The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Trash Alchemy

A friend called me Sunday to tip me off about two large boxes of books being curbed nearby. That always gets the juices flowing, so I thought I would post a salvage report describing my technique for squeezing the last dollar from someone else's garbage.

When I got to the books minutes after the call there was already another browser, but she was nearly done. I started sorting and putting aside dirt common or truly unsellable books but there weren't many, so I just sealed up both boxes and brought them home before more vultures started circling (Is there a scavenger that drags the whole carcass back to its den to feast in safety? If so, that's my spirit animal.).

The majority of the books were recent and in barely used condition. I turned on my bar code scanner and went to work. There were thirty titles that I added to my FPV inventory (Amazon, ABE, Alibris, etc). Most were priced in the $4-8 dollar range--which I normally don't bother with--but they were free. There were a few outliers priced between $50-150 but I can't say that they will ever sell. All told I added about $350 worth of books to my inventory.

Once those were listed, I was left with about 50 "penny" books ($.02-$3 used on Amazon). Some booksellers will list these (if they weigh 1 pound or less) and try to make at least $.80 on Amazon's shipping credit, but the stacking and packing would drive me to violence, so I don't bother. What I will do though is collect common books into interest lots to auction on eBay.

I keep a text file of my lots in progress. Once I’ve added a book’s details, I toss it into a box and forget about it until I have a decent-size list. When the time comes, I insert the new titles into a recycled Turbolister entry, weigh the books for calculated shipping, take pictures, and upload on Sunday evening. These lots frequently go for my minimum bid (so I set my prices accordingly) but sometimes I get a welcome surprise.

Some lots that I’ve had consistently good luck with are: pulp era paperbacks with suggestive covers; gay/lesbian fiction and non-fiction; single author or series collections; animal books (horses, pigs, mice, etc); New Age/Wicca; westerns, and many more.

After those two passes, I had about 40 books left that I couldn't find a "hook" for. At this point I pull out books that are suitable for a used bookstore. Make sure they are in saleable condition and screen out the heavily marked, dirty, torn, or out of date titles (the book buyer won't give you as much $$ if you overwhelm them with crap…and if you do it consistently, they will remember you). Ask the buyer for credit instead of cash as most stores will give 30%-50% more in credit. If the bookstore doesn't sell online, scoutpal a few titles. If they do sell online, look for flashpoints they may have overlooked: 1st printings of popular fiction, autographed copies, collectible mass markets, etc. If you can't find anything to resell, find something you want to read, or better yet find business or reference books for your bookselling library.

When I was done at the used bookstore, I had 15-20 titles left. I walked these down to the Salvation Army/Goodwill and made a donation. I got a receipt and a write-off come tax time.

Left with an empty cart and box, I went back to Sal's book rack and started all over.

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