A Business for Book Lovers

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Many of us love books. And most book lovers have entertained the idea at some point of opening their own bookstore.

That dream seemed to become more and more impossible in this age of blockbuster stores such as Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. But, just as we thought that the independent bookseller was all but gone, a surprising twist to the book business has occurred right on our computer screens.

Individuals and small “virtual” booksellers are having a field day online. And they are doing it without their own websites and with no need for even an advertising budget.

Half.com started it all a few years ago when it made a virtual space for people to buy and sell used books. The darling of students and professors in the early days, the word spread and before long, Half.com was threatening to undercut Amazon’s amazingly low prices.

Alarmed, Amazon opened its site to third party sales of used books as well. These listings appear right on Amazon’s product pages. Customers can even use one- click purchasing to buy them.

Both Half.com and Amazon broker the sale and purchase of the books. A buyer puts in an order and pays Half.com or Amazon; the seller is notified to ship the book to the customer. The money, minus a commission but plus the shipping cost, is sent to the seller.

It is a great way to make some money off your own heavily laden bookshelves, but many people are also searching for books they can then sell on these sites.

Both Half.com (now owned by eBay) and Amazon provide sellers with prime Internet real estate. And at a very small cost. Suddenly, independent bookstores, virtual bookstores, and individual booksellers have been empowered by the very mega-stores that we all thought would crush the competition.

If you are interested in this new virtual bookselling business, you can get started for very little money and with only minor technical skills. But there are some strategies that will help you sell more and at better prices.

–Don’t try to sell paperbacks or fiction on these sites. There are so many copies of these that the resale prices are very depressed.

–Do sell hardback, nonfiction books. With hardback books there is usually enough of a spread between the “new” price and the “used” price to make a small profit. Nonfiction is often “evergreen,” with its appeal outlasting the vagaries of the popular book market.

–Look for used books in good to excellent condition at garage sales, flea markets, auctions, library sales, and thrift shops, as well as on your own shelves and those of your family and friends.

–Set up a simple inventory system so you can find books as they sell; buy some padded envelopes, labels and stamps; and impress customers with your speedy delivery and quality used books.

You may get hooked and find yourself developing a viable small business around the books that you love. It’s a good part-time business if you are otherwise employed, and can be parlayed into a full-time business if you are a stay-at-home parent or a retiree looking for another income source. It can be great fun for anyone who really loves books.

Joanne Fritz, Ph.D. owns American Dream Publishing. She specializes in the mature market with three websites:




A Business for Book Lovers
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