Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Better Than Black Friday

Our MLK day sales exceeded Black Friday sales, much to my surprise. It looked like some students were making some last minute orders before classes resume. I hope you enjoyed good sales on Monday, too, and have had a strong January overall.

Did you see this Forbes article about the ten most expensive books in 2006 (thanks to the Bookselling Online Blog for the link)? It looks like atlases, maps and books of photography are hot niches. Thanks to computers, visual content is as important as literary content these days.

If I'm good I'll finally get around to creating some eBay listings this week. It's been a month since I've listed anything on eBay; I need to pick up the pace. It's like exercise; once you get out of the habit it's hard to get back into the rhythm. I have a $300 set of books to list so you'd think that would motivate me.

Many thanks to Journal
for linking to me yesterday. I read that blog faithfully and, of course, is an indispensable tool that I use daily.

OK, off to list some books on eBay. Yes, really, I am.
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Monday, January 15, 2007

Customer Service: It's About Removing Obstacles

Because every business is, ultimately, a Customer Service business, regardless of the product or service that is sold, I enjoy reading books written by entrepreneurs because there's a chance I'll learn something new about Customer Service. You Call the Shots by 22-year-old Cameron Johnson fits the bill.

Johnson started 12 online businesses - each one lasting a year or so - before age 21. That alone is interesting and any teen who is remotely interested in business or frustrated with traditional schooling should read his story. It's a painless way to learn about venture capital, public speaking, public relations, surrounding yourself with mentors and finding business ideas that don't require start up money. The appendix is loaded with helpful resources as well as a link to his website where there are yet more resources.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was the chapter about his work experience at his father's Ford dealership, Magic City Ford, in Virginia . The dealership has been in his family for four generations. His favorite part of high school was his part-time job as the internet sales person at the dealership, even though he was making a ton of money from his online businesses. When he was 19-years-old the General Manager promoted him to General Sales Manager, leap frogging him over adults who had worked there longer than he was alive. Yes, he was that good. In 2004 their sales were double what they were the year before even though most other dealers in the nation had reduced sales that year.

How did he do it? He was innovative. He stopped advertising in the newspaper and used that $200K per year to create bonuses and incentives for the sales force. Most of all, he was successful because of superior customer service. "One of the most important things I've learned about selling -- no matter what you're selling, whether it's a Ford Explorer, a start-up to a VC firm, or tomatoes to your neighbor -- is something my father taught me: what you're really doing is helping people remove all their obstacles." So, if a customer said he couldn't make a decision until he talked to his wife, Johnson would offer to drive the car to her right then so she could decide. If a customer said he really wanted the car but wished it had a six-disc CD changer, Johnson would offer to install one for free. If a customer didn't want to put $500 down Johnson offered to make the down payment for him.

This applies to online bookselling, too, of course. It's likely that a buyer isn't looking at your eBay or Amazon listing because he is idly browsing. He wants to buy the book. Have you placed any obstacles in his way? I see obstacles all the time when I'm a buyer. Inflated shipping charges (oh how I hate that). "Buyer must pay in three days" or other threatening lingo. Unfair prices.

Flexibility sweeps away a lot of obstacles (do you accept multiple forms of payment and offer expedited and international shipping?). Well-written descriptions also alleviate buyer anxiety. If a seller moves past your listing it is, we hope, for reasons beyond your control.

In a few years I'll have to purchase a new mini van and will now have high expectations from the sales person. If I am unsatisfied locally, who knows, maybe I'll find myself buying online from Magic City Ford.
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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Prison Microwave Cookbooks?

Is this a new niche market?

I periodically look at the search terms people use to find my blog. "Prison microwave cookbooks" was a recent search phrase. Huh? Microwave cookbooks are among the most worthless books out there and are an inside joke among online booksellers. Are these books in demand at prisons? Should we start shipping all those worthless microwave cookbooks to the nearest prison and get them out of circulation?

I typed that phrase in Google and was amused to discover several articles about Martha Stewart. This is what she learned in prison, according to a CNN article: "I learned a lot about patience. I also learned how to microwave cook. You could actually make creme caramel."

Here's a quote from a BBC article: "Ms Stewart is said to have cooked up meals in the prison microwave, and to have gathered dandelions and wild greens from prison grounds as ingredients." This article also says, "There is also scope for prison-related cookbooks, with advice on eating on a budget."

Will Martha publish a microwave cookbook? Maybe it will increase demand for other microwave cookbooks, forcing BookThink to have to publish a 50/50 list for the hottest selling out-of-print microwave cookbooks. If anyone can convince more than a few people that a microwave can be used for more than reheating leftovers and making popcorn I suppose Martha can. Creme caramel with dandelions, anyone?
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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Our Fees at Work

It's always interesting to find out what eBay does with our fees. Rumor has it that eBay will soon spend $300 million to purchase StubHub, a website where fans buy and sell tickets to concerts and sporting events.

And, say, what has happened since eBay dropped $1 billion (!) on Skype? Is that purchase paying off? How many sellers use voice software in their auctions anyway? I think talking auctions are annoying in the extreme. Has Skype brought anything to the table other than the omnipresent Skype ads on eBay's home page? According to BloggingStocks
shareholders are still miffed that eBay purchased Skype.

Well, if I'm able to someday purchase U2 tickets as a result of this StubHub thing, maybe it'll be worth it.
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The new iPhone: Small Really is Beautiful

I have looked at these photos of the new iPhone. A lot. To borrow the language of my teenager: "Me wanty."

I have only owned a smartphone for four months and it took me at least that many months to work up the courage to buy it. I used to blink uncomprehendingly when I would hear that the cell phone is the car on the information highway. But now I understand. Now I blink uncomprehendingly if I'm sitting at the play place at the mall and my smartphone battery is low and I can't go to Google Reader.

I justified the purchase of my smartphone (a Motorola RAZR) by saying I needed it so I could use ScoutPal while book scouting and that's true. ScoutPal has been invaluable. I certainly do not need to upgrade to an iPhone to continue to use ScoutPal, however, so I would need a different excuse if I were to purchase an iPhone. I haven't purchased an iPod yet and perhaps that procrastination has paid off. With the iPhone I'd have the iPod, camera, movie player and internet browser in one tiny device with no stylus, no keyboard. Such efficiency.

Small really can be beautiful.
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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Sick of fee increases? Maybe this will cheer you up.

Yes, Bill Cobb announced yet another eBay fee increase today. But the House Small Business Committee had their first session of the year today and Chairwoman Nydia M. Velazquez said the goals of H.R. 46 and H.R. 41 are to reduce the paperwork for home businesses and provide more flexibility in filing taxes. "The bottom line here is that there is a great deal of work to be done to provide much-needed relief to entrepreneurs, and open doors to opportunities that will enable small businesses to move forward as the nation's main job creators."

So it would appear that she's on our side, anyway.
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Ten Things I Love About Online Bookselling That Start With "L"

I'm adapting this meme to bookselling. I drew the letter "L" from a Scrabble bag so here goes:

  1. Listing books. When I sit down to this task I don't generally feel euphoric, unless I've just arrived home from a sale and am excited about the books. Once I've entered a few books and have established a rhythm I enjoy it. It makes for a nice late night activity.
  2. Library sales. Not all sales are equal but I enjoy suiting up and going to them and seeing the other dealers.
  3. Learning. There is always something new to learn in this trade and I visit the links on the sidebar regularly, as well as the BookThink forum and I subscribe to BookThink newsletters. This year I want to learn more about buying inventory online and spend a little time each day at this task.
  4. Lifting books. It's great exercise. If I've gone more than a few days without lifting a box or bag of books I know it means I haven't devoted enough time to culling or adding to the inventory.
  5. Loading books. When I'm loading books into the van it means I'm going to the Post Office, which I enjoy, because I get to chat with my favorite PO clerk and exchange important information with her, such as my recent discovery that DKNY Soho jeans are the most comfortable jeans ever, or it means I'm leaving a sale or thrift shop with the day's haul.
  6. Lucre. The reason I'm doing this, after all.
  7. Loneness. Not having to rub shoulders with co-workers or a boss each day is a bonus. I like the solitude of it.
  8. Looking for books. I can't help myself, I scan bookshelves everywhere I go, even the grocery store. You just never know where the next gem will be.
  9. Liberty. I can work a little, rest a little, am not confined to a set schedule. This is supposedly how our ancestors worked, according to a recent study by Rockefeller University: "Throughout much of the hunter-gatherer epoch they worked about 25 hours a week...our ancestors worked till the job was done, and then they stopped and rested. Later on, when they needed to acquire/achieve something else, they worked again. This is becoming increasingly more possible with today's technology." I guess online bookselling is a modern day version of hunting and gathering.
  10. Laptop. My most indispensable bookselling tool. It surpasses even the Motorola RAZR and DKNY jeans in terms of indispensability.
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