Bookselling and Goal Setting

I spend too much time buying things and not enough time selling things.  I'm a collector at heart.  I love the hunt.  I love owning lots of things and looking upon shelves full of books.  I pick them up, leaf through them, and remember when and where I bought them and what I paid for them.  When I have the time, I read one!

I have a backlog of books that I have been meaning to sell for years.  Literally, temporally years.  Through the years, I kept buying books and shelving them for a rainy day.  I found new ways to sell books.  I started selling commodity books alongside my collectible books and found that road less bumpy than the volatile collectible market.  Essentially, the commodity books sell at market price, fetching the going rate on Amazon.  I could list books without taking any pictures and, with the help of Fulfillment by Amazon, ship books without making a trip to the Post Office!  Of course, I could not stop buying the collectible books I truly love, and I now have an enormous collection of cool books that I want to offer for sale.  A collection is a living, breathing thing.  I don't mind selling something so long as I know I'll be buying something with the proceeds.

With that in mind, I have decided to get back into eBay.  I haven't sold anything on eBay for several years.  I grew frustrated with the process and focused my efforts on Amazon.  While Amazon is an absolute monster for commodity books, it's not a great place to sell collectible books.  I've sold a few there, but the collectibles do not get the spotlight they deserve on Amazon.  With collectible books, condition is everything.  Pictures and description sells collectible books.

I think I will open an eBay store and post my collectibles for sale.  I operated an eBay store years ago and I mostly enjoyed it.  I shuttered it because my sales had dwindled and my Amazon business had taken off.  I swore off eBay for good, without a good reason.  It's a totally viable outlet for my inventory.  My sales died off because my inventory stunk.  I tried to extract value from items where there was none.  All my good stuff sold and I was left with a surfeit of junk.  When I moved houses two years ago, I culled my inventory.  Cleared the shelves.  Let the bad stuff go.

Beyond books, I have plenty of music and electronics to sell.  Again, some do well on Amazon, others do not.  As much as I love Amazon and FBA, I can no longer ignore the colony of books growing in my basement.  They need good homes.  They need to be loved and read.

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I took a panoramic picture of my basement with my iPhone.  The panoramic effect turned out pretty well, and the picture inspired me to get to work.  I set some qualitative goals for 2014.  I want to buy more books, read more books, sell more books, and write more blog posts.  Sure, they're not specific, but I'll drown in specificity if I allow myself.  I have to balance these goals with my family and a full-time job.  Who said adulthood was easy?

The Hidden Benefit of Amazon Prime Membership – Free Shipping Boxes!

It's been a busy holiday season at my home.  It seems like two or three brown boxes of Christmas cheer arrive on my doorstep each day in December.  The contents are removed, wrapped, and placed under the tree.  The boxes begin to pile up in the basement.  Most people would break them down and set them out with their recyclables on garbage day.  Not me.  I cherish these boxes!  They are a hidden benefit of my Amazon Prime membership.  When I add up the cost savings on Amazon items, perks accompanying Prime membership, Amazon's terrific customer service, and free (gently used) Amazon branded shipping boxes, I know that I'm coming out well ahead of the $79 annual Amazon Prime membership fee.  For $6.59 per month, I receive Two-Day Shipping on practically everything Amazon sells, unlimited streaming videos from Amazon's Prime Instant Video library, and FREE shipping boxes.

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Look at all these boxes!  All of these arrived in the span of one month!  Despite looking like a cardboard Guernica, these boxes are in excellent shape and are Amazon branded.  As a third-party Amazon Marketplace merchant, it's nice to ship out my Amazon sales to my Amazon customers in Amazon branded boxes.  I have a stockpile of Amazon boxes in all different sizes.

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As you can see, Amazon boxes have alphanumeric codes printed on them that function as size indicators.  With a quick Google search, I found Incompetech's incomplete listing of Amazon shipping box codes.  I usually eyeball my item and pick out the box that I think will provide the best fit.

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To store my Amazon shipping boxes, I break them down and sort them by code.  I keep them sorted by size / code in a very large box that sits on my basement floor.  When I need a box, I grab one, tape up the bottom, remove all the old shipping labels, place my item in the box with its packing slip and necessary dunnage, tape it up, and slap on my freshly printed shipping label on the outside of the box.  Off to the Post Office I go.  I keep a second box full of USPS Priority and Express Mail envelopes and boxes for my expedited services.

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Breaking down your boxes and storing them flat will save you a lot of space.  Organizing them by size will save you a lot of time.  Joining Amazon Prime will get you many "free" shipping boxes and save you lots of money, so what are you waiting for?  Start your FREE 30 day Amazon Prime trial and decide if its right for you.

Benefits of Amazon Prime Membership:

  • FREE Two-Day Shipping on eligible items (almost everything Amazon sells, including items Fulfilled by Amazon but not sold by Amazon)
  • FREE Amazon Prime Instant Video - has a very similar catalog to Netflix and works on most home streaming devices and mobile devices
  • Kindle Owner's Lending Library - borrow e-books from Amazon's virtual library
  • Incredible customer service
  • "FREE" Shipping Boxes

The Confidential Clerk gave me a $150 cash bonus!

confclerk

While out thrifting yesterday, I happened upon a US First Edition of T.S. Eliot's play, The Confidential Clerk.  At first glance, I thought it might be a Book Club Edition (BCE) due to its small size, but a quick inspection showed a price on the inside flap and a First Edition statement on the verso.  The book was fully intact and minimally marked with a few slight flaws that are forgivable considering its age.  I riffled through the pages.  Something green flashed past my eyes, probably a bookmark.  I flipped to the end of the book, then went back through it in reverse.

This time, the green revealed itself to me.  It was not a bookmark.  It looked like cash money.  Not wanting to pull a bill out of a book in front of any other customers, I slipped it into my basket and found a secluded area of the store and conducted a more thorough inspection.

chaching

It turned out to be more than the $20 I saw at first glance.  I picked up the wad and counted it out: five $20 bills and one $50 bill for a total of $150.  Ethically, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads.  Should I take the money?  Should I tell the store?  No matter what, I was buying the book for its intrinsic collectible value.  I have found many bookmarks and other things in books that I have purchased, and I have always kept them.  Apples and oranges, bookmarks and cash.  After a few moments of indecisiveness, I decided to keep the cash for myself.  The former owner probably died and the relatives packed everything up for the thrift store without a thought of looking through an old book for cash.  Fortune smiled upon me.  I checked a few other books in the vicinity where I found The Confidential Clerk, but none contained any treasure.

Finding cash in a book was a first for me.  We've all heard of hollowed out books tucked away as inconspicuous vaults shelved between volumes in plain sight.  I doubt I'll be so lucky again, but I will continue my routine inspections of prospective purchases and see what shakes out.  As for the book itself, I expect it to fetch between $50-100 on the market.  All told, it may have been the best 75 cents I've ever spent.

THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK A Play by TS Eliot 1954 1st US Ed in DJ
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK A Play by TS Eliot 1954 1st US Ed in DJ
$16.96
Time Remaining: 5d 21h 18m
Buy It Now for only: $16.96
Buy It Now
The Confidential Clerk T S Eliot 1st American
The Confidential Clerk T S Eliot 1st American
$15.99
Time Remaining: 15d 21h 16m
Buy It Now for only: $15.99
Buy It Now
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK 1954 1st American Edition TS Eliot HC DJ VG+
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK 1954 1st American Edition TS Eliot HC DJ VG+
$78.00
Time Remaining: 4d 11h 48m
Buy It Now for only: $78.00
Buy It Now
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK Eliot  T  S  First Edition 1st Printing
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK Eliot T S First Edition 1st Printing
$35.00
Time Remaining: 18d 2h 13m
Buy It Now for only: $35.00
Buy It Now
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot 1st Printing UK HC DJ NF NF
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot 1st Printing UK HC DJ NF NF
$240.00
Time Remaining: 7d 2h 42m
Buy It Now for only: $240.00
Buy It Now
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot 1st Printing US HC DJ NF NVG
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot 1st Printing US HC DJ NF NVG
$24.00
Time Remaining: 7d 9h 1m
Buy It Now for only: $24.00
Buy It Now
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK 1954 T S Eliot Stated First American Edition 1ST
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK 1954 T S Eliot Stated First American Edition 1ST
$24.99
Time Remaining: 28d 9h 16m
Buy It Now for only: $24.99
Buy It Now
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK a play by TS Eliot 1st 1st 1954 HCDJ VG+ 300
THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK a play by TS Eliot 1st 1st 1954 HCDJ VG+ 300
$49.50
Time Remaining: 10d 2h 40m
Buy It Now for only: $49.50
Buy It Now
1st Edition CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot PLAY Nobel Prize FIRST PRINTING Drama
1st Edition CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot PLAY Nobel Prize FIRST PRINTING Drama
$42.75
Time Remaining: 9d 19h 8m
Buy It Now for only: $42.75
Buy It Now
1st Edition THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot FIRST PRINTING Play Drama Nobel
1st Edition THE CONFIDENTIAL CLERK TS Eliot FIRST PRINTING Play Drama Nobel
$42.75
Time Remaining: 10d 21h 19m
Buy It Now for only: $42.75
Buy It Now

Amazon Announces FBA Fee Increases for 2014

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Amazon announced a few slight fee increases related to their Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) program effective February 18, 2014.  News like this always disappoints merchants entwined with FBA, but these increases reflect the rising costs of storage, fulfillment, transportation, and customer service.  Instead of swallowing these costs, Amazon has passed it onto its third-party merchants.  A seemingly yearly trend, this is unwelcome but not unexpected news.

For a full list of fee changes, visit Amazon's FBA Fee Changes 2014 help page.  I have copied and pasted a bit of the information relevant to my use of FBA below.  As a media seller, I can expect an increase between 4-8% in my overall cost per item.

Fulfillment fees for Standard-Size products

The following rate card shows the current and new FBA fees for Small Standard-Size and Large Standard-Size products sold on Amazon.com. Applies to domestic and international orders.

Fulfillment Fees: Standard-Size Products
Prior to February 18, 2014 Effective February 18, 2014
Media Non-Media Media Non-Media
Order Handlingper order $0.00 $1.00 $0.00 $1.00
Pick & Packper unit $1.00 $1.00 $1.02 $1.02
Weight Handlingbased on the Outbound Shipping Weight
Small Standard-Size1 lb. or less $0.42 $0.42 $0.46 $0.46
Large Standard-Size1 lb. or less $0.46 $0.46 $0.55 $0.55
Large Standard-Size1 - 2 lb. $0.76 $0.99 $0.82 $1.34
Large Standard-SizeOver 2 lb. $0.76+ $0.40/lb. abovethe first 2 lb. $0.99+ $0.38/lb. abovethe first 2 lb. $0.82+ $0.41/lb. abovethe first 2 lb. $1.34+ $0.39/lb. abovethe first 2 lb.

Monthly Storage Fees

The following rate card shows the current and new Monthly Storage Fees effective February 18, 2014.

Monthly Storage Fee
Prior toFebruary 18, 2014   EffectiveFebruary 18, 2014
January - September $0.45 per cubic foot $0.48 per cubic foot
October - December $0.60 per cubic foot $0.64 per cubic foot

ASIN examples

Fulfillment fee change examples

The following examples are presented to illustrate the change in rates for on-Amazon
orders. This does not include fees for monthly storage or other services. Note that
the images below are provided only as examples of the general product type; fees
for the specific products pictured may vary.

Small Standard-Size Media

CD
Dimensions: 5.6" x 4.9" x 0.4"Unit Weight: 0.2 lb.Outbound Shipping Weight: 1 lb.
Fee Prior to 2/18/14 Effective 2/18/14
Order Handling $0.00 $0.00
Pick & Pack $1.00 $1.02
Weight Handling $0.42 $0.46
Total $1.42 $1.48

Large Standard-Size Media

Book
Dimensions: 8.3" x 5.2" x 1.4"Unit Weight: 0.4 lb.Outbound Shipping Weight: 1 lb.
Fee Prior to 2/18/14 Effective 2/18/14
Order Handling $0.00 $0.00
Pick & Pack $1.00 $1.02
Weight Handling $0.46 $0.55
Total $1.46 $1.57

The fees above are solely related to fulfillment, which are an additional cost picked up by the FBA participating seller after the standard commission (15% for media) and closing fee ($0.85-$1.35 per item, depending on the category) are collected on the sale.  This will encourage me to be more selective with my purchases and, unfortunately, some of these costs will pass through to my customers.  Time will reveal what the market can bare.  This may cause casual sellers to drop out of the program entirely.

After last year's fee increases, I stopped selling penny books because there was no money left in the transaction for me.  Once upon a time, a seller could sell a penny book and make anywhere from $0.50 - $1.25 on the book.  Buyers can still find penny books listed for sale on Amazon, but I cannot imagine that any sellers profit from those sales.  I still have a few lingering in my inventory, but I let them go at a loss rather than destroying or requesting the item back from the warehouse.  These fee increases will surely kill the FBA penny book market.

These fulfillment increases go across the board and stretch into all types of items.  If you sell oversize items, expect oversize fee increases!  Check the FBA Fee Change 2014 page for more information.  Not all fee news is bad news; fees for order handling, Zero-Fee Fulfillment, Long-Term Storage, and Multi-Channel Fulfillment are not affected by this change.

If you're a current FBA seller, will this change the way you do business?  If you were thinking about getting into FBA, what do you think now?  For me, I'm sticking with it and minding the bottom line.

How to Grade Used Books for Resale

Grading used books requires basic knowledge of book terminology and attention to detail.  What distinguishes a Good book from a Very Good book?  Knowing the subtleties that define the borders between condition states will bolster your reputation as an online seller.

The online book marketplaces sell two types of books: commodities and collectibles.  A commodity book will be purchased, read, and referenced by everyday consumers in need of information or entertainment.  A collectible book will be purchased and possibly read by a specific consumer who desires the item based on a quality in or of the book.

The listing of commodity books on Amazon is the scope of this article.  I find that a solid, generic description of commodity books will satisfy the needs of most buyers.  Amazon presents the pertinent information (publisher, publication date, edition) in the Product Details section of the offer page.  As long as you list your item by its ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number - generally the same as the ISBN-10), the buyer will find whatever supplementary information he or she needs to make an informed purchase.  Should your item deviate from the standard item described on Amazon, then you should provide additional information about the item you are selling.

In the used commodity book business, condition issues deserve the most attention.  Pictures are optional.  The collectible market certainly cares about condition, but edition and provenance factor greatly into the market price of a collectible.  Pictures are required.

What follows is my schema for grading books and a generic sample description I might use to describe an item meeting that grade.

Grading Books for Amazon

New - A brand new book.  As a used bookseller, you should never grade a book as New unless you are certain that the book is new.  When a buyer purchases a New item, they expect it to appear exactly as it would in their local bookstore.  I seldom describe books as New because I deal in used goods.  When I find a book still sealed in shrinkwrap, I will resell it as a new book. When I purchase the book from a retailer for resale, I may sell it as New if it meets my condition expectations.

Sample Description: Brand new, still sealed!  Fast shipping!

Like New - A book in Like New condition should have little to no shelfwear and a clean, seemingly unread interior. A remainder mark may be acceptable in this classification, but should absolutely be included in the description.

Sample Description: Like New!  Softcover (Hardcover), minimal shelfwear.  No writing, highlighting, or underlining in text.  Fast shipping!

Very Good - Light shelfwear and a clean interior free of writing, underlining, and highlighting are the hallmarks of Very Good books.  Most of the books I sell fall into the Very Good category.

Sample Description: Softcover (Hardcover), light shelfwear.  No writing, highlighting, or underlining in text.  Fast shipping!

Good - A Good book has been handled and read but has some life left in it.  Light to moderate shelfwear and some markings (writing, highlighting, and/or underlining) are descriptors of the Good book.  Extensive markings will degrade the condition to Acceptable.  The exterior (Dust Jacket, wraps) should be intact and aesthetically sound.  Scuffs, scrapes, small tears and other minor cosmetic defects can be permissible in the Good book if properly described.  Many times, a book will have the external characteristics of a Very Good book and be downgraded to Good because of markings throughout the text.  This is true of many Ex-Library books, which should never receive a grading higher than Good with all flaws noted.

Sample Description: Softcover (Hardcover), moderate shelfwear.  Some highlighting throughout text.  Fast shipping!

Acceptable - Avoid Acceptable books if you can.  Books in this condition are in disrepair, barely meeting any standard for a sellable copy.  If you cannot in good conscience state that a book is at least Good, I suggest passing on it.  Heavy shelfwear, obvious physical damage, water stains, and extensive markings make a book Acceptable.

Sample Description: Softcover (Hardcover), heavy shelfwear.  Cover (DJ) missing.  Extensive underlining throughout text.  Slight water damage to top edge of book.  A usable copy in poor cosmetic condition.  Fast shipping!

Fast Shipping?

If you promise fast shipping, you best deliver!  When I fulfill the order, I generally send the item out the same business day.  Life gets in the way sometimes, but I do my best to get the item to my customer as quickly as possible.  When Amazon fulfills the order on my behalf through my participation in Fulfillment by Amazon, the expedition of the order is at the mercy of the monolith.  Amazon usually gets my items out in the same business day, but it can be delayed by any number of factors.  Prime customers usually see their items shipped the same day, but those qualifying for Free Super Saver Shipping may see a slight delay if all of their pieces need to be shipped together.  Overall, Amazon delivers in a timely fashion with fast, free shipping for most of my customers.

We all know how it feels to be on the other side of an online transaction.  You want your item as soon as possible.  Make customer service your priority.  Accurately describe your items and ship them quickly.  Your buyers will thank you and want to do business with you again.