Recently I attended a library book sale about 45 minutes from my home. And it fit the profile of the “World’s Worst Library Book Sale.”
What does that mean? Let’s look at the list of factors that might make a library book sale really, really bad:
- Book prices over $1 (less room for profit)
- All fiction books (the least profitable book category)
- Advertised on BookSaleFinder.com (every bookseller within two states will be there)
- At a library that holds frequent sales (this sale was held every month = same books sale after sale = heavily picked over).
This sale was all four.
I didn’t know any of these things at the time, or I wouldn’t have gone. I just happened to come across the sale in one of my regular Google queries for “book sale + (any county within an hour) + library.” And I had already planned on heading up that direction to do some other sourcing, so I went.
Analyzing the sale
Upon walking in, all four of those aforementioned sale-killer factors became apparent within seconds. It was clearly an all-fiction sale. All books were $2 and up. There were two other scanners tearing through the books. And a sign on the door indicated the sale happened every month (and there was no way they were filling up a room that size every month, so most of the books were leftovers from previous sales.)
Another sign told a more promising story: The following day was their “bag sale.” Apparently the bag sale is not done monthly, and although I was planning on leaving without even giving the sale a look, I decided to give it a quick survey to determine if returning the next day for the bag sale was worth my time. A couple things offered a hint of promise…
One, the books were categorized by genre. This was very good, because there are sub-genres of fiction that can be profitable, if you don’t have to wade through all the Grisham books to find them.
Two, one of the sections was a rather large poetry section. Poetry books are a strange category. Of all the fiction sub-categories, they hold their value the most. A vastly disproportionate number of poetry books have value in the $10+ range, which is rare for fiction. On the flip side, you will rarely find a poetry book ranked better than 1 million. Even better than 2 million is pushing it.
Three, another section was all “classics.” This is another category where there can be profit. Especially when you get into literature anthologies for college students, Norton “Critical Editions,” and so on. There were multiple tables of these.
This one detail – of the books being sorted by category – made me feel this would be worth the return trip the next day. I scanned a few books and confirmed that I would happy to pay a few pennies for many of these books.
A bad sale gets worse
The next day I was there 10 minutes before opening.Doors opened, and everyone flooded in.
This library was heartless, and didn’t cut any breaks. In addition to the world’s worst regular book sale, it was also the world’s worst bag sale. There are only two ways to stymie profit at a bag sale: High price-per-bag, and making you use their (small) bags. This one did both.
The price per bag was $5. This isn’t an uncommon price, but it’s just about the high-end of any price you’ll ever see. And as far as bags, at the door they gave you those super-small plastic grocery bags. Like I said, they just weren’t cutting anyone any breaks.
Aaaaaand it just got worse. There were even more booksellers there than the day before. But I had a plan to subvert all of them.
Scorched earth subversion of my opponents
I grabbed a huge stack of bags and went for the poetry section. Then I did a move many would consider unsporting, but I stand by it: I shoveled every single poetry book into my bags. There were no survivors. I took every one.
Poetry books are generally in the 80 to 130 pages range, so I was fitting 30 or so books per bag, or about 17-cents per book. I didn’t care about scanning anything at this price, especially in a high-value category. I just wanted to beat the other sellers. I filled eight bags and stashed my bags in a side room.
Then I went for the “classics.” With these, I wanted to use my scanner but still move fast. After years of doing this, I have that trained eye that allows me to size up the books at a glance and tell me which ones were worth closer inspection.
The other booksellers didn’t seem to share my analysis of the situation, and were over in the “General fiction” section. So I had the classics to myself. I scanned all three tables quickly, and filled 6 bags.
Then I did a rather quick survey of the other sections, and filled another bag, for 15 bags total.
And with that, I was out.
I spent that night scanning and listing, and these were my totals….
191 books of value.
140 books discarded.
Total listing price: $2,131
Expected profit (eventually): $1,276
Average sales rank: 1,962,733
I feel like I need to justify this Sales Rank. As I’ve covered before, even a Sales Rank of 1 million isn’t that bad. It’s not good either. 2 million is much worse. But consider that the majority of the books I bought I didn’t scan first. Then consider that I paid under 25 cents each on average. And, most of these were poetry books which (again) are rarely ranked better than 2 million, but valued high.
I also bought quite a few of “the classics” that were ranked well, and pulled the average down, a little.
Many (if not most) of these are not books I would have introduced into my
The takeaway lesson
If we can agree that almost every book sells eventually, there is one point worth highlighting: Despite operating under the worst imaginable conditions, then sometime before I die I can expect to profit roughly $1,200.
Pretty good for “the world’s worst library book sale.”