As an online bookseller, I love a good library sale and the potential profit it brings. Selling books online via Amazon’s Fulfillment by Amazon service is the primary way I pick up money.
I’m fortunate enough to live in a geographic area where there are plenty of book sales and plenty of readers, which equates to plenty of books – but that brings out the competition. At larger book sales (250K+ books), there are often hundreds of booksellers in line waiting for their piece of the money pie. (Mmmm, pie.) Even at smaller sales, it’s not uncommon to see two dozen sellers (you know them by their Rubbermaid bins and boxes).
To get ahead of the competition, I’ve started using the following tips to build my sourcing log. Building a sourcing log is a technique recommended by Peter Valley of the website FBA Mastery. Basically, it’s just a list of the places you find books and the last time you visited, so you can visit your spots in a regular rotation without missing any potential profit. A section of my sourcing log includes annual or semi-annual sales, and I then transfer the dates to my Google calendar so I can make sure I don’t miss them. All you need is to hear about an event one time, and you can add it to your sourcing radar for years to come.
A lot of booksellers simply follow the sales on BookSaleFinder.com and don’t go out of their way to find the hidden honey holes. That’s where you can rush in, picking up all the money ahead of your competition. Here are the five strategies I use – do you have more?
1. Ask, and Ye Shall Receive
There’s a thrift store in my area with an extensive book section. One day – as I’m in there buying nearly $200 worth of inventory – I asked for a bulk buy discount. No dice, says the older gentleman behind the counter. (Full disclosure: He didn’t actually say “No dice.” I’ve never heard anyone say that.) But he did tip me off to the upcoming book sale planned for the next week on the grounds of the store. This sale hasn’t been advertised in any of the local papers or on BookSaleFinder – the only way you’d know about it is if you worked there, saw a newspaper ad (!), or happened to be driving by on the day of the sale.
Lesson learned: If you have any thrift stores or bookstores you visit regularly for inventory, make sure you ask employees about upcoming sales and note them on your sourcing calendar.
2. Scour the County-Wide Library System’s Event Calendar
In the state I live in, each county has its own public library system. Sometimes the individual city and township libraries band together to contribute donations and withdrawn books to one larger sale. Sometimes they have their own ongoing sale in the library itself during certain days of the week. And sometimes they hold their own individual sales once or twice a year. Several times I’ve found unadvertised sales simply by visiting each individual library’s website and clicking through on the events calendar.
3. Talkwalker Alerts
To make sure you’re not missing any book sales in your local area, set up Talkwalker alerts for “[your county or city name] + book sale” and “[your county or city name] + library sale.” I used to love Google alerts for this purpose, but something went wonky with their service and it only works intermittently. Talkwalker is free and is working well for me. I have alerts set up for the counties within an hour or so drive of my home. Anything further than that and I want it to be advertised on BookSaleFinder to be sure I’m getting my gas money’s worth.
4. Email University Librarians Directly
Within a 30-minute radius of my home, there are at least a dozen colleges and universities. In my quest for new sources to buy books, I spent about 30 minutes emailing the circulation desks or library directors one day. The result? I got a 50% response rate, letting me know whether there was a sale shelf in the library or whether the library held a yearly sale. One source told me about a book sale benefit held by students on campus; another happened to be a Friend of a local library and let me know about another unadvertised sale. Even those that said they didn’t have sales saved me the gas money from driving all the way there to ask in person, so I consider it a win. Try to get the name of the person and a direct email, rather than just emailing to an “info@” address. Here’s the text I used:
Subject Line: Your Library Book Sale
Does your library ever have used book sales or sell your discards? Do you have a sale shelf in the library itself?
If you are aware of any sales on campus, would you shoot me a quick note?
Thanks – I love book sales and am trying to find new ones around [your city name].
5. Get Your Nose Out of Your Phone/Scanner and Talk to People
I have a favorite sourcing spot. I go there once a week and usually go home with no less than 50 books. The inventory turns over regularly, and it’s great for regular recurring inventory. But it’s easy to get swept up in the book scanning routine and take it so seriously that you ignore what’s going on around you. One morning this summer, an elderly lady wandered up to me as I sifted through the stacks.
“You like books?” she said. I’m not sure I lifted my head. Probably I grunted in an affirmative but very unladylike fashion with my eyes glued to my smartphone.
“You should go to the hospital. They have lots of books there,” she told me. “So many books they want to get rid of. You should go there! It’s in the tent.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. Why would I go to the hospital for books? But I had a few extra minutes after sourcing, so I drove by the hospital. What do you know? Tents and food stands and vendors and an unadvertised book sale filled the parking lot. [Now that I think about it, it does make sense – presumably there would be tons of books left behind in a hospital environment, from both visitors and patients.] The books were stupid cheap and I bought so many I could barely carry them back to my car.
Next time an older lady approaches me wanting to talk about her love of books, I will be paying attention!