There’s a lot of excitement about retail arbitrage and for good reason. You have brand new inventory that is (hopefully!) popular and fast-selling. However, it is also riskier for a new seller. You are spending more per item on inventory and your mistakes cost you more. And believe me, you will make mistakes. We all do. That is why I will remind everyone NOW to reprice for the August 15 long-term storage fees assessment that is coming up. You have about a month to sell off your poor performers and mistakes that are a year old. I have two blog posts that address the need to move out inventory and how to use Amazon’s advertisingto clear out slow movers. You know what I will be doing before I leave on vacation next week!Ok, back to our regularly scheduled programming…a lot of people dismiss books for the glamor of new stuff and I think it is a mistake. I sell books every single day. My margins on books are terrific because I know how to find them cheap. It is common for me to price books at 10X what I paid and more. For those on a budget, it is hard to beat books for return on your inventory dollar. I wrote a post about book sourcing back in 2012 that covers many of the basic sources available to almost everyone no matter where they live.
I recently read Peter Valley’s new books “Book Sourcing Secrets: Every Source of Cheap Books to Sell for Huge Profits on Amazon” and “Recycler Riches” which was bundled with it. Even though I’ve been selling books since 2010, I learned some new things and I thought I’d share his book with you. Peter is definitely worth listening to. He did over $130,000 in sales selling used books on Amazon last year and shows his numbers. In his introduction he states that he makes over $80,000 a year selling on Amazon overall so books are clearly a significant portion of his inventory.
Peter’s book is a good guide to find inexpensive books. While it is short (110 pages), he gets right to the point and shares a lot of information. There is no fluff in the book. He shows you with his numbers why books make for a good FBA business. He has over 40 relevant and realistic sources which are more than enough to get anybody started…or re-started. Sometimes when one source dwindles or goes away, we are stumped for new ones. Peter’s book got me thinking about other sources that I’ve not tried yet.
His core sources of books are all ones that I’ve used from bookstores to library sales to thrift stores and so on. The surprise was there were a lot of supplemental sources on his list that I’d never thought of before. That’s saying something after four years of selling books online. I also appreciated his approach to his sources. He describes how they work and how he researches them. A section for each source called “Profit Hacks” gives tips for maximizing the sale/event/opportunity. He also uses personal stories to clarify a point and/or inspire his reader. Where the source is one he doesn’t use himself, he often finds another seller to share their story about that source.
For example, I was inspired by a story he gathered from one FBA seller that makes $3,000 a month selling books (net) and who gets all of his book inventory dumpster diving. He spends six hours a week sourcing and then a few hours processing. He started with $400 to buy equipment and now clears $36K a year working part-time with no out-of-pocket inventory costs….my kind of story! While I have successfully gone dumpster diving for other things in the past (lamps, appliances, vacuum cleaners), I didn’t think about it for books. Now I will.
I thought I knew pretty much everything there is to know about rummage sales, but I learned that many of them have preview sales just like Friends of the Public Library sales. He talked about how he’ll make a lump sum offer for all the books at some rummage sales that look good. He’s only been successful two out of 15 times, but those two were very profitable for him. I admired his persistence and wondered how many times I would ask before giving up if I didn’t know that it could be successful. That’s the kind of information I found most valuable in his book – the possibilities and the strategies that have worked.
I was very interested in the University Press sales section and am going to look into that for myself. There are a number of university presses/publishers within 100 miles of me and I’d never thought about it before. He told a story that involved Scientific Nomenclature of Birds in the Upper Midwest as an obscure book that seemingly no one would read and I had to laugh because I know it and other nerds who’ve read it…
Peter’s organizational skills are helpful and throughout the book he shows you not only how he researches opportunities, but also how he organizes them so he can maximize his time, gas, etc. He conducts research before he goes to a garage or estate sale to determine whether or not it is worth his time. He shares exactly what he looks for. In fact, he pretty much opens the kimono in every part of the book. His theory is that he can share his secrets because relatively few will ever follow through or will actually do it the way he does it. He protects his personal sources, but happily teaches others how to find theirs – an approach that I agree with wholeheartedly. His book was clear enough that I’m going to share part of this book with my virtual assistant so she can conduct my online research for me.
What you won’t find in Peter’s book is much discussion about rank, how to use your tools, listing, supplies or any of that side of the business. He assumes that his readers know the basics.
There were a few things that he said that I disagreed with. He talked about how he would not let a book store proprietor see him scanning because they take great offense. I have never had a problem with this and I shop retail bookstores all the time. However, he had obviously had this experience so my two cents is to use your common sense. I always try to be polite, quiet and to buy a lot of stuff. That usually soothes any retailer feelings. Peter also buys a lot more books at higher ranks than I do. I strongly suggest that new sellers put books down that are over 1 million in rank. It is not because higher ranked books won’t sell – they will eventually – but because you need to build up a volume of fast selling books before adding a lot of long tail books into the mix. People who tell me that books don’t sell for them are usually selling a lot of long-tail books and not enough quick turnaround books.
Another thing that Peter is up front about is that he doesn’t always follow the rules for book condition. He says that he’s never had a problem listing used-like new as new. As long as no one is complaining, then Amazon’s happy. They care about happy customers. I tend to be more conservative. I have a 100 seller rating with Amazon and I want to keep it that way. Amazon is fairly forgiving of honest mistakes here and there, but consistently not following the rules could get you banned for life.
Lastly, he is adamant that you need to be at a book sale when the doors are open or it is not worth going. While I can see his point and appreciate how fast he works a section, my experience has been that I find lots of books that the dealers leave behind – especially in really large sales. I can’t always be there when the doors open (I do when I can, obviously), but there are some sales not to be missed and I don’t think people should write off a sale if they can’t make the first hour. In a blog post from last year, I detailed how I was the only scanner for two out of the four days of a large sale and left with hundreds of books every day. Some sales just can’t be worked in a few hours.
Another brand-new book he is bundling with Book Sourcing Secrets is Recycler Riches. This is a 31-page eBook that dives deeply into one of the sources he mentions in his book – recyclers. If you are interested in buying books in volume for pennies per unit, it is worth the $47 price of Book Sourcing Secrets for this book alone. It is very detailed about how to approach a recycler; what they need to hear; how to negotiate; what you can expect in terms of books worth selling and even how to work the books once you have them. From hiring help to purging leftovers to repricing, I highly recommend this book to online sellers interested in a large-scale operation. What I liked about this book is a lot of the advice would work for any source that delivered pallets of books – thrift stores, auctions, storage units, remainder sales and more.
He interviewed Adam Bertram in detail for this book and asked him extensive questions about his former operation (Adam is doing something else now). From as detailed as what kind of truck he rented to pick up books from recyclers to how to find the right kind of recycler – the one most likely to have the higher quality books. A large scale operation like Adam’s is fascinating. He was generating about $25K-$30K a month (net after Amazon’s fees but before costs for employees – $4K – and other out-of-pocket expenses) from books he bought for 4-8 cents a pound. At the back of the book are two pages of resources to find a recycle company near you.
As far as I know, there is no other book out there like this – and I looked. I was so impressed by Adam’s operations. Even though he processed hundreds of thousands of books a year, his company was a small operation consisting of him, occasional help from family members, a few employees and an empty 800 sq. ft. apartment.
I wish Peter’s books were available in a Kindle-optimized version and I wish the PDF version was indexed so I could click on a chapter heading and go right to it. Book Sourcing Secrets would really benefit from indexing because it is the kind of book where you want to jump ahead to the sources that interest you the most. These are minor things and I’m hoping Peter will consider them in the future.
In conclusion, Peter Valley’s new books are genuinely useful and he shares everything. You get insight into the minds of two highly successful Amazon FBA booksellers and learn from their experiences. I think every new FBA bookseller (and even some old dogs like me!) will benefit from having such a comprehensive sourcing guide. It is natural once you find some sources to stop thinking about other sources – but you shouldn’t. Sources change all the time. Some of your favorite sources today may be undercutting you or out of business tomorrow. If your Friends of the Public Library sales are too competitive, then branch out and consider the other 40+ sources on the list. If you think you might like to scale up your book operations, then I highly recommend you read Recycler Riches. It will be bundled for free with Book Sourcing Secrets only until Monday, July 14 at midnight so act now to get your copy.
Besides my sweet Tess going to heaven, I’m grieving a friend who took his life recently. This double loss has impacted my ability/desire to work right now. I am going on vacation July 15-30 and may not get a new post out until early August, just a heads up. In the meantime, I will be teaching two live classes in Atlanta and Wilmington, NC and will be posting photos and updates on my Facebook fan page. I am so delighted to be able to meet some of you personally. On a personal note, I want to say thank you so much to my incredibly kind-hearted readers. I received many wonderfully supportive emails and posts about Tess and was so moved.