How to Start Selling Used Books Online
edited: Tuesday, September 14, 2004
By C. Smith-Rea
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2004
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Tired of your $7.00/hour job? Love books? Consider starting an online used book store.
“Do what you love and the money will follow” is the mantra for the home-based business. What did I love doing that could supplement my income and pay me as much, if not more than my second job? I could not imagine. I knew that I did not want to prepare tax returns and I did not want to type. So, what type of business could I own? I decided to put the mantra to the test. What did I love? What would I spend my last dollar on? Books! Books! Books! I love books! Now, the next question is “What can I do with books?” I could write a book. That turned out to be Liberation. I could also sell books. That project became www.cynamonnsbooks.us. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
I tried selling my first five books at flea markets. After hours of sitting in the sun, not one book was sold. The next weekend, I returned to my part-time job interviewing shoppers while standing for ten hours in a busy mall. With clipboard in hand, I watched the shoppers walking back and forth. They shopped with complete deliberation. They knew what they wanted and where to find it. That gave me an idea. I needed to sell my books in a larger marketplace to attract shoppers. I didn’t want to sit all day and I didn’t want to consign my books. I wanted to be hands-on with my bookselling, but still have the freedom to leave the display area whenever I wanted. Where could I place my books on display in a large marketplace, be in total control, be indoors, and have the freedom to come and go as I pleased? The answer came quickly. I could display my books online.
I had seen several TV commercials promoting Ebay as a super-sized online marketplace, didn’t feel comfortable selling on Ebay. I felt Ebay was too big. I wanted to start smaller. Instead of Ebay, I uploaded my five books to Half.com, Ebay’s no-frills sister-site. Success! The books sold within a week. Over the next few months, I sold every book I could find at my mother’s house, flea markets, and secondhand shops. I uploaded books every night. I was exhausted. I had been bitten by the bookselling bug. I was so driven to sell books, that when I ran out of books to sell, I experienced bookseller withdrawal.
I needed books to sell. I wanted to buy them cheaply so I scoured the Internet for book wholesalers. It was trial and error. The errors were costly and disappointing. I lost money quickly. Determined, I searched for a wholesaler until I found a legitimate one that didn’t try to snow me with lists and ebooks that didn’t appear after download. I ordered a box of books from my new wholesaler and waited anxiously for three weeks. When my box of books finally arrived, it felt like Christmas Day!
I uploaded my new books on Half.com. More sales started to come in. Months passed. I had turned my book addiction into a moneymaker. I was happy. Then, the announcement came. Half.com was going to be shutdown. I would have to sell on Ebay or start all over in another bookselling venue. Ebay made my decision an easy one. Just click this button and shift your books to our website, Ebay instructed. It worked. As a matter of fact, it worked so well that I attracted many new customers and sold many more books on Ebay than I did on Half.com, and much faster too. I reached my income goal and quit my part-time job.
Another few months or so passed. Then another change occurred. Ebay changed its billing system. This impacted me adversely. My listing fees tripled, totaling more than all my sales combined in one month. After several emails to customer service and a bunch of four-letter expletives (not in the emails), I gave in and paid the fees. However, by this time, it was obvious to me that it was time for another change. I had to find a new venue or open a store of my own. Hedging my bets, I did both. How did I do? To be perfectly honest, I’m not yet ready to quit my day job, but I’m not looking for another part-time job either. My next goal is to make more than enough money to cover my living expenses and retire.
Like in any other business, I spent money before I made money. I also lost money before I learned how to manage the buying, selling and promoting of the books properly. Losing money taught me lessons in business I will never forget. If after reading my experience with online bookselling, you are still interested in selling books online, please read on. You can easily start an online used book business with as little as $14.95 per month or even less. By following the steps below you should be in business in one day.
First, start small. You will need access to a computer with a connection to an Internet provider and an email address. If you do not have a computer at home, for now use the computers at the public library. Be on the alert for library sales. Library books sell well.
Next, you will need inventory. After you have sold every book you can get your hands on, where will you find books by the bulk to sell? Flea markets and secondhand stores can also be good sources. For online book wholesalers, I would recommend www.bargainbooksplus.com. You can get a box of 50 or more used books or remainders, both hardback and paperback for under $40.00. Also, Ebay’s bulk wholesalers will have book lots for sale or auction from $.99 to over $10,000. Another suggestion is www.kudzubooktraders.com. Kudzu Book Traders sells remainders in perfect condition for resale. There is no minimum purchase for either of these book wholesalers.
Once you have received your books, you will need to have a place to display them. Since you’re working on a very limited budget, I would suggest www.abebooks.com, www.yahoo.com, www.ioffer.com or www.ebay.com. The lowest listing fees are on www.ioffer.com. The highest listing fees are on www.ebay.com. The best book match to customer is with www.abebooks.com. You may select one venue at a time, adding the others on later.
Now that you have selected your venue(s), you will need an inventory database. Many booksellers use Excel. Ebay offers Turbo Lister and its Selling Manager software packages. Basic Turbo Lister is free if you can download the file. If not, you will have to pay for shipping of the CD program. Selling Manager carries a monthly fee. The Selling Manager and Turbo Lister are software packages used exclusively for Ebay.
Ioffer.com has a bulk-listing tool. Abebooks.com has Homebase 2.3, which is compatible with Excel. Homebase also has a price comparison feature available and can be used in other venues.
At this point, you will have your inventory ready for uploading to your selected venue. You are almost ready to upload your books. Now you must consider how you will receive payment? PayPal is a widely used payment processing method. Sign up is free. Other payment processing systems include PayPro, Protx and 2checkout, to name a few. Research the various payment processing systems carefully. Even with PayPal’s problems, four million people continue to use it (so says the promotion). Clickbank is also available and highly reputable. Merchant accounts are costly if you are just starting out. Abebooks offers PayPal and will accept the major credit cards for you for a commission. After you have selected your payment processing service, you are ready to sell your books. The payment processing service will send you an email congratulating you on your first book sale and provide your customer’s billing and shipping information.
Now it’s time to ship your item. Since shipping can be so costly, I would recommend the cheapest route, USPS Media Mail. When using this system, make sure you advise your customers that their books are being shipped via media mail. Your customers can expect their books anywhere from three days to three weeks. The cost of shipping varies with the size and weight of the items shipped. One 6”x9” 200-page paperback will cost $1.84 to ship via media mail, plus the cost of your packaging. International shipping can cost as much as $10.00 for a small package per country and additional fees for the Canadian customer upon delivery.
Word to the wise: When shipping your books, protect and secure them. Use padded envelopes and boxes, and bubble-wrap or newspaper for filler. Here’s an insider tip from a postal worker: When a package is shipped via media mail, it is going to be one among many packages that are the last to leave the post office. Those exciting novels your customers can’t wait to receive have been dropped to the bottom of a huge mail cart or tossed in a corner on a dirty floor. Package them carefully. There is nothing more disheartening than to receive an email from a new customer complaining about how your only copy looked like it had been pulled out of a dumpster when it arrived.
Next, on the matter of taxes, I am not going into a long explanation. I will suggest, however, that you research your state’s tax laws. You must be in compliance with your state. Do not be late when reporting your taxes. A tax due of $1.00 can change to $500 within a few short months. Also keep a duplicate set of receipts for every thing you have paid for relating to your book business. One set will be for the federal return and the other set for the state. Those receipts will provide you with tax deductions.
Another item worth mentioning is dropshipping. Dropshipping is a quick and easy way to get into bookselling online. It is extremely convenient, but can be dangerous to the reputation of the bookseller. Dropshipping is a sales method used by book distributors and some wholesalers. Pictures, book descriptions and prices are displayed from the book distributor’s online catalog. The bookseller, under contract with the book distributor, displays books from the catalog in his/her listing. The customers find their books in the bookseller’s listing and order the books directly from the bookseller. The bookseller collects the customers’ money via PayPal. (I suspect this how PayPal got into so much trouble with refunds.) The bookseller takes his/her share off the top, then, submits the order to the distributor along with the remainder of the payments. The distributor receives the order and pulls the books from its warehouse. Using the bookseller’s label, the distributor ships the book orders directly to the customers. This is a highly practical and lucrative process. By dropshipping, a bookseller can have an instant inventory of over a thousand books to sell. This translates into frequent sales.
Major problems arise, however, if the book is out of stock, and the distributor will not be able to get the books back in stock for the next six weeks, if at all. Another dropshipping fiasco that occurs frequently is when a distributor goes out of business. Customers will pay and will not receive their books. In this case, customers can, and most will, demand a refund after three weeks if they have not received their books. The bookseller will need to appease the customers and refund their money immediately.
Needless to say, I would not recommend dropshipping for a beginner. If on the other hand, you can’t stand the idea of piles and boxes of books around the house, and you see dropshipping as your only choice for inventory, I recommend the most reputable distributors, Baker & Taylor and Ingram. They both require a credit application and they will do a credit check on your business.
Briefly, on the subject of marketing, getting your bookselling business noticed is a must. The cheapest way to do this, I believe, is through search engines and Ebay. Using your webpage address, submit your featured books individually on major search engines such as Google.com, Froogle.com, Yahoo.com, and AltaVista.com, to name a few. You may also search the Internet for “free search engine submissions” for simultaneous submissions. Also, use Ebay as a marketing tool. Place a few books at a time on Ebay. After a few months or so, link Ebay to your own website or link exchange your listing page with another related site.
To keep advertising costs low, have a college student in graphics design create your business cards and flyers. You may also wish to join a network of booksellers along with readers’ and writers’ groups.
As you can see, selling books online takes a great deal of work and study in the beginning. It can be as frustrating as it is fun. Selling books online will also supplemental your income. And, most important, after a short while, you can quit that $7.00 an hour job for good.