by Kristian Strom
#150, 22 November 2010
The $275 Amazon Gift Card
Magically Turned into a $2500 Book
Or, Using Amazon and Other Book Buyback Sites
To Supplement Your Online Bookselling Income
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The information I'm going to share with you has the potential to harm your business. The bright side is that, when used properly, it also has the potential to help supplement your online bookselling income.
I emphasize the word "supplement" because one must keep in mind that the focus of a successful bookseller (assuming you are a one-man/woman or mom and pop operation)
is to locate, list and sell premium inventory, ideally books in considerable demand, which, in my case, are priced at $14.95 and up. For the time being, this is the
model that works best for my modest operation, but I would encourage you to try increasing your minimum listing price beyond this. Craig has also shared his thoughts
on the economics of ASPs (average sale prices) in several of his articles, including:
Bookselling in the 21st Century: Part XIV: Visualizing What You Need to Do to Make Bookselling Work and
Gold Edition Premium Content #40 How to Specialize in Bookselling, Part II: Hypermoderns.
I admit that at the present time I have a few books that are currently for sale below my minimum, but the majority of these are part of a once sizeable selection of inventory I am selling on behalf of a friend who needed help liquidating the remaining inventory from his now defunct brick and mortar store. Sad, I know. My average selling price across the board last quarter was around $27 an item, with an average selling price of around $31.50 an item on eBay over the past 90 days. I strive to continue raising the bar each and every year I am in business.
What I am getting at here is that this method for supplementing your online bookselling income should simply be a side project, and nothing more. It has great potential to sidetrack your business and have you filling up boxes and boxes of books you might never shake a stick at because you can now ship them to Amazon for a measly 50 cents in store credit. The focus should always remain on acquiring and handling only quality inventory, but there are several instances where you can use this strategy in combination with your existing business model to your advantage, keeping in mind that it will require a somewhat significant investment in time, and only a minimal investment in labor. Thankfully, all of the viable book buyback websites provide you with prepaid shipping labels, so your only packaging costs should be computer paper boxes or Bankers Boxes (either of which you can find cheap and/or recycled versions of, of course), packing tape, glue sticks for affixing the shipping labels (which I get at Sam's Club for a few cents each) and a bit of bubble wrap for those of you who want to sleep better at night.
So what is this mystery method?
Unfortunately, it won't help you pick up beautiful women.
The mystery method for online booksellers, my friends, awaits you at
For those of you who discovered the site long ago, I applaud you and am glad that you have had access to this information. Hopefully you spread the word to your friends in the business. For those of you who have yet to discover the beauty of BookScouter, please let me be the first to introduce you. The site, established in 2007 by a savvy and friendly tech guy named Brandon, "scrapes" information from a variety of websites to give you an estimate of how much these sites will pay you to send them books. I interviewed Brandon over the phone, and after he went to a quiet room in the house (he is the proud father of three young children, with one more on the way), he politely answered all of my questions about the website. There are basically two steps involved in the ridiculously simple and user-friendly process of using BookScouter:
- Go to http://www.bookscouter.com.
- Enter an ISBN number and in a few seconds, a group of websites show you how much (or little) money they will give you for that book.
You can create an account, log in and customize which websites you want to receive information from, and the fewer sites you are getting data from, the faster the process. After having experimented with the site and preparing small and large shipments for many of the merchants over the past year or so, I have my list of favorites narrowed down to 10 websites, which I will share with you below. The overwhelming majority of the sites, and all those mentioned in this article, will cover the costs of shipping the books. You can also view the user ratings on the search results page. I will include those ratings in parentheses after each merchant.
After using Bookscouter, it is then your job to determine which books you will ship to which of the participating sites. You might be surprised to know that there are currently 41 players in the game, but for our purposes, we will only focus on the major players, and a few of the minor leaguers. I will give a brief overview of which sites I have dealt with, including which are the most user friendly, which ones pay a bit slower than the others, which ones will pay you in signed 1st Editions or cash, and which will pay you only in store credit. This is by no means a comprehensive overview of all of the sites/strategies/terms of sale; it is only meant to get you headed in the right direction and give you an idea about an avenue for supplementing your bookselling income that you may not already have been aware of. I recommend that you carefully review each of the sites' guidelines for condition, packaging requirements and ship-by dates so that you do everything according to code.
I also highly recommend that you keep the focus of your bookselling business on acquiring premium inventory, as this process can become somewhat exciting and addictive once you start seeing results. Remember to factor in the time you spend conducting the searches and preparing your shipments when determining the entire processes viability for your business model. I have found the site most useful after doing a buyout of a large private collection, estate sale or small library sale. I would not recommend buying out a collection simply based on the fact that it has a plethora of books that will potentially get you $1.50 each using Bookscouter, as this method will most assuredly suck up way too much of your time for relatively minor results. Another instance in which Bookscouter would be ideal is for a college student who doesn't have the time or patience to list their textbooks online and instead can easily package and ship one or two boxes in order to receive a quick payment for some beer money.
First, I am going to explain the process on Amazon.com (4.5 of 5 stars, with 33 ratings), and then the advantages/disadvantages of the other 4 "Major Leaguers," and finally I will briefly cover the 5 "Minor Leaguer" websites.
The idea of trading in unsalable stock for better stock is not a new one in the bookselling game. I remember reading about this strategy in one of the first books
I ever read about bookselling, Book Finds by Ian Ellis,
which is now in its 3rd Edition. Ellis discusses bringing the inventory that doesn't fit your business model (which in our case is about 99% of the books in the universe) into bookstores on your scouting route, and using the credit you receive to trade up for better books, which you can use.