BookHunt Tip of the Month

by Craig Stark

#85, 1 January 2007

If You Don't Know Where to Start Start Here

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First, a hard truth: There is such a thing as too much tool for a user. Tools perform optimally when they're in the hands of those with extensive experience at the very task the tool is designed to facilitate. The less experience one has, necessarily, the less useful the tool will be.

For booksellers, this is true of ScoutPal, MediaScouter, etc.; true of digital cameras and image editors (especially Adobe); and true of every other bookselling tool I can think of, including BookHunt. If you don't know how to buy inventory online, BookHunt won't teach you. BookThink has published a 4-part series of articles titled "How to Buy Inventory Online" that will teach you the basics of online inventory acquisition, but even this won't substitute for the actual experience of buying. Buying is the best teacher a bookseller has.

This doesn't mean that inexperienced booksellers can't start using bookselling tools immediately; what it does mean is that expectations should be tempered by lack of experience. BookHunt is a powerful tool when placed in the hands of a bookseller with years of online buying experience. In the hands of an inexperienced bookseller, sure, it can help, but don't go into this with the expectation that it will make you rich overnight.

So, if you're new to buying inventory online, you still have to start somewhere - but where? With one book, of course. And then another. Currently, BookHunt has the capability of performing 50 simultaneous searches, but I'd recommend starting with only one or several until things begin to make more sense.

To illustrate how you might use BookHunt to your advantage, let's pick something more obvious as an example. If you read the BookThink forum regularly, you may have seen a short discussion of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner recently. Published in 2003, this book is behaving much like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It's developed a sort of cult following, and both UK (true) firsts and US firsts are selling briskly at robust prices despite the fact that the book is relatively common - especially US firsts, which had an initial run of 50,000. Also, this activity is happening months in advance of a film that hasn't been released but is currently in production. The closer the film is to release, in my opinion, the more this title will sell for.

Currently, in F/F condition, an expertly marketed US first will sell for at least $100, a UK first for perhaps two to three times that. If copies could be acquired for, say, half this or less - $50 and under - it would certainly make sense to spend the money.

How would you use BookHunt to help? Easy. Type "kite runner" into an open search box, select "Auctions" for the listing type, also "Search in Descriptions," "Auto Search," "Pop up for new items" and "Price Range." Specify both a search interval and a price range that you're comfortable with - $.01 to whatever. It's not necessary, nor prudent, to refine your search to a category lower than Books or to search by item specifics because, first, many booksellers wouldn't know a first printing if it hit them in the head and will probably mis-list it anyway, and second, it's unlikely there will be more than a few copies surfacing on any given day.

Next, click "Search." Current listings will appear. After investigating them, click "Hide BookHunt," and go about your business. As copies pop up, check the descriptions for issue points. (If you don't know what these points are, post a question in BookThink's First Edition Identification forum.) If the points are incomplete or missing from the description, ask the seller for clarification. If there's a Buy-it-Now option with an auction and you're certain you're looking at a first printing, buy the book immediately. If it's a straight auction, enter a snipe bid within your price range and set it to bid for you about 4 seconds before the auction closes.

You can and should set up similar searches for Fixed-Price (Buy-it-Now) listings and Stores listings as well, and in both of these cases you'll be buying the book immediately after identifying it as a first.

That's all there is to it. Your searches will be permanently retained in BookHunt and deliver profitable books to you as they surface. How often will they surface? Who knows. Much will depend on how many other booksellers are looking for the same title - and now that thousands of you will have seen the above example, likely The Kite Runner will no longer be a productive search! Much also will depend on how common the book is and so on.

Note that some of the best searches are often not title specific. I run two topical searches, for example, that net me several thousand dollars of inventory every month. The process can be as simple or sophisticated as you want to make it. Develop 50 good searches over time, and you'll have a shot at all the quality inventory you can handle.

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