The Home-Based Bookstore: Start Your Own Business Selling Used Books on Amazon, Paperback – Nov 10 2005
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Before I opened this book, I posed some questions I thought the book should answer. These questions, with the author's response follow:
1. What are the criteria for choosing Amazon.com, eBay, or one's own site for selling a particular title?
The author clearly prefers Amazon over most other options, although he gives some good reasons for setting up your own web page.
2. How do you pick titles to sell? Some obvious examples, such as Stephen King hardcovers are really poor second hand sellers.
The author gives some very general suggestions on which titles to pick and which titles to avoid. I agree with him almost entirely, although I can think of some exceptions to most of his titles to avoid; however, that is based on special knowledge of certain fields such as cookbooks.
3. How do you acquire interesting titles cheaply? Whenever I browse a second hand bookstore, 99 out of 100 titles are pure junk. I have yet to find, for example, an important out of print cookbook at any used bookstore.
The author provides many good sources, including every one I could think of, plus one or two I did not think of.
4. How do you track your stock so you can quickly determine whether or not you have a title OR where you may be able to acquire a title for a book hunter.
The author gives many useful answers to this question, including some new technology options that really surprised me, based on accessing the Internet through your cell phone.
5. What is the best shipping option considering cost versus speed?
The author gives some very good analyses on the advantages and disadvantages of fast versus slow delivery options.
6. Is there any value to branching out to recordings?
The author never once discusses how to apply his suggestions to other merchandise, even though he does go so far as to consider expanding an Internet sales operation to a brick and mortar store.
One of the reasons the author does not deal with other goods is that marketing books through the Internet is so much richer a subject than I imagined, in spite of the fact that I am a major customer of these services. The amount of software written to support this enterprise is staggering.
In a nutshell, Mr. Weber has given us an excellent manual on how to do this very specialized, albeit very popular form of Internet marketing.
The first sure sign that Steve was not pulling the wool over our eyes was when he stated that while this activity can be really rewarding, it is still hard work. The plus side is that you get to keep all the rewards of this hard work.
Since running a bookstore was always one of my secret ambitions, I really appreciated almost everything Weber had to say about this adaptation of the corner bookstore. If I were to point out any one thing where the author was light on his recommendations, it would be with the fact that I think a person who really knows and loves books in the first place will do much better than the average entrepreneur. I suspect that one could get into real estate investing without a good knowledge of law, carpentry, or finance, but unlike houses, books are something which not everyone knows well. One test for an aspiring book merchandising operation would be to name the leading textbook authors in statistics, economics, symbolic logic, and organic chemistry. I cite these because Mr. Weber makes the excellent point that non-fiction books hold their value much better than fiction, especially current popular fiction. The author does not point this out, but a major exception to this rule should be manuals on computer software. No one has any use anymore for a text on Multiplan, dBase III, or Wordpro.
I especially liked Mr. Weber's recommendation that the reader consider specializing in a particular field, such as cookbooks. This is an especially good suggestion as everyone must eat and so everyone needs someone to cook for him or her. It is also a good field as there is a rich bibliography of out of print cookbooks which most foodies would love to have access to, such as English writer Jane Grigson's catalogue.
While Mr. Weber does not deal with any other type of goods, I suggest his suggestions would work almost as well for records, toys, or collectibles in general, as long as you know your subject.
I am very happy Mr. Weber provided his book to me for review as it is very unlikely I would have found it on my own, and it is an especially fertile plot of ideas, suggestions, and guidance regarding this enterprise. I am happy for him that he got his work into print when he did.
For example, Mr. Weber recommends giving the customer a tracking number but doesn't make it clear how to get one. I'm sure this is idiotically simple to anyone familiar with postal transactions. That's probably why Mr. Weber didn't give a hand-holding description of the process.
I was clueless. I took my first shipment to the post office and asked for a tracking number. The clerk started pulling out forms for costly and complicated types of service and began to spout arcane postal jargon. I couldn't cope with the information overload so I shipped my books without the all-important tracking number.
My next trip I learned that you have to get DELIVERY CONFIRMATION. Look for the small lime-green form. It has a bar code label (with tracking number) that you attach to your parcel.
I could have used some help with book terminology, i.e., the verbiage to put into the "comments" field of your Amazon listing. If you browse the listings, you see myriad descriptive terms. Is there a right or wrong way to list your book? The book does not address the topic.
The book is rife with listings for pricing and inventory software, online postage services, and the hand-held scanners you can use for automated scouting at book sales. It's puzzling that the author would present these listings without commentary regarding which ones he found useful, or if he used them at all.
The author could have summarized how he was able to quit his job in three months and sell books full time. As others have noted, he generously shares precious inside knowledge, so this might not be a valid gripe. Without this book or one like it, the fledgling bookman would have a harder time getting started.
This manual outlines enough of the basics to get you started. I was able to sell a few books before I even finished reading The Home-Based Bookstore, the book that introduced me to selling books online. It popped up on my Amazon recommendations and I thought "Why not give it a shot?"
Within days of buying the book, the local Friends of the Library (FOL) had a "parking lot" sale. I headed for the sale with high anticipation of launching my bookselling empire.
The "sale" turned out to be a disturbing mob scene. The books are piled into several plastic shopping carts. Scanner-wielding book vendors paw through them frantically, pushing and shoving to gain the advantage. They are like vultures attacking a carcass. A few books spill out of the carts and are left on the ground. Within minutes, the vendors skulk off to their corners to guard their booty.
The Friends of the Library are selling books on Amazon. They have rightly already culled any books of real value. The books causing the frenzy apparently are the dregs the Friends don't want to bother with. They are offered at the parking lot sale for 10 cents to 25 cents, however. If you're not shy about mixing it up with other booksellers, you can make money at a sale like this. That's what one of the vendors told me. All of the vendors were women at this sale, so the risk of a brawl breaking out might actually be low.
I can't imagine myself joining a mob scene, so I all but gave up on getting inventory this way. I had plenty of extra books from my own collection, so I decided to use Amazon to clear some space on my bookshelf. Opening an account and setting up your listings is easy as pie. Within a few minutes you are in business.
I listed books from $3.29 up to $65.00 depending on the lowest price showing. The next day my prices were undercut by other vendors. I retaliated with price cuts of my own. They responded with further cuts, and so on. I eventually stopped cutting my price. The other vendors have (Cyberdyne) robotic software that cuts their prices automatically. The book I listed for $3.29 was later listed for a penny, the result of a regressive bidding war between the robots.
I figured $3.29 was my bookshelf-clearing price. If I can't unload a book for $3.29, I'll donate it to the library. Let someone buy it for a dime at the parking lot sale.
I typed the ISBN into the Amazon search screen to gauge the market for each book. When you come up with 1,356 copies starting at a penny, it's safe to say the market is saturated. I ended up with three crates of these marginal books, destined to land on the pavement at the parking lot sale.
Why not sell my leftovers to a used bookstore? The first one I called said no thanks, "we are overwhelmed with inventory right now." The second place I called didn't really want to hear from me but said they might consider taking some books off my hands if they met their stringent requirements, etc. Who needs it? I took my crates to the library and got a nice thank you.
I sold seven books! Amazon's shipping guidelines actually have pictures showing just how you should address your parcels. You can't go wrong. By my second trip to the post office, I was a savvy shipper, even mastering the DELIVERY CONFIRMATION process.
I gave same day or next day service. My books were in good condition and reasonably priced. I wrapped my parcels meticulously. For my labors, I was rewarded with two 5.0 feedbacks from my customers. Bless their hearts!
I'm going to go on Amazon and find an outfit for a hockey goalie, complete with face mask and helmet. I'll use it as battle gear for the next FOL sale. My bookselling competitors won't know what hit 'em.
This book, though, is almost unique among how-to business books. It's written by a successful busienssman, and it's a real, practical nuts-and-bolts guide to setting up an internet-based used book store. In fact, it's so detailed you have to wonder why the author is going to such pains to help set up his own competition.
There are chapters on where to buy books, what books to sell and which to avoid, how to grade books, the best selling venues, how to describe books, how to set up an inventory system, how to deal with problems- if you can't run a business using this book alone, you shouldn't be running a business, period.
Now reading this book won't guarentee you can make a successful go of an on-line used bookstore; you still need the kind of drive and perseverence that characterize all successful business owners. This isn't something you can make a go of in a few hours a week; it requires dedication. And you need to be flexible; I suspect that this business model won't be profitible forever, as the publishing market changes. But it's a good model for more than just books. I could see applying the same model to other used goods.
If you are, in fact, the kind of person who has the drive and the devotion to make a business work, and you're looking for a good business model to start with, you could do a lot worse than to get a copy of "The Home-Based Bokstore". I strongly suspect that this book will spawn a lot of new Internet entrepenuers.
When he does give good information it's often too brief or incidental; for instance, his list of genres to pick is this general: WWI books are to be eschewed, but business and financial books are great. Vintage science books all do well. There is no discussion about the nuances or tricks that a seasoned bookseller should be able to impart: when do these categories fail? One major plus is that he's realistic about the money someone will make selling books; there are very few of the details many of this genre include about how you're going to one day find a Fitzgerald first edition and so forth. I appreciated how rarely I saw him mention books he bought for $1 turning around to $200. Instead, his examples talk about turning $1 books into $8-10 sales.
I've been selling for under a month and some basic googling told me almost everything Weber includes. He does have some suggestions for other books to read that look good, but I'd save your money and look elsewhere. For this book, you're paying for a collection of resources rather than a bookseller-mentor's training.
First let me say that I like this book and I did find it useful. I have been buying and selling books for well over 40 years now. In the early days I only dealt with rare and collectable works. As the availability and easy of selling on-line developed and became available I branched out into "used books." The potential dealer should realize and note right from the start that selling rare and collectable books is a complete different game than selling used books. The former requires much specialized information and specialized skills. The later require common sense, a nose for business and a bit of pure luck. I need to strongly warn you right now that dealing with rare book collectors is a world unto its own. No single set of individuals I know of are as picky and neurotic as rare book collectors...be forewarned! One thing that both categories have in common though is that they both require a tremendous amount of very hard word to be successful. This is one of the few points in the work being reviewed here that may have failed just a bit in...it ain't as easy as it looks.
I have been selling books on-line for about 10 years now and over the past seven years have turned to Amazon almost exclusively. I am what is considered a "hobby" seller and I never let my inventory go much over 500 books. I am extremely picky in what I sell and consider the occupation more of a game or hobby than I do as a money making venture. That is not to say that I do not make money and that is not to say that I do not like making money - actually I do pretty well for the size of my operation.
Now that being said....
Even though I do probably know my share of information concerning the selling of used books on-line, I never-the-less picked up some very good information and tips from reading this work. It caused me to do some re-evaluation in the way I was handling things and it supplied some very nice tips that has made my life easier. The author knows his subject and know it quite well.
There is one thing to remember though when reading this work! No one single book or one single source can supply the potential seller with ALL the information needed. To be quite frank, once you start selling books on-line you will run across situations almost daily that you have never encountered before and you will find little to no information published to help you out. You have to learn this stuff as you go.
There were a couple of what I would consider weak areas in this work...not horrible omission, but simply weak. The first of these was "how to find books to sell." The author is pretty vague here and not overly specific, and rightfully so, as this is one of the most difficult problems you will encounter. You just have to learn this stuff for yourself and much depends upon your geographical location. As an example, the author states that "yard sales" are not your best choice. I have found the opposite to be true. The author has not put enough emphasis on Estate Auctions. Both of these sources have been two of my major sources for books and I have been rather successful at it.
The second area in which I felt the author was weak was in what sells and what does not sell, i.e. categories or genre of books. I found myself it total disagreement in this area. This is information you will simply have to ferret out for yourself as you go along.
The book is well written and too the point. The author does not offer the reader "pie in the sky" and is quite pragmatic in his assessment of the business. All in all this is a useful and informative work. It is completely appropriate for the new seller and old sellers can learn much...or at least be given much food for thought.
Selling books is fun if you make it fun and attempt to please your customers while still making a pretty good living from it. It is not for everyone - for sure, but for those that like this sort of thing, it is great. I will tell you that the more successful sellers are those that truly love books and take their trade to a level surpassing just treating books as "just another product." You have to love and believe in what you sell!