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Opportunities for Booksellers
in a Faltering Economy

Also Some Related Advice on How to Save Money

by Craig Stark

#120, 12 May 2008

Need a $50 sale today? List four or five Foxfire books. What's that? You have ten of them? How about $150 instead? All 13? We're getting close to a car payment now. There's a reason Foxfires are doing so well now. Many Americans are feeling the pinch, and these books are packed with survival skills and lots of do-it-yourself how-to, not to mention advice on simple living. This is knowledge that can save you money, perhaps make you money. The good news for booksellers is that these things pop up everywhere. I reserve a space on one of my shelves for them, and when I accumulate a run (which doesn't take long), up they go on eBay. Ka-ching.

If you haven't noticed, books that teach us how to make and save money are pretty hot now. Small wonder. But has it occurred to you to focus more on them? Bookselling, like any other profession, succeeds only when demands are met, and knowing and keeping up on what's in demand (which is forever changing) is half the battle. If you can anticipate demand before it materializes, all the better, and since we're fairly early into this economic downturn, there are still plenty of buyers out there who haven't yet decided to buy a how-to book - but will soon. You can help them decide with both your title selections and marketing efforts. And yes, cookbooks are a major portion of this niche. Haven't you noticed yourself eating out less?

Bad times are times of opportunity just like any other.

Now that the dollar has tanked and will likely remain weak for some time in the foreign exchange market, we're presented with another opportunity: Sell books internationally. Or sell more than you have been. I don't know about you, but I've never gone through as many customs forms as I have so far this year. Half the books I packaged today were international orders. Our books are bargains to foreign buyers, so much so that higher shipping costs no longer present a significant deterrent. If you're already taking advantage of this, great, but why not try to ramp it up some? Stop passing up those foreign-language titles on scouting trips, especially in used bookstores, where they're often under-priced. Or start selling on eBay UK - or, really, on any eBay satellite venue. I don't speak much Spanish, but I've successfully listed books on eBay Spain by opening eBay US in one window and eBay Spain in another and referring back to eBay US when it wasn't clear what button to click, what to fill in a box, etc. I've also sold photographs on eBay Hong Kong, and - guess what? - this satellite speaks English!

Speaking of listing books on alternative venues, have you stopped by craigslist recently? Activity on this venerable venue has approximately doubled in the past year, doubtless because sellers are no longer willing to pay through the nose to sell their items on fee-based venues, and in my area - for the first time - there are now more sales advertised on craigslist than there are in my local newspaper. This dramatic increase in traffic is another opportunity for you, Mr. or Mrs. Bookseller. It costs you absolutely nothing to list a book, and you pay absolutely no fees when it sells. Oh - and you can post up to four images. There's more: It's painfully simple to register, not to mention navigate the website. And if you have any experience as a bookseller at all, it's highly likely that you'll enjoy a competitive advantage over other sellers, many of whom seem clueless about how to present and/or price their books. (By the way, book lots do especially well here.) If there's a downside, it's that your listing will only display regionally, but there's nothing stopping you from listing it in another half dozen or so major metropolitan areas.

Any other opportunities? Well, also due largely to the weak dollar, the gold market is hot; so are the commodity markets. And there's no shortage of associated investment guides in strong demand now. Books on buying and selling distressed properties? Hot too. And, if you haven't done so already, this would be a terrific time to expand your bookselling activity to include non-book items - rather, "un-book" items, those that fit physically into your present inventory and shipping system and can be handled very much like books. Michele Behan's article, which follows this, presents ten reasons, all good ones, why you should consider selling ephemera.

Next, if you don't mind, I'm going to beat an already furiously beaten dead horse: Now, more than ever, steer your bookselling to more collectible (higher dollar) and recession-resistant books by increasing your bookselling knowledge. If your bookselling reference library isn't strong, there are many, many useful and reasonably priced print resources here.

Also, beginning today, May 11, and continuing to June 11, BookThink will be offering its entire back issues package - all Gold Editions, 50/50s and QMRs - at a deeply discounted price of $99.99. Here's how it will work: Purchase it at the regular price of $149.99 and you'll receive a $50 refund when the order is fulfilled. This bookselling knowledge could make you thousands. Get it here:

The following article is almost two years old, but the ideas presented for increasing your bookselling revenue are still valid and in many cases applicable to venues other than eBay too:

And what about buying inventory? This is perhaps the best time to do it in years. Collectibles are coming on the market now in huge numbers and sometimes selling for ridiculously low prices. And, there's never been a better time to teach yourself how to buy inventory online, especially given the increasingly punitive price of gas. Here's a primer.

Which reminds me. Most booksellers use a lot of gas, so this is in effect a bookselling topic. If you drive as much as I do, you're probably spending $100 or more a month on it than you did last year. Would you like to recover that $100 (probably more) right now? Here are a few of the more important things you can do:

Tune up your vehicle. I recently had two bad O2 sensors replaced, for example, and my fuel economy immediately improved over 20%!

When you fill up, don't fill up. Fill your tank halfway instead. Driving with a full tank is roughly equivalent to having an extra teenager in your back seat. Fuel economy suffers. For that matter, if you've been carrying around any additional weight in the trunk or wherever, get rid of it.

Watch your rpms like a hawk. Accelerate slowly, and look for opportunities to decelerate instead of using the brakes. When my sons (who pay for their gas) starting doing this, they were amazed at how much it helped. When possible, use cruise control, and if you travel on toll roads, get a pass to avoid stop and go waiting in line.

Roll up your windows and use the A/C (if necessary) when you're traveling at higher speeds. Open windows are a serious drag on a vehicle, and the gas consumed by running the A/C is actually less than that consumed by overcoming the additional resistance open windows create. However, when you're in stop-and-go traffic, turn off the A/C and roll down your windows.

Don't leave your vehicle running when you stop at sales. If you're going to park for an extended period of time, try to find a spot in the shade. A hot vehicle will evaporate gas. Speaking of which, don't buy hot gas - that is, do buy it in the morning (or very late at night), before it has expanded. Also, gas is often cheaper during the week than it is on weekends. Watch prices.

Finally - and obviously - buying a more fuel efficient vehicle is the single most dramatic step you can take to lower your fuel costs. I mention this only because I saw an interesting offer recently:

A few more things, sort of gas related.

When we booksellers hear the word "Amazon," it's usually in the context of bookselling, but did you know that you can shop for groceries there? The prices I checked were very competitive, and most of the items qualify for free shipping. Think of the gas savings.

Finally, this is a great website (associated with a great radio show) that will help you save money:

Some good ideas here.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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