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Last month we explored Amazon's Buyers Waiting list as a tool for finding scarce and valuable titles. Now we'll discuss how to use price look-up technology to find these books while scouting and also consider some of the pitfalls of dealing with waiting buyers.
You may already know about ScoutPal, the wireless service that retrieves Amazon Marketplace prices and displays them on a web-enabled cell phone. I've been using ScoutPal and similar services for four years to help me decide whether to buy titles I'm unsure of. For example, at a library sale last year, I found a copy of Collecting and Classifying Coloured Diamonds (ISBN 0965941019) in new condition for $30.
But I didn't want to risk my $30 unless I knew there was a market for the book. It took me just a few seconds to enter the ISBN on my phone and get the current Marketplace price - $180. So I bought the book and sold it in a few days at a nice markup of $150 less commissions.
ScoutPal and its several competitors are continually upgrading their services, and one of the newer features they've added is Buyers Waiting alerts.
Here's an example of a readout you'd receive from ScoutPal when a book has a pending order on Amazon. In this case we're researching ISBN 0471575380:
The readout shows the book's original retail price is $150, and no new or used copies are listed for sale.
One buyer, using an Amazon pre-order, is waiting to pay $600 for the first available copy. So if you were able to find this book at a sale, it would be a great buy even at the full retail price, since it appears you could resell it immediately at a 400% markup.
This ScoutPal readout also shows that a copy of the book is available for $141 on PriceGrabber.com, an online price comparison tool. Would you buy the second copy for $141 on PriceGrabber, even if you couldn't resell it immediately? It's a tempting idea.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Guess what? Somebody already did!]
To start using this feature on ScoutPal, you will need to checkmark the "Buyer Waiting" option on your account's Format page. Here's what it looks like on ScoutPal's web site.
ScoutPal's Buyers Waiting alert works with ISBNs and UPCs. So in addition to books, it can alert you to pending orders on scarce music CDs, videos, and games. At least two of ScoutPal's competitors have also added Buyers Waiting alerts - BookHero.com and ASellerTool.com.
These price-lookup services can take some of the guesswork out of your book scouting, but a Buyers Waiting order is not automatic money in the bank. Plenty of problems can arise. The Buyers Waiting list isn't 100% up-to-the-minute; when an order is filled, it can take several hours before it disappears from the list and the Amazon web site. Thus it's possible that a pending order you see was filled by another seller moments ago, and listing the book won't produce a sale for you.
Or a preorder may have just expired (they are only valid for up to 12 weeks). Payment is another potential problem. If the buyer's credit card has expired or maxed out since the order was placed, the order may not go through.
Also, if the waiting buyer is outside the United States, you must check the box for "International Shipping," or the order won't be processed. Of course, there's no way to know the buyer's address ahead of time. Even if you don't normally offer international shipping, be sure to offer it on your high-end books. You'll get lots of sales that way.
And even when the order comes through successfully, the buyer may back out before you've shipped it. A couple of times I've listed a book that had an existing pre-order, received the sale, and then immediately got an e-mail from the buyer, saying they had changed their mind and no longer wanted the book. In those cases I refunded the customer and re-listed the book.
Because of these hazards, I don't recommend shopping for titles simply because they appear on Amazon's Buyers Waiting list.
What if you've found the book through another online dealer and haven't actually received it yet? It's possible that the other dealer will also discover the pre-order, and decide not to sell to you. Don't list a book for sale until you actually have it in your possession, are certain of condition and description, and know when you will be able to ship it. Do otherwise and you risk disappointing a buyer.
There may be further difficulties, even after you've shipped the book. Since there's no way for the waiting buyer and seller to communicate until after the transaction, misunderstandings can occur. The buyer may have been expecting to receive something other than what was shown on Amazon's product page. For example, the buyer may have been interested in a copy signed by the author, a special edition, a limited collector's print, or something else. Either they don't understand that it's not possible to request something like this through an Amazon pre-order or they're hoping to communicate further with a seller who triggers their pre-order.
Despite the pitfalls involved in using Amazon's Buyers Waiting list to scout books, it remains an excellent tool for learning the types of oddball, quirky nonfiction books that can be readily found at library and estate sales and sell for good prices. Studying the list will help you learn to recognize books that might be scarce and valuable.
For the most part, waiting buyers on Amazon aren't traditional book collectors. The trading of scarce books on Amazon is dominated by niche nonfiction books, not collectible literature. This is why, for example, a UK First Edition of H.G. Wells's The Invisible Man might be worth $27,000, but you'll never find an Amazon preorder for more than a few thousand dollars. This situation could change if Amazon decides to target the rare and antiquarian book trade.
If you have an Amazon Pro Merchant account, you can log into Amazon and download the list in spreadsheet form here.
If you don't have an account but would like to browse the list, you can view it on my site here.
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark
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