by Sharon Fussell
There’s always a learning curve to any business and eBay and Amazon, are no exception. Like most new business owners I faced teething problems. I worried about situations I thought were unique to me, I spent long hours looking for answers to problems I thought would jeopardise my business then and in future. It happens to everyone and not long afterwards we all look back on those days and wonder why we worried so much, why we wasted time looking for answers to problems that really weren’t that important –then! Worry wastes time, it causes stress; that’s worry and stress you need not suffer based on tips I’ll provide for you now.
• I worried that I knew very little about the type of books that will sell at a profit on eBay, and on Amazon. I was especially concerned about spending money on items I’d later have trouble selling. Today I know the best type of books to buy are usually niche subjects, perhaps a little obscure in content. This is because in most cases these type of books will have low print runs and so they quickly become ‘rare’. That’s because, not only do many niche titles have lower print runs over mass market books, they’re also likely to be retained by their earlier readers, many of those people are enthusiasts about the particular subject, and that also means fewer copies finding their way onto the secondary market. The secondary market, by the way, is the posh name for ‘Second-Hand’.
What I really look for are contemporary books in good condition, usually with an ISBN number (10 or 13 digit number above the barcode on the back of the book). Non fiction is always preferred but I usually seek out up-to-date fiction paperback books in very good condition as these are my bread and butter sales. In most cases they will only fetch 1p plus p&p, but as I sell in volume (over 100 per week) I pay an average weight with discounted postage rates from Royal Mail.
• As a new Amazon seller I would advise you not to start out buying fiction books or popular fiction as these tend to sell for low value on Amazon and profits will tend to be slim to non existent. When I first started on Amazon I would not buy books ‘blind’ (buying blind is what I refer to as buying books without checking first to see if they have value on Amazon), unless they were under 50p and they were non fiction. If I could not make a worthwhile profit selling the books on Amazon, then I would sell them on eBay, very successfully. You will be surprised how many books I have sold for high profits for example £8 plus p&p despite the same books being listed on Amazon for 1p plus £2.75 p&p.
[Avril: There’s a magnificent cross auction arbitrage opportunity for you to consider. Back to Sharon who tells us why this cross auction opportunity can be so profitable.] In most cases buyers do not shop around from site to site, they do not compare pricing, there may also be more competition for a book on eBay than Amazon and hence higher prices are achieved at the auction site. I also find that author-signed books fetch much higher prices on eBay than on Amazon, so there is another opportunity to buy low on Amazon in expectation of higher prices at auction. As an example, I found an Ian Rankin signed book being sold on Amazon for £1 whch fetched £14 plus p&p on eBay, and this is quite common.
• I eventually opted to sell mainly on Amazon, but that does not mean I chose never again to sell on eBay. I’m a great believer in not putting all my eggs in one basket, especially in these uncertain economic times, so I keep my eBay account ticking over from month to month mainly for autographed and rarer titles which generally fetch more from eBay than Amazon.
• In time I realised that although eBay and Amazon have much in common there are significant differences in operating methods that allow the sellers to make more money from specific items on one site than the other. There are things you can do easily on one site that you can not do so easily on the other. For example, eBay’s auction site differs greatly to the way Amazon marketplace works with set pricing. Amazon has no listing fees so you will not be out of pocket on items that do not sell. Amazon only gets paid when a product actually sells. This is excellent news for people working on a strict budget and I heartily recommend Amazon to anyone being made redundant or finding their income reduced by the recession.
• In time I found the majority of my stock comes from charity shops. As well as selling books most charity shops have a wealth of unusual goods that you can purchase relatively cheaply to resell. In fact, many cheap goods on charity shop shelves are of decent quality and they are perfect for selling on eBay. [Avril: Consider this in relation to Mark Hempshell’s article about low price items that may fetch 200% or more profit on eBay].
• Let me provide a few more tips for those of you interested in selling books on eBay and/or Amazon, and I recommend you try both:
- Reference and study books are very popular on both sites, but on Amazon older edition copies may be quite hard to sell for decent profits due to the sheer number available and the fact that newer editions have superseded them. [Avril: probably due to sellers not being charged to list. On eBay you really do have to take listing fees into account before uploading anything you’re not sure will sell].
- Study books can be quite hefty and drive up postage costs which cut into profits which you can not pass on to buyers. This is because Amazon charges buyers a fixed postal fee of £2.75 for books posted to UK addresses, so you have no flexibility with postage costs. To make any sort of profit from the sale value of your book of 1p plus £2.75 p&p your postal costs must be kept low, not something which can be done with a 1kg study book costing £4.20 to send. [Avril:
This standard postage fee, plus free listing technique, explains why one of our readers confessed to buying virtually any book he could get his hands on at a few coppers apiece, and packing them into a big garage he he was renting, then listing them at 1p each on Amazon. He reckoned to sell several thousand books each month on Amazon, which I worked out at a few hundred pounds profit, until he corrected me saying:
“It isn’t the price that makes money, it’s the money Amazon gives me for postage which is always much more than I ever spend on delivery!”]
• I often sell older edition study books very successfully on eBay which are uneconomical on Amazon. I usually start with an asking price of £2.99 plus a relevant p&p charge (be sure to list the appropriate postage for heavier books). One of my successful titles is Charles Handy’s Understanding Organisations, a very good seller on eBay where I have sold several at £6 plus p&p. In comparison, the 1986 paperback of this title has 34 copies at 1p on Amazon. [Avril: Tell me where, I’m on my way to buy them!]
• I also utilise eBay in other ways, such as for books that are unlikely to sell individually which I box up into lots of 500. I put them in an auction on eBay with a starting price of £9.99 and stress they are for collection only. I usually receive from £30-£50 per job lot. Okay, it’s not much but I use the proceeds to buy better stock and that’s better than chucking them in the recycle bin.
• Making up smaller job lots of books with a similar genre works too. For example, I often bundle together four Mills and Boon romance paperbacks and regularly receive in access of £5 or £6 for them. They are relatively low in weight collectively and on occasion I have sold three or four lots to a single buyer. It also works to group together titles from the same writer. Authors such as Catharine Cookson and Danielle Steele are often difficult to make profits from per sale but can sell well in batches of two or three. This also works for old postcards that are not particularly rare but put in batches of three or four, with a similar theme or from the same area of the country and they will attract a buyer that collects old postcards for photographic interest. [Avril: Sharon STOP giving my secrets away, stick to your own!]
• One of my best regular sellers on eBay are books withdrawn from libraries, where they normally have a protective plastic cover. When posting books every Please turn page… gram counts and so if I remove the covers it makes the books lighter, and saves on postage costs. If I have bagfuls of library covers I batch them into sizes and sell them in packs of 10. Buyers snap them up at 10 for £5.98 and this is all pure profit since I’ve already made money on the books themselves.
• I look for items with a subject matter in common which can fetch really good mark-ups. So at car boots and charity shops I look for items I can put together to raise their novelty value. For example, only recently I found a book about the real Van Trapp family (they of Sound of Music fame) selling for just 10p. I also found a video of the Sound Of Music for 50p and batched them as a job lot and received over £25 for them from a very appreciative customer in the Netherlands. There’s another profitable trick here and it has to do with bundling related items, but not just books and videos. I also look for jigsaws; videos, ties, CDs, or DVDs and batch them. So, for example, a video of the Titanic will have a low selling value on its own, but batch it with a jigsaw and you can attract a collector of that subject that buys because it is unusual or rare. I have also batched china ornaments and pictures, paintings and photographs within the same subject area.
[Avril: Friends again Sharon? Because I wanted to suggest to our readers that these bundled items are great for starting a bidding war that can make items worth just a few pounds eventually fetch £100 or more on eBay. The reason, I think, is that individual product type bidders, such as postcard collectors, book enthusiasts, puzzle collectors, find themselves wanting just one item in the batch but of necessity they have to bid against other people wanting one or more items. More interested parties leads to increased bidding numbers and higher finishing prices than might be so where those same items are sold individually.]
• I have found that clothing donated to charity shops ranges from common and cheap to rare and very valuable and many shops do not differentiate between the two. And so you’ll find shirts from Asda’s George range right next to designer Charles Tyrwhitt shirts and both priced at £2 each. I snap the designer shirts up and sell them easily for three or four times higher prices plus postage and packing. The same thing is possible with ties, again, the mass market products can hide a designer gem; I once found an Aquascutum tie for 50p and sold it for £9.99 and the postal costs didn’t kill me either! You can do this on eBay and Amazon, but always check past sales for similar items before deciding where to list.
• I always try to spot items that look a little bit different; I often have a punt on cheap items just to see. On one occasion I had a punt on an old knitting magazine which was worthless but it did contain a free paper pattern for socks. I was absolutely amazed to make £12.50 plus p&p (to America) for the sock pattern! Three people were bidding for it as it was a rare item and the price was pushed up.
- Use both sites to their strengths and you will most certainly make extra income.
- Use whichever site fits the profile of your main business but use the other to generate extra income.
- Keep a look out for good quality, unusual goods at car boots and in your local charity shops, items to look for do not have to be expensive or ‘rare’ goods.
- By all means have a little gamble on cheap items; if you find yourself thinking ‘I wonder’, dip your toe in the water, it is invaluable in building up experience and confidence. Good hunting!