Friday, December 15, 2006

Steve Weber: The Home-Based Bookstore

About twenty years ago, I was a serious book collector. I had an interest in a particular subject (early books, published in England, on photography), and I undertook a substantial amount of research to find out what had been published in that field. I then did much further research to track down booksellers who specialised in photography, get hold of their printed catalogues, and so forth.

In the 1980s, all of this took a substantial amount of time and effort. It involved going to an exceptionally well equipped library, trawling through endless annual volumes of the British National Bibliography, and a lot more. I didn't mind the work; I found it quite fascinating; but it was certainly time-consuming.

Today, of course, everything has changed. The advent of the internet has transformed the used-book market. Today there is no need to find a large library, and heft around the weighty volumes of the BNB. You can do all your searches in one hundredth of the time, by using COPAC, or something similar.

Neither does the would-be book-buyer have to expend much time, shoe leather, and petrol on travelling from shop to shop and poking around in dusty corners. Online access to a site such as abebooks.com, or biblio.com, removes the need for all that.

Around the time when I was doing all this searching, and occasional buying, I had a friend who was a librarian by profession; he was also, for a variety of reasons, very hard up. I had become aware, in the course of my researches, that there were a considerable number of part-time bookdealers, working on a mail-order basis, and I suggested to my friend that he should become one of them. He was ideally equipped for it in many ways.

My friend (now deceased, alas) never did take up my suggestion. But I remember looking round for a little how-to book which might encourage him. You know the kind of thing: How to Become a Spare-Time Bookdealer and Earn £50,000 a Year With No Effort At All. That sort of book.

I never did find that book, or anything quite like it. But, faced with the same problem today, I would certainly give my friend a copy of Steve Weber's The Home-Based Bookstore.

The sub-title gives us the gist of the thing: 'Start your own business selling used books on Amazon, eBay or your own web site'. Which is plain enough. And before you decide that this is of no interest to you, because you haven't the slightest intention of starting a part-time book business, let me say that anyone who buys books regularly could find something useful and interesting within these pages.

The back cover of the book tells us that Steve Weber started his own home-based bookstore as a hobby in 2001. He soon became full-time, and in five years has sold books worth more than $1 million. (Though turnover, we must remember, is not the same thing as profit.) The book simply tells us how he did it, and how you can proceed along the same lines, if you wish.

Weber begins with an explanation of the size and value of the online book market. Happily, he does not oversell the idea of becoming a dealer. 'Most booksellers,' he says, 'don't get rich, and quite a few go broke.... It's hard work.'

There then follow chapters on where to find books, and what books to buy. If you've ever tried to sell any old books recently, just to clear some shelf space, you will know that dealers are decidedly picky about what they will take and what they will not take. With good reason, we discover: some stuff sells, some doesn't.

As you've probably guessed, from the $1 million statement, Steve Weber is an American, and the whole book is slanted to the American experience, but the principles would hold good in any country.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, it turns out that the Amazon Marketplace is the best place for a beginner to sell books. But there are many other online sites, all of which are listed and described.

The remainder of the book deals with grading and pricing books, the importance of providing a good service, and the complexities of the US postal system. The further you go in the book, the more it is aimed at the full-time professional, with discussions of stock-control systems, pricing and inventory software, and 'wireless pricing lookup', which as far as I can see means checking prices, via your mobile phone, while you're poking around in a church jumble sale, and wondering if you've found a gem.

For the would-be bookdealer, this book is invaluable. But even the casual book buyer will benefit from knowing, for instance, that adall.com compares prices from almost all the major book listing sites. (A quick search revealed, for instance, that there are at present 146 copies of my novel Spence at Marlby Manor on sale. Crumbs!)

Towards the end, Weber has a chapter on the future of bookselling. The next decade, he thinks, will be a bumpy ride for booksellers. Google, at present, is probably sending 90% of book buyers to Amazon. But if it begins directing searchers to its own Froogle, eBay, or somewhere else, that could put a huge dent in Amazon's business.

There are five appendices, giving guidance as to further sources of information, including a list of further reading and a glossary. There is an index.

The Home-Based Bookstore is published by Steve Weber himself, and he's made a first-class job of it. It's extremely well written and organised, and the credits include both an editor and a copy editor, neither of whom put a foot wrong, as far as I can see. The layout is excellent -- at a guess, 12 pt Georgia, with its associated sans-serif font, Verdana, for headings. Whether I'm right or not, the design makes for easy reading.

All in all this is a good buy for those contemplating the book trade: Amazon.com will sell you a copy for $19.95, but there are copies available for less.

Steve Weber's web site leads you to a blog on which he discusses issues relating to the used-book market. And there's a parallel blog which is aimed at self-publishers (or any other authors, for that matter) who want help in selling copies of their book. This blog is well worth a look too.

12 comments:

Andrew O'Hara said...

Aha, you give occasional hints about yourself that are revealing--(early books on photography and your own beautiful photographic essay, "Avebury in Winter").

When I purchase books on a site like Amazon I go the used book dealers, which are not only cheaper but can provide real treasures. My recent purchase of a 1946 Steinbeck's "Pastures of Heaven" yielded fragile yellow pages and a tattered cover (and yes, I was told of the condition). It has no monetary value beyond what I paid for it, but I cherish it.

Marti said...

I also sell used books on Amazon Marketplace. I don't make a lot of money at it, but I do get to read a LOT of interesting books - LOL

Thanks for writing about this book - it sounds like it is full of good information.

Marti said...

PS ~

I purchase most of the books I sell at garage sales. Folks will often set a box full of books out on their driveway, asking a dollar or so per book, but I know they don't want to lug that big heavy box back inside, so I offer them five dollars for the whole lot (often 20-30 books) and they usually accept - LOL

Don said...

I've begun to appreciate again the value of old-fashioned bricks and mortar bookstores. OK, so it was bookfinder.com that finally found a copy of Recusant Poets for me (although the first time, the bookseller was horrified to discover he couldn't find it in his shop after I placed the order), but the ten years of searching the old-fashioned way in bookstores in three countries (U.S., Canada, U.K.) turned up more than a few treasures along the way, such as my copy of Graham Greene's long-out-of-print third novel at $20 Canadian (ok, it was missing a dust jacket and the binding was a bit warped, but I never thought I'd be able to own a copy of this book at all--I've seen his equally rare second novel, but never at a price with less than four digits to the left of the decimal point).

Now that I'm married, my bibliophilia is somewhat muted courtesy of my wife's periodic complaints about why do I need all these books, but I've found that I really do need them: I've been going to some volumes which I read 15+ years ago to do research for my current novel. Quite handy to have these books on my own shelves.

Seth said...

I have been selling books online from a spare bedroom in my house since 2002. I started to "clear some shelf space", and found myself doing well enough to supplement a teacher's salary. Like many, I am strictly part-time. I’m an American, like Weber, but not interested in a million dollars (not sure if your remark was solely about pounds versus dollars, but also a comment on Western Atlantic greed) unlike Weber.

Bookselling is 90% perspiration, like anything else. There is no magic. Consistency, routine, attention to detail, understanding a niche, and a steady learning curve will bring success.

Rich said...

Steve Weber provides tips that the occassional seller benefits from his book and his web sites. Non-fiction books sell better than popular titles. I've had success with used text books and technical books. Pays for gas money and band costs for children.

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