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A question for you. Who would you rather compete head to head with? A new bookseller who launched an online business last week or one who has operated a successful online business for 10 years? Before you answer this, think about it for a moment. True, the new bookseller likely has almost no knowledge of what to buy for resale, where to buy it, how to market it effectively, and so on; whereas the experienced bookseller probably has this knowledge in spades. And the rest of you fall somewhere in between, right? And therefore would prefer to compete against lesser lights? Right?
Wrong, because your competition measures where you are as a bookseller with deadly accuracy.
For example, if your competition is largely new booksellers, what does this mean? It means that most of your inventory is priced below $10. It means that you're trying to survive in a pool - make that an ocean of competitors who are genuinely happy with $1 and $2 sales and will cheerfully and relentlessly lower their prices to whatever level it takes get a sale. It also means that you're competing against huge numbers of booksellers for the same inventory. And let's face it; this kind of inventory is inevitably located in venues that provide the most accessible entry - thrift shops, FOL sales, garage sales, etc. Anybody can and does buy in these venues.
Furthermore, if you've been in business for a number of years and are still maintaining an inventory of books mostly priced under $10, I'd bet the farm that you've haven't grown much as a bookseller, and I'd bet at least the barn and the corn crib that your income has dropped in the past year or two.
On the other hand, if your competition is largely veteran booksellers, what does this mean? Chances are strong that most of your inventory is priced well over $10. It means that you need only survive in a comparative puddle of competitors who have much less interest in undercutting your prices because they know that quality inventory priced fairly will eventually sell - and often on the basis of the bookseller's reputation more than price. It also means that, assuming you've learned how to use more sophisticated means of inventory acquisition and have acquired the necessary knowledge to make this work, you won't be competing against the masses for that inventory. In some cases you won't have any immediate competition at all. Finally, there's also a good chance that your income has grown over the years.
So, here it is in a nutshell: Take a look around you and observe who you're competing against. If the competition doesn't measure up, start selling better books, and a world of problems will fall away.
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark
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