The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trash Alchemy [One From the Vaults]

Feeling a bit lazy today so I'm re-posting one of my early pieces. This one's from June 26, 2007 so it will be new to most of you--and I thinks it's particularly appropriate in this crap economic season. The 3 faithful subscribers I've retained since then can move on to the next feed. I've updated some of the specifics.

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's garbage.

When I got to the books--only 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 so I turned on my bar code scanner and went to work. There were thirty titles that I added to my Bookhound database (to be listed on 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 [2 out of 3 did]. 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 in my eBay cupboard and forget about it until I have a decent-size list. When the time comes, I insert the new titles into a recycled Turbolister Poster Toaster 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.

[Another outlet I've discovered for common titles is PaperbackSwap. When someone requests one of your books, you get a credit to request a book from any other member. I have a wish list of valuable paperbacks a mile long but since they only show up infrequently--and my credits keep increasing--I often request collector's guides and other hobby books to increase my scouting knowledge. You can also move credits between their sister sites: SwapaCD and SwapaDVD.]

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 cull 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'll remember and eventually ban 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. Always try to spend more than your credit to give them something towards the rent. [Since my original post 3 out of 4 of the nearby used bookstores have gone under, relocated or are in severe financial jeopardy. Support your local booksellers NOW. They frequently order OP titles from sellers like me so it's a win/win situation.]

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

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


gabriel said...

Wonderful to know that there are others out there like me. Recently had a fantastic comic book store dumpster dive experience that's left me reeling for over three weeks now! I drag the whole carcass back as well. :) gabe

William Smith said...

Whoa! I would've never though to dive a comic book store. Were they tossing unsold back issues? Or displays and such?

Anonymous said...

Nice! I always kick a box on a curb, sometimes it makes money fly into my pockets.

One time I stepped out my front door and saw 2 crates my neighbor put out, all I had to do was cross the street. They were old text books of a specialized nature, 15-20 years old and looked completely dated and worthless, except I could tell there was a good chance some had never been reprinted/updated. Half stayed there but the other half paid rent that month.

Stout House said...

Did you see this article in the NY Times this weekend?

Looks like many of us are cutting the throat of an industry we would save.

From the article:

"What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.

In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them. This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes or, if they’re lazy like me, in partnership with an Internet dealer who does all the work for a chunk of the proceeds."