How I raided a library book sale and found over 800 books to resell on Amazon in one day.
I just moved to a new town. It has a population of about 100,000, much smaller than the city I came from. So I expected my Amazon income would take a huge hit from lack of sources.
My first day in town I visited the main library to see if they had a used book cart or bookstore. They had neither, but what I found was even better: A sign advertising their bi-annual book sale, which was the next day.
Before the book sale: Surveilling my competition
I was there 30 minutes before doors opened, to surveil the line for my competition. Every time I’ve moved to a new place I look forward to the first library book sale because it is the best way to gauge your competition in a new place. Library book sales bring out everyone – all the bottom feeders and weekend warriors, as well as the diligent sellers who will be your real competition. Library book sales bring out everyone, and its a great way to get to know the book scouting scene in a new place.
Not only was there not much of a line, what few people there were clearly weren’t booksellers. No one with bags or boxes, no one fiddling with their cell phones or PDAs. This seemed impossible, because my new town was not only big enough to have a formidable community of sellers, but was also 25 minutes from a major metropolis. Certainly the bookselling crowd from that city would make the short drive for a huge library book sale.
But the doors opened, and I had scrutinized the crowd closely enough to be confident I was the only bookseller there. This was unheard of, but so it was. I might do well in this new town after all.
Library doors open: Let the book sale begin…
I’m bad at guessing, but I would estimate this sale had about 10,000 to 20,000 books. A very decent sized sale.
One exciting feature was immediately apparent: the sale was 100% non-fiction (the fiction books were to be sold at the following sale in six months, I learned). Anyone who has sold books for more than a minute knows that non-fiction is where the money is. This was going to be good… Until the bookseller swarm arrived, which I was sure they would shortly.
How I worked the room for maximum profits
I got to work on the “Reference” table, and it was quickly obvious this sale was an absolute goldmine. 80%+ of the books were library discards, which presumably were pulled because they weren’t checked out often. Which means they were on rather obscure subjects and published by mostly niche publishing houses. All of this was the perfect recipe for Amazon value. Counterintuitive but true.
Everything was $1, including the many hundreds of DVDs. This meant that to maintain the “3x rule”, I needed to be able to sell each book for $7 to $7.50, to meet the $3 payout threshold. If I saw a $3 payout in my near future, it went in my bag.
I was going up to the cashier with two full bags about every 30 minutes. It seemed like every 3rd or 4th book had value. The quality at this sale was very, very high.
Two hours in, I still hadn’t noticed one other bookseller scanning books. If my competition in this town was this lazy – or this non-existent – I was going to do very well in my new home.
At some point, after buying about 200 books, the cashier began to cut me some deals. I didn’t ask for any deals, mind you, he just made some comment about wanting to “reward loyalty,” and stopped counting the books, instead tossing out an arbitrary number – “Let’s call this $20 worth.”
I made my way clockwise around the room, getting to the art books (goldmine), religious books (tons of eastern religion = goldmine), and history. About four hours in, I began to get nervous that there were more books than there was time. I picked up my pace.
They start giving me their books – free
“Your money is no good here.”
This is where the cashier guy threw me a curveball. To put it bluntly, he stopped taking my money. When he’d see me moving towards him with bags full of books, he’d point to the door with a fake scowl and say something like “Your money is no good here anymore!” And I’d walk right out the door with 50 free books.
After the 3rd trip where he refused to take my money, I realized he was serious, and I stopped even trying to pay. I’d just walk in, shovel books into my bag, and walk out. Every other trip or so I’d pass the table and throw down a twenty, but for most of the last 3 hours of the sale, everything was free.
When I got to the DVDs (mostly instructional and documentary films valued at $10+ each), I figured I shouldn’t press my luck, and made an attempt to pay for the literally 100 DVDs that were spilling over from the 3 bags I brought up to the cashier’s table. But still, he wouldn’t take my money. I threw down another $20 bill (working out to about 20 cents per DVD) and left.
I made many, many trips between the sale and my car like this. My truck was literally spilling over with books.
As the sale was ending, I cleaned out the last table, left another twenty, said my thanks, and went home.
The final tally of this library book sale haul
I won’t even go over the next few days, which are best summed up as a blur of listing and packing. I’ll just give you the number that matters (or one of them):
838 books and DVDs in one day.
A new record.
Epilogue: This is what my truck looked like for just one trip (of several) to the UPS store…
Peter, do you ship the books in those boxes pictured, or does the UPS Store repack them for you? Thanks
Peter Valley says
Those are the boxes I ship in.
What would be your best advice to someone who has just moved and there is competition? Also if the library is charging $2 paperback and $3 hardback and won’t even let go of one book for free?
Peter Valley says
Arrange to buy the leftovers after the sale.
Liam B says
I am going to my first library book sale tomorrow morning, any other tips you might have? The website said “all books greater than $20 have been removed for sale online” … we will see I guess.
Peter Valley says
I wouldn’t be deterred by that in the slightest.
Just starting out and might have a silly question for you. I went to a book sale and scanned a lot of books that were low in rank, about 100,000 or under. So I thought it was a really good find but then I clicked on fba sellers and saw that there were always 4 or more pages of competition. They usually priced the books around 4.00. So I was just wondering if I should’ve bought the book or not? Thanks in advance.. love your posts!!
Peter Valley says
Since I’m generally matching the lowest or 2nd lowest FBA offer, I would pass on most books that have a $4 FBA offer.
What keeps the lids on the shipping boxes? It doesn’t even look like they are taped or strapped?
Peter Valley says
Basic packing tape.
Patrick Howard says
Congrats… great stuff. Library sales, the stuff of legends.
Brenda spangler says
Peter, do you buy just any DVD’s and how much do you sell them for? Is there some guideline we should know about when buying DVD’s?