BOOKing a trip… literally!

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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!”
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 thebookflipper@gmail.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: IMG_8621I 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.  IMG_8614Since 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: IMG_8615Textbook 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.  IMG_8618Every 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!IMG_8620I’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.IMG_8652True 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:  

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  • 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.

IMG_8629

  • 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. 

IMG_8651

  • 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!

IMG_8653

 

  • 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!

IMG_8626

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:

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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!

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.24.12 AM

34 Comments

  1. Man I wish I was in that area, it would be a blast to meet up and source those books. Good luck!

    Are you going to be labeling your books before you ship?

  2. Hi. I look forward to your trip updates.

    So, when you buy books from the library, what do you do about the library stamping and stickers they have INSIDE the books?

    Thanks

    • Once a book is a library book, it’s (pretty much) ALWAYS a library book. No amount of cleaning or washing or scraping labels can change that fact. I simply list it as a “former library book, with typical markings and stamps”, and grade it as acceptable or good, then move on. People will tell you that library books don’t sell well on Amazon, but they sell just fine for me! Rather than spend all that time trying to hide the evidence that it was a library book, simply disclose it and move on to find more inventory.

  3. How exciting, Caleb! I’m looking forward to following you on your journey. BTW, you do a great job of writing your blog posts. You manage to keep my attention from the first sentence to the last. Happy book hunting!

  4. This is such a great idea. I plan to do the same when I visit my mom. I’ll only be in one location but I plan to source and ship all the books before heading back home.

  5. Definitely read all the way through! Love the great ideas! My goal for my next trip out to source is to move faster. I was way to slow the first time out.

  6. Whew! I’m exhausted just reading about how busy you’ve been. Congrats on exceeding your goals. Way to go!!!

  7. Great post Caleb! My question is how did you list, clean and pack over 200 books in 4 hours? Any tricks you can share on the processing side of things? I find I can list about 50-75 an hour but tend to be spent after doing a hundred or so. Then to clean them up and pack them – you must a lot younger than me! Haven’t done a traveling sourcing trip like this yet but hope to soon.

    • Hey Kari – it probably took closer to 5-6 hours to do all the listing. That’s honestly the slowest part of this entire process, and I need to find some ways to speed up that portion of my business (or simply outsource it). Best wishes on your sourcing adventures!

      • I am guessing most FBA booksellers struggle with this. It would be interesting to see what others have come up with. I have done a lot of work in this area and here is what I have found is the fastest for me:

        1. De-sticker and sort by grade+what I will put in condition notes
        (most lengthy part)

        2. scanlister with a default price of $300 on everything -> upload

        3. go through the amazon process to create shipments.

        4. Once shipments are confirmed I print labels from the “work on shipment” page. This way I can sort into shipments as I label.

        5. Once the shipments are checked in I manually price via “Manage Pricing” on sellercentral. I have used repricers in the past, but this just works better for me although more time consuming.

      • Hi Caleb,
        This is the step that slows me down the most as well. I’ve experienced most of what you’ve touched on in your post – I wish I had come upon it sooner 🙂

        I use Profit Bandit to scan with my phone. The app you show seems so clean I’d love to know what it is! And how quickly are you able to scan and have the information up on the phone? Mine generally takes 3-5 seconds, just wondering how it compares.

        • Hey Jason – thanks for stopping by the blog! I use FBAScan – you can see my setup and more detailed videos in my recent blog posts. The key to speed is having a downloaded database. I believe you can also get this on a PDA or with a software called NeatOScan. It’s well worth the investment!

  8. Great post with your detailed notes along the way. Let us know what you thought about the conference and anything you can share about what you learned. After you get some rest, of course!

  9. Great account. I enjoy reading about your work.
    Also, thank you for the web links you provide. Very helpful.

    I had just assumed that all Goodwills are scanning everything before placing them on the shelves for sale. After reading your posts, that’s obviously not the case. Also, I visited a local Goodwill a few weeks ago and bought 10-15 books that were amazon-worthy. It’s amazing what others miss!

    • Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of Goodwills out there that do scan their books and list them online. However, none of them (to my knowledge) are selling via FBA. This leaves tons of room for profit. A local one where I used to live scanned all their books, but I still consistently found $20-50 books on the shelves, and these were selling at these prices even Merchant Fulfilled. All that to say… booksellers are lazy. Especially minimum wage workers who are tired of going through donations 🙂

  10. What a dumb couch in the background of that last picture. That couch looks like it would be great for holding books, but terrible for actually sleeping on it. Hopefully your friend at least gave you a place to stay. I hate it when I go to friend’s houses and they are like “sure you can stay at my house, but you have to sleep on a couch with blankets and cats.”
    On an unrelated note, you didn’t drink the last of the cider did you?

  11. How are you able to find books with a 20 dollar list price so often? I only started a month ago hitting random goodwills when I can and I hardly find books with that good of a sell price. Maybe my memory is failing me though, do you ignore books with 10 or higher?

    • Do you sell books FBA? That’s a major part of being able to sell books at that high of a price. I also sell a plethora of textbooks for $40-100, which brings up my average selling price. I buy lots of books that only sell for $8-10.

      • Thanks for replying, yeah I sell FBA. That 20 dollar average listing jumped out at me, but I admit that I should really research and get my head around pricing. I’ve got so many books between the 7 – 9 range and only recently really realized just how much fees eat up profits.

        I’m in it for the long haul though, Caleb you need to make posts more often!

  12. I was on dad duty all weekend or I thought about driving down and connecting with you on this trip.

    Glad to hear it was a success.

  13. I love reading your adventures and I learnfrom every post! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us. I’ve been selling amazon FBA for several months now (I had set the goal of listing 100 books/week before I read your post about it–great minds lol). I’ve been succeeding most weeks and I love the whole process 🙂

  14. I use a shrink wrap machine to wrap books. But it is so heavy that traveling ng w/ it is not practical. How do you wrsp books on the road. Poly bags?

    • I have never shrink wrapped a book, and I have not had any complaints on the condition of my books. I would challenge you to consider saving the time and money and focusing instead on buying more books rather than shrink wrapping the ones that you have. It may give you a slight competitive advantage to wrap yours, but I’m not sure that it’s worth the effort.

  15. I’m heading to Indy this weekend, great tips, I’ll definitely gonna stop at the Goodwill Outlet, I’ll probably have time to make one more stop, any suggestions on where to go?

    Cheers!

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