Rare Book Monthly
Articles - December - 2006 Issue
Save Time, Increase Profits: Take Control of Your Foreign Affairs
By Renee Magriel Roberts
The Internet has not only pushed bookselling into automation, but also into hypertension-producing foreign markets. It's great having access to all those bookstores in Edinburgh, or the customers from Japan, but every single methodology commonly available to complete foreign transactions appears designed to create headaches and cost us money.
Where booksellers might have once just sold books locally, now we get orders emanating from all sorts of unusual locations -- I once received one that read "Joe Smith, Mauritius, Indian Ocean". We might be buying from sellers who have no interest in US dollars, but want to be paid in L (pounds sterling) or C (euros). If that weren't enough to create anxiety, vendors are anxious to have either checks in their home currencies, or worse still, wire transfers directly into their bank accounts.
In addition to direct sales, we frequently buy books from overseas vendors, or engage in third-party transactions, where we buy from another seller to meet the needs of one of our customers. When either customer or vendor is located overseas, the timing of these transactions can be a killer. How can you be assured that by the time you receive a check from your customer, the exchange rate offered by your bank in a wire transfer will enable you to make any kind of profit? With really thin margins on third-party transactions, you can lose money if the money market goes against you.
One can always choose to only buy and sell domestically. I can understand this decision, especially when shipping and insuring incoming and outgoing offshore transactions can significantly shave off any profits. You could just roll up the moat and make do with US sales, but that is not a formula for success in a global economy.
When the dollar dips against the pound, for example, we notice a definite upswing in our foreign sales, and conversely, when the dollar rises, it is a better time to buy stock from overseas. If you are going to engage successfully in international trade, you have to be aware of the relative values of different currencies in order to maximize your profits.
If you just use third party sites to handle sales transactions, understand that you are being charged many times for the service they provide: built into the commissions and fees you are paying are hidden fees, such as the use of your money over time and the shaving of profits off the transaction via the exchange rate. To ignore the cost of the currency exchange is to tacitly agree to a continuous tax.