#87, 29 January 2007

Profile of Stephen (Steve) Burnside

NAME: Stephen (Steve) Burnside


LOCATION: Sammamish, Washington

WEBSITE (if any):


PART TIME OR FULL TIME: Most of the time. I live and breathe bookselling.

BOOKSELLING VENUES USED (in order of importance): Amazon, eBay and Biblio

SIZE OF INVENTORY: 900-1300 - a small inventory, but my average listed price fluctuates between $40 and $50. I have about 2,000 additional books on shelves that I am gradually listing on eBay, creating Amazon non-ISBN catalog listings for and otherwise researching.

I made my first significant find was during the 2nd week of listing on Amazon - a book I found in a thrift store titled A Crash of Rhinoceroses: A Dictionary of Collective Nouns by Rex Collings. I sold it for $150.00, a profit that was 100 times the purchase price of $1.50. I was hooked!!!

During my second year in online bookselling, I acquired 18,000 books for the cost of transporting them across town via two large Ryder Rental Truck loads and storing them. Turns out the 28 1,000-pound crates of books my wife and I had acquired contained 17,000 worthless items including, National Geographic magazines, romance novels, Readers' Digest Condensed Books and assorted other worthless stuff. We worked our butts off for a few months sorting through all the dreck, but we learned a lot of the don'ts in the process and a few of the dos. We also threw away a lot of books that, in hindsight, we could have sold in lots and a lot of children's books that may have had some value! Ah, it was a learning experience, we like to say.

SPECIALTIES: Although I am a Generalist, I gravitate toward technical books in general, engineering, photography and art. I also keep and eye out for uncommon Martial Art books and books on guns and shooting. I find more than my fair share of unusual books - for example, Information for the Female to Male Cross Dresser. One of the things I have learned through research on the web is that there are valuable sought after books in every category. So, one of the scouting techniques I employ when I'm coming up dry in my usual areas of interest is to look in sections I normally avoid. I use a PDA with Amazon's database downloaded to a 2GB SD card. This enables me to get instant buy/reject information when scanning most bar-coded books and also gives me time to hunt in any section. I don't scan willy-nilly everything on a shelf. I just hit the items that blip my BOOKDAR.

WHY I SELL BOOKS: I needed to find a new purpose and interest in life after suffering 2 heart attacks and not being able to work as a Project Manager in Software Engineering anymore. The stress of Project Management was killing me, and my cardiologist said no more working. So, as I was trying to figure out what I could do with the rest of my life, I stumbled across selling books online. I sell books now because it is my calling. It only took me 52 years and two heart attacks to find out that it was.

ADVICE FOR NEW BOOKSELLERS: Use the resources on the web. BookThink, the eBay Community Board Bookseller Forum, etc. Research will enable you to work smarter. I like to think that I don't have any competition because I work harder by constantly trying to increase my knowledge about what sells for the best prices and where to find it.


The higher your average book price, the fewer books you will have to have on your shelves. 1,000 books with an average listing price of $30.00 sure beats 6,000 books with an average listing price of $5.00. It's the same total inventory value but a giant leap in the number of sales required to make any money. Plus, since book prices tend to spiral down over time, a $5.00 book is a lot closer to a $.01 than a $30.00 or higher book. Weed the crap!

I started out with ScoutPal paired with a Nextel Scanner and used it for almost 4 years. I now use an HP IPAQ 2195 and a Sprint Pocket PC cell phone. I also use a Bluetooth Wireless Laser scanner, which is extremely fast. Investing in a barcode scanner equipped phone or PDA will help you zero in on high price ISBN books quickly. Remember that the scanner doesn't find the books, your "Bookdar" developed from research and acquired knowledge finds the good books. The scanner just acts as a precision targeting device once you've identified the objective. Keep your technology updated!

Finally, locate the good used bookstores in your area and learn to mine the inventory they contain. Every area of the used bookstore contains hidden gems.

FAVORITE AUTHOR(S): William Gibson (Neuromancer), Lawrence Block (Matthew Scudder Books), Nancy A. Allen (Sonja Blue the Vampire Books), Alexandre Dumas(The Conte of Monte Cristo) and Thoreau.

Favorite Quote

I saw this quote on a placard on a city bus in St. Louis, Missouri when I was about 13 years old. I have never forgotten it. It has always meant a lot to me.

"Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made."

(Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods)


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