Instead of this week’s typical post, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit. I booked a last-minute trip to Louisville to attend the inaugural CES Booksellers Dinner hosted by Bryan Young. If you happen to be in the area, consider attending this dinner to learn more about scaling your Amazon book empire!
This post will chronicle my trip from Denver to Louisville as I attempt to pay for the entire adventure through sourcing books and shipping them to Amazon’s warehouse via Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA). I’ve paid for several trips this way when I drove to the destination, but this will be my first crack at doing the same thing by airplane. Hopefully this post will give you some inspiration to “book” your own adventure!
9/10/15, 1:28 pm – Atlanta airport
A three hour layover is the ideal time to kick off this blog post. There’s just something about writing while in an airport terminal…
If I want to turn a profit on this trip, I’ll need to establish a few goals first. Let’s start by estimating the total expenses incurred on this journey:
- Round-trip airfare from Denver to Indianapolis** (Delta) – $345.12
- Rental car for 3 days (Budget Car Rental) – $79.71
- Dinner/networking event – $149.95
- Hotel (staying with friends) – free!
- Food (estimated) – $125.00
- Gas (estimated) – $50.00
- Total Costs – $749.78
(**”Indy?? I thought you said Louisville?” Nice catch! I’m staying with some college friends in Indy and then driving to Louisville via a rental car.)
In order to come up with an estimated $750 of profit by sourcing books, let’s apply some back of the napkin calculations:
- Average cost per book: $1.50 (it’s usually closer to $1, but since I’m in an unfamiliar city I’m going to plan on higher costs)
- Average list price: $20.00
- Average FBA fees: $6.69 (typical fees on a $20 book that weighs 1 pound)
- Average profit per book that sells: $11.81 ($20 list price – $6.69 fees – $1.50 book cost)
But wait… let’s not forget about one critical factor when it comes to selling books: not all of the books will sell. In my experience, roughly 60% of the books I list will eventually sell.
To arrive at an expected net profit per book that I list, we’ll take that $11.81 and multiply it by 60%. This gives us a target profit of $7.09 per book. This is the number we will use for our calculations.
$750 in expenses divided by a $7.09 expected profit per book means I will need to find 105.8 books to break even on this trip. (Since partial books don’t sell very well on Amazon, let’s round up to an even 106 books.)
I would love to turn a nice profit on this trip, so my goal will be to source, list, and ship 200 books by Saturday morning. The networking event will take place on Saturday evening and I have to catch an early flight back home on Sunday morning, so all of my books will need to be out of my hands by Saturday morning at the latest. This reminds me of a hyped up version of the 100 book weekly challenge that I wrote about last month. As Barney Stinson would say… “Challenge accepted!”
I brought my computer, my cell phone with its trusty scanner, and a roll of packing tape with me. I plan to use my friend’s scale and I will attempt to find shipping boxes in dumpsters along the way.
My main source of books will be thrift stores. There’s also a preview night for a library sale taking place tomorrow evening that I found on booksalefinder.com. It says that some books were removed to sell online, but I bet there will still be some gems to be discovered there!
I’ll provide updates throughout the journey. If you have questions along the way, or would like to join me for some sourcing escapes in Indianapolis, feel free to hit me up at email@example.com, or leave a comment below.
9/11/15, 12:39 am – downtown Indianapolis, friend’s couch
It was a great day in a number of ways! The flights went smoothly (I sat next to a man with 5.5MM Delta miles in his life… crazy), there were no lines at the rental car facility, and I was able to find a few books and spend a wonderful evening catching up and brainstorming business ideas with my college buddy, Brett. We ate at one of his favorite restaurants, Bluebeard. This is his excited face: I haven’t seen Brett in a few months, so we spent most of the evening catching up and enjoying the local cuisine. I was still able to source about 50 books from a total of 3 sources, and I wanted to quickly share some of the highlights:
Source 1 – Goodwill Outlet Store: For those who have not had the opportunity to visit a GWO, you are definitely missing out! This is where all the overstocked or over-donated items go before ending up in a landfill somewhere. They basically have large blue tubs everywhere that they roll out for an hour or two and then take back and swap them out with other merchandise. Everything is purchased by the pound, and people get quite animated when new tubs show up on the floor. I’ve even seem some fights nearly break out at these stores! Book competition can be fierce at these stores, and it’s not always enjoyable to be in there fighting over a few books. There was a GWO just around the corner from the airport, so that’s where I started my adventure. Fortunately there were no other scanners in sight, so I had free reign of the 4 tubs of books. Since the books are all thrown around carelessly, the quality of the books is never very high. But what they lack in quality, they make up for in cost. These books were 25 cents for softcovers and 50 cents for hardcovers. Can’t beat those prices! I purchased 18 books here, including this gem: Textbook season is still very much alive and well, and with a rank of 27k I expect this book to sell quite quickly. Note the price disparity between used MF and used FBA: $38.89 (including shipping) all the way up to $59.80. Not only can I price my book $20 higher than the lowest MF offer, but I have a high chance of selling it for that price quickly, as a student may need it for a class and will require the 2-day shipping option. During this most recent textbook season I’ve had success selling textbooks for as much as $40 or $50, even when the lowest MF price is $10 – just because students need their books ASAP! If you’re not pricing your textbooks (and all your FBA books) higher than the lowest MF prices, you are quite likely leaving money on the table.
Source 2 – a regular Goodwill store: If you’re new to sourcing and the thought of a swarm of sellers converging upon a library sale intimidates you, then a regular ‘ol thrift store will suit you just fine. Goodwills and other chain thrift stores are the bread and butter of my business. I rarely encounter another scanner in the store, and I’m free to take my time and scan as many books as my heart desires. This is where I learn about which books have value and which ones are usually not worth selling. I can also take the time to select books a bit more carefully by looking up their sales rank history on camelcamelcamel.com. (For an in-depth explanation of sales rank, check out these articles here and here.) This helps to ensure that I bring home fewer duds. Every seller has their favorite categories of books. Other than avoiding fiction completely (based on the library data I’ve collected, less than 1% of fiction books are worth more than $8 on Amazon), here are my next favorite categories: textbooks, art, math, science, history, how-to books, arts and crafts, religious books, and business books (in no particular order). The weirder the book, the higher the chance that it will be profitable on Amazon. These books were a bit higher priced, at 99 cents and $2.49, but I got a 10% discount on everything by signing up for Goodwill’s local email list. I purchased roughly 20 books for around $28. Not too shabby. My goal at every thrift store is 10 books – sometimes I end up with fewer books, and sometimes I walk out of there with 75 books. It simply depends on the day, and whether or not another scanner went through the books.
Source 3 – Value World: This was a local thrift store with a very small collection of books. Nearly 90% of their titles were fiction, so I only pulled about a dozen books from their shelves. None of the books were spectacular, but a handful of $10-15 books add up quickly. On my way up to the counter, I stopped by the VHS table to take a quick look around. None of the movies caught my eye, but I did see a shrink-wrapped set of photography books that was clearly not with the books where it belonged. As a general rule, if it’s in its original packaging and clearly new, it’s worth scanning. Sure enough, we had another gem!I’ll probably match the lowest new price here of $135.89, and if it doesn’t sell in a few months at that price I’ll come down to $99. This set had a special price tag of $3.85 on it, but it was worth every penny! The rest of the books here were inexpensive, at 25 and 50 cents apiece. If you want to find cheaper books, find the non-chain thrift stores and the pricing is usually quite favorable. Another point worth noting is to take a look at the local area around the thrift store. If there is a university nearby, you can expect to find a fair amount of textbooks. Since this store was in a more rundown area of town, I didn’t expect the books to be all that great. However, a single gem among a dozen $10-15 books made it a worthwhile 15 minutes of sourcing!
It’s getting late, and tomorrow will be a full day of sourcing and listing. Stay tuned as I attempt to update throughout the day! I will also be updating my Twitter feed with pictures throughout the day from my various sources.
Have a great night!
9/11/15, 5:37 pm – a Starbucks in downtown Indy
It was a successful day! It’s nice to finally sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee while reflecting on the day. I was able to combine catching up with a Resident Director from my freshman year of college with a fruitful day of sourcing books. Best of both worlds. Here’s how the day shook out:
I drove up to Kokomo, Indiana to catch breakfast at a diner with an impressive rendition of eggs benedict and breakfast potatoes with cheese and bacon. They know how to make a hearty meal in the Midwest! While there, I formulated a game plan for day. I used a combination of Google Maps (simply search “thrift store” and see what pops up) and an app called ThriftBuddy. There were several thrift stores in Kokomo, so I decided to see what I could find there and then head down to a nicer town, Carmel, to see what could be found there. I prefer hole-in-the-wall thrift shops to the chain stores, but the challenge there is that they are rarely listed on Google. Some of the listings on Google also have long ago gone out of business, so it’s worth calling ahead to see if the store is even in existence. If someone answers the phone, go ahead and ask if they sell books. Quite often, they chuckle and say “Oh yeah, do we have books!” In this particular case, it was a sorority thrift store and the lady replied that they had some books. She then asked if I was looking to buy or donate, and said they don’t accept donations from non-members. That was a big red flag. Since it was just around the corner, I decided to stop in. It turns out they had MAYBE two dozen books, most of which were softcover fiction. Strike one. Off to a consistent source… Goodwill.True to form, this Goodwill had a great selection of books, at 99 cents and $2.49 for soft and hardcover, respectively. I started with the textbooks and was able to find a few quality ones. Even if they don’t sell now, they will be great inventory for the December/January textbook rush.
A few helpful tips that I’ve learned over the past few months:
- Scan books that others don’t. Most booksellers are incredibly lazy, and will avoid books that are inconvenient. This includes books on the bottom row, and especially books without a barcode. Often, these books will have the ISBN printed on the back cover, just without a barcode. Take the time to type them in, because even if this source has been picked over by another seller recently, they have likely never checked that particular book. It’s not a guaranteed winner, but you’ve got a decent shot at it. Here’s a great example:
- Look for “Used” tape along the spine of the book. It’s most often yellow, as pictured below. These books help you quickly identify textbooks, especially smaller books that you wouldn’t normally lump into the textbook category.
- Look for Prime stickers covering a barcode. This means the book has been sold on Amazon before, and may still hold some value. Don’t bother peeling back the sticker to scan the barcode underneath… simply look on the backside of the title page and you can find the ISBN there and simply type it in. Don’t waste valuable time peeling back stickers in the store.
- Look for signs that other sellers have been through the store. A good way to recognize this is to spot stickers that cover the barcode that have been peeled back. A lot of scanners will peel the sticker back so they can see the barcode. When I see a lot of these at a store, I make sure to type in any ISBN without a barcode because it’s probably been skipped by the other sellers. Also, keep in mind that most sellers don’t sell via FBA, which means you can buy books that they have to leave on the shelf. They may also have higher buying thresholds than you do, so scan away!
- Of course, if you want to intimidate other buyers into thinking that their source has been sufficiently plundered of all valuable books, be sure to peel back several stickers and leave them out in plain sight. If that fails, you could always bring these stickers with you and leave them on a few books. That ought to catch a few scanners off guard!
This particular Goodwill netted me 36 books in about 25 minutes. Off to the next source!
My college friend is a professional book sourcer in Indy and purchases books mainly from college professors and bookstores. He had a bookstore lined up to look at their inventory, and invited me to tag along. This particular store caters to the local universities, and offers them new and used copies of the common books they use in their classes. They also do book buybacks throughout the year. In short, they understand the used textbook market. Or so you would think. After my buddy purchased the books that his company wanted, I followed behind him with my scanner and set aside over 100 textbooks that were worth at least $10 FBA. Several of them were worth $30, $40, or even $50. After I set them aside, we started to discuss pricing. I was prepared to pay up to $500 for the books, but I resorted to negotiation tactic #1: always get the other guy to name the first price. He typically sold those books for between $5 and $15 apiece, but they were slow-moving inventory and he wanted them gone. He threw out a price of $2 for softcovers and $3 for hardcovers. I quickly agreed! The total came to $220. I happily handed over the cash and loaded the books into my car. Lesson learned: don’t always assume a bookstore knows what they are doing with their books. If they’re not selling them FBA, there can be room for you to make a decent profit – especially with textbooks. (to read more about why books sell for more via FBA, check out this blog post) This was a true win-win situation – the owner was thrilled to move his inventory, and I was happy to add these to my FBA inventory.
I made one more stop at a Goodwill on my way back home and snagged another 31 books. I believe that puts me over my goal of 200 – time to get them listed!
9/11/15, 8:05 pm – back at my buddy’s house
Here are the spoils of war – most of them, anyway:
Time to order in some pizza, grab a movie, and get around to listing these…
9/12/15, 12:08 pm – still at my buddy’s house
Success! Everything has been listed, labeled, and is packaged up and ready to be dropped off at a UPS store. I managed to snag a few hours of sleep and am ready to jump on the road to head to Louisville to hit up the booksellers dinner. Thanks for following my journey! Hopefully this has inspired you to go off on your own adventure. I was able to snag boxes from the thrift stores and brought a roll of tape with me from home. Other than that, it was a truly mobile operation!
Here are the results of the weekend haul. Overall I’m quite satisfied – I surpassed my goal of 200 books and was able to source just over $6,100 worth of books!