Bookselling in the 21st Century

by Craig Stark

24 May 2010

Part XVI: Visualizing What You Need to Do
to Make Bookselling Work: $50 Books

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I'm going to begin by repeating the last two paragraphs of Part XV in this series (referring to the $25 book business model):

Is this a sustainable business model? Yes, as long as you aggressively pursue the acquisition of inventory and develop reasonably efficient listing, fulfillment, etc., methods. If there's a downside, it's that the realities of this business - given in particular the nature of your competition, even if it has dropped off some lately - are that you won't have much, if any, energy/time left to take your business to the next level. You'll be working too hard doing the busy work of bookselling. If you acquire business-enhancing knowledge at all, it will more likely be by a sort of osmosis that occurs by way of noticing, for example, which books you have luck with and which you don't than it will be by dedicated application.

Why is this important? Because if you want to increase your income beyond adequate, you'll almost certainly need to raise your ASPs even further, say, to $50, and frankly, this is where the demands placed on you change their spots. Most of you will not be able to get to this level without acquiring additional bookselling-specific knowledge via dedicated application.

Okay, somewhere between the $25 book and the $50, the game changes. Every bookseller will sell at least the occasional $50 and up book, especially if there's a focus on textbooks, but how many average $50 per sale? One in ten? One in a hundred? I'd guess that it's closer to the latter. And what's the most likely response if you suggest to a struggling bookseller that raising his or her ASP to $50 (for starters) is the key to successfully operating and growing a bookselling business?

Something along these lines, I'd bet: I'd be happy to raise my ASP, but I can't find enough $50 books to do it.

And yet the inescapable reality is that at least some booksellers can. Some booksellers can raise it to $100, $1,000 or more. What's their secret? I think many booksellers would argue that it's sourcing. These booksellers somehow have access to books that others don't. If you believe this to be so, I would invite you to at least consider for a moment that, for the most part, this isn't true - that the books these booksellers sell for $50 and more are more or less available to anybody. Consider this explanation instead: Additional - and often specific - knowledge is required to buy and sell books consistently and profitably at $50 and up.

If you're a $25-and-under bookseller who wants to become a $50-and-up bookseller, you'll need additional knowledge to get there. What form does this knowledge take? In the coming weeks I'll get into considerable detail about this, but for the moment I'll leave you with an example from my own bookselling history.

It wasn't too long ago that I would regularly search venues for copies of Webster's Second New International Dictionary, buy them if they were priced at or below $10 or $15, and immediately auction them on eBay for $50 to $100 or more.

For a number of years I could pretty much count on few hundred dollars a month in additional sales doing this - and it was as simple as pulling the trigger on a copy as soon as it became available, snapping a few photos of it when it arrived, and uploading an appropriately revised auction template to eBay. Maybe ten or so minutes of labor?

Among booksellers, this is called arbitrage - buying in one venue and reselling for profit usually but not always in a different venue. In this particular case, sometimes I would buy copies on eBay to resell on eBay. How could this possibly work? Answer:

Additional - and often specific - knowledge is required to buy and sell books consistently and profitably at $50 and up.


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