Buy some booksSecond hand books can be easily sourced because there are so many around. Start with a local charity shop, jumble sale or boot fair and have a look at what is on offer. Prices will vary. I will pay up to £3 or £4 for books that are in good condition and can be sold for £10 or more. I will pay 50 pence or £1 for books that I am taking a gamble on. They may be worth something, they may not.
What books are valuable and what books are not worth much moneyLearning about the financial value of different types of books is key to creating a successful book selling business. There are many, many books out there and there is much to learn but here are a few rough pointers.
Financial value is related to supply and demand. Popular bestseller books are printed in huge numbers and sold to lots of people. So if you’re in a charity shop and considering purchasing a David Beckham autobiography or a good condition, dust jacketed hardback novel by Dick Francis or Ian Rankin or Joanna Trollope, or a Nigella Lawson guide to Cooking for the Upper Classes… think again. Generally speaking, if W H Smith or Waterstones were selling these like hotcakes two Christmases ago the price for these books on the internet is likely to be very low. They can even be hard to give away in large numbers, although most charity shops will be delighted to take any books.
This is an important point: popular bestsellers should be avoided. So what books are worth seeking out? Well, the opposite really – books that have been printed in small numbers yet are now much sought after.
What to look forI purchase most of my books from charity shops, boot fairs and jumble sales. Books in specialist fields of study tend to make high prices at auction. I typically sell much more non-fiction than fiction, be that literary or otherwise, perhaps because these books have been printed in small numbers for a selective audience. I recently spotted a book on the history of the fold-up bicycle. Casually lacking any real interest in the subject, I didn’t buy this book but later discovered it was worth £50.
ResearchThe internet is a quite amazing thing. I like to think it is bringing people closer together (though I do occasionally have my doubts). For the would-be bookseller there are some very helpful search engines or sites at your service. Amazon’s advanced book search is very useful in finding the lowest selling price of any book. I use Abe Books’ similar search engine and sometimes I will see if a certain book has been selling on Ebay by clicking on ‘Completed Listings.’
So a) you go to a charity shop and take a look at the books on sale, b) you return to the internet and research the prices to buy these books on the internet, and c) you return to the charity shop and purchase the books that you think you could make a profit selling on the internet.
Listing books for sale on the internetSetting up a seller’s account on Ebay is fairly easy. There are almost certainly guides available to help you do this but Ebay will take you through the steps easily enough. It is worth getting a Paypal account because it makes selling on Ebay so much easier. Amazon too now encourage small businesses and individuals to sell books on their website. There are pros and cons with each website and they take various fees for advertising and selling your books for you. Most of these fees are only charged once you have sold an item so you needn’t worry too much about incurring huge charges.
What customers want to know about a bookTITLE AND AUTHOR: This is quite helpful.
PUBLISHING DETAILS: Publisher, year of publication, the edition (first or otherwise, if known).
BINDING: Is the book a paperback or a hardback? Does it have a dust jacket? How many pages?
CONDITION: Condition is important, of course. I have found it wise to be honest and give as much detail as possible. Does the cover and spine look neat and tidy, almost new? Is the jacket creased or torn? Is the spine curved? Are the corners bumped? Are there small dots (foxing) or any unwanted stains on the book? Are all the pages there and is the book in one piece or are many of the pages loose? The standard classification of the condition of used books is between VERY GOOD, GOOD and ACCEPTABLE. Sometimes FAIR (between GOOD and ACCEPTABLE) and AS NEW are also used.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Details about the book, the story, the author, the illustrator, the chapter headings, details about this edition. I always spend too long telling prospective customers about a book when they are probably all too aware that 'The Jungle Book' was a series of stories written by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling and was made into a Disney animated feature in 1967. It keeps me interested writing these short summaries but probably doesn't increase my sales much.
ISBN: Hardly essential information but Ebay is quite keen on this.
ABOUT THE SELLER: Just some short details of my postage and refunds policy.
AccountingOnce you have sold a book or two you may think a) this is easy, and b) there are a lot of different fees, though. Selling a book involves time, energy and some financial investment. It is wise to set up some kind of basic accounting system in order that you can track how much money is coming in to the small business and how much is going out. I use Microsoft Excel to keep a tally on my accounts but if this seems a bit daunting a small notebook and a calculator may be easier.
For monies in, I have just two figures – Sold (the price I have been paid for a book) and P & P (the postage price I have been paid for a book).
For monies out, I have lots of different columns – Cost (how much I purchased the book for), Listing Fee (charged by Ebay), Final Value Fee (charged by Ebay), Paypal Fee (charged by Ebay, whoops I mean Paypal), Amazon Fee (charged by Amazon), Postage (the cost of posting the book with the Royal Mail or despatch business used to deliver the book), Packing (you will probably need to buy envelopes, bubble wrap, sellotape etc in order to package the item), Refunds (if an item is returned by a dissatisfied buyer), and Reference (books I have bought to learn more about buying and selling books).
For every book that I sell, monies in - monies out = itemised profit (hopefully) or loss.
It is fine to sell a few items without accounting but I imagine you will find yourself questioning whether or not you are making a profit and, if so, how much.
The LawIf you find you have a little success at joyfully trading books the Inland Revenue and possibly other government agencies may take an interest. I don’t know the legal details of buying and selling on Ebay and similar websites but it is worth taking note that you could potentially find yourself facing a large tax bill. This is another good reason to keep accounts.
ReferenceThere are numerous guides available to the prices of books. The Rare Book Price Guide 2010 by Jonathan Scott is a useful guide to the prices of First Editions by celebrated writers of fiction. Collecting Children’s Books is a similarly useful title, also published by Book and Magazine Collector. Browsing through either of these tomes will give you some clues as to what rare and old books are worth hunting down.
Rare and Old BooksJumble sales, I find, tend to throw up some interesting old works while most charity shops tend to have more modern, popular stuff. Bookshops that specialise in rare and old books are worth going into and having a look around. I have found that these shops can be a little intimidating, probably due to the dearth of customers compared to Oxfam or Help the Aged. Trading in rare and old books is a different business to the one I have so far described. At a guess I would say it’s more to do with a love of books and less about hunting for everyday bargains. There are many, many wonderful blogs on the subject of book collecting. To pick out one is unfair but Bookride tells a good tale and has many helpful tips for the novice and established book trader.
SpecialiseI haven’t done this yet, maybe because I’m a bit fascinated by many subjects and get a little bored after a while of studying one area in detail. It’s part of the wonder of books, though, that you can read… and read… and read… and maybe find yourself one day to be quite a knowledgeable authority on a certain subject and particularly knowledgeable about books in that field.
Having a specialised subject gives you the option of setting up a retail website of your own. Add some informative articles and readers are likely to return and browse the catalogue of books you have on offer. It’s not rocket science, as they say, or if it is then write, publish and trade books about the science of rockets.
Why buy and sell booksBooks are fairly cheap and generally very easy to send in the mail.
Books are really quite fascinating and beautiful to look at, to collect and to read.
It helps me get out the house and the people in the charity shops are friendly and the people in the post office are friendly and the people online are friendly and if I get stressed I come home, put my feet up, make a cup of tea and read a good book.