Michael Lieberman at Book Patrol posted about penny bookdealers yesterday. It made me think about ways that more...ambitious? professional? upmarket? booksellers (basically people who don't want to spend every waking moment throwing Barbara Cartlands into puffy envelopes) can separate themselves from that first screen or two of seductively cheap listings.
Here's what I came up with:
1. Describe the book in your hand--Most penny dealers have one description. They're selling some platonic ideal of a used book that may or may not contain underlining; come with the CD; have a dustjacket; benefit someone in Africa; be covered in cat barf. If you accurately describe the condition of your item, the choosier buyers will seek you out.
2. Take a picture--This goes hand in hand with describing the book. If a venue allows for the uploading of images, provide them. This will make your listings pop. ABE has a drop down menu that lets a buyer filter for books with bookseller supplied photos. On eBay, an item with a gallery image takes up more screen space--that's a good advertising strategy. I even take pictures of low dollar books if they're aesthetically pleasing. You want to lure the buyers in with attractive and affordable sentimental favorites. It's a gateway drug.
3. Give complete information--Who's the illustrator/cover artist? Who wrote the preface/introduction/afterword? Is the title descriptive enough? (if not, add keywords) Is it a first printing/edition? You can't anticipate every reason a customer seeks out a book, so give them everything you can think of. I've even sold books to descendants of previous owners because I transcribe full inscriptions.
4. Package carefully and ship promptly--Protect the items that you sell. Make sure they arrive in the same condition that you so carefully described.
5. Follow up--Send a shipping confirmation. My standard e-mail repeats the estimated shipping times, flogs my store and blog, requests feedback (with links), and offers to answer any questions. This e-mail reassures the customer that they haven't thrown their money down a black hole and it probably heads off most questions
6. Charge more--If you always go for the lowest price, you WILL be undercut and you're contributing to the devaluing of the item (and the book trade in general). If you take care in describing your product and provide a positive customer experience, then charge for the service. I habitually charge 25-50% more than other booksellers who have less detailed descriptions and/or lower ratings and it hasn't hurt my sell through percentage at all.
Buyers will eventually get burned or have poor experiences with the penny bookdealers (a profit margin of $.60-$1.00 per sale doesn't allow for much time or care). But when the buyers come back (assuming they do come back) show them that it doesn't always have to be that way. Train them to skim right past all the $.01s and find an honestly described product at a reasonable price.