I buy 40 niche history books without scanning to see if I could make money book sourcing totally blind. Here’s the story…
Video: My experiment sourcing books with no scanner
If you prefer video to text, here’s my video narration of this book sourcing experiment (the article below is more in-depth):
The Library Bookstore Experiment
Last week I was book sourcing at a new library book store. All paperback books were $1. So far so good.
As soon as I walked in, I spotted gold from across the room: An entire shelf of books from a niche travel / history publisher that I knew was a goldmine. This is a publisher of titles that have Amazon value over 50% of the time (I’ll reveal their name in a minute…)
I saw this as an opportunity for an experiment: Is this publisher valuable enough to buy their books totally blind, without scanning? I decided to find out.
I bought them all – and I didn’t scan a single one.
Since over 99% of books found while book sourcing are not worth money on Amazon, how could be so confident these books had value?
Before I go into the results of this ridiculous FBA experiment (and reveal this “almost always profitable” publisher), a few words about how to spot Amazon book value – without using your Amazon scanning app…
Spotting Value Without Your Amazon Scanning App
Sometimes as an Amazon seller, you encounter a collection of books and you just can’t scan them. Either your phone isn’t on you, or its an inappropriate context (even after all these years, I can’t get comfortable scanning books right in front of an estate sale host).
There are two ways to assess value without using your Amazon sourcing app. In other words: two ways you can buy books totally blind and still come out ahead – without ever looking them up on Amazon.
One, apply the Four Laws Of Book Value. (Of anything I’ve contributed to the Amazon selling world, this article might be #1).
Two, refer to your mental catalog of profitable book titles, publishers, or subjects (every experienced Amazon bookseller should have this mental list).
I’m going to focus on the second one: Having a mental list of book profit.
Never Be A Book Sourcing Scanning App Zombie
The lowest form of Amazon book sourcer is one who outsources all their thinking to triggers on an app.
One of the main reasons I’m so critical of Amazon sellers shutting off their brains and deferring entirely to their scanning app triggers is that you miss out completely on absorbing knowledge about books. Some sellers tear through entire library book sales without even looking at the cover or title of a single book. Their focus is entirely on numbers on a screen.
What separates the “book flippers” from the real Amazon sellers is their understanding of the principles that drive book value on Amazon. There’s a LOT of profit hiding between the lines of your Amazon scanning app.
To give an example…
One example is books with a poor Amazon Sales Rank. Let’s say a book has a Sales Rank (aka “Best Seller Rank”) of 4 million. The scanning app zombie seller might have a trigger set to ignore books ranked worse than 3 million. But there are ways that the book with an Amazon Sales Rank of 4 million can be a better investment than the book ranked 2.5 million. And if you deferred entirely to your scanner, you would never comprehend this.
To illustrate, let’s say a book with a Best Seller Rank (BSR) of 2.5 million is a travel guide. Travel guides plummet in demand fast on Amazon, as new editions are published.
Now lets saw that 4 million ranked book is a niche history book about an event that has the attention of a small but passionate group of historians. Or a book on advanced mathematical theory (a timeless subject).
Which one is the better investment? The books ranked 4 million. No question.
(I’m setting aside valid concerns Amazon sellers may have here about IPI score).
What’s crazy is that the scanning app robot Amazon seller has never absorbed these principles (in fact, many of them have never even stopped to look at the subjects or covers of the books they’re selling). They operate in a binary world of books either being “profitable” or “unprofitable.” And consequently, they spend their Amazon selling careers as “flippers” and not people mastering a real business.
Why All Amazon Sellers Should Have A Mental Catalog Of Book Profit
If you’re even remotely lucid while book sourcing, you can’t help but accumulate a mental list of titles, publishers, and book subjects that are disproportionately profitable on Amazon. These are books you could buy and have reasonable confidence they’d be profitable on Amazon – even if you didn’t scan them.
For some reason, the first one – a list of profitable titles – is much easier for Amazon sellers. What’s slightly more advanced is seeing patterns in profitable publishers or subjects.
One example of a profitable subject is advanced card game strategy. I don’t know why this is, but books on elite level Bridge strategy etc are worth money on Amazon seemingly over half the time. Most experienced Amazon sellers have a list of hundreds of these titles, publishers, and subjects that have disproportionate value.
Why Does Finding Profit Without Scanning Apps Matter As An Amazon Seller?
Cataloging patterns in book value isn’t important just for the occasional situation when you’re unable to scan books.
The more important reason is so that when you’re book sourcing, you know where to direct your attention. Remember that most of the time, its not realistic to scan every book. You have to “pre-scan” – meaning, you have to size up thousands of books, and do a subconscious calculation to determine which books are most worth your time. In other words, which books have the highest likelihood of being profitable on Amazon.
That’s where your Mental Catalog Of Amazon Book Profit is most useful.
The Library Book Store (And My Ridiculous Book Sourcing Experiment)…
Back to the library bookstore…
I bought the entire shelf of 40 aforementioned niche history titles without looking up a single one. The reason? I could tell by the book spines alone they were published by Arcadia Publishing.
Arcadia is a publisher from my list. If you’re not familiar with the name, you might recognize their layout:
If you don’t recognize these, I promise you that if you spend any amount of time selling books on Amazon, you’ll start seeing these everywhere.
Bottom line is: Arcadia publishes tens of thousands (literally) of titles on hyper-local history. No matter how small the town you’re from might be, Arcadia probably has a book on it.
Good news and bad news
I can’t know for sure, but I would estimate the vast majority of their titles don’t have more than a few hundred copies in print. Which is a good thing for Amazon booksellers – the scarcity means they hold their value. Most are selling on Amazon for $10+. That’s the good news.
The bad news is, with so many titles on such niche historical sites, the demand for their titles is inherently low (most average worse than 2 million Amazon Sales Rank).
I knew the demand for Arcadia titles on Amazon was low, but that the value was high. I have no problem waiting out a sale if I have confidence the Amazon price won’t plummet.
I had my scanner on me, but as an experiment, I decided to buy all 40 without looking up a single one. The experiment was: Can you buy Arcadia titles totally blind and come out ahead most of the time?
On a bigger level, the experiment was: How good was my Internal Catalog Of Amazon Book Profit?
The Results Of This Weird Book Sourcing Experiment
Watch the video below for an even more in-depth rundown, but here’s how the dust settled:
Total listing price:
Average Listing Price:
Total expected profit:
Was This Book Sourcing Experiment A Success?
A few thoughts:
One. I know its 36 books when I originally said 40. The bookstore charged me for 40, but when I went to list these, there was only 36. Either there’s four under the back seat of my car or something, or I need to get a lawyer.
Two, the average Amazon- sales rank is 4 million. I’m aware that is not great. But it was 100% in line with my expectations. Remember when I said that bad sales ranks are fine if the demand is steady / virtually timeless? That applies to Arcadia Publishing. I’m totally fine biding my time and waiting for an Amazon sale. (There are valid concerns Amazon sellers may have here about their IPI score, which I won’t go into here).
Three, is a $222 return over the long term worth it for a $40 investment? See above. My answer is: absolutely. Not a purchase I would recommend if you’re just getting started selling on Amazon, or have limited capital to invest. But for my inventory – with a mix of high-demand and “long tail” inventory – its a perfect fit.
And that concludes another one of my weird book sourcing experiments that actually worked.
Great to see a new video and article from you. Hope to see a resurgence in material aimed at and designed for those who don’t and don’t want to do OA.
Peter Valley says
LOTS more non-OA content coming. I’m no longer involved with Zen Arbitrage day-to-day, so I’m back to my Amazon roots.
Great article. I tend to always buy the books from Arcadia publishing. I must be on the right path. I didn’t early on, but as time passed I realized a small group of people were interested in those publishings. I even have my own collection. I look forward to implementing your principle’s and future content
Peter Valley says
I have my own collection too. I end up keeping a TON of Arcadia titles. Love them.
Peter Valley says
You got it.
Great article, but you can’t teach this book knowledge to zombies. You either have it or want it (meaning you are genuinely interested in books, etc. + have non-zombie 🧠 ), which means you will eventually have it. As an aside, I can tell you are a good dude by feeling a bit apprehensive scanning in front of estate sale folks. There’s a reason people hate us. Thanks zombies! 😵💫 Looking forward to the next email.
Peter Valley says
Amazon sellers get REALLY defensive when you question the value of their scanning app triggers. Very heated subject. I expect my upcoming article on that will be a comment-bloodbath.
My friend’s dad’s been selling books for several decades and has never used a scanner. I’m not that confident but it has worked for him!
And don’t worry about scanning in front of estate liquidators. They truly do not care! Heck, their main goal is to empty the house, and a good portion of their buyers will be reselling their purchases, so they expect it. A family-run sale might be a different story (although they, too, want the house empty, so probably not.) I’ve been scanning in front of people for a long time at all kinds of sales, they occasionally get curious but no one has cared yet. (I do look like a harmless mom type, maybe men are reacted to differently.) I think using a scanner appears “professional” – i.e., what you’re doing is a skilled trade and not accessible to them; they’re not inclined to get FOMO about you profiting off their books because you’re doing something they think they could never do themselves.
Anyway good to see you back. Hasn’t it been literally years??
Peter Valley says
That’s impressive skill on your grandfather’s part. I started out buying blind in 2007 and it worked well back then. A little more challenging now.
Agree the estate sale phobia is all in my head.
Haven’t gone away at all – just retreated from the blog and put all my focus on Zen Arbitrage. With that behind me, I’m ready to go scorched earth on “old school” content again…
Zen without Peter is not Zen at all. Don’t really care for the Community Calls any more. Not really put together very well. Personally, I have been doing quite well with books from thrift stores and libraries. Just picked up 92 books for $10 today. You and your knowledge and honesty are sorely missed in the Zen group. Looking forward to your “major announcement” coming up. As you may remember(?) I have sold $100,000 PLUS each of the past four years nd this year is on track to do it again. I learned it all from Peter Valley. Since you have been gone, I really don’t feel I have picked up anything new.
Peter Valley says
Hey Gary!!! I can’t comment on exactly what is happening day to day at Zen Arbitrage but I’m looking forward to sharing here on the blog and YT again. I have an insane amount of material that never made sense for ZA that I’m ready to put out to the world here. Lots to come.
Sue Kolasinski says
Good to have you back! I started out learning from you 10 years ago. I was a scanner zombie until I realized that I was leaving a lot of valuable non-ISBN books behind. I started looking those books up on ebay and a whole new world opened up. That extra step helped me to slow down and pay attention to publisher, author, etc. I hate to think about what gems I probably left behind on my way to enlightenment.
Peter Valley says
Hey Sue. The no-ISBN books are GOLD. Glad you’ve made money off that one and good to see you’re still at it.
Sue, I found a very longtail, super-niche, no-ISBN book today that should sell for over $200.
Peter Valley says
Awesome!!!! Almost no one takes the time to look those up.
In anticipation of the upcoming article on triggers, here’s what I have recently been doing. I use Scoutly and one trigger. I set it to catch everything with an Average Rank of 1-20,000,000, with the aim of getting a “Buy” signal on the overwhelming majority of items (and, I don’t use earphones; I look at the screen always), as I have the profit amount set at zero. I don’t use this trigger to decide at all whether or not to buy. I use it for two reasons: first, the trigger always catches Amazon’s price and the New Buy Box price, and gives a percentage discount recommendation off both. And, I don’t look at those suggested percentages off except to be aware of Amazon’s and the NBB’s price. Second, and more importantly, Scoutly gives a Restriction notice on any book that you’re personally restricted on, as it’s tied to your own Amazon account. The app gives this for any “Buy” result when in Live mode. This has come in handy hundreds of times, as I’ve gotten the Restriction notice and then had to follow up by going to the Amazon Seller App to see whether or not I could be approved to sell the book in Used condition. This feature won’t work if the triggers are turned off.
Peter Valley says
I love this. Extremely smart use of triggers. I’m going to be sure to cover legitimate users for triggers like this. Thanks for typing all this out! Will help a lot of Amazon sellers reading this.
I thought I’d jump back on here with a new development. As of today (11/10/2022) it looks like Amazon has decided to eliminate the ability to apply for approval of a selling application on their Seller App, something I’ve done hundreds of times as I mentioned in my first post. I’m hoping that this is a temporary glitch, but now when I try to get my selling application approved while out in the field, a message pops up saying, “This selling application cannot be completed on mobile devices. To submit your selling application, pleas login to Seller Central on your desktop device and search for this product again.” So, I won’t be buying any more books or media where I can’t even determine while out sourcing whether or not I’ll even be able to list it. The only exceptions would be if Sell Back Your Book is offering a highly profitable price for it. Any thoughts or recommendations regarding this, Peter?
Well, I was halfway right in the previous post. I now find that I can get a selling application approved on the app (still have to do it for real on the computer when I get home), but it often now requires the filling out of the new questionnaire first. So, approval now involves an irritating process much of the time, but is still possible.