Four eBay Bookselling Tips
Bookseller Susan Halas offers her tips on profiting from eBay.
By Susan Halas
A lot of you, like me, are on-line antiquarian booksellers who sell older books and other vintage material such as maps, prints, photos and ephemera via the Internet. Some of you have web sites, others list on book bases. Many of you distain eBay because you think it's for bottom feeders only. I may be a minority opinion, but I think eBay is one of the better places to sell antiquarian books and paper and also to realize above average prices.
As a bookseller for over thirty years and an eBay seller for more than ten, here are a few suggestions that you may find of interest:
Tip #1: BOOKS is not the best category to list books
Selling on eBay has gone through many twists and turns since I first started listing there in the 1990s. In its most recent incarnation the category "books" and its sub-category "antiquarian and collectible" is NOT the best place to list an interesting older book.
That is because the books category is absolutely flooded with people who know nothing about books, nothing about what makes a book worth having, and even less about correctly describing it. Even worse, the books category limits the amount a seller can charge for shipping to $4 (which is not the case in other categories). Also in books there is a stiff additional charge for the instant enlargement feature which is offered free in a great many other categories.
So if you have a good antiquarian book, especially if it's non-fiction and want to get a good price, don't list it in books. You'll do better to list it in a subject category which often has a books sub-section and offers additional helpful features at no extra charge.
For example: the Collectibles category has a sub-section called Cultures and Ethnicities which includes just about every region and identity in the world from Afro-American to Celtic or Egyptian. Some of those subsets like Native American and Western American have further subsets such as books. Even if there is no subset books offered in a particular culture category, it still may be a better place to list a book than books, because that's the place that people interested in that culture or ethnicity browse. I'm a Hawaii-based dealer and when I have a good Hawaii book, I don't list it in books, I list it in Cultures and Ethnicities> Hawaii> Other.
Or, if I have something a hundred years old, or even early 20th century, I list it in Antiques>Books & Manuscripts>American because that category is less crowded and it often has more sophisticated people browsing and selling in it. Books = common and cheap. Antiques = precious and rare.
Four eBay Bookselling Tips
Even booksellers from Hawaii have an equal opportunity with eBay.
Likewise one of my interests is illustrated books and magazines and some of them may be humorous or have cartoon style graphics. I don't list them in books; I list them in comics. There are many sub-sections to comics, but the real reason to use comics rather than books is that there's been a huge increase in interest in comics and comic related material and even bigger increases in prices for good examples.
People who are interested in comics are also interested in vintage illustration, cartoon albums, older sci-fi and pulp magazines, and oddball paper items with art of every kind. Comic buyers are not primarily looking for books, but they will buy books if they find them in the comic category, because they are looking for vintage illustrated material of a certain style and period.
TIP #2: Understand the difference between Auction and Buy It Now (BIN)
If you sell Buy It Now/Best Offer you pay a low listing fee but a higher percentage of the selling price to eBay. If you sell Buy It Now the price you set is the most you can possibly receive if the item sells. If you also select the Best Offer option you may get offers that are even lower than your original asking price.
If you sell in Auction, you pay a much higher listing fee but a lower percentage of the selling price for final value. The price you set as the opening bid is the least amount you can receive if the item sells. However, if your item actually sells at auction, it is possible to get more, even substantially more than the starting price.
But -- what many booksellers do not realize -- is even a small seller can have a standing account where for a monthly base fee plus a nominal additional per-item charge sellers can list Buy It Now (BIN) items for up to 30 days. The additional amount ranges from about 5 cents to about 20 cents per item depending on which plan is selected and the anticipated volume. The point is --- you can start out selling something at a high price using BIN and risk a maximum of 20 cents in exchange for exposure to a very large number of potential viewers. Think of it as a showroom window or a display case.
Sellers can usually tell by the number of watchers and to a lesser extent by the number of hits, if a BIN item is something that might do better as an auction which costs more and only runs for a week. If there are five or more watchers within the first few days of a month-long BIN item it is an easy task to move it over to Auction. Yes, you'll be out as much 20 cents but chances are very good that there will be at least one bid in the auction format and possibly it may go higher or even much higher. Items that don't get a lot of hits or watchers are probably not good bets for the auction format - so leave them in BIN where the upfront cost is very low and let the clock run out.
This is not rocket science, but most sellers don't do it that way, because they think eBay is only for cheap, cheap, and cheaper where in my experience eBay is the vehicle of choice for buyers seeking scarce, unusual, and hard-to-find.
Four eBay Bookselling Tips
Ebay provides an excellent opportunity to sell books for those who know how to use it.
Tip #3: Show Many Photos
Not every seller knows the antiquarian terminology or bibliographic citations, but any seller can take adequate pictures, and any prospective buyer can decide by looking at those pictures if they'd like to make a purchase.
The real advantage of eBay is that the seller can put up to a maximum of 12 photos with each description. That means the seller can show not only the condition of the binding, but also the copyright page, the edition and number line, examples of illustrations or photos, any signatures or limited edition notations, any special features that would distinguish this copy from other copies. The seller can also show any defects or imperfections that might be difficult to accurately describe in words. It also means that the seller's copy actually exists and that it exists the way it is shown.
You'd be surprised how many serious book buyers use eBay on a regular basis. These are often the same people who have given up buying on Abe or Amazon or Alibris because the description and the photos, and in some cases even the very existence of the books listed, are unreliable. On eBay the buyer knows the item is actually for sale and with photos the buyer can see what the seller has to offer and can make his/her own evaluation if it's worth the price.
Tip #4: Bibliophilegroup.com is the best venue of all
The eBay site is a good place for a mass audience; however if you're selling books on the internet and not subscribing to the Bibliophilegroup.com list you're missing the best bet of all. The biblio list is a by-subscription listserve. It costs $30/per year. Currently it has about 1,000 members who daily list books wanted, books for sale and links to books for auction. Members also exchange news, information and discuss topics of general bookish interest. The annual $30 subscription is the entire cost. There are no other additional fees or commissions charged.
I've been a member of this list for more than a decade. In my experience it is the most cost effective place to list and sell better books and ephemera because it is read and browsed by people with wide and diverse interests who are serious buyers of books. The owner of this list is Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson, a fellow bookseller based in Mexico. He offers a two-week free trial subscription, so prospective subscribers can easily decide if this is a suitable venue.
Be warned you'll get a lot of emails and they may not all be of interest, but if you're looking for a place to sell at practically no cost and where you will find other like-minded people with bookish interests this is the best deal of all.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for the trial subscription, and tell him you read about it in AE Monthly.
AE writer Susan Halas can be reached at email@example.com