Monday, August 28, 2006

A book I will miss

I have no interest in skiing. Even though I grew up in Wisconsin my only exposure to skiing as a child was ABC's Wide World of Sports. During the opening credits every week they would show the "Agony of Defeat" footage of a skier falling off a ramp. At a young age I decided that watching other skiers crash was far safer than (literally) hitting the slopes myself.

Even so, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the photos in this 1957 book about skiing. Notice how he isn't wearing a hat or jacket. He's dressed like he's spending an afternoon at the ski lodge sipping hot chocolate mixed with Baileys Irish Creme, not like a man skiing down the slopes in Norway in mid-winter:

Did you notice the back flip? Pretty cool. Here is one of the step-by-step instructional photos. Rather impressive camera work for 1957:

Another nice shot of the gentleman skier with a dramatic spray of powdery white snow in the background. No agony of defeat here:

This book is packed with 100+ photos, including a few action shots of water skiing and several shots of the mountains of Norway in winter. I sold it on eBay last week for $12 so it's not a valuable book. Even though I am still not inspired to hit the slopes - snow shovelling and snowman production are my main winter activities - I will miss paging through this book.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

One million books in the middle of nowhere

Last week we discovered treasure in the sticks of Wisconsin. Even though there wasn't a princess in this castle, as Third Daughter hoped there would be, there were thousands upon thousands of books. And thousands upon thousands of books in a huge building next door. And in at least two more smaller buildings that I call "dollar stores" because they put their $1 books there.

This compound is called Castle Arkdale and is open by chance or appointment. The booksellers are a retired couple although it might be more appropriate to say they are book amassers rather than sellers. Sure, they sell books, but there is no sign at the bottom of the driveway and they aren't exactly in a high traffic area. They do not have a website. Clearly they are not in this for the money.

One doesn't see books like this at library sales or thrift shops; I knew I couldn't begin to absorb it all. I let myself simply be content in the presence of so many books without feeling pressured to unearth every gem. Sometimes it's nice to simply look at old books and admire their artwork without thinking about the value or eBay keywords. Not all the books here are priced for resale so I spent as much time as possible in the back of one of the buildings where most of the bargains are located and parked myself in the non-fiction section. I found two copies of William Nickerson's How I Turned $1000 Into 3 million in Real Estate In My Spare Time. I was excited because it was the first time I've found this title and, the last I heard, this book was worth three figures. It's only worth $30-40 now, however, but it's a quick seller and I've already sold them. I found an Elizabeth Goudge hardcover in one of the dollar stores, which has already sold, along with a Tex Mulane football novel, which should sell for around $40. I looked closely at the home section because I like to look for old books about houses, especially from the Arts & Crafts era, because they sell well on eBay, plus the mentality back then wasn't to supersize a house but to make a small space seem bigger. I found one such gem, published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1946.

The children worked as hard as we did looking for books. They searched and they searched (First Daughter is on a quest to find every Babysitter's Club book so she can sell them as a lot on eBay). Leonora, the proprietor, commended them on their efforts and she spent several minutes ringing up their books (using pencil, paper and mental math). Obviously I need to return here again, and again, without children and with a smartphone so I can look up book values on the internet as I browse the store. I envision that this will make for a nice Saturday escape during the winter months when there are no library or garage sales.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

How About Those Cubs?

This book was yesterday's find of the day. I almost passed it by because it was published by Doubleday in 2005. I spent a good chunk of my high school years watching Cubs games on cable (I watched even more Cubs games than MTV videos because I liked watching Ron Cey hit home runs better than I liked watching Michael Jackson dance) I knew that the Cubs have a huge fan base, so surely this book had a large print run. Like the Cub fan that I am, however, I can't give up on them easily and called home (yes I don't have ScoutPal or a smartphone yet but when you have those things you don't get to speak to your husband and hear excited cries of "mama!" in the background) and found out the book is worth $50. Whoa. As Harry Caray used to say, "Cubs win!"
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The eBay store changes went into effect yesterday

And the sky didn't disappear. Fourth Daughter enjoyed her last day as a two-year-old. I went to the P.O. and avoided listing new inventory. I took Second Daughter to the pool and sat and read instead of suiting up; it's my preference that the child exert herself and get tired rather than the mama. I even listed a few store inventory items at the new price and my blood pressure did not rise. All in all a normal day. So there, eBay.
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Friday, August 18, 2006

$175 Church Sale

Several weeks ago I whined about a book lot selling for "only" $123 when, after searching the completed auctions, I thought it would sell for much more. Last Sunday I sold a lot of 76 action adventure paperbacks by for $157. I was expecting much less because a lot of 60 paperbacks sold for only $25 the week before. True, that seller's listing wasn't as nice as mine. And that seller charged way too much for shipping ($25). But still. I was pleasantly surprised.

I found that box of books at a church sale. There were only two other books at that sale worth picking up (one of them published by Wiley, of course) and they sold within 48 hours for a total of $18.00. I offered $9.00 for the box of action adventure books and didn't think twice about buying it, figuring someone out there likes this author and will want them.

I like excursions to church sales because there are items from many different people all in one place - so efficient - and if people are feeling charitable they will sometimes surrender their nicer books or entire collections of books. And junky toys. Very important, those junky toys. They allow me to say, "I'm going to look at just a few more books," to my little ones without them doing an imitation of Edvard Munch's The Scream while simultaneously clawing at my legs as if they were fans in the front row of a rock concert.
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Friday, August 11, 2006


As nice as it is to work from home there are downsides. One of the best ways to learn one's job is to watch co-workers in action and I don't get to do that, except at library sales where there are other book dealers, and then I don't want to see other book dealers because I feel rushed and if the dealer is a scan monster I have to push my way past them, which I've discovered is easier to do if I'm holding a child because then the scan monster is more compelled to be polite and make way for me.

Reading forums and blogs is helpful, of course, but I like to actually see what other booksellers do. Therefore I'm reduced to snooping on eBay. Searching completed eBay book auctions is the only way for me to see a bookseller in action. In doing this I have discovered several sellers that I admire and I study their listings at least once a week. There is one seller who I study on a daily basis because everything she does is counter-intuitive to me:
  • She lists approximately eight auctions per night, six nights per week. What, no Buy It Now listings? No store?
  • Her photos are not sharp and are sometimes out of focus and she usually uses only one photo per listing.
  • She uses gallery photos. Huh? Why spend the extra money? Especially when the photo isn't high quality.
  • She does not use a template. Her descriptions are one paragraph and very tightly written and I pay very close attention to her phrases and have started "borrowing" some of them. I like the simplicity of her listings.

I also like her numbers. Last week she had 53 auctions. Thirty of them sold. The gross sales were $523 and she averaged $17 per book. If she has 240 or so auctions per month she makes quite a bit more than we did when we had a store with more than 2000 items. So I've started imitating her on a small scale and hope to earn more in one month with our small store inventory of 70 items and 1-3 auctions per night than we did with a store with 2000 items.

It's motivating for me to check her new listings each morning. When I was out scouting last week I went to the games section because of her. She had recently sold some vintage Scrabble books and I because I believe Scrabble to be the best game ever I bid on one of them, but lost, and hoped to find one in the thrift store. I found a Sheepshead card game book instead, which is worth $50.

I won one of her other auctions last night and will be anxious to see how she packages the book and if I can learn yet more from her as a result. Maybe someday I'll even be brave enough to contact her and ask all my questions. "Do you list on Amazon?" "Do you have a lot of repeat customers? "Do you do any marketing?" "How do you decide whether or not to relist an unsold book?" "Do you have kids and if so have you ever snapped at one of them when you found them reading a Listed Book or when they misplaced your tape gun or used them as decoys to sneak past the Scan Monsters?"

(filed under: bookselling tips)

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rolling in the Paper

Our local newspaper gives away the end rolls of newspaper. After printing out the paper there is leftover blank paper still on the rolls and these rolls are available at the front desk.

This paper makes for excellent packing material when mailing books or other items in a box and is one way for us booksellers to cut down on our packaging expenses. This paper is also perfect for coloring projects for the kids, for making banners for a party, etc. Best of all it's free. Maybe your local newspaper gives aways these rolls too.
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Sunday, August 06, 2006

You gotta love eBay

During the recent heat tidal wave First Daughter dragged me to a thrift shop. As important as it is to look for new books I wanted to go home and dehydrate in peace and take a nap in the process. First Daughter was on a mission, however, and used the "You promised!" line to guilt me into stopping. While she rummaged through the clothes I sat on the floor in the children's section and found twenty or more high quality children's books. Three of these books were sign language coloring books.

These coloring books are almost worthless on Amazon and the sales ranking is very low. I put them together as a lot on eBay and was afraid my opening bid of $9.99 was perhaps too ambitious. But, what do you know, there were nine bids and 30 hits and they sold for $22.50 and will be out the door tomorrow. A quick turnaround like that and a selling price like that would not have been possible on Amazon so, as tempting as it is to hate on eBay for the fees, I can't help but be fascinated with the way eBay allows you to match up a buyer with a book they didn't know existed until browsing and finding your listing. More than once I've used keywords in the auction title and haven't even used the author's name and title of the book and have sold the book.

Another eBay bonus: eBay store sellers have access to free traffic reports. These reports show you the search terms that buyers use when finding your items. I activated our report today and look forward to studying it regularly. A legit form of snooping.

Thanks to that overheated excursion First Daughter came home with a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt, some kids in California will now benefit from these coloring books and I learned yet another important lesson about eBay and how it's all about the keywords. I know $22.50 isn't something to be all excited about but I'll be a little bit more motivated tomorrow when I open Turbo Lister and list an auction or two.
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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

August 1 Came and Went

And I didn't sign up for Abebooks as I thought I might. One of my first thoughts after the eBay store changes was the possibility that maybe we should reopen our account at Abebooks on August 1. Now that I'm spending less on eBay fees I have to spend that money somewhere else, right?

We started our bookselling career on Abebooks back in the good old days when Abe would list your inventory on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Canada and in addition to their own site and at no additional fee. Now that's no longer the case and last year they had serious snafus while redesigning their site and we dropped them six months ago. If they would lower their monthly fee ($37 to be listed only on their site) I'd come running back. The international sales are strong there so I might do it anyway, at least for August - January.

Whenever I think about the Abebooks $37 monthly fee it makes me think about smartphones, because the monthly fee for that is comparable, so I spent a bit of time researching options yesterday. Because my current cell phone provider can't seem to get me a cell phone that browses the internet (they tell me my current cell phone is "too new" but let's not discuss it or I'll start grinding my teeth and my dentist wants me to stop doing that) I'm one of the few booksellers that hasn't used ScoutPal. At this point I might as well bypass that step and get a smartphone with a full keyboard and have the ability to go to bookfinder or Amazon while scouting for inventory. I was shocked to discover that you can now get Blackberry phones for one cent (or less!), and right now the BlackBerry 8700c seems to be the leading candidate. There's also the Cingular 8125 and the Samsung SCH-i730 and ever so many other options.

Abebooks or smartphone? Or both? Decisions, decisions. If only they made a smartphone that was smart enough to tell me which sales have the good books.
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