Tips from an eBay Power Seller
The mark of an eBay Power Seller.
Here’s my little secret: I’m an eBay Power Seller.
I find that amazing. It’s 2012 and I’ve been selling on eBay since 1998. That’s 14 years of taking pictures, writing descriptions, shipping vintage and antiquarian books, prints, maps and ephemera all over the world. It’s all at eBay, only at eBay, just that one site. The tools are simple, an internet connection, a digital camera and assorted packing supplies. I never dreamed when I started I’d still be doing it well into the 21st century.
I’m not the biggest Power Seller, nor am I the smartest and I’m certainly not a Power Seller who made a fortune or started an empire. But year-in and year-out for over a decade eBay has been a reliable source of income for me.
I guarantee you I’ve learned a thing or two.
Doing the research: Try ADDall
The first step to making a profit is setting the price and doing the research.
When I’m thinking of listing a book or a book related item there are several ways to find out what it might be worth:
There are zillions of book bases. The one I use is ADDall.
I use ADDall because it is an aggregator of bases and it includes the listings from ABE, Alibris and Amazon, as well as dozens of other book listing sites.
True, it sometime doesn’t give me every last item, but it gives enough results to know in a click if a title is common or scarce, or if there are big variations in price.
On ADDall I set my results to come up listed by price in descending order. As a seller your question is: “Does someone know something about this book that justifies a higher price?”
Always a Reason:
Value is not random. To get more you have to know more. The people who have specialized knowledge often state it in their listing and price accordingly.
Is this an unusual variant? Is this signed or limited? Is it a companion to something else? Is there something unique laid in? A photo? A letter?
Tips from an eBay Power Seller
The tools of the trade.
Those are good questions. One way to find out is by carefully reading the higher priced listings, especially listings by dealers who are ABAA members. An ABAA designation still inspires a certain degree of confidence.
Conversely, don’t be misled by sellers who place absurd prices on what your research shows to be more common wares.
Then look how many copies are really listed. Are there over a 100 different copies available? Or, are there really only six copies, but each one listed in a dozen different places? On ADDall you can tell at a glance.
But, ADDall only tells you what’s listed. It doesn’t tell you what sold or the selling price or how recently.
Next go to eBay and do a search of “completed items” using a variety of key words Search for something that’s identical or close to identical to what is in your hand. Search for look-alikes with good clear photos. Don’t just search in “books,” because “books” is not always the best category to either buy or sell. Search “all categories.” EBay completed items only go back a few months, but that’s far enough to determine if there are a lot of other competing items and interest and success generated.
Americana Exchange the Most Reliable
Finally, do you have a hunch it might be worth north of $100? If that happens frequently subscribe to the Americana Exchange data base.
Americana Exchange is the best, most complete and most reliable estimation of current market value in the book world today. Americana Exchange auction records search (a by- subscription feature) will surface prices realized, comparables, frequency and condition. It’s not infallible, but it is reliable. In a world filled with hype and guess work it’s a very good deal, especially if you’re a seller.
The combination of those three searches will usually result in a fair estimate of current market value.
But sellers don’t just want to get the current market value, they want to get more. Not surprisingly, sellers want top dollar.
I was fortunate to be born into the antiquarian book business a long time ago and to learn the trade from my parents who were ABAA dealers for 50 years. From my wise elders I learned it is easier to come down from a high price than to go up from a low one.
So a lot of times - no matter what the research says - I will pick a starting price that is, to put it kindly, “optimistic.”
I also learned from my folks that if it’s yours and you only have one copy, it doesn’t matter what the auction records say, or how many copies are listed, all you really need is one (1) buyer who is willing to pay your price.
Tips from an eBay Power Seller
An image taken from a worthless book may be of value.
The Value of Photos
So much of what’s listed on the internet is poorly described, or worse yet, a phantom -- especially on the three A's (Amazon, Alibris, Abe). The virtue of eBay is items listed there are shown warts and all. They are real; they are visible and WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get.)
Every eBay listing, whether auction or Buy It Now, allows up to 12 photos. Those photos are the feature that puts eBay ahead of all other sites as a vehicle for selling antiquarian materials.
If you’re selling a stated first edition with no other editions listed, take that photo of the copyright page. If it’s a signed copy, show the author’s signature. Is the dust jacket unclipped and in nice condition? Then open it all the way up so both flaps are visible and show it all complete. Increasingly more and more of the value of early 20th century books is in the dust jacket. If your copy has a good dust jacket, it takes only a moment to include it with the photos.
Selecting a Category
All things being equal, if you have interesting or unusual material and describe and photograph it well, it’s not really about setting the lowest price, it’s about stimulating desire and placing the material in a category where it won’t get lost.
Book>Antiquarian & Collectible is a good place to start. But there are a variety of other options that get results that are just as good at terms that are more favorable to the seller.
One of the drawbacks of the “books” category is it’s crowded with cheap junk, the enlargement of the key photo costs extra and there is a $4 limit to the charge for shipping.
Many other categories provide the key photo enlargement for free, do not have such unreasonable restrictions on shipping charges and are more narrowly defined, thus more likely to attract buyers with specific wants.
Some that have been useful to me include: Antiques>Marine>Other, Cultures & Ethnicities>Afro American >Books; Collectibles>Historical > Cities and Towns; Collectibles>Comics>Other; Collectibles>Cultures & Ethnicities> Western America>Antique, or Antiques>Books>English - to name just a few.
What if you selected an “optimistic” price and it doesn’t sell? Don’t automatically lower the price. Instead try moving it to another category, changing the key words, changing the lead photo or revising the description. In fact sometimes, if you think it has value and you can substantiate that value, raising the price might be the answer. With up front costs of between zero and 20 cents per item you can play around with many offerings at nominal expense.
Over the years I’ve found uncommon material that is well described and photographed brings a good price no matter what the condition. Being patient and rotating the inventory through a variety of categories is a strategy that works. Often a buyer will see something that didn’t sell and ask if it’s still available. Again because there are photos, even if the listing is over, if it’s recent it’s still alive and drawing eyeballs on eBay.
Tips from an eBay Power Seller
Image salvaged from a tattered atlas.
Taste Migrating from Books
The gods of popular taste are conspiring against the lovers of books. Sad to say the combination of eBooks and the easy accessibility out-of-print text material on line has cut sharply into the market for books as we used to know them.
Despite the movement away from bound volumes, there is still a very substantial interest in (and market for) vintage and antique paper. However these days it’s more likely to be as ephemera than as books. While printed words may have lost some of their value, pictures, especially older maps and some kinds of vintage prints, posters and photos seem to have stable or rising prices.
Evaluate the Junk
Like many sellers I have quite a few things that I’ve had for a long time that are in less than ideal condition. Take that 1839 incomplete American mini-atlas with many of the remaining pages wormed, torn or stained. Is it worthless?
Maybe as a book it’s worthless, but as ephemera it has a second life on eBay.
There are still multiple pages with small, crude, and for America, “old” pictures of the frontier and American landmarks as they looked in the early 19th century. Price it by the page and you’ll find it sells. Those small, charming pictures are still of interest and worth money to someone. Writing a description and getting a good photo is a way to make a book go from worthless to profitable.
Lo, these many years later there still is no place quite like eBay for sellers to show and sell their wares to an international audience. Usually at least once a month eBay offers sellers some kind of additional listing freebies, especially if they have signed up for a store front. Even deducting all their fees, the cost of keeping a store front, the commission, their percentage off the top to Paypal, it’s still a deal.
Susan Halas may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.