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Newer Books

Newer books can be tricky to price for the online used market. Prices for books that are a year or two old can decline precipitously, especially bestsellers. The way publishing works nowadays, new titles get about three months to prove themselves in bookstores. If they don't continue selling like hotcakes, the bookstores return most of them. The publishers don't know what to do with the returns, so they sell them off at pennies on the dollar. These are the lowball copies you tend to see on Amazon Marketplace, selling for $4.99 or so.

When there's lots of overstock of a certain title on the market, one of two things usually happens:

  1. The book starts its descent toward permanent penny-book status if there's tons being returned and demand is insufficient.

  2. The price recovers in six months to a year when the market has soaked up the glut.

For scenario 2 to happen, there has to be relatively strong demand for a book. Being in the top 25,000 in Amazon Sales Rank indicates reasonable demand for the book. But there are so many variables as to whether a book price can recover. Some high-priced books that are remaindered with Amazon Sales Ranks of about 80,000 may have a nice price recovery after 6 months or a year - probably because there was not too many remainder/overstock copies out there. But there is no way for one bookseller to know all the variables.

Cutting Prices

When and how to cut prices is a subject of hot debate among online booksellers. If supply increases, price-cutting may be required to move certain books. For common, lower-priced books that you want to sell as quickly as possible, it may be wise to gently lower the price every week or so, a strategy of trying to sell the book before the price falls too far. But for higher-priced books - say, over $40 - you should be much more reluctant to cut the price. Shaving the price by a penny or two might be OK if it makes your listing more visible. But if the prices of other sellers appear abnormally low, let your listing rest for 6 months or a year. Prices might well rise to your level.

The difficulties in selling lower-priced books are many. Buyers of low-priced books typically don't consult feedback ratings much in their buying decision. So even though you might strive to have high feedback to be competitive against other sellers, buyers of low-priced books either aren't informed enough to consider a seller's feedback or just don't want to take the time to consider any factors other than price. So, to sell a low-priced book you have to compete almost exclusively on price. Most of the buyers for these items aren't going to scroll through to compare listings for feedback, condition, etc.

Over the long term, prices of low-priced books tend to fall, and those of high-priced books are more likely to hold steady or rise. That's because low-priced books tend to become more available over time (more used copies appear for sale online and price-cutting ensues), but higher-priced books tend to be more scarce and, as used copies are purchased, price tends to go up as they become more scarce. This is why OOP books are such a hugely profitable area for used booksellers. Also, the buyers of these books usually pay a lot more attention to the book description and seller feedback, so you don't have to compete just on price.

It's interesting how things go in cycles as books become more available (and price goes down) and then more scarce (and price goes up). Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way of predicting which books will become more scarce in the future. That's all part of the fun of bookselling.

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