Tag Archives: alibris

Selling at Alibris: why it’s pointless

One suspects that most people who flop selling at Alibris didn’t do their homework, or had unrealistic expectations. I can give you a better reason why.

The whole thing is geared to make money only for them.  You are far, far better off just taking the books to your used bookstore for credit, or to your library, or just recycling them.  Seriously.  Unless they are rare, that is.

Alibris has two tiers of sellers.  For the one, you pay $20 to get started, so you are already in the hole.  For the other, you pay a monthly fee, so you are already in the hole on a monthly basis.  Let’s walk through selling a typical hardback book in Fine condition.

Your shipping costs are:  $2.80 for media mail, $1.50 for the bubble mailer, net $4.30.  You will get paid $4.00 for shipping.  So far you are down ($0.30).  Okay, but you should take that into account with your pricing, right? Go ahead. You will also pay Alibris $2.25 (cleverly split up in the description of their pricing scheme so you won’t add the $1.00 and $1.25 together) for the privilege, plus $0.50 as a commission, net loss there ($2.75).  So your total costs are ($3.05). This accounts for every factor here except the price tag you put on the book.

There are 100 of the same book in Good condition listed for $1.00, and some in Very Good and Fine.  If you sell for that you will lose ($2.05).  Suppose it’s in Fine condition and you say, well, I have to get $3.05 for it.  If it sells for that, you break even, but Alibris gets its $2.75. You can’t win.  Price it higher than that, and you wasted your time listing it–no one’s going to pay more for it.  Price it lower and you may well sell it, losing money.  The one constant with every such transaction is that Alibris makes money and you can not.

Notice we didn’t even discuss the actual cost of the book.  It is, you know, an item of merchandise that once had a cost? Clearly, you will never get back a fraction of that; this is accepted.  However, the above model considers the book to have zero cost value. Assign it some form of basic cost of goods sold, even a pittance of 10% of original price, and you’re even further in the toilet.

Okay, but some books are surely worth more? Yes.  A few.  A very few.  For that same reason, they won’t sell very often.  Plus, the higher the price, the pickier the buyer, for which I don’t blame them.  There is a good chance of a return, which puts you in the hole, or a nasty comment that damages your seller rating.  You could miss some flaw on the book when describing it, though you tried your best. If the book has that much value, why not put it on eBay and really see how much you can get for it?

Their seller service is friendly and responsive enough. Well they should be, considering that you’re handing them pure profit and doing all the work. If you come over to my house and perform work at a net cost to you, from which only I profit, I promise you, I’ll treat you very courteously.

The other two major competitors are Amazon and Abebooks. Why not them? Not only is there less money to be made at Amazon, they themselves will directly undercut you. They’ll give people free shipping and charge them $3.99.  You will only get $3.99 shipping reimbursement plus a minimum price of $0.01 for the book. You can’t win. Abebooks has a monthly fee, I think $20, which it would take a lot of books sold to cover.

The model is useless. You can’t make any money. You donate your labor to a for-profit entity.

I’m just going to start taking them to Adventures Underground for store credit, a box at a time. I’ve shut down my operation at Alibris.  Two hundred thirty books, all described with careful honesty and listed with great pains taken to assure a representative image and the right edition, probably forty hours of effort, all for nothing but profit for Alibris.

Live and learn.

Old Hastings labels are the enemy, and Googone is my friend

If you’re going to sell a lot of books–especially in Fine condition, as are many of mine–you want to be able to list as few defects as possible.  If you are a brick and mortar bookstore, you want to make it as annoying as you can to remove your price tags.

These interests conflict in many little puddles of Googone.

If you’ve never used it, Googone is an orange-smelling solvent that dissolves the gumming on labels.  It’s not harmful on your fingers, though I sure wouldn’t drink it, huff it like some kids do with airplane glue, or use it as a personal lubricant.  It is volatile, meaning that its will evaporate without a trace.

So what I do is this:  lay out a row of books, offending stickers up.  Drip Googone onto each sticker one drop at a time, being sure to soak it completely.  Some will often run down the spine or into the pages; don’t worry about that, as it won’t deform them like water would.  It works best on matte tags stuck to glossy dust jackets and covers, and worst/messiest on glossy tags adhering to matte dust jackets (they soak up the Googone and you must keep wetting the sticker down).  Let sit for about four minutes.

Start peeling up stickers, with great care.  In the best cases (B&N 30% discount stickers), a single peel, a wipe, a couple hours set out to dry fully, and you are done.  In the worst cases (small segmented Half Price Books tags, fossilized tags from the 1980s, and Hastings tags), you have to keep it soaked until the gum or fossilized gum finally starts to dissolve.  You could just keep doing that until it all dissolves, but that takes longer.

Once you have the paper up, you want to remove any gum residue.  If you were patient, or mopped behind the label with a Googone-wet finger, it’s moist and will wipe up.  If you were not, moisten it, give it a moment and then wipe.  Keep wiping with fresh Googone until all you can see is a light sheen of the stuff and all gumming is gone, clean up around the edges where it ran down, and set out to dry.

The biggest annoyance is the mess, that and the spreading stains which your instincts tell you have just made the book several times worse than if you’d left the tag in peace.  It evaporates (though I wouldn’t use any more than I needed).  Oh, and one more:  if your computer keys are marked with sticky labels rather than inset labels, you will very much wish to do a good job of washing your hands before you sit down at your machine.  I made that mistake once, and it’s a good thing I can remember which is N and which is M.

Selling books on Alibris

The basic problem here is TMB.  Anyone who has been here knows that I basically live and work in a library, and though I’m not buying piles of books lately, it’s out of hand.  Imagine 13 ‘stacks,’ each six rows high, 4′ wide.  The fact is that if I want, this is enough to last me a lifetime.  If I reread them all, by the time I got back to the beginning, I would have forgotten what the first one was about.  And the older I get, the easier that becomes…

It’s bad enough that I sometimes buy a second copy of a book that looks good, forgetting that I already have a copy.  This is just stupid (worse yet, it is foolishly wasteful), and it’s time it stopped.  So I’m going to try unloading some.

The process is both easy and hard.  The basic shipping charge will mostly cover the cost of the mailer and postage for media mail, but not all of it.  The company you list with, of course, collects some profit as well.  So the first question is not ‘what are other people charging’, but ‘what must I charge for this to be worth the bother?’ After a visit to the P.O. with a couple of books, and some negotiating with my local UPS store on mailers, the basic answer to that question is:  about $1 for a small paperback, $2 for a larger trade paperback, and $3 for a hardback, combined with the $4 shipping allowance, is the ‘worth bothering’ point.  However, my books tend to be in great condition, me being so obsessive about that, so that should help.

I picked Alibris over Amazon and Abebooks because a) it seemed easier to work with than Abe, and b) I got to keep more of my money than Amazon.  Part of it also was some desire to separate my selling presence from my authorial presence at Amazon, and part was evidence that Amazon cleverly undercuts its secondary-market sellers.  Many is the time I’ve seen Amazon price books to just where the people who get free shipping would save a nickel buying from them over the poor sloggers selling the book for $0.01, and I find that to be taking unfair advantage of their position.  Alibris isn’t going to do that.

So, let’s see how it goes.  First I have to cover the $20 annual fee, which I suspect won’t be hard.  I put out five books just to learn the interface and see what sort of business I got, get through the process, then we’ll consider going forward after the first week.