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When it comes to book pricing, it's difficult to explain the elements of expertise and skill. My father is an excellent poker player and the family still enjoys card games. My dad used to make a considerable amount of money in card rooms, casinos and private card games. In his view, he wasn't gambling. Instead, he was skillfully exploiting other gamblers and fools. This skill is the card sense that some develop but most don't. Practice and learning can help but there are some things you just can't teach. Though counting cards, knowing statistics and percentages, reading faces and body language, bluffing and intimidating are involved for the profit-making card player, the sum is greater than all the parts. And innate abilities combine with seasoned skill to blossom into proficiency.

This may be over complicating the art of online book-pricing, but I've found it too goes beyond the mathematics of online price comparisons and guidebook rules. Many factors make a customer choose your book. Setting the best price is to some degree an acquired, seasoned skill. But in a local venue, these factors are less significant. Here the goal is to find the balance between a properly priced thrift and a used bookstore. Inventory sells best in that medium. Remember you don't have the overhead of a brick and mortar. You want buyers to feel they are getting a bit of a deal and be glad to come cross your books again. Fact is, by establishing yourself as trustworthy, fair, and competent, you earn the right to make incremental increases in pricing.

Books I sell in local venues are acquired several ways. Some are purchased for the local venue, others are bought for online but don't meet my criteria, still others are part of bulk purchases. When I sort for Web inventory, I reject books if there's a glut online or if the price would be under $10. If I'm not holding them for lots, they head for the local venue or are given to charity.

To price for local venues, I use a meta-search and look closely at the pricing of Powell's City of Books in Portland. Their books are priced to sell well, so I start with that and apply my own sensibilities and hunches. People often comment on my good prices but I don't give away books. My philosophy is people pay a little more for quality.

Practical Guidelines

To make a local venue profitable, I focus on eight guidelines:

  1. Condition is important. In our business, good condition isn't good. One of the reasons that the antique store did better than the pet/variety store is that the owners of latter mixed some junky books in with my decent inventory. People like to browse an orderly arrangement of books that are generally in very good condition, clean and nice.

  2. Organize Your Books. Consider the perspective of the buyer, especially if you have as many as a thousand books. Most won't cull through shelves in the hope of finding something interesting. Don't overlook the fact that even the better thrift-stores broadly shelve their books by genre. Consider alphabetizing fiction by author and, within broad categories, group similar subcategories together.

  3. Regularly Maintain Your Books. When you stop by weekly to add or rotate stock, quickly fill the gaps, push the books to the left or the right and use bookends to keep them straight. Reshelve items and line up the spines near to front of the shelves. Books pushed back and in disarray aren't as inviting. Give your wall of books the wow factor.

  4. Shop at Close-Out Sales. Library sales and big chains like Barnes and Noble are good sources. B&N routinely sells bargain books at $1.99 or x for $1.00. They can be tricky to find but look for dollar books on shelves near the "reduced" table. I find remainders to resell online, as well as for $5.00-$20.00 in local venues.

  5. Cull Your Lower Priced Online Stock. When you purge lower priced items from your online listings, make local venues their next stop.

  6. Include Some Higher Priced Books. But caution! You need to trust the store owners and be comfortable that the setting is not conducive to your books being easily stolen. Particularly if the local venue has other higher-priced merchandise, customers are likely buy expensive books if the nice coffee-table variety. I've sold some $50.00 books at the antique store and use it as the venue when there are too many of the title for sell online.

  7. Sell Book-Related Items. Bookends sell well. Be alert for second-hand ones bargain priced at thrift stores, garage or estate sales. Consider selling other small items you come across at estate sales.

  8. Have Business Cards, Bookmarks, and other Advertising There for the Taking. "Cash Paid for Books" and "Libraries Bought" are good terms to use. If the guy in his old pickup contacts you to look at his Dad's books, it can be more than worthwhile.

Looking back at the initial arguments against local venues, consider this. Look for a reasonable deal on rent in a small shop that offers variety. The arrangement can benefit both you and the proprietor. Pay close attention to location. Similar to the old adage about books, book buyers are everywhere. Place books where they come across them when shopping for other items. And make it simple for yourself. Weigh the pros and cons. Don't take on too many venues at once. Then decide if local venues are a way to earn extra cash for books you are already handling. It's a good deal for me and it may be for you too.

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