How To Double
Your Book Sales

by Craig Stark

#64, 20 March 2006

The Spots They are A-Changin' - Again!

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In the March 6 BookThinker, I mentioned that I would show fixed-price-venue booksellers how to increase their sales 50% to 100% almost overnight. As much as this might sound like hype, I assure you it's not. In fact, apart from an hour or so required to set things up, this won't demand any additional time whatsoever - except for the extra hours you'll now be devoting to packing and shipping!

Some background first. This wasn't my discovery. Not by a long shot. I've been hearing rumors about it for some months, but I hesitated to move forward for two reasons: One, it cut sharply against the grain of how I've been selling books for years - how I believed books should be sold on eBay - and two, I had yet to hear a testimonial from anybody I knew well enough to trust.

I'll take the second point first. Recently, BookThink forum regular Rick Marsh started making the same noises about this very thing. Those of you who know Rick know that he doesn't make bold statements unless he means them. If anything, he takes pains to err on the side of understatement. I don't want to go on about this because I suspect it might embarrass him, but I do want him to know that I am deeply grateful for his broaching this matter in our forum. It illustrates the philosophy that we hold near and dear at BookThink: Helping other booksellers succeed has an expansive effect that ultimately helps everybody come away a winner. Anyway, Rick's endorsement was what I needed to get up off my behind and try what he'd been doing himself for some months. (By the way, Rick told me that he first heard about this on the IOBA email discussion list - yet another good reason to consider joining!)

The first reason for hesitating, I must confess, is still giving me pause. As it was for most booksellers who arrived in the late 1990s with inventories in tow, eBay was my first online venue. For years it was my only venue. And, from day one until now, it's been responsible for delivering the lion's share of my income, even though I now list a substantial inventory on six fixed-price venues.

Success at selling books on eBay, as many of you know, doesn't come easy. Mastering the auction format demands skills that other fixed-price venues don't - for example, the ability to write good copy, take excellent photographs, and display everything into some sort of intelligent design. You can't learn this stuff overnight, but once you do, assuming you continuously add quality inventory to the pot, success is inevitable. As many of you also know, eBay is an animal that changes its spots. Often. Sometimes these changes are dramatic. Case in point - stores. When they were first introduced several years ago, it was a major departure, and, yes, let's just say they laid a rather sizable bookselling egg. Only when eBay introduced a means of searching store inventory did they begin to produce, and in the past year, when further searching improvements were made, my store sales have increased again.

Ok, fine. I've talked about stores before. Recommended them to you. That's not what this is about. Not exactly. Up until a month ago, my strategy was to move items that hadn't sold at auction into my stores, usually at a higher price. As a result, my store inventory didn't differ in appearance from my auction inventory - at all. I used exactly the same presentations, and, since my typical eBay sale falls into the $40 to $100 range, I firmly believed that my store items needed the same upgraded presentations to sell at satisfactory prices. Not only that, I'm proud of the work I do on eBay, it's taken years to kick things up to a level that I'm satisfied with, and tossing all this stuff to the wind wasn't something I even wanted to think about.

This was why it was so difficult for me to do an about face - but turn on my heel I did. Approximately one month ago, I opened a second store under a different ID and uploaded (via a venue management service) a large number of books into it, books that were also listed on Amazon Marketplace, Alibris, Abebooks, Biblio, etc. Let me emphasize something: These listings had no pictures and no elaborate textual descriptions. In many cases there was only publication data and a line or two of condition notes. And yes, I know what some of you are thinking: I had suddenly devolved into one of those deeply despised mega-sellers who are often blamed for the demise of bookselling as a respected profession.

As I said, it wasn't easy. But - guess what? - within 24 hours of making the move, it also wasn't easy to find much time to do BookThink work. If any of you Gold Edition subscribers are wondering why last month's issue was three days late, it was because I was too damn busy packing and shipping books to finish it. How many books? WELL, IN MY FIRST MONTH, EBAY STORE #2 HAS PRODUCED APPROXIMATELY DOUBLE THE NUMBER OF SALES - MEASURED IN US DOLLARS - THAT I'VE HAD ON ALL THE OTHER FIXED-PRICE VENUES I LIST ON COMBINED! And yes, that's an increase of 200%. My prediction that your sales will increase 50% to 100% is deliberately conservative. Rick himself experienced a similar initial surge. Since then, things have settled down some for him, but he still reports that eBay store sales make up approximately half his total sales across 8 venues - and he's a number of months into this. Impressive, huh?

To clarify, I have some high-end books in Store #2 as well, but I also list numerous mid-range books - at $15 to $30. What's more, many of these suddenly-sold books had been gathering dust on my shelves for months, sometimes years. Some of them I hadn't physically handled in so long that, when they sold, I wasn't even sure I could find them.

It's important to note that many of these "surprise" sales were collectible and/or vintage items, not the crisp, ISBN-era books that so often walk out the door on other venues. There's a reason. Despite increased buyer meta-searching in recent years, eBay remains the venue of choice for collectors - often the first stop, sometimes the only stop. Dedicated FPVs, on the other hand, attract more content-driven buyers. To a significant extent, eBay has resisted the buyer overlap phenomenon that's typical of more conventional FPVs.

So. What's in this for you? Years ago, I had a high school teacher whose favorite expression was "A word to the wise is sufficient." No doubt everybody who is reading this is wise, and I could easily shut up at this point. However, something this potentially important to your bottom line shouldn't be understated. This is a case where dead horses need to be thrashed, and thrashed repeatedly until you're moved to act. If you're presently selling on one or more FPVs and haven't yet opened an eBay store, do it. NOW. The first month is free, subsequent months $15.95 (for the basic store), and $.02 a month for each listing. An inventory of 1,000, for example, will cost you $35.95 monthly, but weighed against a smaller final value commission than FPVs exact, you'll come out smelling like a rose. Also, if you're not using an inventory management system that will automatically and painlessly bulk upload your listings to eBay, write me at and I'll recommend something good and dirt cheap.

There is at least one negative: Since you'll now be listing books without pictures and detailed descriptions, you'll start getting questions from potential buyers, sometimes a request for a picture. But this is a small price to pay for the huge benefit you'll realize. Also (and I'm not sure this is a negative), it's likely that your average sale price will go down somewhat largely because you'll be selling some books that have sat and sat on FPVs, books that you've lowered prices on to move. Still, it's nice to move these things at long last.

I'll talk about this more soon (e.g., about how book titles may need to be tweaked some to maximize eBay store sales), but right now you haven't got time to listen. Get out of here. Register. List. Stock up on packaging supplies. And brace yourself for success.

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