Miriam Geib has an unusual position in the world of books, she’s a part-time book seller who sells on-line on three of the leading book bases. What makes her different is her salary is paid by the Indianapolis Public Library and the salary of her part-time support staffer is paid by the Indianapolis Library Foundation.
Geib has been associated with the library in that capacity for more than 25 years. Presently she sells a variety of totally separate inventories on ABE, eBay and Amazon. The funds generated by these online activities are significant, “in the six figure range,” and they are used to support library programs.
Sometimes Geib sees a “dynamic tension” between the goals of her position: “We want to make books available inexpensively to the public to promote literacy and as a public service.” At the same time she points out, “We want to get a fair return for the library from the more valuable books.”
Online Selling a Way to Increase Revenue
According to Geib, “There are still many people who love books, the physical book, and many who can’t afford the electronic devices and need the affordable useful books found at a library sale. I hope Libraries continue to hold public sales despite the challenges they pose because it is part of their public service mission.” But, she continues, “It doesn’t mean we (libraries) have to sell a hundred dollar book for a buck.”
“I feel very strongly that we owe it to the donors, who give us books because they love the library, and to the taxpayers, whose money should be used as efficiently and frugally as possible. We do get some grief from customers at the public sales who think they should have everything and complain that “all the good stuff is online.”
“I would encourage librarians and Friends groups to explore online selling as a way of increasing revenue. Sometimes you need a bigger pool to find a buyer for the special or specialist titles. Most of our books are modestly priced. But making $10 online is better than $1 from the general sale. Sometimes a book that hasn’t sold for $10 in my corner will sell for $100 online.”
Suggestions from the Indianapolis Experience
She offers a few suggestions for others who might want to adopt the Indianapolis model:
Describe accurately, price competitively, wrap carefully and ship promptly. It’s important to be attentive to customer service. Be sure to say that your store supports your public library because libraries have many friends in the book buying world.
Use eBay if you want to limit your active attention time; you can run a bunch of auctions at one time and then take a break. Her inventory on eBay she says is mostly sets and similar items. She may have 500 or 600 items listed at any one time.
Amazon is easy for a small seller to use and has the advantage of being the biggest marketplace.
This site carries the disadvantage, however, that there are lots of people who don’t know what they’re doing on the site and some who know only too well and don’t care.
When you’re looking for a price comparison, ignore the mega-listers with their formulaic non-descriptions and look for real bookstores or sellers. They’re the ones with individual item descriptions and near perfect feedback. She lists about 3,200 titles on Amazon. Mostly she says these are books with ISBN numbers that sell in the $10-$20 range.
This is their Amazon store description: “The Indy Library Store is the book sale service of the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation. Online since 2001, we have maintained five star standards by giving personal attention to every transaction. Each book is individually selected, accurately described, and carefully packed. It gives us genuine satisfaction to bring books and readers together. We hope that friends of libraries everywhere will find satisfaction knowing that their purchases help one particular library to strengthen and extend its services."
She also has a separate inventory on ABE of about 1,000 titles.