Bookselling in the 21st Century

by Craig Stark

23 November 2009

Part V: How to Liquidate Books

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In Part IV I suggested that there are books that will need to be liquidated soon if they are to deliver a return worth bothering with. Read Part IV here.

Getting these books out the door will likely entail several approaches, the most obvious of which is to lower prices on higher-dollar books, either directly or indirectly by using a best-offer approach. eBay Stores offer this option, but if you sell on other venues, you'll need to revise your descriptions to reflect a willingness to negotiate.

Two examples:

"Please inquire about our trade (or courtesy) discounts."

"Given the unusual volatility of the marketplace, occasions may arise when our posted price does not represent an appropriate valuation. Please feel free to submit your fair offer."

Lower-dollar books may present more of a challenge because there won't be much if any room to lower prices. In these cases, it might make sense to group them into intuitive lots and list them on eBay (use the shipping calculator!) or craigslist.

The following list of general grouping suggestions, with some modifications, originally appeared in issue #24 of the Gold Edition [link to purchase article]. For more specific suggestions, see issue #24.

AGE LEVEL. An important consideration primarily for children's books.

AUTHOR. One of the more common groupings, and one of the best.

AUTOGRAPHS. Not something that you'll be doing every day, but some authors sign so many books that autographed copies aren't special. Or valuable. Grouping them by author may be the only thing that makes sense.

AWARDS. Again, children's books come to mind here. For example, Caldecott Award winners are easily spotted, and groupings are in high demand by parents.

BINDING. In some cases, books are in demand primarily on the basis of their bindings. Leather is the obvious example (used primarily as interior decor) but there are others - e.g., children's board books. Victorian era books are another good example, especially when they possess decorative elements - gilt, tooling, etc.

COLOR. Here's something that may not have occurred to you. When I was designing and building furniture for a living, I often worked with interior decorators, one of whom used this approach quite effectively. She would group books in the same general color family on one or more shelves, and the results, especially when there were slight color variations among the books, were sometimes stunning. This works especially well with white (variegated) books for shabby chic applications.

EDITION STATE. In Part I of this series I discussed grouping Stephen King first printings in dust jackets. In general, this is an effective strategy for much modern fiction.

FORMAT. Children's books again. Chapter books, picture books, pop-up books, early readers, etc. - all are effective criteria for grouping.

GENRE. Like author groupings, you'll likely be using this approach a lot, but don't get sloppy. Broad genres like Science Fiction, Romance, Mystery, and Fantasy split into numerous sub-genres, and it's far more effective to focus more narrowly because readers don't often stray from them.

HISTORICAL ERA. Collectors love these kinds of groupings. A Civil War collector, for example, will often have an interest in books published between 1860 and 1865 (even fiction) because they are likely associated with the war. I've also had good luck with targeting specific years, say, 1959, and putting a nostalgia-laden group of books, magazines and ephemera together. It makes a great anniversary or birthday present.

ILLUSTRATOR (OR PHOTOGRAPHER). We've listed many collectible illustrators and photographers in past Gold Editions and 50/50s. Some of them (like Norman Rockwell) have published their work in so many books and periodicals that grouping them can happen more often than you might think. Also, if the illustrator or photographer is intensely collectible, small groupings of 3 or 5 or so can work remarkably well.

LANGUAGE. For those of you who sometimes have trouble figuring out what to do with foreign-language books that make it into your inventory, grouping them can sometimes solve lots of problems. What I've happily discovered is that your grouping focus doesn't usually need to be as tight as it does with English-language books. For example, a grouping of Spanish psychology books will often do fine; whereas a similar English-language lot would probably tank. Speaking of Spanish-language books, they will generally perform better on US-based venues than other languages.

PUBLISHER. Lots of possibilities here, many of which we've featured in past issues. Easton Press, Franklin Press, FEL, Folio Society, Heritage Press, Lakeside Press, etc.

PARTIAL SERIES. Another work horse. Complete is nice but hardly necessary. Collectors are forever looking for broken series book lots that will fill gaps in their collections and/or upgrade existing copies.

SIZE. I don't know anybody who collects big books, thin books, etc., but miniature or near-miniature books are collectible largely on the basis of their size, not their content.

TOPIC. Endless variations here - another well you should be going to again.

TYPEFACE. Large-print books make very effective groups.

VALUES. Not the monetary value of books, but the values they espouse. Many home schoolers, for example, are vitally interested in exposing their children to traditional Christian values and will often seek literature, textbooks, etc., that reflect them, even if it means purchasing books a century or more old.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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