How many times have you heard this one before?
Assuming that your cost per book and time spent locating books is approximately equal, it's much better to sell one $100 than 10 $10 books.
True for false? True, of course. Why? Because chances are you'll spend a great deal less time selling one expensive book than you will selling 10 cheap ones.
You may have heard this one too:
Even if you pay $10 or $50 for that $100 book, you're still ahead.
True again. But. Here's the objection I hear to these kinds of statements over and over again: "Sure, I'd like to sell $100 books all day long, even $50 books, but there just aren't that many of them out there, and when I can't find any at the right price, which is almost always, I have to sell the books I can find."
Fine. Now here's one you might not have heard before:
Even if it takes you another hour or two to find the $100 book, again, you're still ahead.
True? Absolutely. But how many booksellers operate on this principle? Do you?
Another patent truth: in the online book business, especially if you sell primarily on eBay, time is money is Money is MONEY, and saying it ten more times still wouldn't put enough emphasis on this. If you're not using time wisely, you'll defeat your primary purpose of selling books, which is to make a good profit.
If you're frustrated at selling $5 and $10 books - more to the point, if you're having trouble finding $50 and $100 books to sell, I would suggest earmarking two weeks for two potentially enlightening experiments.
In the first experiment, keep a log of how much time you spend in a week doing various things for your business. Listing, writing emails, packaging, waiting in line at the post office, etc. Don't leave anything out, even if it seems only indirectly related to your business, such as posting notes on a book forum. Above all, document how much time you spend looking for inventory, then estimate the value of the inventory you acquired in the same week. NOTE: by "inventory" I mean only the books you would ordinarily choose to list, not the near worthless books you would otherwise trade, donate or discard after researching them. The latter books add up to a fat zero in this experiment.
From conversations I've had with other booksellers, I know that many of them regard the time they spend looking for books as, well, stolen. Buying inventory is an activity they reluctantly give time to because it subtracts time from the more pressing need to list books or manage other aspects of their businesses, most of which can't be put off. Funny thing is, many of them also regard book hunting as the most enjoyable part of bookselling. Wouldn't it be nice if we could do more of it? Who doesn't love the hunt?
Ok, now I'm going to make what might seem like a ridiculous statement, anything but an accepted bookselling truth:
If you're not spending at least half your time looking for inventory, you're not making anywhere near the income you could make.
Half? Yes, half. When I said this to another bookseller recently, his reply was, "If I spent that much time looking for books, I wouldn't have time to list them." No, you wouldn't have time to list a lot of books, only some, but the few you did list could bring in a substantial amount of money.
This brings me to the second experiment. Pick another week and spend at least half of your working hours looking for good books. Don't just put the time in; don't spin your wheels. Work smart. Use your time wisely with the specific purpose of finding books that will sell for at least $25. If it helps, plan the week in advance. Identify times and places to hunt, and then do it.
Important: when you hunt, hunt. Don't browse. Browsing is a more or less passive activity, sort of like cattle grazing in a pasture on a lazy afternoon. The attitude is: maybe I'll find something interesting here; maybe not. If not, no big deal. Yawn. By contrast hunters hunt. They bring all their faculties of observation to bear on the task. The attitude is: the trophy is here, somewhere, and I'm going to find it.
$25 isn't a magic number, but if you set your sights at least this high you'll guarantee yourself a good return on the time you spend to find and sell books - depending on your efficiency, probably $20 an hour or more.
When you're looking, resist the temptation to buy that $10, easy-to-sell book you've always grabbed before. If you know you can only gross $10 bucks on it, leave it alone. Let somebody else work for reduced wages this week. Look instead for the $25 book, the $50 book, and of course the elusive $100 book. If you go a day, two days or more, without finding anything, keep looking. Depending on your circumstances, it may take more or less time to find the books you're looking for. In fact, a week may not be long enough to illustrate how much difference this could make in your bookselling life. Be patient. Persist. One huge buy in a month can make up for dozens of failures.
At the end of the second experiment, do the math. Add up the estimated values (determined by researching online comparables or past sales) of any $25-plus books you acquired, leaving the cheaper books out of this computation, and compare this total to the total you computed in the first experiment. With any luck it should be substantially higher. I say "luck" because finding higher quality books is partly luck. Certainly it's a matter of luck when one walks into an estate sale and is met with an entire bookcase full of Easton Press leather-bound books priced at $1 each. However, don't forget that it's what preceded the event that made this luck possible: putting oneself in that specific place at that specific time.
It's helpful to remember that luck isn't always evenly distributed. It tends to come in spurts. It also tends to come more often when we're feeling confident. Also, weeks may pass without it. Professional athletes know this. Again and again you hear them insist that their focus is not on winning but on putting themselves in a position to win. If Tiger Woods is five strokes out of the lead on the morning of the final day of a tournament, he knows he's in a position to win. That's where he wants to be. Similarly, if you get your butt in line at an estate sale, you're where you need to be. You may walk away empty-handed, but even then you're no worse off than the seller who stayed home doing nothing.
The critical thing here, the one factor that can make or break this experiment, is working smart. "Smart" means identifying the most promising places to look and going there first, then identifying the less promising places and going there second, and so on. Estate sales, for example, might typically be at the top of your list, moving sales second, but there might be extenuating circumstances to alter the order - for example, a moving sale might read "Tons of books!" and this would immediately change it to a high priority sale.
Timing enters into this as well. If it's Friday morning, and there's an estate sale, it wouldn't make sense to visit a used bookstore because the books in the store will still be there after the sale. However, if the estate sale is a bust, it might make sense (as long as you're already out) to drop by a few stores on the way home to see if the day can be salvaged. I've done this a number of times, with an attitude of refusing to be skunked, and it often paid off handsomely.
One final point: it isn't just the additional time spent looking for books that will help you find the better ones. It's also your mind set. When I was a kid, I'd count things on long trips to pass the time - horses, Volkswagens, etc., whatever interested me at the time - and it always surprised me how deciding on, say, Volkswagens seemed to bring them into view in greater numbers than I ever imagined existed. The same is true of books. Look for good ones, and more good ones will come your way.