Close this window to return to BookThink

New Strategies
for Selling Books on eBay

Part III: Book Lots

by Craig Stark

#37, 21 February 2005

Last week I received an email from a self-described "desperate" bookseller. He didn't have a job, was almost broke, and his car was on its last legs. He wanted some advice on how make money selling books. Good money. Now. And he wanted to do it on eBay.

Well, if there's a way to do this, if you can become a productive bookseller on eBay overnight, the secret to making it happen isn't in my grab bag of tricks. When somebody asks me for advice on where to start, I send them directly to Amazon Marketplace. Every time. No fees until a book sells, no need to enter publication data or take a picture - or do anything at all but enter your price and, though some sellers don't bother with this, a short description of condition. In addition, if you have a cell phone and can afford $10 a month for ScoutPal, there's at least some potential for early success no matter what level of ignorance you're starting from.

There may be some booksellers who have achieved early success on eBay, but I don't know any. There's so much working against it. Up front fees is only one of them. Finding eBayable books - books that will actually sell on eBay for enough money to offset the largely labor-intensified disadvantages of the auction format - is another. Also, if you don't spend some serious time learning how to put together an effective sales presentation, not to mention learning how to repeat it quickly, over and over again, you'll be hard put to make a go of it, let alone a living.

But eBay has its advantages as well, and I've discussed several of them already in this series. Today I'm going to look at another advantage, one that even new sellers can avail themselves of - the ability to sell books in targeted lots.

This particular advantage resonates well with another piece of advice I often kick around: don't waste your valuable time selling low-dollar books. There's a fixed, largely unchanging investment of time in every book you sell, and if you sell mostly low-dollar books, that fixed investment swallows up a much larger percentage of what you do, and, correspondingly, your total gain is sharply reduced because you have less time available to find and sell better books. What does "low-dollar" mean? One thing on Amazon Marketplace, another on eBay. It's possible to do okay selling $5 and $10 books on Amazon or other fixed-price venues, close to impossible to do this on eBay, where a more sensible cutoff is $20 or $30.

The problem with the I-will-sell-no-book-under-$20 rule is that $20+ books aren't as easy to find, especially so if you're new to bookselling. It is easy to find low-dollar books, however, and if you integrate the concept of targeted book lots into your buying strategy, you might be able to parlay otherwise unproductive books into sales of $30, $50 or more at eBay.

A book lot isn't, for the purposes of this discussion, simply a pile of books thrown together to make a selling unit. True, some sellers approach it this way, offer groupings that make little or no intuitive sense, but they reduce their chances of a sale when they do. I'm talking about targeted lots. It's much better to group things with specific criteria in mind - precisely the same criteria a buyer would use in purchasing them. Here are five important ones:

I. Sets.

Pretty obvious, I agree, but there are some important considerations here. I can't imagine the circumstances under which it would be prudent to break up a complete set and sell the volumes individually, but even incomplete sets will often do fine - that is, they shouldn't be broken up either. The reality is that there are darn few sets that would repay a break-and-sell effort. Don't be fooled by the numbers. If you have an incomplete set of, say, 15 volumes that you could sell individually at $5 per volume and make $75 on, don't do it, even if the set sold as a set will only go for $40 or $50. Far better to process one sale and move on than to be bogged down for months processing 15 of them.

However, it's fortunate for us that there are many sellers who give the break-and-sell strategy a shot anyway because, if we have a near complete set, we can complete it readily and inexpensively. Complete sets most definitely do have enhanced value because of their completeness, and there are some occasions when a complete set will realize a higher price on eBay than it would if it were broken up.

II. Authors.

There's lots of potential here, especially with fiction, most especially fiction issued in series, and often with fiction that's dirt common. Example: as a general practice, it would be foolish to consider selling almost any Danielle Steele title on eBay, but put 5 or 10 or more jacketed hardbacks together? Time and time again I've seen these go for $20 to $30 - and there you are, exactly where you need to be with the recommended minimum eBay selling price. When you consider how many sales you've been to that have offered stacks of these things, doesn't it stand to reason that this could be a steady source of income, especially if you could pick them up for $.50 or less apiece?

III. Titles.

Not as much potential here, but I've often come across multiple copies of the same title in different formats and editions at sales. This is what completists go after - one of everything - so if the price is right and the author is at least mildly collectible, buy, and they should sell quickly in lot form.

IV. Topics.

Very productive category, probably more so than any other, and the possibilities are endless. It'd be easier to count the sales that don't have books in topical groups than the ones that do because this is how buyers buy books in the first place - focusing on topics that interest them. This is one instance, however, where it could make sense to follow the break-and-sell strategy. If you've got, for example, a dozen duck hunting books and one of them could stand alone and deliver $50, sell it thus. The remaining 11 books will still make an attractive lot.

V. Uses.

Some buyers purchase books for purposes other than reading or collecting. Examples are interior decorators, realtors, etc., who need books to fill bookcases or display individually on tables. Not any book lot will do here, but if you see something attractive at a fire sale price, it'd make sense to grab a few handfuls, especially if they're leather bound. The latter can be sold, literally, by the foot of shelf space.

Books are also purchased for crafts making - for example, creating scrapbooks and altered books. Both activities are growing by leaps and bounds, and a grouping of books that offers dozens of the much sought-after decorative elements commands considerable attention on eBay. For more information on specific types of books that work here, see this BookThinker article.

A Few Marketing Tips:

  1. Don't overcharge for postage. It may be a temptation to charge a dollar or more per book for shipping, especially if you are concerned about getting a good final value and are hedging your bets. Don't succumb to it. Buyers looking at sets and other lots definitely shop for postage as well as price, and an inflated shipping charge will often depress bidding or stop it cold. USPS Media Mail is the cheapest thing going. You can still ship 10 pounds of books for under $5. Weigh 'em. Charge your buyer what it costs you.

  2. Take advantage of new flat-rate Priority boxes. For a flat rate of $7.70, you can send anything you can fit into these. I recently sold a lot of 10 books, a mixture of hardcovers and softcovers, and I was able to fit them neatly into one box. Two shapes/sizes are available. Keep at least one of each on hand to pre-calculate your lots with. Offering a slightly higher Priority option at this price level could interest a buyer.

  3. Presentation. Don't cut corners on this. Take a picture of the set as a unit, yes, but don't stop there. Buyers of sets especially are almost always fussy about condition, and if you show them exactly how things are (assuming they're quite good), they'll bid with enthusiasm. It can be very effective to take several representative close-ups, especially if they reveal condition in areas that are most susceptible to wear.

  4. Title Keywords. In addition to using obvious ones - those referring to authors, topics, etc. - it helps to use the term "BOOK LOT" or to communicate in some way that there are multiple volumes. For example, "15 VOLUMES" or "DUCK HUNTING LIBRARY."

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC