I tend to over-complicate my job as an independent bookseller, especially one who is selling books online. There has been a huge influx of independent online sellers since eBay and Amazon established themselves as the world’s leading eCommerce businesses, which isn’t news to anyone, I know. People developing, and maintain their own “eBay Stores” has become a huge independent means of alternative income. The book industry is no different. There is one aspect of it, however, that very few people understand. Similar, in a way, to that guy who bought Walmart out of their discounted products and sold them online for a profit in the regions that they…you know, would be profitable, there is a large community of people, in the book industry, that visit discount book stores such as Half Price Books and various other used stores where they buy books for cheap and then resell them, usually online, to people in regions where that particular title or edition or author is sought after.
I live just outside of San Antonio, Texas in the Texas Hill Country. I’ll often drive into San Antonio and visit the many Half Price Books bookstores where I scan the shelves for books that are, for all intents and purposes, underpriced, and I’ll buy them. However, a number of the books that I find under such circumstances I don’t resell, I keep them, for my collection, which is a little problem that I have. I once found a signed First Edition/First Printing of Wallace Stegner’s, ‘Angle of Repose.’ Signed! On the shelf at Half Price Books for $12. So, of course I bought it, and I could have turned around and resold it for more than a thousand dollars, and yet it’s still just sitting on my shelf along with the rest of my collection. Of course, to be fair to me, how often are you going to find a signed copy of Wallace Stegner’s ‘Angle of Repose?’ and for only $12?!
Another aspect of this type of business model is to find books underpriced—and I should probably clarify that a collectible, regardless of what it is, are priced, generally, according to their market value in that particular region: so a book you find in San Antonio may not have the market value that it might have in, say, San Francisco, for example, even in this internet age. If you find a book that is underpriced in one particular area it can often be sold for two, sometimes three times (maybe more) the price you paid for it, in another area. These regions may even be broken down within a single city. So, a book you find on the northwest side for cheap might resell for a profit margin on the southeast. There are a lot of people that make a living learning about the demographics of their city, and beyond, in order to buy and resell in and around their neighborhoods. It requires collecting data and doing some research, but the entire process is both fun and, clearly, incredibly rewarding, if you dedicate the time to it.
The nearest Half Price Books to me is near Huebner Oaks, off of Huebner Road in San Antonio, in a tiny shopping center called ‘The Strand.’ There are a handful of really cool books sitting on their shelves that I tell myself that I’ll return to later, partly because I always spend a ridiculous amount of money when I visit, but also because there is this girl that works there that’s really cute: shoulder length black hair, fair skin, thoughtful. I go in there looking for new opportunities to talk to her. It’s not within my purview as a male adult to approach women while their working with the intent of “asking them out”—simply because they are working. See, because they have to be there, they’re just trying to make a living. The last thing I would want is for someone to come up to me, on the job, and create a possibly uncomfortable situation—so no way! The conversations we do have are very nice, and as infrequently as I go into San Antonio—we’re just simple country folk—sometimes it’s even a pleasant surprise when I see her. But, wait, hold on, I’m not really there to socialize, right, I mean, I’m trying to make a living people—get off my back.
I know how appealing this sounds. A number of you might read this and think, “Hell, I can do that!” and hightail it to your nearest used bookstore expecting to quickly make your first million. Well, it ain’t comin’ that easily. Let me outline how this is going to go: you’re going to pull into the parking lot, and you’ll probably find an incredible spot and attribute it to how seamlessly the next hour or so, and subsequently the rest of your life will lead, so you’ll pull in to the spot, and you’ll get out of the car, and you’ll walk up the front doors, you’ll open them, and you’ll step inside, an employee will acknowledge your existence, and then you’ll stop and hesitate as you scan the entire store from left to right. Because you have no idea what you’re looking for, or how to find it. I mean, you’re not going to pick every single book up off of the shelf, flip through it, and then put it in your basket, right? What are you even looking for inside the book? It cannot just be a clean hardcover that looks cool. You really have to know what you’re looking at. (Lucky for you I did write another blog about the specifics of determining whether a book was collectible, or valuable—it’s not always the same thing—but as you’ll see you when you read this other blog here, even that alone cannot help you on your half-assed journey towards wealth and underground book industry fame!)
You have to do your research. You have to allow for trail-and-error. The process takes a while, so you’ll want to learn how to enjoy it. I love being surrounded by books, of course I have a difficult time letting some of them go, which makes the process, for me, considerably more difficult, hence the reason why I make bookselling more complicated than it should be. But that’s just me. I find other superficial ways to enjoy my job, maybe perhaps I’ll discuss it with the lovely black haired, fair skinned woman sorting through book buys/ and trades behind the back counter, either way if you don’t get attached to rare finds and collectible books it is a great way to both learn, and find a few extra dollars in your pocket.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.