I capitalized the word supplement because one must keep in mind that the focus of a successful bookseller (assuming you are a one man/woman or mom and pop operation) is to locate, list and sell premium inventory, ideally books in some demand priced $14.95 and up. This is the model that works for my operation, but I would encourage you to try increasing your minimum listing price to $19.95, and eventually $24.95, and so on. Craig has also written about this in several of his articles, including
-Bookselling in the 21st Century: Part XIV: Visualizing What You Need to Do to Make Bookselling Work
-Gold Edition Premium Content #40 How to Specialize in Bookselling, Part II: Hypermoderns
I admit, at the present time I do have a few books that are currently for sale below my minimum, but the majority of these are part of a once sizeable selection of inventory I am selling on behalf of a friend who needed help liquidating the remaining inventory from his now defunct brick and mortar store. Sad, I know. My average selling price across the board last quarter was around $27 an item, with an average selling price of around $31.50 an item on Ebay over the past 90 days. I strive to continue raising the bar each and every year I am in business.
What I am getting at here is that this method for supplementing your online bookselling income should simply be a side project, and nothing more. It has great potential to sidetrack your business and have you filling up boxes and boxes of books you might never shake a stick at because you can now ship them to Amazon for a measly 50 cents in store credit. The focus should always remain on acquiring and handling only high dollar inventory, but there are several instances where you can use this strategy in combination with your existing business model to your advantage, keeping in mind that it will require a somewhat significant investment in time, and a minimal investment in labor. Thankfully, most of the book buyback websites provide you with free shipping labels, so your only packaging costs should be computer paper boxes or Bankers Boxes (either of which you can find cheap and/or recycled versions of, of course), packing tape, glue sticks for affixing the shipping labels (which I get at Sam's Club for a few cents each) and a bit of bubblewrap for those of you who want to sleep better at night.
So what is this mystery method? Unfortunately, it won't help you pick up beautiful women: (Note, Craig, if you think the readership will consider this too crass or simply unnecessary, feel free to remove my superfluous attempt at humor).
The mystery method for online booksellers, my friends, awaits you at http://www.bookscouter.com/
For those of you who discovered the site long ago, I applaud you and am glad that you have had access to this information. Hopefully you spread the word to your friends in the business. For those of you who have yet to discover the beauty of Bookscouter, please let me be the first to introduce you. The site, established in 2007 by a saavy and friendly tech guy named Brandon, "scrapes" information from a variety of websites to give you an estimate of how much these sites will pay you to send them books. I interviewed Brandon over the phone, and after he went to a quiet room in the house (he is the proud father of three young children, with one more on the way), he politely answered all of my questions about the website. There are basically two steps involved in the ridiculosly simple and user-friendly process of using BookScouter:
1. Go to http://www.bookscouter.com/
2. Enter an ISBN number and after just a few seconds, a bunch of websites tell you how much (or little) money they will give you for that book
You can create an account, log in and customize which websites you want to receive information from, and the less sites you are getting data from, the faster the process becomes. After having experimented with the site and preparing shipments for many of the merchants over the past year or so, I have my list narrowed down to 10 websites, which I will share with you below. The overwhelming majority of the sites, and all those mentioned in this article, will cover the costs of shipping the books. You can also view the general publics' ratings on the search results page. I will include those ratings in parentheses after naming each merchant.
After using Bookscouter, it is then your job to determine which books you will ship to which of the participating sites. You might be surprised to know that there are currently 41 players in the game, but for our purposes, we will only focus on the major players, and a few of the minor leaguers. I will try and give a brief overview of which sites I have dealt with over the past year, including which are the most user friendly, which one pays a bit slower than the others, which one will pay you in signed 1st Editions or cash, and which will pay you only in store credit. This is by no means a comprehensive overview of all of the sites/strategies/terms of sale, it is only meant to get you headed in the right direction and give you an idea about an avenue for supplementing your bookselling income that you may not already have been aware of. I recommend that you carefully review each sites guidelines for condition, packaging requirements, etc. so that you do everything according to code.
I also highly recommend that you keep the focus of your bookselling business on acquiring premium inventory, as this process can become somewhat exciting and addictive once you start seeing results. Remember to factor in the time you spend conducting the searches and preparing your shipments when determining the process' viability for your business model. I have found the site most useful after doing a buyout of a large private collection, estate sale or small library sale. I would not recommend buying out a collection simply based on the fact that it has a plethora of books that will potentially get you $1.50 each using Bookscouter, as this method will most assuredly suck up wayyyy too much of your time for relatively minor results. Another instance in which Bookscouter would be ideal is for a college student who doesn't have the time or patience to list their textbooks online, and instead can easily package and ship one or two packages and receive a quick payment for some beer money.
First, I am going to explain the process on Amazon.com (4.5 of 5 stars, with 33 ratings), and then the advantages/disadvantage of the other 4 "Major Leaguers," and finally I will briefly cover the 5 "Minor Leaguer" websites.
The idea of trading in unsellable stock for better stock is not a new one in the bookselling game. I remember reading about this strategy in one of the first books I ever read about bookselling, Book Finds by Ian Ellis, which is now in its' 3rd Edition. Ellis discusses bringing the inventory that doesn't fit your business model (which in our case is about 99% of the books in the universe) into bookstores on your scouting route, and using the credit you receive to trade up for better books, which you can use.
I still practice this principle at the bookstores in my area, where I recently bartered for a set of twenty signed Franklin Press books. However, with the advent of the digital age late last century, you no longer need to depend on the whims and preferences of your local bookshop in order to trade in your stock for store credit. No, today you can trade books in from the comfort of your home. While many open shop owners may understandably cringe at this notion, I implore you all to view the stale inventory on your shelves as prime candidates of conversion to cash using Bookscouter. I did this with some of my books that have been collecting dust at my antique mall booths, and proceeded to raise several hundred dollars cash in a few days time. I would also contend that using Bookscouter is a great way to make it easier to part with and let go of your inventory which no longer meets your minimum listing price requirements, as you should be glad about at least getting something right now for a book, instead of waiting another year or two and hoping the book will sell.
Amazon is the only site where receiving cash is not an option, instead receiving an Amazon Gift Card is the sole means of reimbursement. For me, this is pretty much the same thing as cash, as I frequently spend quite a bit of time and money on the site. Little did Ellis know when he first wrote Book Finds that he would one day be able to trade in his unsellable stock for a new grill cover, a case of aspartame-free chewing gum and a digital version of his own book! In a delightful twist of fate, I was also recently able to purchase a copy of one of the most sought after books on my Amazon Wish List (Billy Collins Pokerface, his first and rarest book of poems, limited to 400 copies, a handful of which rumor has it that Collins himself has purchased from their owners at signing events only to destroy; apparently he is not too proud of this one) using store credit. I had over $400 sitting in my account when a copy became available for around $275. Sounds expensive? Do a search on BookFinder for author "Collins" title "Pokerface" and then tell me if you think I paid too much. The problem is I don't know if I'll be able to part with this one until its been on my shelf for at least another year or two. Sometimes being a book collector can be dangerous for one's own bookselling career.
You may or may not have already noticed this, but just below the "23 Used and New from $16.02" on the right hand side of any Amazon Product Detail page for a book, you may see some text that reads: Get a $5.93 Amazon Gift Card, with a button that reads "Trade in Here." Clicking this will redirect you to Sign In to your account, and then finally to the Submit Your Trade-In page, where you can continue to add books that Amazon (or NORAM, the New Hampshire based company responsible for the buybacks) is currently buying and view their Terms and Conditions. The process varies slightly among all of the sites, but once you do it a few times, you'll get the hang of it and get into some kind of rhythm, and hopefully maintain some semblance of organization.
Most of the sites seem to keep your items in a Buyback Cart, but I have been timed out on occasion, so the best strategy is to use Bookscouter to sort your potential candidates into several piles, and then once your pile is big enough to fill a bankers box (with a few extras in case the book is no longer being purchased) you should process the entire buyback at one time. All this usually involves is submitting the entire contents of the buyback, printing a confirmation/packing slip and printing a prepaid shipping label. The final steps are to then tightly and securely pack the contents of the box, adding some filler/bubblewrap as needed and finally, sealing the box and affixing the prepaid shipping label.
With Powells.com (3.5 out of 5, with 112 ratings), Major League Buyback site #2, you have the option to choose between receiving store credit or cash. They typically offer quite a bit more in credit, something along the lines of $45 in cash will be good for $75 in credit. I am usually a sucker for credit, and recently used this to purchase several signed Hypermodern 1sts, along with a handful of books from Anne Rice's personal library. Yeah, you heard me right. Check out their homepage for more details.
A quick note on Powells- they are one of the pickiest sites. There is a recent spat of comments regarding just how picky they have become, and as a bookseller, I can sympathize with their position. Make sure to check the guidelines for condition anywhere you send books. Amazon will actually return books that don't meet their requirements (at no cost to you), but Powells will not be so kind, and will simply donate the refusals to a local charity. For the most part, Powells will accept books in Very Good+ condition and above. They do not accept book club editions, books with hinges that are beginning to split, books with any sort of dampstaining, or books with any writing or highlighting to the text. A previous owner's name written on the front endpapers is acceptable, however. Make sure you are able to identify these types of books and are familiar with some basic bookselling condition lingo before you start sending them books by the pallet. I have also found that Powell's will buy back quite a few books that no other sites will, most likely due to their having several brick and mortar locations. Dover Books seem to do well here.
You can view their condition guidelines here: http://www.powells.com/info/condition_guidelines.html#bce
The rest of the major and minor leaguers pay cash via Paypal (and other methods), and these are my favorites to use:
3. CollegeBooksDirect.com (4.5 stars with 24 ratings)- Great for Paperback classics and literary fiction. Expect $3 for a PB copy of Jeannette Walls' gut-wrenching memoir Glass Castle. I was in the habit of passing up books like this one up all the time, but now I am more likely to purchase a copy for a quarter at a garage sale, or as part of a larger buyout. This is my favorite of the cash only websites.
4. Textbooks.com (4.5 stars with 35 ratings)- They tend to pay more than most of the other sites, including College Books Direct, but I also noticed they take a bit longer to pay you. As long as you're not in a hurry to get paid, this is one of the better buyback sites.
5. Better World Books (3.5 stars with 19 ratings)- my least favorite of the buyback sites. Like many other booksellers out there discussed after the featured article in Americana Exchange, I have had my fair share of gripes with their business model- masquerading as a non-profit and lowballing the competition on Amazon. I know enough now to ignore their prices when determining my own, but I do have a bit of a problem with the way they process buybacks on their site. They give you a countdown of 10 minutes when listing books, stating that their offer is only good until the clock expires, which might put a bit of unnecessary pressure on the average joe. The prices turn out to still be good after time expires, but what you may not notice is that a book that they are no longer buying is not rejected like all of the other sites clearly indicate, but is instead included in the shipment and marked as a "Donation." I would suspect that most people would not want to Donate a book to a for-profit company when they might get cold hard cash for it at another site. Having said all that, I have sent several shipments to Better World Books, and although they don't seem to pay as much, they do seem to accept textbooks that many other sites won't.
The Minor Leagues of Book Buybacks: 5 Additional Websites I Have Successfully Shipped To
6. Valore Books.com (3 out of 5 stars with 9 ratings)- I've sold more to their site than I have sold listing on their site.
7. CKY Books.com (4.5 out of 5 stars with 155 ratings)- The Triple A league of the minors. Right up there with College Books Direct and Textbooks.com, as their high ratings indicate.
8. TextBooksRUS.com (4 out of 5 stars with 70 ratings)- Aspiring to be the Toys R Us of books.
9. Book Byte (3 out of 5 stars with 52 ratings)- They seem to pay just about .75 for every book they buy. At these prices I'm usually wondering "Why Bother?"
10. Book Jingle (4 out 5 stars with 17 ratings)- Merry Christmas, you've got cash!
One time-saving trick to mention in this article is that while you are waiting for the Bookscouter site to retrieve the prices, you can begin typing in the ISBN of the next book in your pile and then simply hit return after you have evaluated the results of the original book, and continue this process until your entire stack of candidates have been sorted.
My last secret to mention is that as of this writing, almost any PB or HC book my Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Outliers) seem to consistently sell in the $4.50 range.
As is the case with most bookselling software these days, there are IPhone and Android applications available. I have used the Android application many times in the field, but often wish there was a faster way of getting the data. Media Scouter has spoiled me I suppose, but as Brandon reminded me, this information is not live, and is pulled from the Amazon pricing database on the SD card of my scanner. Oh, and did I mention that the application and the website are both free to use! He did note that I should try the application with a USB scanner, as the scanner on my phone is linked on the camera, and requires quite a bit of fidgeting with the light in the room, as well as the angle in which it is positioned.
Make sure to check out the Bookscouter blog as well, as Brandon has some other exciting applications in the works for booksellers in the future, some of which are geared towards FBA sellers. Brandon is leaving his full-time job working for, you guessed it, a textbook company, to focus all of his efforts on his programming and web development ventures. I'm excited to see what kind of tricks he has for us up his sleeve in the future. He was very personable on the phone, and it sounds like he has quite a technical bookselling operation of his own going. I could tell that he enjoyed talking books, and mentioned that he would personally answer any emails about the site. He is always looking to make improvements and thinking of ideas to develop into software which will help online booksellers and poor college students, second cousins really.
Remember, don't became a slave to Bookscouter, as checking price information on Amazon and Abebooks should usually be your first option, unless you are quite certain the book is common. On one occasion, I got in the zone and put a book in the Amazon pile for $2.75, only to luckily catch my mistake minutes later and realize that the exact same book could be listed on Amazon for about $200!
I look forward to sharing this article with all of you on BookThink's Facebook page, and would appreciate any comments or feedback you have on the article. I hope it helps you to supplement your regular online bookselling income with a little bit of extra cash, or some credit to help you trade up your common stock.
This article originally appeared in BookThink.
Come join the discussion about using Bookscouter to supplement your online bookselling business at the BookThink group on Facebook.