BookThink's Proverbs
of Bookselling Revisited

by Craig Stark

29 March 2016

The Sixth Five

Printer Friendly Version

26. A bookseller's work is never done.

As it is with so many professions, in bookselling there are things that must be done pretty much every day - or at least often. Books to pack and get out the door, sales to attend, emails and phone calls to address and so on. And then there are things that can be put off until there's time to do them, listing books being one of the more crucial activities. But when have you ever arrived at the end of a work day and said to yourself, "My work is done." It isn't done; it can't be. There is always something that is left undone.

For as long as I've been a bookseller I've put in big hours and, unless there is something else going on, have worked more or less seven days a week - and yet there is so much that could be done that isn't. I think it's important to remind ourselves of this now and again because, since most of us are self-employed, it's up to us to choose how we spend our days, and there's often a fine line between what we feel like doing and what we could be doing to grow our businesses. It's so easy to forget that you are the boss of you, and the boss should be in charge.

Example: It's more fun to buy books than it is to list them, right? And how many times have you put off listing books because you didn't feel like it? I have countless times, and yet, if I hired somebody to work for me, you'd better believe that his or her butt would be seated in front of a computer, spending big hours listing books - every day. Do I list books every day? No. And sometimes I look about me and see stacks and stacks of unlisted books, then ask myself, "Who's in charge here?"

27. The worst place to sell books is often the best place to buy them.

This is easy: Consider most of the venues you buy books in, and it's likely it wouldn't make sense to sell your books there, but think of this also in terms of felt competition. I say "felt" because, no matter where you buy books, there is some species of competition going on, but there isn't always the immediate sense of other booksellers competing with you. And what I've come to see is that the best venues to buy books in are those in which competition isn't felt.

Example: Take estate sales. Crazy competitive, often, and there are perhaps few other venues (apart from FOL sales) where the competition is felt so keenly. And I think most of us will agree that, by and large, most estate sales are not the productive sources of inventory they once were. Part of this has to do with increased competition, part of it with pricing issues.

Here's the acid test: The next time you're buying books stop for a moment and look around you. How many other booksellers are there with you? Ten? Fifty? None? Go for none. Compete on the front end, not the back. Establish a relationship with an estate liquidator - it seems that not many booksellers take the trouble to do this - and you might be surprised at how often you'll be invited to pre-shop a sale. The competition hasn't arrived yet, and so often those same pricing issues go away.

In my experience there are two reasons why this arrangement is appealing to the liquidator. One, if there are many books, selling some of them in advance of the sale will relieve some of the craziness on the sale date, and two, if the relationship you have established is built on trust, you will identify things of particular value that the liquidator might overlook and offer a fair price for them. It beats giving them away on the day of the sale, and more money will be made for the client.

28. Failed booksellers make the most noise.

This is mostly an issue of accountability. If you're accountable to yourself, you'll be less likely to place the blame for a failing business on external factors. If you're not, you'll do what so many others do - complain. Inevitably, there will be hard times for all of us, but it's far more productive to ask ourselves what can be done to get through them than it is to fight against what in all likelihood can't be changed.

Again, it's about competition - how to compete smartly. Two of the most telling factors that will contribute most to leaving your competition behind are, one, your superior knowledge of books, and two, your willingness to spend more money to acquire them.

29. A book unlisted is a book unsold.

See #26.

30. All roads lead to eBay.

eBay is the only venue I know of where a bookseller can consistently buy inventory at fire sale prices and re-sell it at retail outcomes. This has been true from day one. Though not as easy to accomplish as it once was, it's still true today. To repeat, and this has special application for eBay: Two of the most telling factors that will contribute most to leaving your competition behind are, one, your superior knowledge of books, and two, your willingness to spend more money to acquire them.

          < to previous article       to previous feature article >

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark


Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment