#38, 7 March 2005

Profile of Shane Straight

Age: 25

Name of Business: Empire Books

Number of Employees: Two

Location: Greensboro, NC

Number of Years in Business: One.

Part-Time or Full-time: Full-time.

Bookselling Venues Used: (in order of importance): Amazon, Abebooks, Half.com, Alibris, and, very seldom, eBay.

Size of Inventory: I maintain anywhere from 1,600-2000 books with a consistent 20-25% turnover rate per month.

Average Price of Book in Inventory: $29.

Specialties: Academic, technical, literary theory, and modern first editions.

Why I Sell Books: In the information age, where data is everywhere, the role of books as repositories of wisdom and information has diminished greatly. I like the idea that some people still value the worlds within two cloth covers and that I can deliver it to them. When I sell an important book, to me it's like rescuing and sharing a little piece of history with someone who cares, someone who still values what I consider valuable. Plus, I'm virtually unemployable, cranky, harbor authority issues, and have almost no marketable skills. I'm sure that has something to do with it too.

Secret of Your Success: I study books a lot. Every day I pour over auction and dealers catalogs, eBay results, and price-guides. I know that to compete in this very competitive market, I need invest a substantial amount of my time researching books. I spend a couple hours a day familiarizing myself with authors, publishers, points, first books, etc. Consequently, I know what sells, how fast it sells, and what it sells for. Every hour I've ever spent studying books and the book market has paid off exponentially.

Advice for New Booksellers: Avoid common and even slightly uncommon books. Sites like Amazon are making it incredibly easy to list and sell books. Anyone with three books and ten minutes can become a bookseller. Consequently, the market is being flooded with common books, with each seller low-balling the others until the price reaches the penny gutter. If you try and compete in this glutted market, you'll soon be working yourself to death for pennies on the hour. So spend the time acquiring the knowledge needed to recognize truly unique and uncommon books, the books that will only appreciate in value with age. Don't be afraid to pay handsomely for these special titles. It's better to pay top-dollar for the best books than to pay next-to-nothing for the worst books.

Best Bookselling Tip: A good book will always sell, and sell quickly. All you have to do is be able to spot it, to be able to recognize something special when you see it.

Favorite Author(s): William T. Vollmann, Cormac McCarthy, Phillip K. Dick, J.M. Coetzee, Ernest Hemingway and Jerzy Kosinski.

Booksellers You Look Up To: Ken Lopez. Tim Miller at Flatsigned. These are deeply knowledgeable sellers who've devoted their lives to the preservation and trade of socially important books of lasting significance and power. I commend them.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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