Fundamental guide to buying lots of books as an amazon bookseller: how not to lose money, what questions to ask, more
It’s a common dilemma: a person is selling a large number of books on craigslist. They are asking for a fixed price. you know most book collections aren’t worth your time. and you need to determine if the books are worth seeing in person.
You are reading: Buying books in bulk from amazon
- How do you know how much to pay for the book collection?
- How do you determine if you will make or lose money?
- How do you tell if the books are worth your time?
Once the books are in front of you, it’s easy to determine the value. What I set out to accomplish with this article is a formula for determining which book collections are worth investigating (and which ones to stay away from).
Yes. it’s ok to buy collections blindly
Maybe you’re not totally blind, but you can still be fine without having a detailed list of exactly what’s in the collection. you just need to ask a few questions and know how much to pay.
first step: eliminate worst case scenarios.
You want to determine if the following apply:
- the books are truly mixed.
- the collection is absent from low (or no) benefit categories (romance, etc.).
- the books are not picked up by another seller.
step two: assess the quality.
Once you’ve established that it’s at least a wide variety of books, the next step is to determine quality. you’re looking here for clues that this is better than a random selection and that the collection may be of exceptional value.
step three: make your offer.
Come to a figure and make an offer (more on this below). hopefully, the asking price is below what you think it’s worth, in which case you can offer the asking price (or try to convince them further).
The main risks of buying lots of books
Your risks when purchasing book collections are as follows:
Inheriting another seller’s problems: This is the worst case scenario: buying books from another seller. Most booksellers have no idea what they’re doing (or aren’t selling Amazon Fulfillment), so this isn’t an inherently unprofitable circumstance, but it should be avoided.
buying a curated collection: Before you blindly buy, you want to be reasonably sure that the collection has not been curated by another seller.
Buying a collection made up of unprofitable book categories: You always want to do your due diligence to filter out collections with many of the dominant profit killers: mass market paperbacks, children’s books, outdated textbooks, etc. .
taking more “dead wood” than it’s worth: This is the main reason I don’t like to buy small mixed batches of books (less than 500 or so); if only 5% of them have value, having them transported and then dealing with the leftovers is often more trouble than it’s worth.
Should you buy a collection of books totally blind?
I mean, totally blind, knowing literally nothing about it other than the number of books?
first, it’s weird that you don’t have clues to work with. even a gaylord of books from a college surplus auction provides some clues (ie, the books are withdrawn from a college).
but let’s just say it’s impossible to infer anything about quality. this is how i handle it…
- If it’s someone’s personal collection, I’ll travel to inspect if it’s 1000 books or more. that’s my criteria.
- if it’s from a company or other non-personal source, I’ll check if it’s 500 or more.
This is highly subjective, and you should not take this as gospel. I only give these numbers to convey that the upside potential must be worth it.
I spent much of my first few days driving to see 75-book collections on craigslist that were a waste of time pretty much every time, and I wish I had applied stricter criteria.
How much to pay once you have confirmed it is a mixed lot
let’s say all you know about a book collection is that it’s a really mixed lot with no other information to work with. you know enough to confirm that they’re not romance novels or encyclopedias, but other than that, you’re buying blind.
how much do you pay?
Answering this one question will earn you a lot of money. so here is my answer…
8 cents per book.
As long as I can confirm that a lot of it is genuinely “mixed” (i.e. not the aforementioned profit killers like harlequin romance, etc), I’ll pay 8 cents a book for any collection and expect to make money.
That doesn’t mean you’ll lose money with 10 cents. And that doesn’t mean you’ll always make money on 8 cents (sometimes a collection isn’t as “mixed” as you thought).
But over the years of buying lots of books, I’ve learned that 8 cents is a “safe” number to offer when blind shopping.
Now, let’s see how to analyze a collection before spending your time (or money)…
The 7 – question test
If I contact someone online or by phone to assess the quality of a batch, these are the basic questions I ask:
can you send a list of isbns for each book? or a sample?
you are not very likely to get this. but ask.
can you send photos of the books (preferably showing the spines)?
getting at least one photo should be the bare minimum before traveling to view a collection (or blindly buying it). if you don’t have isbns/titles, or very specific information about what’s included, you at least need a photo.
What is the history of this collection? where do these books come from?
A general question to determine if it came from someone’s personal library, fell off the back of a truck somewhere, was removed from an environment where other vendors were likely to pick it up, etc.
what themes are represented in this collection?
Photos should resolve this, but when the composition of the book lot is ambiguous, try to get the seller to tell you what subjects are represented. get as much detail as you can. there are no book topics that are inherently valuable, but there are many categories that are generally more valuable than others (advanced math books vs. travel guides).
Ideally you should get a clear answer and everyone should be a topic (a very good sign, if the topic isn’t fiction).
if you can’t get a clear answer to this question, ask this:
alternative: is there more fiction or non-fiction?
This isn’t to say there isn’t money in fiction (although there isn’t much), but the more non-fiction the better. Even when a seller can’t be clear on what topics are included, they can usually at least answer this question.
Has anyone else chosen this collection?
It’s not necessary to completely hide your intentions as a bookseller, but I don’t like to say that I sell on Amazon. “Has anyone else chosen this collection?” it is an ambiguous way to find out if another bookseller has chosen it.
Are you willing to sell only part of the collection?
The benefits of scanning each book individually is that you don’t have to lug around hundreds or thousands of books you don’t want.
The downside is that you can expect to pay more.
Usually I’ll try to avoid the trouble and offer the seller more if I can choose the set. My pitch to the seller basically goes like this: “I’ll pay at least 5 times more per book if I can price and buy books individually, or I’ll pay less per book if they’re only sold as a set.”
usually they will choose the latter; they just want the books to go away.
what is the lowest price you would go for?
a generic final negotiation question to find out how flexible the price is.
From there, it’s just a matter of bidding based on how much you expect to get (and how low you think it will go).
Finally: what to do with leftovers?
I do one of three things:
- if it’s more than 1000 books: I’ll put an ad on craigslist and ask for $50 (and make it very clear that the buyer must transport the books from my house to their car).
- less 1,000 books or so: Post an ad in the “free” section of craigslist. you’ll have people at your door in 15 minutes.
- books from a specific category: group as many and list on ebay. lots built around individual themes work well on ebay. mixed batches, not so much.
that’s the formula.