The story of one estate sale and an herbalism-book cash cow.
This was the ad on Craigslist:
“Mom died and we’re cleaning out her house. She had some nice things, but there’s nothing super expensive. Mom was into alternative health, herbalism, holistic medicine. If you’re looking for some odd, out of print book about herbalism, spiritualism, dousing, plant spirit medicine, color therapy you name it, we’ve got it. Come on down.”
Any experienced Amazon bookseller should be salivating right now. If I was going to write an ad that described my #1 estate sale fantasy, it would be probably read exactly like this.
“Alternative health books“: Astute readers notice I mention this category a lot, for two reasons: That’s all anyone in my town reads, and it’s a high-profit Amazon category. When you throw in keywords like “out of print,” “odd,” and “plant spirit medicine” (whatever that means), I just hear the cash register sound on rapid-fire repeat.
Low self-esteem: I know it’s important to maintain some tact here because an estate sale does follow a family death, but… I can’t help it: The hosts seemed to think this sale wasn’t very good. Note the line: “There’s nothing super expensive.” This ad had the tone of a 13-year old asking a girl out on his first date. “I know you’re probably busy Saturday, but I thought maybe if you wanted to come over…You know, if you’re not doing anything…” This kind of low-self-esteem could only mean cheap prices and volume discounts.
There was one catch…
I left out one thing: I saw the ad at 1pm. And the sale began at 8am. Which meant I would be 5.5 hours behind every other Amazon bookseller in a 60-mile radius who was certainly as frantic for this sale as I was.
Yes, I actually make money handling my life this sloppily… I can’t explain it either.
Hitting the sale
The house was packed. I asked the woman at the card table where the books were, and she pointed up the hallway. When I turned the corner, I found a room so packed I couldn’t even see the bookshelf. I quickly assessed it wasn’t the books the crowd was after, it was the massive collection of herbal remedies that filled the balance of the room.
Waiting for the crowd to clear, I retreated to the living room and found a box of 90 classical CDs. Price: 10-cents each. I slightly over-paid the cashier $12 for the box, greasing the wheels (just slightly) for what I knew was coming: A lowball bulk offer for the entire book collection. If that crowd ever cleared.
Finally I saw a half-dozen people exit the book room with boxes of herbal tinctures, and I made my move.
This is what I saw when I walked in:
In the first few books I scanned, I found a well-ranked title selling on Amazon for $30. The sale was crowded, but oddly the shelf appeared untouched, and didn’t show noticeable signs of pillaging. But I knew I had to make a move, fast.
I found one of the hosts and asked if he’d consider a flat offer for every book. He told me to throw a number at him.
This is where I did the “bookseller math.” First, I estimated 150 to 300 books. Then I factored in the 10 or so books I’d scanned, and how there was at least $80 in Amazon profit in that small sample. Then I factored in the subject matter: A high-profit book niche. Then I did the very, very rough math on what I thought this collection would bring me on Amazon. Then I divided it by 10.
I stood back, rubbed my chin a little, took a few deep and dramatic breaths, and said –
“How about $75?”
He said yes.
My timing couldn’t have been better. Within minutes, two people arrived who were clearly there for the books. I started filling boxes while he stood guard, telling anyone who came near the bookshelf they were taken. One woman got a little testy, announcing to the room the injustice of not being allowed a “fair chance” to go through the books herself before stomping out.
Sorting the collection
Once home, the book collection itself was as impressive as expected. And exactly as advertised. Just a ton of very very obscure old books on herbalism and “new age” medicine. Many of them were self-published and not even on Amazon, so I would be setting up a lot of Amazon product pages to liquidate this collection.
Here are the numbers:
Sellable quantity: 35
Average Amazon Sales Rank: 343,713 (for music, this is not very good)
Listing price: 367.76
Estimated profit: $220
Sellable quantity: 110
Average Amazon Sales Rank: 1,736,031 (for books, this is not very good either)
Listing price: $1855
(Note: These numbers do not count the many titles which had no listing on Amazon, that I had to set up product pages for. I’m still going through this process, but I will be listing at least 15 such books at $99.95 each)
Total cost: $87
Total estimated profit: $1,333+
A note about the (pretty bad) Amazon Sales Rank’s: When buying in bulk, you invite a lot of books into your inventory you might not otherwise. An average rank of 1.7 million would be extremely unusual for a shipment of books that were individually chosen. But with bulk buys… different story.
If I already have it in my possession, and it will bring me at least $3, I’m probably shipping it in – no matter the Sales Rank. That’s the great thing about Fulfillment by Amazon: I can ship items in, forget about them, and not care whether they sell in one day or five years.
I don’t hate estate sales as much anymore
After the release of Book Sourcing Secrets, I got a little bad feedback for underselling the value of estate sales. It’s probably valid. It’s just that they always felt to me more like football games than high-end garage sales. I like my book-sourcing absent of violent, elbowing mobs.
But what can I say… With numbers like these, I’ll take a few elbows for a $1,000-an-hour return all day long.