26 October 2010

Tricks of the used book trade

Excerpts from an essay at Slate entitled "Confessions of a used-book salesman":
I make a living buying and selling used books. I browse the racks of thrift stores and library book sales using an electronic bar-code scanner. I push the button, a red laser hops about, and an LCD screen lights up with the resale values. It feels like being God in his own tiny recreational casino; my judgments are sure and simple, and I always win because I have foreknowledge of all bad bets. The software I use tells me the going price, on Amazon Marketplace, of the title I just scanned, along with the all-important sales rank, so I know the book's prospects immediately. I turn a profit every time...

There is constant competition for the small minority of books that will not end up in the trash. Adults in cushiony white sneakers actually run into book-sale spaces at opening time, empty plastic bins raised over their heads. We all go as hard as we can until all the good books are gone...

With diligence, someone working alone can make $1,000 per week; with a more insane commitment, or with the help of a wife or child, the business might yield more, especially once a sizable inventory has been built up...
I see guys like this at our library's monthly used-book sales.  As fast as lightning, they pull books off the shelves, scan them and toss them into their huge baskets.  I find the entire process annoying, but it is of course quite legal and not really unethical.  Just annoying.  More details at the link.


  1. My problem with these book sale "entrepreneurs" is when they fill up a big box of stuff they have barely looked at, other than to tell it is in good condition with a nice spine, and then they set the box down in some corner and begin filling up the next one. They haven't yet paid for the first one, but anyone who mistakenly pokes through it gets treated like some kind of master criminal. Some day I fully expect to see someone walk into a certain section, say the Science fiction books, and throw a giant fisherman's net over the entire table and yell, "These are all mine, I've claimed them!" Sheesh.

  2. Recently I've started seeing these yahoos haunting local thrift stores. I feel annoyed because I'm looking for unusual books that I'll read and keep rather than something to turn around for a quick buck.

    The good news is that the books they chuck into their boxes are almost never ones I'm interested in.

  3. One way to avoid some of the "annoying" and selfish practices of some book dealers is for the sales managers to insist that a buyer can only choose 15-20 books at a time, must pay for them and take them out of the sale area. They then can return as many times as they like but are taking smaller bites out of the inventory.
    This levels the playng field a little as the pace of acquisition is slowed for an individual buyer and others have a chance to look through the choices. Some sales do not allow scanners the first hour so everyone must rely on their memmory and experience.
    if the sale managers will prevent "hoarding" everyone has a more enjoyable time. One thing to watch for is "misfiling" of books - a computer book in the cooking section. sometimes this is done to hide valuable books until the discount portion of buying or Bag sale ( where books are sold by the bag). If all buyers are alert to these misplaced books - especially the managers - the sale organizers will make better profits for their organizations - usually libraries, and the shoppers will be able to see ALL of the inventory they seek in one place and not scattered. too bad some people feel the need to cheat these charitable organizations and their fellow traders. if we all played fair, waited our turn and treated others with respect it would be a nicer world.

  4. Can't see the problem. They know "the price of everything and the value of nothing" [Wilde]. Thats probably punishment enough. If it were profitable for the sellers to do the same thing, surely they'd be doing it instead? I reckon you'd have to put in a lot of hours to make much money at this, once you take into account the time taken to comb the books and sell them.


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