New Strategies for Selling Books on eBay

by Craig Stark

#37, 21 February 2005

Part III: Book Lots

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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:

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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