Book Collector Selling Tactics

by The bookworm on May 24, 2012 · Business & Economics, Rare Book Education

Book Collector Selling Tactics

It is not uncommon for people with book collections to harbor concern towards the new generation’s lack of interest in picking up a hobby such as rare book collecting. The old assumption that a collection would remain in the family and that the family’s “library” would accumulate with each generation is sadly a thing of the past. If you are the proud owner of a collection of books and you have not as yet considered selling any of them, I would encourage you to read on. Even if you are a seasoned book seller you may find some of these tactics surprisingly refreshing.

Allow me first and foremost to state that I am of the strong belief that we should get back to treating books as possessions. Children’s books, beautiful bindings, eighteenth century biographies, history, economics, philosophy, and other works of non-fiction; science-fiction, elaborately illustrated books; whatever your possessive inclinations are pulling you towards, give into them.  You do need, however, to apply some discipline to your pursuit in order to stay well organized, focused, and above all active.

Grouping:  Anyone with a book collection of some amount and value should employ a logical group setup that keeps it organized, catalogued and easier to track down. I try to maintain three groupings for my books in order to accommodate the appropriate storage and inventory control. The first group includes all of the special collections that I am very fond of and which I have no intentions of departing with any time soon. These books are either very important to me, or have the potential of becoming very scarce at a future time. The second group includes all books that I have decided to put up for sale, whether they are currently available for sale or are in the process of. This is the group that the rest of the article focuses on. The third grouping includes all the books that I would like to sell but due to lack of current demand for them, I have stored for a future date to re-evaluate or dispose of in a loving fashion. Every book lover has a bunch of third grouping books, because it is very difficult to acknowledge the fact that it may be time to let go. Anyone can fall victim to buying weird and undesirable books thinking they will always be able to sell them on-line. We instead end up with books that we neither hold an interest for nor have a market for, whether by mistake or by occasional circumstantial encounters.

Grading: You do not need a degree in literature to be a bookseller. In fact, it requires little capital investment, little knowhow, and little in the way of customer service or business skills.  It is also flexible in that you can be operating from your bedroom or your garage. You do however need to adopt a grading system that will allow you to grade your offerings by using a set of guidelines that will provide neat, accurate and informative descriptions on the conditions and nature of your books. In these days of on-line selling and the internet book shops, sloppy, inaccurate, and even misleading descriptions unfortunately abound. Guidelines are welcomed at the risk of being too censored, so as to avoid being too tedious and laborious with descriptions. Apart from identifying true first editions and pricing them, describing books is the trickiest part of the bookselling task. Use of descriptive prose that is eloquent, honest, professional and even seductive along with clear and attractive photos will make your books stand out from the rest. Unlike a bookshop that gives a buyer the ability to satisfy more senses with the way the book feels, looks and smells, a buyer on-line has to rely on a description that can appeal to other than visionary senses.

Globalizing:  Books offered for sale on the internet these days are either ridiculously cheap or ridiculously expensive. If you are successful in selling items ridiculously expensive then you are there. The truth of the matter is that the best results are attained through a combination of channel alternatives that you may not have the resource to pursue.  For some buyers, there is no substitute for browsing books in a book shop. I am not suggesting that you open a bookshop in the center of town for your small number of sales, but there is a certain type of buyer that can only be reached through the look and feel type of trade, whether at a book fair or at a bookshop sale.  Small hobbyist sellers are more likely to meet their objectives by trying to reach a more global market through the internet.

Guesstimating:  Once you get in the flow of rotating your collection (inventory) you will need to keep new additions under control. Many times, sentiments get in the way of good assessments of potential value and purchasing decisions, blurring your ability to make the right choices.  I always use the following rule of thumb for immediate second grouping purchases:  If the current estimated market value is 50% or less of the asking price then it’s a good buy.  The rule of course does not apply in the case of a rare find in my category of interest (first grouping).

A final note of caution to anyone looking to make a fortune selling books – there are difficulties and roadblocks affecting this trade for years.  Just as technology brought us the internet which made what was once grossly inefficient book selling process to high efficiency, the e-readers are also bringing technological changes once again. We would be considered ignorant to pretend that the electronic alternatives of these days have no effect on book sales or that the traditional book format is a thing of the past. The dynamics of the market are shifting and there are those who will benefit and those who will fall behind. But technology is not the only factor; a much bigger shift is fueled by library and charity book sales that are driving down the value of used books in general to the point that many booksellers are paying less for books than they did 25 years ago.

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Marc May 24, 2012 at 8:49 am

I cannot agree more with the author of these thoughts on Book Collector Selling Tactics.
The main question remains if investing in/starting a second hand / antiquarian bookshop today is still a realistic option. My opinion is that specializing in a limited number of disciplines (for instance art books, modern first editions, book related ephemera…) can be a way to distinguish yourself from the “crowd”. In my country and more particular the city where I live, several antiquarian bookshops have closed down in the recent years. Several sellers continue their trade, but exclusivily on line. Still, I think that having a “fysical” address (shop / gallery ), where customers can have the look & feel of the book(s) they desire, stays an important plus. How is this to evolve in the near future ? Thanks for sharing your opinion with a fellow life long book enthousiast.


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