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.


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.


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.


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!