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Looking Backward

How to Cut Costs (Maybe) and Increase Profit

by Craig Stark

#133, 9 March 2009

In every business there's a cost of doing business, and bookselling is no exception. If you're like me, your cost of doing business has been going up, up, up for years. And it happens by degree, one small thing at a time, until you wake up one day and realize that you're putting out big bucks every month for a suite of services that may or may not be luxuries in an economic downturn.

It occurred to me that looking backward in time, to a time when the only tangible monthly expense we had was for dial-up, and revisiting each thing we've added on over the years, might uncover some possibilities for cost cutting.

Let's look at some examples:

Broadband Internet

At present I pay a lot for this - about $60 a month - and this doesn't count the unlimited data I pay for on my iPhone. AT&T doesn't break it out, but I'm guessing another $15 for that. I could go back to a slower broadband service and save about half (or go back to dial-up), but in my case, it wouldn't make sense. My business depends heavily on memory-hungry activity, not the least of which is that, when I buy inventory online, I often search via thumbnails, not textual description, and it's all my connection can handle now as it is. However, your situation might be different, especially if you don't sell on eBay or buy inventory online.

Database Subscriptions

There's lots to think about here. These can range from $9.99 (ScoutPal) to over $40 a month. If you're still finding a substantial amount of inventory via scanning bar codes, you've got to keep on, but it might be time to investigate a different service. Example: ScoutPal is, by a fairly wide margin, the cheapest. You'll give up a few things - for example, an ability to retrieve pricing for non-book items and a daily database renewal (ScoutPal is weekly) - but if you sell primarily books anyway, it might make sense to make a move. Also, it might be time to reassess using this altogether, especially if FOLs, thrift shops, etc., are no longer fruitful sources of inventory, or if it's almost as fast to get online with your cell phone and search. See this article for some possibilities.

Inventory Management Services

Maybe not so much to think about here but perhaps still worth looking at. These can range from $10 (The Art of Books) to over $50 a month. If you sell 100s of books a month, of course, it would be difficult indeed to eliminate your service, but if you're more of a part-time seller, perhaps you could put up with returning to manual management.

Fixed Venue Fees

Can you still justify your Amazon ProMerchant subscription? What about your eBay Store? Are ABE and Alibris still delivering enough sales to make their fixed fees worth it? A different answer for everybody, of course, but with used book sales down this spring, no doubt some of you could eliminate one or more of these and maintain your present level of sales.

Packaging Supplies

Could your present packaging method be replaced by one that's cheaper but every bit as professional and secure? My guess is YES, and I'll be offering my own suggestions for how to do this in an upcoming newsletter.

Doubtless there are many other examples, but maybe these will get you started down the path to savings.

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