packing material.

When attaching your shipping labels, make sure they are easily readable, preferably printed. This not only gives a professional presentation, but also ensures that the Post Office's computers can read them. Most websites provide labels to print off. If you are using prepaid labels from the Post Office, using the packing tape around the edges but not over the bar codes as their sensors sometimes have difficulty reading them; however, for UPS or FedEx, the companies recommend covering the prepaid labels with packing tape.

Finally, if you have a fragile object, don't hesitate to write “Do Not Bend” or “Fragile” on the outside of the box to better protect your goods.

Best of luck!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Report from the Rochester Library Book Sale

The old Central Library, Rochester, NY

On Friday, my partner and I headed west to Rochester, NY for the yearly book sale at the Central Library.  We followed a previous pattern we worked out for out-of-town sales: I head into the sale with my phone, canvas bags and checkbook and she sets up with the internet on my laptop in a nearby cafe or (in this case) library.  I pick out potential purchases and send their information via text to her and she looks up the details.  In truth, she doesn't even need to be with me in the city (and usually stays home for my trips within the area of Syracuse, our home), but we tend to try to combine them with meeting friends and seeing sights.  This extra layer of online checking has helped to cut down on 'duds,' books that I thought are valuable but just don't sell well.

The Rochester Book Sale was within their new central library, an impressive, airy space with lots of computers and relatively few books (I believe most of the books are across the street in the old library building).  The selection was a bit disappointing: we arrived mid-day through Friday (around 11:30), several hours into the general sale and the real finds had already been snapped up.  That said, I had moderate success, including a decent copy of "How to Master the Violin" by Pavel L. Bytovetzski from 1917 and a few re-sellable textbooks.  All of the adult books were $1.00 except for mass market paperbacks and romance novels (which were going for a mere $0.10-a further lesson to all readers to avoid romance novels).

Inside the sale

After the sale, we stopped by the Strong Museum of Play (which would have been better with a kid in tow) and met up with a former roommate for Ethiopian food at Abyssinia Restaurant, which was almost worth the trip in itself.  Just don't make my mistake and make yourself sick eating too much delicious Injera bread.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Sale Tomorrow: Rochester Library

No blog post tomorrow because I will be in Rochester, NY at their Friends and Foundation of the Public Library auditorium book sale.  The sale started today for dealers and donors but will be up and running tomorrow (Friday the 16th) through Sunday for the general public.  Friday the hours are from 9am-5pm, Saturday from 10am-5pm and Sunday from 1pm-4pm (when they'll be selling $3 bags of books).  The Central Library is located at: 115 South Avenue, Rochester, NY, 14604.

Most books are priced from $0.25 - $1.00

If you stop by, I will be there with a Petit Branch Library canvas tote bag. 

See you there!