How Much Do Photos Matter?

by Craig Stark

6 January 2014

Adding Them Could Dramatically Impact Your Business

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When I first started selling books in the late 1990's, I used eBay Auctions exclusively - and added no photos - and though many sellers listed items without photos in eBay's early days, the introduction of affordable digital cameras and desktop scanners soon changed that. By 2000 or so sellers who didn't use photos were the exception, and even I was busy snapping away with my new Sony Mavica. Remember those? The ones you could shove a floppy disk into? When eBay Stores were introduced several years later, again, most sellers, especially those who bulk uploaded their listings to the venue, seemed content to conduct business without photos. As a matter of fact, I was one of those sellers too until recently, and the reason was simple: Books were heading out the door pretty often notwithstanding. And if buyers did want a photo or two, they could ask. I was quick to supply them.

The transition from the introduction of Stores to what prevails today - one or more photos in place for most Store listings - occurred much more slowly, and this despite eBay's introduction of a new rule, namely, that all listings were required to display at least one photo. Still, I and others continued our stubborn ways because we could: The rule applied only to newly created listings.

But there was more to my reluctance to add photos to my listings than this. The thing was, I wasn't sure I could justify the effort. I had books in my inventory that had been in place for several years. If they hadn't sold over that period of time without photos, would adding photos get them sold? I guessed that some of them would sell, but I think we all will agree that, given a choice between upgrading old listings with photos or listing new items with photos, it would make more sense to devote our time to new listings. Almost without exception new listings have a significantly higher sales velocity than older listings, and I seemed never to be short of things to list.

Funny thing, as I began to add new Store listings and develop a habit of adding photos with them, my resistance to doing it diminished, and by this summer I decided to at least experiment with adding photos to older listings, primarily because my newer listings with photos had begun to sell more quickly, especially higher-dollar books. I was becoming a believer, I guess you could say. Anyway, I marked the transition point from old to new on the shelf that divided them with a bookend and got to work, usually to the tune of a dozen or so listings a day. It was surprisingly painless, I must say, and it seemed to develop a kind of momentum. Some days I would do several dozen. This is important to note: Occasionally I would adjust a price or cull a book altogether, but mostly not. This ensured that whatever outcome ensued would be a result largely due to the addition of photos.

Well, results were quick to come. Almost daily, one, two or more of these books that had been sitting for several years would sell. And the sales became more numerous as I completed more and more listings. But what surprised me the most was that the velocity of sales of these older listings was greater than it was for my newer listings. Frankly, I'm at something of a loss to explain this, but one theory I entertained was that most of these books were somewhat odd or obscure, the kinds of books that are more likely to be previously unknown to buyers, and once an "introduction" via photos occurred, it became easier for them to pull the trigger.

In any case, at the time of this writing, I am two days removed from 2013, and it was the best year I've ever had in bookselling. My December total revenue alone was over double what my previous best December was. I can attribute part of this to selling better books - my ASP also jumped significantly - and I think the economy has brightened as well, but adding photos clearly gave things a huge boost.

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