by Steve Weber

#103, 17 June 2007

How to List and Sell on Oddball Books on Amazon

Selling on Amazon

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If you want to sell your book promptly at a fixed price, Amazon is often the best alternative. But what do you do when Amazon's product information doesn't match your book? Sometimes the bibliographic data Amazon shows for your ISBN doesn't match the copy you want to list for sale. Your book might have a different cover design, a different publication date or a different page count. According to Amazon's rules, the book has to match completely.

I have listed and sold tons of books that differed in some way from what is specified in Amazon's "Product Details" section - page count, cover art, sometimes even the binding. If it's something that seems really minor, usually I'll make a note of the discrepancy in capital letters in my Seller's Comments. Presumably, if a customer pays close enough attention to Amazon's Product Details, they'll read the seller's description, too - but not always.

It's a good idea to check these details on each book, because heaven knows we have customers who take any opportunity to complain, such as the page count being off by a few pages.

Sometimes there will be a weird discrepancy that makes a book unique. For example, sometimes you'll end up with a softcover while all the other sellers have hardcovers listed with the same ISBN, and there's no product page or ISBN for the softcover. In these cases I'll list the book as acceptable even it it's like new, give a big discount, and explain everything in the Seller's Comments. That has worked for me so far, even though it's technically against the rules.

Now, you might wonder why I'm willing to sell a unique book in "like new" condition with a steep discount, listing it only as acceptable. Why not create a new product details page for the item and raise the price instead? That's a good idea in principle, if you try to create the detail page, Amazon will ask you for the ISBN, so you'd be back in the Catch-22. I suppose you could claim there's no ISBN and allow Amazon to create an ASIN. But the book would probably take longer to sell (fewer people would probably find it in search results), and you would have polluted Amazon's catalog with a detail page that would probably never be used again.

I'm giving a discount because the product is an oddball item, and I'm listing as acceptable to draw attention to that and show the customer they're getting a deal.

You might follow the same strategy and sell a book club edition at a substantially reduced price. In this case, the buyer should understand they're buying a reading copy, not a collectible.

Cataloging Errors

Sometimes, the problem isn't that you have an oddball book, but Amazon's cataloging data is just plain wrong. You'll even find misspellings of titles and author names or omitted words. These kinds of errors can prevent customers from finding the book, so you should submit a correction to Amazon's cataloging department. Usually there's a link somewhere on the book's product page for "Update Product Info."

If you can't find the catalog link, go to Aaron Shepard's Sales Rank Express.

Sales Rank Express is also a handy tool for checking sales ranks on and its international sites. Here, after you type in the book info and click "Get Ranks," you'll see a button for "Fix Data." After logging into your Amazon account, you'll be at Amazon's Catalog Update Form for that book. Here you can suggest changes to the title, author name, binding, publication date, publisher name, number of pages, edition, format, language, and language.

I've submitted changes several times this way, and almost every time, my suggested changes have appeared on Amazon's product page within a week. Amazon seems to be improving its responsiveness in this area, and even sends an e-mail to confirm the changes.


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