BookThink's Proverbs of Bookselling

by Craig Stark

5 April 2018

The Eighth Five

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36. A book expertly-photographed is half-sold.

When I first started selling books on eBay eons ago, almost nobody posted photos with their descriptions, and those that did most often took photos with conventional cameras, had the film developed by a third party and scanned the resulting prints into their computers. It was a multi-step process - both time consuming and expensive. I didn't bother. Then digital cameras arrived, and everything changed. My first digital camera was a Sony Mavica - remember those? - and I could hardly contain my excitement because this was, finally, a solution for selling formerly sight-unseen books. My instincts told me that this would be a game changer. The last major hurdle to selling books online had been cleared. Surely buyers would follow. And they did. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm that obscured the fact that the Mavica's photos had relatively poor resolution then, and it was all buy impossible to make a book, as they say, pop with life.

Fast forward to now, and so much camera upgrading has taken place that resolution well exceeds what is necessary - and of course cameras in smartphones are right there with them. In this context there is no longer any excuse not to take great photos. The reality, however, is that few booksellers do. More photos than not are uploaded immediately from their source without discernible editing - or front covers are scanned - and the result are images that betray both haste and a lack of attention to detail. Though images are always better than no images, books are often not given their due; my sense is that it's like cavalierly tossing them on a table in front of a potential buyer - "Here you go, Buddy" - and the potential for doubling down on the selling end of things by making books look their best is lost.

The jury is no longer out on whether or not images help sell books - most of us have conducted our own experiments on this more than once - but there seems to be a curious resistance to build any time into creating great photos, typically by editing raw photos into something more special. In my opinion, this is leaving money on the table. And I've experimented with this as well - compared outcomes of books I'd merely scanned the front covers of to those which included a carefully edited photo of books in three dimensions. Guess what the results were?

37. The end of bookselling is not "book" but "selling."

An excerpt from Chapter 18 of BookThink's Guide to Online Bookselling: "We are booksellers. We sell books. The selling process should therefore include singing a book's praises. If a book has nothing going for it that can be sung about, it's likely not worth bothering with. Time and time again, I've seen a positive approach work better than a negative approach. And what does a positive approach entail? Leading with what's good, perhaps even editorializing it to some extent, and ending with what's bad - noting faults simply and matter-of-factly. If this approach seems devious or otherwise offends your sensibilities, you're probably not a salesman at heart and may do better in a different profession. After all, when a collector buys a book and displays it on a shelf for others to see, he or she may want to brag about what makes it special, not what takes it down, and it's your job to communicate this. I understand that there is legitimate concern about things like negative feedback, returns, etc., but selling a book works best when you sell it with pride, first and foremost, and don't dwell on defending it against potentially unhappy outcomes."

38. - or, books do not a bookseller make. Sales make a bookseller.

Too obvious by half, perhaps, but if money is going out of your pocket and not coming back into it in significantly greater amounts, bookselling isn't working. This is America. This is the seat of capitalism. Yankee entrepreneurship. This is how we keep the lights on. You might buy into this system with reluctance, perhaps even feel a twinge of shame now and again in the context of those who assert that capitalism trounces on the little guy, the disabled, etc., but if nobody makes money, where are we? A better system might come along at some point, but until then sell.

39. A fast nickel may be as good as (or better than) a slow dime, but a fast dime is 10 times better than a slow nickel.

Easy for you to say, one might say, but dimes are more difficult to come by, especially fast ones. And what makes them more difficult to come by? There are fewer of them? Okay, but this is only part of the story. As you move up the food chain, no matter how uncommon they are, books become more difficult to buy and sell because there are greater demands placed on us to get this done, both in bibliographical know-how and marketing sophistication. You thought this was going to be easy?

40. One $100 book sale is 10 times more valuable to a bookseller than 10 $10 book sales.

Exaggerating for effect here, but there are at least some more or less fixed factors involved in selling books no matter what their selling prices, and simply selling books for higher prices necessarily results in more efficiency as a percentage of labor built in. Given this, it's also true that selling $100 books does require more effort not only to acquire them but also to do what's necessary to get them sold. Still, one does not cancel out the other. Not even close. If there is one consistently crucial element in the ongoing success of booksellers, it's ASP or average selling price. It's almost axiomatic that the higher your ASP is the more money you make.

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