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Built In Trust
The Amazon FBA Program

by Craig Stark

#153 17 January 2011

Is It Time to Make the Move?

Yes, I'm late to the party. Fulfillment by Amazon has been available to sellers for several years now, and I just got on board late last year. The FBA concept is simple: 3P sellers bulk ship their books or other items to one of Amazon's warehouses, and when something sells, Amazon packs and ships it. Couldn't be easier. What this does is expose your inventory to market segments you previously had no (or indirect) access to - namely, customers who use Amazon Prime, Super Saver Shipping, not to mention Gift Wrapping. It also enhances your position in search, and most important of all, provides built-in trust. Customers who otherwise might be reluctant to purchase items from 3P sellers are not at all reluctant to pull the trigger under the Amazon umbrella. Fees are somewhat higher and apply to both sales and monthly storage, but in my limited experience these are more than offset by increasing my prices, which I can get away with because of the above competitive advantages. Also, I realize significant savings on shipping by taking advantage of UPS deeply-discounted rates to bulk ship to Amazon warehouses.

My results, so far, are impressing me.

The purpose of this brief article isn't to get into detail about FBA - Amazon Columnist Kristian Strom will be doing this ably in the coming year - but to emphasize how important trust is in the online marketplace. The FBA program brings this issue front and center and reminds us with hard cash just how important it is.

Speaking of trust, I announced last week that Chapter 4 of BookThink's Guide to Online Bookselling, "How to Make Money Selling Books While You Learn How to Sell Books: First Things First," was delivered to subscribers last week. This and next month's chapter show the beginning or struggling bookseller how to make early money - and thus buy time for learning what must be learned to succeed long-term in the trade. The following excerpt from this chapter addresses another trust-building tool - feedback - and shows how to build it quickly.

How to Make Money Selling Books While You Learn How to Sell Books: First Things First

If you're new to bookselling or haven't figured out how to make money at it yet, this and the following chapter are for you. The bookselling game is changing by the moment as the Digital Revolution radically transforms how content is transmitted, so at least some of what you read here will have a limited shelf life. Act on it quickly. The idea is to buy yourself some time while you learn the trade, not to settle into what's easy. Most of your fellow booksellers are content to go on doing what they have been doing. They'll be gone soon enough. If you have any intention of making a go of things as a bookseller, you'll need to understand why some books are easy to buy and sell for at a profit but hold little promise for your future and other books are more difficult to work with but will ultimately sustain you in the trade.

Let's get more specific.

Commodity bookselling - selling books on the basis of content value - is going away. Fast. This is the easy stuff. Or was. It's still relatively easy to buy commodity books that have modest or better value and very easy to present them for sale. With a few tools, minimal knowledge is required to do this. However, since this is the easy stuff, almost anybody can do it, and many try - and thus it's the first thing to go away.

Antiquarian bookselling - selling books on the basis of their value as collectible objects - remains strong, but there are and will continue to be new challenges to meet as we move into the 21st century. This is the hard stuff: Antiquarian bookselling requires significant knowledge, and you will never acquire it all. Not even close. These two chapters aside, the purpose of this book is to show you how.

Now, if, like most of us, you have limited means and need to make some early money, it's important to allocate the resources you do have available to those things that promise the best payoff. Time is your most valuable resource, and, though this may seem counter-intuitive, the worst thing you can do is spend most or all of it buying and selling books. If this is what you think you have to do, this book isn't for you, and you'll most likely be looking for some other line of work in a year or so. However, if you're willing to commit to a serious apprenticeship - say, a 50-50 split between bookselling and knowledge acquisition - your chances for long term success improve dramatically. If this seems like a lot - and 30 hours of dedicated study might seem downright daunting if you plan on working 60-hour weeks - I guarantee that you will notice very soon that this knowledge will repay itself many times over in ways you might never have suspected.

By the way, if you've been in the business a year or two or more and have, to date, only done the easy stuff, it's not too late to change - and in fact you have the advantage of already knowing how to do the easy stuff efficiently.

Still with me? Okay, your next most valuable resource is cash - not credit, cash. Your money. Yes, it's possible to use credit as a tool to set things up, acquire inventory, etc., but please don't do it at this stage of your development because any early setback could at best deeply discourage you and at worst wipe you out. This is the time to be very smart with your money, especially if it's in short supply. In part, bookselling is about seizing big (or at least bigger) opportunities, which for most of us don't come up often, and the last thing you want to have happen is to come face to face with some great books at a great price and not have the means to purchase them. So, buy quinoa in bulk, put on a sweater and turn down the heat, etc., if that's what it takes to build and maintain a cash reserve - I recommend building an inventory fund of at least $1,000 to start with - and I'll do my part by suggesting ways to get going on the cheap.

The first thing I'm going to ask you to "buy" with your limited means is feedback - the ratings buyers give you on your performance as a seller. Without it, you'll be operating at a major disadvantage. Many buyers will routinely pass you by if you don't have any - or worse, have problematic feedback. And some venues will terminate your selling privileges permanently if you don't maintain high feedback. If you bypass this step, it will certainly suppress early sales, and even when sales do trickle in, you won't be insulated against the inevitable undeserved negative feedback that comes, albeit occasionally, to every last one of us. Please don't jump ahead here. A little patience now will pay big dividends later on.

The process of buying feedback consists of ...

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