How to profit from library book sales: My top 7 tips for Amazon sellers to maximize your profits and destroy your competition.
Library book sale profits are not random
Conventional Amazon bookseller wisdom goes something like this:
Profit at a library book sale is determined by three things
1. The randomness of the universe.
2. Whoever happens to be at the right table before other sellers.
3. Whoever is the most ruthless: (i.e. once the doors open its “survival of the fastest.”)
To this “wisdom” I say: “Yes and no. But mostly no.”
Getting the extra 5% edge over other sellers
Once you master the fundamentals in any pursuit, success will be determined by the cumulative effect of numerous little tricks that give you that “5% edge.”
That’s what article is for: To give a series of small advantages over other FBA sellers so you make the most profit form your next library book sale.
Consider going to a library book sale where, on your worst day, you would make $500. Now consider if you had one small trick that gave you an extra 5% profit. That’s $25. Not a big deal, but it’s something.
Now consider if you had 10 tricks like that, each allowing you to extract an extra 5% of profit. Now we’ve increased your book sale profits by 50%. Pretty significant.
I’m not making any guarantees about these small tricks giving you that extra 5%. But these will all help “a little.” And together, they equal a lot.
So here they are. Put these to work at your next library book sale and let me know the results…
#1 Get inside the room in advance
I’ll start with a controversial one.
At any library book sale where its not too inconvenient to do so, I’ll visit the library the day before and see if I can get inside the book sale room. (I almost always can).
This is easier than you’d think. I’m not advocating any advanced cat burglary tactics here, just jiggling a few doorknobs to get a quick peek at the room and plan next day’s attack.
The goal here is to twofold:
I want to know if this library book sale is worth attending.
First, I want to get a look at the sale to know how many books are for sale . Then I want to know the quality of the books. Then I want to look at the prices (a lot of book sales price books individually). Often, the only way to know all of these for sure is to get a look at the book sale room in advance.
I want to know the layout of the book sale room
This is important so I know where to head when the doors fly open. What books you get to before the other vultures arrive can be the difference between making $100 and making $500 (or more).
Too many times to count, I’ve entered a library book sale and seen nothing but a massive mob of people. A lot of library book sales are so packed you can’t even begin to identify what book categories are where, or know where you should go first. All you see are people, and you can’t know what books are where until you fight your way to each table individually. In the process, precious minutes tick away and hundreds or thousands of books leave the building in the hands of every Amazon seller but you.
Most sales are set up the day before. This presents an opportunity for pre-sale reconnaissance. If you can get in.
How to get in to a book sale early
Sometimes the book sale room will be open and busy with volunteers or staff setting up. To the extent that I can get away with it, I’ll either stick my head in, or do a quick walk through to gather the info I’m looking for.
If the book room is not open, I’ll still make an attempt to get access. I’ll find the room and check every front door, side door, and back door. You’ll find an unlocked door more often than you’d think.
Armed with this info, I can plan exactly what tables I want to go to, and in what order. The first 20 minutes of a library book sale are the most frenzied, and how you spend the first 20 minutes is a key to success. That’s why having advance info offers such a big advantage.
#2 Go to the preview sale
Many library book sales will offer a special “preview sale” for members of Friends of the Library. Generally, membership is somewhere in the range of $7 to $25, and is required for access to the preview sale (less often, a library book sale will charge a flat fee to everyone for access to the preview sale.)
The advantage this offers is as obvious: You get access to the books before the general public.
You might think preview sales would be a haven for other Amazon booksellers. I can’t explain it, but it just isn’t true. Your competition will always be lazy, but so lazy they can’t be bothered to attend a preview book sale and get first access to a whole room of books? Seriously, you wouldn’t believe it, but the ratio of booksellers at the “open to the public” sale to the preview sale is easily 10 to 1. Don’t ever underestimate the apathy of your Amazon seller competition.
To make it even more simple, Friends of the Library membership can usually be purchased at the door. And the cost will easily be recouped by the getting first access to a room of books.
Anytime you see that a library book sale is having a preview sale, be there.
#3 Get to the sale early, but not too early
Every big library book sale will have a certain percentage of people who will line up outside an hour or more early. I think this is pretty unnecessary. I recommend getting to most sales about 20 to 30 minutes early. That extra 30+ minutes simply doesn’t get you very much except in the door an extra 1 minute early. This isn’t exactly a deal-breaking advantage.
What’s even worse however is getting to the book sale10 minutes late. At that point, the room is usually so mobbed its difficult to navigate. And that’s 10 minutes of books being piled into the bags, bins, and wheelbarrows of your Amazon competition.
So, you want to be there when the library book sale opens, but not one hour before, and not one second after.
#4 Bring a cart
A lot of time is lost at a library book sale waiting in line to purchase books. That’s why I limit my trips to the car by bringing one of two things: A folding aluminum hand cart, or six or so canvas bags.
Only when I’ve gathered as many books as I can possibly carry do I check out and put everything in my car. (And then I go back to the sale for more, of course.)
I bring a cart (or bags) instead of boxes because they clearly identify my haul as “taken” and not for sale. Boxes might hold more, but other shoppers will see a box of books and devour it, even if its right next to you. Its helpful to have a little bit of range and be able to step away from your book haul without worrying about the vultures devouring it.
Two sellers you don’t want to be at a library sale
Often you’ll see Amazon sellers picking a corner of the room and amassing a mountain of books, shuttling their finds to their book-mountain (sometimes even covering them with jackets or sheets) until they’re done. I’m not exactly against this, as long you intend to purchase the books you squirrel away. I would just put this in that category of conduct best described as “bad form.” Not unethical, just distasteful.
The Amazon seller you don’t want to be is one who grabs everything that looks like it might have value, runs it to their book stash, and only when he’s done a scorched-earth treatment on the entire book sale, bunkers down in the corner and starts scanning. The bookseller who does this is the lowest of all life forms. Don’t ever ever ever be that person. (This happens a lot).
#5 Know in advance what books you want
Because time at a library book sale is of the essence, you want to target the “high priority” sections first. Then your way to the bottom of your list.
I have my time-honed opinions about what book categories have the most value. But every Amazon seller has their own opinions about this, so I won’t give you my complete list. I’ll just say I’m targeting textbooks, business, and DVDs first; hardcover fiction and children’s books last.
Don’t just start with whatever books are closest to the door, or anywhere you find an open spot at a table. Get militant about targeting the books sections where the money is.
#6 After you’ve gone through every book, do it again
After you’ve scanned everything and bled the library book sale dry, go back and do it again.
Why? Because you didn’t bleed it dry, you just think you did.
Want to try a fun experiment? Next time you’re out sourcing books, force yourself to go back over a shelf (or table or box) that you already scanned. You will almost always find books you missed. Try it. It’s a humbling but important lesson.
Same applies at library book sales. Every time you think you’ve scanned every book and there is nothing of value left, it is only an illusion. You missed a lot, your ego just won’t let you admit it.
I go back in tot to the sale for two reasons:
- Go over book sections I’ve convinced I’ve picked over to death.
- Go over book sections I’m convinced have no value (hardcover fiction, mass market paperbacks, etc).
I always find books I missed.
I’ve told the story before about the time I bled a library book sale dry, then went back and still found books I missed. Then went back again because a friend was still shopping, and while I was standing around idly waiting for her, I picked up a book from the hardcover fiction table and scanned it. It was ranked 300,000 and selling for $350.
There is always books you’ve missed.
#7 Buy the leftovers
Yes, you can do this. Yes, it’s easy. And yes, the library book sale organizers are usually very willing to sell you the leftovers after a sale.
I only recommend this at library book sales where the books are priced at more than $1, and there is no bag sale the last day. When these two conditions apply, you have a great opportunity to get those $2-and-up books for pennies.
(The reason I’m strict about where I’ll use this approach is that if you can’t make money on a dollar book, you probably shouldn’t be adding it to your inventory anyway.)
How to buy library book sale leftovers
Here’s how it works: I’ll approach someone in charge and ask what happens to the books leftover at the end of the sale. Most of the time, they books are just a liability to them and they will be thrilled to get $50 for the remaining 5,000 books. Often they will just give them to you for free just to save themselves the labor of moving them.
Other times, they have an arrangement with Better World Books, who get much of their inventory through these library leftovers. If you ask where the books go and they say “we donate them to a charity” or something similar, that’s probably Better World Books (which, I might add, is not a charity).
In the rare case of a library book sale that doesn’t have a bag sale and charges over a dollar per book, this technique can be a goldmine.
Despite the often fierce competition, library book sales are still a great source of profitable books. And they’re even more profitable when you apply the 7 techniques I’ve outlined here.
Peter, are you bothered with some customer screaming “counterfeit” about DVDs? I have some I would love to sell, but do not want to be shut down.
Peter Valley says
I’ve heard the horror stories, but haven’t had that happen to me, and I’ve sold several thousand DVDs in the last 2 years.
What happens when all library books are stamped with the library’s name? That’s what I have found on any I go to therefore not suitable to resale I assume?
Peter Valley says
I describe the markings in my description and list as “Good” or “Acceptable.”
Thank you for your reply, does that effect the sell price on Amazon?
Peter Valley says
Generally I only price based on two categories: Whether the books is New or Used. Within each category, I price the same whether a book is Acceptable or Like New.
So it is okay to sell library stamped books via FBA?
Also what about books that have inscriptions written on the inside of a book but the rest of the book is mint?
Peter Valley says
I always mention the blemish very clearly in the description.
perfectly good advice for 20 years ago . If you are not a “volunteer” there will be nothing left. The “volunteers” have 364 days to make sure none of the peasants get anything. The emphasis for these fol’s is now the admission fee they collect at the door which can still generate a few thousand dollars to compensate for the fact that the books have all been diverted. They put out some modern fiction to convince the community that the book sale is still functioning so that donations continue. The libraries are reluctant to try to reign in these “private organizations” even when its obvious that they exist mostly to benefit themselves.
Peter Valley says
Your local library may fit this description, but EVERY library is different. There are still tons of booksellers sourcing from library book sales, including myself. Hit a few outside your town and you’ll see the potential.
Debbie Witchel says
What are your thoughts about whichcategory of books to hit first? Business? Self help? What is your first stop?
Peter Valley says
First stop is textbooks if there is such a thing. Then “reference” if it exists. I also like business.
Raymond Bahan says
I purchased FBA mastery and love it. I was not ready at the time to do as you said pull the trigger on zen arbitrage and you offered a 14 day free trial any chance that is still available?
Peter Valley says
Yes, I’ll email you.
Alan Linnebur says
Thanks for the wealth of information you offer. I have yet to pull the trigger on anything, but will report back!
Anyway, you mention “scanning” books. What do you use, and how does it work if you have a minute to answer. Thanks again,
Peter Valley says
Bluetooth bardcode scanner and Scoutly app.
Check my free quickstart webclass for all the details.