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Ten Ways to Jump Start
Your Bookselling Business
In the Dead of Winter

by Craig Stark

#62, 20 February 2006

It seems that every year about this time forum chatter about slow sales pops up, even at BookThink. Most booksellers, you see, have been kicking ass for several months - specifically, the fall textbook season, the run up to Christmas, January - but there's something about February that may disappoint. I'm not sure if it would be useful to speculate why this is so, but perhaps this would be a good time to look at attitude. Changing attitude can sometimes turn a business around on a dime, even if market conditions seem to be unfavorable, because it re-engages you, and re-engagement almost always helps sales.

The following list of ten suggestions is comprised of things I've done in the past that have helped my attitude, whether consciously applied or not. There's nothing brilliant here, I'm sure, but perhaps one or more of these will serve as a reminder that slow sales can be effectively combated.

  1. Find one or more items that you know will attract multiple bids and put them up for auction at a low open. This is for eBayers, of course, and it's one of my favorite tactics, especially if I've been protecting everything in sight with high opens for months. It brings some excitement back into things, gives me a sense of money flowing in moment by moment, motivates me to find and list more things - and yes, helps sales.

  2. List some books. This may sound silly because this is what booksellers do, right? Not always, I don't think, and not always consistently. I know there have been times when I've let days go by without adding a single book to my FPV inventory. My thinking is, well, I've already got a few thousand books up, so how much difference is it going to make to throw up a few more? Bad thinking. Those of you who sell successfully know that the only way to get consistent sales is to list books consistently, even if you have a large inventory already exposed. One of the reasons for this is that fresh inventory has a significantly better sell-through than stale inventory, but the activity also keeps you vitally engaged in your business.

  3. Change your auction presentations or FPV descriptions. If your sales are down, you've probably got more time, so why not spend some of it on upgrading your presentations? I do this about once a year, and even if I make small changes (like background color), it gives me a fresh outlook on things. It also helps me to go back to FPV descriptions and try to perk things up, either editing for clarity or adding interesting information.

  4. Lower prices. This is primarily an FPV tactic. Every time you lower prices to more competitive levels, especially on books that have been sitting and sitting, sales happen.

  5. Raise prices. This is primarily an eBay tactic, and I'm not sure I can explain why it works. In general, I think changing anything in your auction helps before you relist, including upping the price, because it alters buyer's perceptions. (But this isn't to say that you shouldn't lower them sometimes as well.)

  6. Cull inventory. There's not much that dulls my outlook more than looking at stupid books that have been sitting on my shelves forever. If they aren't performing in spite of price reductions, etc., get them the heck out of your life. You'll feel lots freer, and for some mysterious reason this seems to help sales.

  7. Clean up or otherwise alter your work space. This gives you a sense of control over your business, also a fresh outlook. And sometimes there are happy discoveries. I started my annual deep cleaning yesterday, and I turned up lots of quality books I'd forgotten I had.

  8. Buy something (or change something) that will help your business. There are few things more energizing than, say, getting some new software that frees up scads of time or radically improves my ability to sell books. There's almost no end of things you can do - buy OCR software, voice-recognition software, a new computer or peripheral, a digital camera, sign up for ScoutPal, start selling on a new venue, etc.

  9. Read a bookselling book. We've done a number of interviews with authors who've written about books and bookselling at BookThink - John Dunning, Henry Petroski, Nick Basbanes, to name a few - and these books are very effective not only for giving you new insights but also for reminding you why you got into this business in the first place. Why you love it.

  10. Finally, write an article or Bookseller's Profile for BookThink. There's something about writing about what you do that marshals so many things to the task that otherwise wouldn't occur to you. Those of us who write a lot about bookselling know that the process improves our own bookselling mightily. It will yours too. If you have an article idea, write me. Also, our stats show that Bookseller's Profiles are one of our more popular features, but it seems I have to twist arms to make them happen. It truly doesn't matter what level of bookselling you're at. Your fellow booksellers will be genuinely interested in who you are and how you conduct business. Write me at and I'll send you a template. It's easy!

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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