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Building Values Into Your Inventory

Simple Techniques
for Quickly Adding Content
to Your Descriptions

by Craig Stark

#122, 9 June 2008

Building value into your inventory is without question the most important success strategy a bookseller can employ. It's one thing to buy books that can be sold for profit - any bookseller can do this and get them sold - but it's quite another to maximize prices for them. This requires knowledge, knowledge sometimes acquired from experience but more often dug up by dint of dedicated research. In turn, it also requires an incorporation of this knowledge into one's descriptions. Now that Amazon has expanded its description fields to 1,000 characters and most other venues accommodate even longer descriptions, it makes sense to exploit this, especially for scarce or uncommon books that potential buyers might not otherwise be aware of. A table of contents, a list of illustrations, a dust jacket blurb - all are strong possibilities for building value into your books and getting them sold for good prices.

If you type 150 wpm, moving content from a book or website or whatever to your description field is no big deal. You simply type it in, and you're quickly done. However, if you type 30 or 40 wpm, time is suddenly an issue. Fortunately, there are tools that can greatly speed this process, sometimes above and beyond what the 150 wpm typist can accomplish. I've written articles about some of them: Optical character recognition software that converts images derived from scanners or digital cameras to text and voice recognition software that converts your voice into text are two important examples.

But there are also tools/techniques that you already have that perhaps you're not aware of. Several months ago I purchased a group of letters and miscellaneous ephemera from an estate sale that had been written and/or collected by the great granddaughter of one of the pioneer figures in the movie business in the late 19th century. It was clear at the outset that I needed to know a lot more about this guy than I did, which was next to nothing, and the first place I headed to was Google Books.

After typing in his name, I was presented with a list of 859 results. I then refined this search by selecting "Limited preview and full view," and 672 results were returned. (This eliminated those books that were inaccessible to online viewing.) Since many of these results were obviously still irrelevant, I further refined my search by adding an additional keyword that I knew would filter the junk out. Four results were then returned, one of which was a book published in 2001 that featured an entire chapter devoted to the man in question - very useful information. Since this book was still under copyright, access to it was limited - that is, I could search the book and read a few pages but there was no capability to download it or even copy and paste the relevant text into my description; all that was presented were images of the pages.

Obviously, this is Google's attempt to protect books not in the public domain. But I wanted to take advantage of "fair use" and excerpt most of the chapter into my auction description. It certainly wouldn't have made sense to purchase a book I'd never use again. And, or, I could've revved up Dragon NaturallySpeaking and read the chapter out loud, but this would've taken as much as an hour to get right - not at all appealing. Instead I started at the first page of the chapter, pressed Alt/Print Screen to capture the image and pasted it into my image editor, PaintShop Pro. I did the same with the remaining pages, saved them all in separate files, then processed them in my optical character recognition software, OmniPage Pro, and copied them to Notepad. The entire process took about ten minutes, and the result was the complete text of the chapter. Alternately, you could print the images directly from your image editor then scan them with your OCR software. It's also possible to take photographs of your monitor as you bring up pages and process the images. Finally, as long as there are no copyright issues, illustrations can also be inserted into your listings.

By the way, I can't emphasize enough how rich a resource Google Books has become. Thousands of bibliographies are now accessible, as our many other author resources and references.

By extension, this same technique can be applied to many other situations - anything that can be viewed online. Take Amazon. Many, many books now listed on Amazon have what's called "Search Inside!" feature. This allows you to view parts of a book - often the dust jacket blurb, the table of contents, the index and more - and if it can be viewed, it can also be readily captured and converted to text, then copied and pasted into your description.

Occasionally, you'll encounter pages that have extraneous information. A table of contents or an index, for example, may include page numbers - and those annoying little dots that connect chapter titles to the page numbers. Both are readily dispatched with. You can select the relevant information in your image editor, crop out the unwanted portion (or select irrelevant information and flood fill over it), and proceed to the next step. If any little dots remain, guess what? They almost always disappear when you copy the OCR output to Clipboard.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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