The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Bar Code Battlers

I went to a FOL sale this past weekend that I was both anticipating and dreading. I've attended this one since long before I was a bookdealer and I've always found a nice pile of books. Last year's sale was kind of a nightmare though with an army of dealers choking the aisles with unweildy carts and boxes, and seemingly every attendee out to turn a profit by any means necessary.

I expected further escalation this year and I wasn't disappointed. It seems that everyone has upgraded to the smartphone/barcode scanner combo. I saw swat teams huddled around tables all blasting away at the same books (I was afraid I'd be blinded by a stray laser beam). And the titles that many of these "dealers" were inspecting weren't worth the 1/3 of a second it takes to scan them. Your typical laser commando has little to no knowledge of publishers, print runs, copyright pages, or even the kind of books that have lasting value. They just race for the best barcodes, slap them on Amazon with a generic description--undercutting the next guy--and drive the market into the toilet while providing a crap customer experience.

This is happening every weekend at library sales across the country; all for the limited dollar of the online used book buyer, spread over a finite number of venues. And these venues have total control over the selling conditions. The slightest tweak in listing fees, display order or postage reimbursement drastically cuts into a bookseller's profit margin (which sends them back out in the field desperately hunting for more barcodes. "Gotta Catch 'Em All" TM).

Not to be a total hypocrite because, yes, I too was looking for books to resell (and I don't snub technological tools that make this easier) but this definitely had the feeling of the tail end of the Beanie Baby craze. So, I decided I wasn't going to play the game. I ignored the other dealers, used my brain and experience first (and technology second), circled the sale two or three times, and checked out with a small but quality pile of books that I could carry home.

My experience at this FOL--added to the fact that my best sales lately have all come from inventory purchased on eBay, Craiglist, or through private connections--has made me extremely disinclined to go any further down the technology route. My new battle plan is to find more and new out of the way book sources and check them regularly, develop my specialties, get a standalone e-commerce site together, and work on branding and repeat business.

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