How to scout like the pros at book sales

| 38 Comments

We’ve all been there.  That first big library sale where you run into other scouters.  Scouters with fancy PDAs and scanners who seem to run circles around you.  Even though you’re armed with knowledge about sales rank and how to use FBA to sell your books more profitably, you just can’t seem to scan books as fast as your competition can.  In this business, time is money, and you can’t afford to waste either.

There’s good news in all of this.  With just a few simple upgrades, you can be scouting like the pros in no time!  If you’re serious about this business, these upgrades won’t cost you money… they will actually save you money.  If you’re not 100% sure about diving headfirst into books just yet, there are plenty of free tools available to you as you are ramping up your business.

There will be two blog posts this week, both of which will feature videos.  The first one will show you the scouting setup that I use and provide links for you to outfit yourself with the exact same tools.  The second post will showcase three of the scouting apps that I use and highlight the pros and cons of each one.

Let’s jump right in with the first video which shows my scouting setup:

Here are the specifics on each of the tools I use.  Please note: the Amazon links below are affiliate links and if you purchase any of those items I will receive a small portion of the proceeds.FullSizeRender

  • FBAScan App from ASellerTool:  This app is available for iPhone and Android smartphones, and it also works on a PDA device.  Personally I prefer the smartphone solution as it’s one fewer device I have to remember to bring with me to library sales.  The entire book database can be downloaded to your device which allows you to scan books as fast as you can pick them up.  A monthly membership will run you between $30-40, depending on if you want limited or unlimited live look-ups (some books are not in their database, so you will need to look them up in real time).  Since it’s a true database, you won’t need Wi-Fi or a cellular connection to look up books.  This software is extremely helpful in library or thrift store basements.  Learn more about FBAScan here.  There are other database solutions on the market, including Neatoscan, but I prefer FBAScan.
  • Opticon OPN-2002 Bluetooth Scanner:  This scanner is durable and compact.  Mine has been dropped and scratched and keeps on working like a champ!  It can connect to an iPhone, Android device, or even your computer if you want to scan books and list them at home.  If you want to speed up your scouting significantly, invest in a bluetooth scanner.  You can find the OPN-2002 on Amazon here.  If you want the newer version of the OPN-2002, check out the OPN-2006.  Other people swear by the KDC200 (just make sure you order the correct scanner for either iPhone or Android, as they are different scanners).
  • Scotch Multi-Purpose Fasteners:  These are also known as “velcro on steroids” due to the voracious nature with which they secure your scanner to your smartphone.  You will want these to ensure smooth, one-handed operation of your scanner and phone so you can use the other hand to rifle through books quickly.  You can find these fasteners on Amazon here.
  • Jackery Giant+ Dual USB Portable Battery Charger:  The last thing you want to happen at a large sale is for your phone to run out of juice.  I prefer this device because it’s easy to carry with me, and has two USB ports so I can charge both my phone and my scanner at the same time.  You can find this charger on Amazon here.

As always, there is more than one way to skin a cat.  There are a plethora of scouting apps, scanners, and chargers out there and most of them will work just fine for your operation – these are merely the tools that I use.

Stay tuned for a post later this week where I will examine three different scouting apps and help you select one that will best suit your business needs.  Happy flipping!

38 Comments

  1. Hello and thanks for the simple post and video. A few questions:

    Does the Opticon scanner work with the Amazon Seller App and if so is it simple to set up?
    Does the scanner have to connect/plug in to my Android?
    Does the scanner make a noise each time it scans and if it does can I turn the sound off?
    How often during a book sale or thrift store run do you find yourself having to utilize the live search function on ASellerTool (i.e. is the limited live search sufficient?)?

    If you don’t mind I have a question unrelated to this post: In your experience when does the fourth quarter start to ramp up for book sales? I had an awesome back to school experience during August and September but I am wondering if book sales are as good during the holidays. I also have some CDs and VHS tapes in inventory. Thanks.

    • book bandit: No the seller app does not support scanners.

      it is bluetooth, it does not plug into anything.

      yes, but you can turn it off.

      depends on your criteria how often you do lookups. It is perhaps 1 out of 20 scans at a library sale in my experience that a book is not in the database.

      totally depends on type of inventroy for Q4. books dont see a huge increase.

      • Book Bandit,

        You have to enable serial magic keyboard while in the search box in Amazon seller. I have also found that serial magic needs the laserchamp option turned on.

        Mark

    • Thanks for the questions – yes, the Opticon scanner works with any app or webpage on pretty much any smartphone or on your computer itself. Check out my recent blog posts with some videos showing the scanner pairing with the Amazon Seller app and some other apps. It’s a bit more difficult to get it to pair with Android, but it will still work.

      The live search function probably triggers about 5% of the time for me.

      I’ve only been selling for just over a year, so I didn’t have a ton of books in inventory last year during the Q4 rush, but I did sell a bunch of textbooks in late December and all throughout January and the early part of February. I would expect the textbook season to run for about 8 weeks, similar to what it did in the fall. If I remember correctly, March was a very slooooow month for booksellers.

  2. Good info but there has always been one concern I had with these bluetooth scanner/phone app setups. Everyone talks about how fast they are. And they are fast as long as you have database access.

    My issue is that none of the scanner apps can ensure the lowest FBA price shown on their app is the lowest FBA price for the listing. You always have to click to the live Amazon listing to make sure there aren’t a bunch of low ball FBA prices. When making buying triggers in FBAScan, do you know if the triggers take into account the lowest FBA period, or the lowest FBA shown within the app? If its the latter, that seems to significantly reduce the one benefit of the bluetooth, which is speed.

    All my thrift stores have really poor wifi. I’d hate to purchase a bluetooth scanner for the speed and still get stopped dead in my tracks because I need the crappy wifi to make sure there aren’t a bunch of $5 FBA books in the mix.

    • I use a similar setup. It’s true no scouting app will show all FBA offers unless they fall within the lowest 20, not even in “live mode”, because “live” apps still use the limited API offered by Amazon. Some apps have a shortcut that will display web page showing the FBA offers directly from Amazon’s site. In FBAscan, you hit “FBA” to accomplish this.

      Having said that, you can become skilled at using the MF pricing data, number of offers, and sales rank to determine the kind of competing prices you will be likely to find among FBA sellers for that book. Also, most of the time I don’t need to see the actual FBA pricing to make a decision, since most book are an obvious PASS. I have triggers set, but I don’t pay all that much attention to them often.

      Yes, it’s an art form, but it works very well once you become good at reading into the data that is shown.

    • Jon, those are very insightful and relevant comments. A downloaded database is definitely a key factor in being able to scan quickly. Many books are easy to identify as “buy” or “skip”. For example, if the lowest MF price is $20 and it has a decent rank, then I don’t care what the FBA price is – it’s a buy every time. If the lowest MF price is a penny and I can see a few FBA prices on the FBAScan app that are all under $5, then it’s a skip for me. The rest of the books are somewhere in the middle. One method to help you make smarter purchasing decisions if you can’t pull up the FBA prices is to look at the number of offers. If it’s small, say around 20 offers, then the odds are good that there is little to no FBA competition. If there are 200 offers, then the odds are high that there will be lowball FBA offers, and you should avoid the book. It’s not ideal if you don’t have internet connection, but it’s the best solution currently on the market today.

      I don’t use triggers at all, for the reasons outlined above. I rely on “feel” and the data that is in front of me.

      Best wishes out there!

  3. Very helpful Caleb. Thanks so much for you efforts.

  4. My question, is how profitable along the lines of yearly take home income has Book scouting been for you?

    Also, I read a few of your blogs regarding a recent trip in which you were able to acquire over 200 books in less than 4 days. Following that blog makes me wonder how much time you actually spend scouting/packaging/etc (hours in your workweek). And is this your only source of income?

    You could reply here or email me directly at mrpulido@gmail.com

    Thanks.

    • JP, Caleb will probably post his tax returns soon. 😉 Seriously, I can’t speak for Caleb of course, but with books there can be a LOT of variety. How much time you spend has a lot to do with the types of sourcing you do and your listing methods. Some people like to spend 5 minutes listing each book and source a few books at a time. Some people buy hundreds of books at a time, list them with a listing app designed for speed and use a repricer instead of researching and pricing manually.

      As far as profits, it’s generally accepted that one could expect perhaps 8% of your inventory to sell per month. if listing a mixture of decently ranked and longtail books that have a reasonable likelihood of selling. The actual profit depends on the price points of the books you are sending in, based on the books that you can source in your area. This can vary greatly depending on your location. New York, is going to have different opportunities than Arkansas for example.

      There are many ways to approach the book business. Caleb has put some outstanding info on this site. Info I wish I had when I started.

    • JP,

      Great question. I’d be happy to discuss my numbers with you if you wish – you can drop me a line at thebookflipper@gmail.com. Right now I’m not quite comfortable sharing all of my sales and profit figures with the world at large. Perhaps someday.

      I have been steadily building my business over the past few months, and based on my initial success and the amount of runway still in front of me, I was able to step away from my full-time job this month actually. I will be devoting my time now to the book business, some software development, and this Book Flipper Community. It was definitely a great side income while I worked a full-time job, and I probably devoted around 10 hours a week to it as a part-time venture.

  5. Caleb,
    Can you share your FBAScan settings? Do you use the buy triggers?

  6. Hi,

    Won’t the Socket Mobile 8Ci Bluetooth Cordless Hand Scanner work well with an Android phone and the ASellerTool FBAScan or do you recommend the Opticon OPN-2002 Bluetooth Scanner?

    Thanks

  7. Caleb:

    When you use the bluetooth scanner and FBA scan on the iPhone, what do you use for headphones? Can you or do you use a Bluetooth headset headphones device also (two BT devices at one time)?

  8. Ok I’m new to all of this what is actually the cheapest way to go? I’m just starting out and need to be able to scan but I unfortunately need the cheapest path possible until I get a little more Capitol. Any suggestions?

    • Hey Karen – are you referring to the cheapest scanning setup or if FBA or MF is cheaper to get started? Either way, if you’re committed to this business there aren’t that many expenses to get started. Invest in yourself and believe in yourself and you should be able to do just fine! Start with the Amazon Seller app and list through Seller Central to avoid software costs at first, but then don’t be afraid to pay for valuable software if it helps you be more efficient.

  9. Hi Caleb,

    This is right up my alley. Amazon seller for 8 years. I’ve been using the dinosaur Asellertool PDA version (database) for that entire time with a Socket scanner. So I carry around my PDA (LOL), my phone and a loose scanner. Lot of stuff to carry around. I’m going to switch over to FBAscan and probably get that scanner, great that it can be attached, inconspicuously. Thanks for the tips.
    Question, do you know what “limited live” vs “unlimited live” is. What does AST exactly limit you too if you choose the limited version. Haven’t gotten an answer from them regarding that. That website of theirs has always been a pain to navigate through too. What package do you have with them?

    Thanks!
    Kent

    • Hey Kent – AST has been around forever, and they’re one of two games in town with a truly downloadable database, so they can afford to be ancient in their marketing tactics 🙂 Limited live gives you something like 30 live look-ups each week/month, while unlimited live gives you unlimited live look-ups. I’ve found that the majority of books are in their database, so there’s no need to pay the premium for unlimited look-ups, in my opinion.

  10. All very good info and easy to understand for me as a total newbie at book finding and flipping. And I was wondering about the different AST accounts and you answered that too-thank you!

  11. I am using Profit Bandit and it seems to work well for me. I had some initial issues using a KDC scanner which can sometimes not work smoothly with SM Gears connection software.
    You can find several used KDCi scanners on Ebay. Many have a new battery installed. Otherwise they seem to be very reliable. They are a real bargain at about 1/4 the cost of a new scanner.
    After a few adjustments and some help form the PF staff who were great, I was able to work it with no problem
    Similar to what is shown here I used tape to attach the scanner to the back of my smartphone. (MOTO G 3). It ended up being a solid assembly and I could then point the top of the phone towards the bar code and the scanner would trigger Profit Bandit immediately in response to my depressing the button on the scanner on the bottom.
    I found tape creates a something not as bulky vs. Velcro or other fasteners. I used 1/2″ Scotch magic tape. I have a screen protector & the tape left no residue on the phone or scanner. I would not recommend keeping it on for more than a day at a time though.
    If you don’t have a lanyard for your scanner/phone I recommend attaching one and keeping the loop around your wrist.
    As far a joining Friends of the Library before a sale, I think it is a good idea. Joining for year will average about $20. What that means is browsing earlier than other folks and maybe also getting a free preview of books the day before.

    • Could you expand on your issues with the KCD scanner? I am debating between that and the Opticon. Was it more of a software issue between it and Profit Bandit? I got burned once with a scanner that wasn’t truly a laser scanner and required too much fiddling to get it to read a bar code.

  12. I have an old iPhone. What are the iPhone requirements for the software and the bluetooth recommended?

    • What model is your iPhone? If it has Bluetooth capability, the scanner should work just fine with your phone. The bigger question is whether or not the FBAScan app will still work on your operating system. You can reach out to the support team at asellertool.com to get that question answered.

  13. I have a question about using a Bluetooth scanner and FBAscan. I like the set up when it works, but it seems as if my setup with the kdc200 doesn’t allow me to use the keyboard at all. Is there a function on the kdc or with in FBAscan that I am not understanding. Or, will another scanner allow me to use the keyboard?

    • I would assume you’re using an iOS device based on your post. If you need to “toggle” (that’s the phraseology) to your keyboard, simply press the “down” button on the side of the KDC200. This will trigger the device to toggle into keyboard mode and the keyboard (number pad by default) should pop up on FBAScan. Happy sourcing!

  14. Does your advice change if books are not FBA, but rather orders are filled by the merchant??

    • Since I don’t MF any books, I can’t speak knowledgeably about that question. You’ll have to run your own numbers based on shipping costs for your MF orders and develop your own criteria from there. Think about it from a limits perspective – are you limited on space, time, costs, ??? Based on that answer, maximize your business where you can!

  15. How do you determine if sales rank is good or not, if there are no offers on a book? It might not have sold simply because there were not any for sale… so what do you do in this situation?? Just guess that the sales rank is not really representing what it could actually be, if there were some for sale?

    • If you scan a book without any offers, it’s tricky to determine its true potential. You should look at the topic of the book and determine if it’s about something that would still be relevant to someone today. If it’s an older edition of a textbook that has newer editions out, then it may not be relevant, although some students may still be able to use it. If it’s about woodworking or a topic that has remained relatively unchanged, you may find a market for it if you listed it. That’s where experience will come into play. Treat them like a stock portfolio – list 50 and if you sell 10 of them, then it was probably worth your time.

  16. Do you need an unlimited data plan?

    • Not at all – database mode doesn’t require data, and if you’re looking up live data it’s just pulling text. Videos and images are where you get into trouble. Unless you’re scanning several hundred thousand books a month, all with live look-up!

  17. Hi Caleb,

    Would you recommend saving $30-$50 by buying a refurbished Scanfob 2006 directly from SerialIO, or would it be better to get a brand new one?

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