Rare Book Monthly
Articles - November - 2003 Issue
LIFEBOAT: Staying Afloat in the Rising Floodwaters of Internet Book Sales
If you want descriptions for your millions of listings, but don’t want to type them, no problem. There are automation tools, like ReaderWare (www.readerware.com), that will take a list of ISBN numbers and populate the fields with descriptions and digital images from a host of major Internet sites, all automatically.
On the Internet, my friends, bookselling is very much of a numbers game. If you have 20,000 books online you are going to sell more than if you have 5,000 books online. How can you get very large numbers of antiquarian listings online? It’s not by hiring a thousand intelligent data entry clerks and teaching them how to evaluate and describe books. You can get those listings by copying, modifying and reselling listings that other dealers have already input.
For example, one enterprising bookseller on a major site posted a message offering to buy other dealers’ “sold” catalogs. This dealer quickly accumulated over 100,000 titles. Once dealers have a large catalog, including descriptions, they can run a little programming routine to, say, double or triple the prices, and then post the books. Once they get buyers, they simply locate a book to fulfill the order that meets the general description; if they can’t find one, they just cancel the order. Bottom line is that this 100,000-item dealer is going to be competing with everyone who has stayed up late into the night, typing their listings in one by one. And yes, they will make sales without ever having owned a book.
There are similar techniques for selling extremely large numbers of new books. For a fee you can arrange to have access to the catalog of major wholesalers, including the ability to have books drop-shipped. Once the catalog of millions of titles is downloaded, prices can be altered en masse to take advantage of the small difference between, say, Amazon’s 30% off list price and the 40% off price offered by the wholesaler. When orders come in they are drop-shipped from the wholesaler directly to the customer. The “dealer” never sees the books, never touches the books or warehouses the books, never packs the books, or ships the books. The advantage is the large number of transactions with a small profit margin; the disadvantage comes with the necessity of providing any customer service at all.
You may have heard of OPM (Other People’s Money). On the Internet, there are also ODL (Other Dealer’s Listings). You don’t have to use massive databases to access ODL, you can use search engines. I know of one dealer who offers a “free” search service on his site that goes out and seeks titles in real time on ABE (www.abebooks.com), Antiqbooks (www.antiqbooks.com), Bibliology (www.bibliology.com), and many other databases. The only “catch” is that the listings that are returned are marked up 30% or more. The customer is completely unaware that the exact same book could be bought for considerably less from the dealer who actually owns it. The book is ordered via the search engine’s shopping cart, and the reseller then orders it from the bookseller who actually has it in stock. This is a twist on the time-honored practice of buying and selling books among the trade where the book in question will be discounted from one dealer to another in order to make a sale.