Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2006 Issue

Adding an Offer Option on Listing Sites

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An offer option will create activity.


By Bruce McKinney

Anyone who sells on line knows that the widely touted listing figures leave one important thing out: reality. For sellers only sales count. Even Abe's unaudited claims of 7,000,000 transactions a year lose some of their glow when you remember that they also claim to be increasing the number of listings annually at a much faster pace. Based on their current claim of 90 million listings they are currently selling only about 8% of the listed material annually. If such results are typical a seller who posts 4,000 books, assuming constant demand and prices over five years, will sell only 1,364 books or one third of the original stock
1st Year4,0003,680
2nd Tear3,6803,386
3rd Year3,3863,115
4th Year3,1152,866
5th Year2,8662,636
Reality is of course not so predictable. Usually under-priced materials sell quickly and over-priced items molder. Assuming that some dealers write better descriptions and price more aggressively their selling percentage might double to perhaps 15%. This still leaves you with almost half the inventory unsold after five years.
1st Year4,0003,400
2nd Tear3,6802890
3rd Year2,8902,457
4th Year2,4572,088
5th Year2,0881,775
I'm not certain how much lower prices would have to be to double the annual sales rate but at a guess it might be 20% and of course better descriptions take more research and time to prepare.

One very effective way to increase sales would be to take a page from eBay's play book and offer sellers the option of listing both an asking price and a Make Me an Offer option. Some booksellers may not like this idea but it serves the best interests of the majority of booksellers and is good for the listing sites as it encourages offers and moves material. Selling sites may judge themselves on financial performance but their customers will evaluate them primarily on cost, convenience and sales and put the emphasis on sales. Because there are many bookselling sites those that permit sellers to select an asking price and a Make Me an Offer option will gain a distinct advantage over listing sites that don't. As a buyer I'll prefer to see material identified that is in play. To the extent that identical material is available on different sites this would encourage me to favor one site over another. I negotiate almost all purchases. Knowing who is negotiable on an item will increase transactions. There is no doubt about this.

This then gives listing site sellers two options to consider before shifting material to eBay or a traditional auction house: to reduce the price or to encourage offers. Let's consider an example. Perhaps there are 7 copies of a book. Originally this seller's copy was the second highest and now they reduce the asking price and become the second cheapest. The lower price will change the book's ranking in the results but won't specifically identify the seller as motivated. The Make Me an Offer option does and it will encourage purchases.

In the end the listing sites have to sell the books. If they don't they will lose the sellers and their books. It's that simple.

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