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When considering purchasing a tool that has the potential to help your business, it's important to keep things in perspective, to remember that a tool is something designed to perform a specific task, and as soon as you start asking it to do more than what it was designed for, you're on your own - that is, it may or may not perform above or beyond what it was designed for. And, if it doesn't, the tool shouldn't be evaluated on the basis of failing to do what it wasn't designed to do.
I'm mentioning this up front because I recently had the opportunity to test drive a PDA/scanner marketed by ASellerTool - and don't we all know how lovingly these devices are typically kicked around on book forums? Those who use them aren't always forthcoming about it (or mention it then duck), and those who don't use them, almost without exception, are usually revolted by the very concept. Funny thing is, only once in a blue moon will you see feedback from somebody who has tried one and not been pleased with the results. The preponderance of criticism, that is, originates from those who have never tried them. (More about this later.)
With any field lookup device, it's vitally important to keep this bookselling truth in mind at all times:
A bookselling tool is only as good as the bookseller using it.
If you're new to bookselling, no tool will turn you into a successful bookseller overnight. At best, it will enable you to make more money than an inexperienced seller who doesn't use one. Expecting anything more than this will likely lead to disappointment. The greatest benefits will inevitably accrue to booksellers who bring the most knowledge to the table.
Ok, the essence of the ASellerTool system is this: Prior to scouting, a PDA or other compatible device is connected to your computer, an Amazon pricing database (updated daily) is downloaded into it - a task that takes 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your connection speed - and you're off. Since the database resides on the PDA, it's accessible anywhere; there will be no issues with cell phone service availability whatsoever. When you reach your scouting destination, you simply point the scanner at the bar code on the back of a book, and in less than a second, pricing information comes up on your display - or you may elect to use an optional sound alert with or without an earphone. At the time of this writing, the pricing information displayed includes:
(Note that pricing information will also be returned for VHS tapes, CDs and DVDs.)
There will also be either a "Buy" or "Reject" indication on the screen, an optional voice alert, also an indication if the item is "Not Found." The "Buy" and "Reject" indications are triggered by user-created settings. Up to 6 different templates each with 7 pricing/ranking steps can be set up. For example, the following criteria could be put into place:
Minimum price of $10 and minimum sales ranking of 50,000.
Up to 6 additional steps could be included on this same template. A second step might be:
Minimum price of $20 and minimum sales ranking of 100,000.
And so on.
Obviously, some experimentation (and knowledge) will be required to deliver consistently good results. There's something to be said for stocking lower-dollar books with high sales velocity, and settings should reflect this. Also, a warning: Basing buying decisions on Amazon Marketplace pricing alone has its potential pitfalls. Possibilities for being led astray include ISBNs shared by two or more editions of a textbook, multiple catalog entries created by sellers for the same item, and Amazon prices that rise far above a global-venue average. (The latter situation often arises when a seller creates a new catalog entry to accommodate a book that isn't presently in the Amazon catalog and artificially elevates the price, hoping to snag a hapless buyer before other booksellers list their copies and start the race down.)
To repeat, "A bookselling tool is only as good as the bookseller using it." The more experience/knowledge you bring to the process, the less likely you will misinterpret pricing data.
Inexperienced booksellers using a tool like this would do well to confine most of their buying at lower price levels and always check publication dates on textbooks. Books offered at $.50 and $1, for example, that show $20 and up online comparables and good sales rankings would pose little risk; buying a book for $20 that has comparables of $50, $100 or so, however, with a sales ranking in the millions might. Textbooks published prior to 2003 or 2004 that show good comparables should be eyed with scepticism until more experience has been gained - or more information is retrieved.
Is this tool only useful for books with bar codes? Not at all. For one thing, ISBNs can be entered manually. A touch-screen number pad can be instantly retrieved that's large enough to enter numbers with your fingers, quickly.
There's also an option for entering a title. A touch-screen keyboard can be retrieved for this purpose, though a stylus will be necessary, and of course your device may have a built-in keyboard which can be used as well. In both cases, pricing information is displayed almost instantaneously.
So - what's the scoop? Is this thing any good? The first time I used it, I had a few minutes to kill before an appointment, so I ducked into my local Goodwill. Since I was killing time, after all, and also experimenting with it, I checked books that I wouldn't have checked previously with my pocket PC. A shelf of ho-hum looking education textbooks, all softcovers, seemed like a good place to start - and it turned out that it was also a good place to finish. Inside of 2 or 3 minutes I had pulled 15 books off one shelf that had a combined value based on online comparables of over $400 and excellent sales rankings, quickly paid for them, and was on my way to my appointment. To date, about half of these have already sold. "FAST" is the first word that comes to mind in describing this system. If you've been typing in your ISBNs up until now, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the pace you can work through a group of books.
Obviously, not every shelf in every thrift shop will deliver these results, but it was an important moment for me because I realized that these were books I probably wouldn't have checked with my pocket PC given that same period of time and venue. I recall a similar thing happening when I first started using a type-in field lookup device some years ago: I bought many books that I otherwise would have left on the shelf before - and my income increased substantially.
Here's the working principle:
The more books you can check in a given period of time, the more you will find, and, what's more, the more money you will make.
During the next two weeks, as I tested this product in other situations, this principle held fast. Even at garage sales it made a difference because I usually approach these things with a get-in-and-get-out frame of mind, wasting as little time as possible so I can get to the next sale. With a scanner in hand, however, I was able to check more books and still stay within my time constraints. When I was done testing, I'd added another layer of books to my inventory that hadn't been there before, and I was making more money.
Another thing I noticed: Before I had the scanner, I recalled justifying not having one. And haven't we all done this? My thinking was that it was too expensive and/or that I didn't really need one because I hardly ever attended FOL sales anymore or put myself in other buying situations in which time was of the essence. Well, when I stopped to think about it, I knew that time was of the essence notwithstanding - it always is, no matter where you are - and, moreover, the cost of the product wasn't an issue either; I made enough additional money in two weeks with this device, (above what I would typically make) to pay for the Premium ASellerTool package outright.
Another appealing aspect of this product is that you can be significantly more discreet using it. Instead of typing in ISBNs over and over on a cell phone, a process that can take 8 or 10 seconds, sometimes require both hands, and draw unwanted attention, you simply point the scanner at a bar code, press a button and see the results instantly - with little or no movement. You also have the option of setting this up to work with a wireless Bluetooth scanner (and an earphone) - a tiny device that can be concealed in your hand while your much larger PDA is in your pocket.
Is ASellerTool for every bookseller? At a start-up cost of almost $800 for the premium package and a monthly subscription charge of $29.99 (which includes both PDA and cell phone scouting services), it obviously can't be. But I'd seriously recommend it to any full-time bookseller committed to maximizing profits, especially those with generalist inventories. Your mileage will vary, but I could easily see this tool increasing my income by $8,000 to $10,000 this year.
A few more comments: This tool couldn't be simpler to put into action when it arrives. Charge it, download the current database, and go to work - no technical know-how needed. If issues arise that require support, most emails are answered within an hour, including weekends and holidays, and if you include your phone number, you'll be contacted by phone. There are plans to provide full phone support in the future.
The ASellerTool website is packed with additional information about their products:
Finally, Tom and Stanley, 2/3 of the ASellerTool team, answered some questions that came up during the testing process:
BOOKTHINK: Are there any plans to include additional venues (Abebooks, Alibris, etc.) in the pricing database?
ASELLERTOOL: We definitely have plans to add those to our cell phone scouting product, which is offered for free to PDA scouting customers. We will evaluate the value of adding this to PDA scouting.
BOOKTHINK: Will the types of devices currently supported by ASellerTool be expanded to include cell phones, etc.?
ASELLERTOOL: The ASellerTool PDA solution runs on a Pocket PC, PDA or Windows Smartphone, such as Treo 700w, 750, Cingular 8125, etc. Basically, the majority of Smartphones with the Windows OS/platform are supported. It also runs on very old PDAs such as the Dell Axim X5.
BOOKTHINK: I suspect this won't happen anytime soon, but if voice recognition could somehow be integrated into this system (to accommodate spoken ISBNs and titles), it would be awesome.
ASELLERTOOL: That is a great idea. I just added it to our to-do list, and we will include that option in our future releases.
BOOKTHINK: Are there any other changes/improvements coming up soon?
ASELLERTOOL: We are currently planning a 4.0 release coming in mid- to late September. It will include features such as (1) displaying lowest 3 prices, (2) more options for specifying criteria for "Buy" or "Reject" signals and (3) faster download time during peak hours.
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark
Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC
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