IOBA Q & A Column


Q. I’ve been looking for ways to supplement the low sales recently. Is there any market for book searches and if so, what kind of fees do you charge? What are the mechanics – i.e. collect fee up front or upon producing results, time spans allowed, et al.? Is it worth it? Any feedback will be appreciated. – Cynthia Putt, Parnassus On Wheels

A. There is still a market for search services, though obviously much smaller than it once was. I don’t pursue them but still get a fair number of requests, so I provide the service for a fee.

People are funny. They tend to feel gouged by a “free” search service that finds them a $10 book for $25, but readily accept the same total cost as reasonable when they understand what they’re paying for–i.e., a service. I explain my charges up front though I don’t charge anything unless the book is found. For run-of-the mill OP searches I charge a flat fee ($10 for the first book, $5 each additional) plus a markup of 20% on the book(s). For example, the total cost of finding a $10 book might go like this:

Say the book ($10) plus inbound shipping ($3.50) is $13.50. Mark that total up 20% (dividing by .8) which gives you $16.88. Add the flat search fee of $10 search fee for a total of $26.88. In this example you make $13.38

Used to be that you could confidently have searched books drop-shipped directly from the other bookseller to your customer. I don’t do that anymore unless I know the drop-shipper, so in most cases you will add your regular shipping charge to the above. – Rock, Back Creek Books

Q. Am I supposed to collect/pay sales tax on a book order that comes from ABE and gets shipped to a buyer in my state? If so, is there a place on ABE where I can specify the percentage to add to an order if it originates in my state as can be done on eBay? And I always wondered about drop-shipping – if a book dealer in another state orders and pays for a book and asks for it to be drop-shipped in my state, am I supposed to collect state sales tax on that? – Suzanne Carter, Bookseller

A. We email the customer and tell them what the sales tax is, quoting the final cost, and ask them to acknowledge the extra charge. Dealers often have resale tax id numbers and don’t pay sales tax. They will tell you when you mention the sales tax. – Fran Morris

A. Not that I am aware of. You have to pay it yourself or perhaps you can add it on in the extra shipping field and explain that it is tax. No (regarding drop-shipping). You are wholesaling it to the other dealer. Any sales tax is the responsibility of the latter – that is the party with whom the retail sale has been transacted. – Darrel Griffin

A. Essentially, one should note in terms what taxes will be charged, and use the “extra shipping charges” option to add the sales tax when processing a taxable order. Email will then be sent to the buyer showing the extra charge and reason and the seller will be notified if everything is going through. – Suzanne Carter

Q. I have a court hearing in which I will certainly be grilled on how I determine my beginning of the year inventory value and my ending of the year inventory value.

I spend anywhere from 30,000 to 45,000 a year on books. Most of these come in large lots. I do not assign a value to each book, per se, but generally apply the purchase price to the better books in the lot in the hopes of recovering my money more quickly. Eventually, the lesser material either gets added to inventory or donated to the local library. My computer program has crashed several time in the past 8 years, and the values it gives are questionable. I tend to deduct whatever I spend on books in a year as the cost of goods for that year. Does anyone else do this? If not, how do you do it? – A bookseller

A. I use the purchase price of the books as COGS (cost of goods sold). I don’t have a massive inventory, so I do keep track of the cost for each individual book. When sold, the individual COGS is deducted from the inventory value.

You need a tax-oriented CPA right now. Actually, you needed this a long time ago. $200-300 spent on a CPA’s time will either ease your mind or tell you how much trouble you’re in. Either way, it’s well worth it to know before your hearing: you don’t want to be surprised in there. -Michael Watson, 20ants.com

A. We have been using the cost as a percentage of selling price, and if we see that the ratio between cost and inventory is getting out-of-line, we adjust the percentage upward or downward. This was set up by a professional accountant, and while I’ve been examined by the IRS a few times over the 30 years I’ve been in business, there was never any question about my method of figuring out inventory valuations.

It’s really difficult to keep track of the cost of books that might stay on the shelf for years, were bought individually and in bulk, and, of course, those books we have the choice of eating or donating. – A Bookseller

Q. I need desperate help in trying to combat glare. I’ve got some books that I MUST take pictures of and do it better than my normal mid range thing – the problem is GLARE.

I can’t seem to find a good combination of things to get rid of the glare. I’m using a digital camera and the books have a bit of a sheen anyway, but there has got to be a way to get rid of most of the glare. If anyone has any easy & not expensive (read homemade) ways to do so, please let me know. – Stephanie Howlett-West

A. One solution is to get a polarizing filter for the lens. A good camera store will have one for about $25. You turn the filter until the glare is gone, then snap the picture. Be sure to get one with a circular grid, otherwise the autofocus might not work right. – P. Scott Brown, Bookseller

Q. This is probably a silly question…but why on older books are some of the pages “uncut.” I purchased a set of nice Dickens off of PBA. I was hoping to read them, But no! Every other page is uncut and obviously unread. I find this annoying as I can also presume if one carefully cuts the pages, the so called collector value drops faster than the dotcom bust. I would appreciate some insight on this. Forgive me if its been discussed before as must have missed it. – John Porterfield

Editor’s Note: In this case ‘uncut’ is not the correct term. The pages in question are actually ‘unopened.’ -mw

A. This is not so. unless those PARTICULAR books have a recorded provenance somewhere stating it has uncut pages then no one has ever noticed it but you.

Uncut pages are a manufacturing error, obviously they were meant to be cut open so the pages could be read. They are an erratum such as a misprinted dust jacket, unless you are holding a very rare 1st edition in 1st state, no one really cares. Even if a dealer says they do they don’t.

You can fix the error in an non-destructive manner by sliding a serrated knife such as a steak or tomato knife inside the pages and gently cut outward in a sawing motion. Then may read the pages and no one but you will know they had ever been attached. – Joyce Godsey

Q. I recently purchased a stack (over 2 feet tall) of ‘The Westerners : New York Posse Brand Book’ A number of these were stored, by year, in manila envelopes. Some of these have been subjected to water on one edge, causing not only the pages to adhere to one another, but even multiple issues are stuck together. I think that the text will be basically un-affected, if I can figure out how to separate these without undue damage. The paper is coated, if that makes any difference. How can I go about separating issues and/or pages with the least amount of damage? – G’Jim c):{-

A. Heat: always try heat. Buy a 9 bucks clothes iron with a Teflon surface; start on low, use computer paper to protect the pages from the iron. Get a nylon cake frosting spatula…the thin sharp ones and as you loosen the clay coating with the iron slide the nylon between the pages and wiggle. remember slow and steady. wiggle don’t force it. – Joyce Godsey

Q. I have two inquiries about shipping books abroad. Can you send M-bags to Russia? To Italy? What’s the minimum weight? I couldn’t find the info on the postal service site. Is there another name for them. Do M-bags go air or sea? – Susan Halas, Wailuku, Maui

A. Basic reference is: http://www.usps.com/global/mbags.htm Complete rules: http://pe.usps.gov/text/Imm/immc2_015.html#n1O$w151wats Anywhere is ok for M-bags. No minimum. You pay for 11 pounds min though Go air or sea – surface is much cheaper. Example Books to Italy 11 lbs or less: 9.90 Airmail to Italy : 27.50 – George Cross

Q. What are ‘French wrappers’ ???? The mind produces many possibilities, none of which have ANYTHING to do with books. – G’Jim c):{-

A. French wrappers is a softcover with no dj but dj flaps. The pasted cover extends over the fore-edge the same distance as dj flaps and then they are folded back to resemble them. Think of FRENCH CUFFS on a nice shirt. – Joyce Godsey

Q. Why is it that the word “page” is abbreviated by “pp”? I’ve never understood that. Or is “pp” something else entirely? – Larry Burdick, Book Oasis

A. “Page” is not abbreviated by “pp”, but rather by “p”. “pp” is the abbreviation for two or more pages. It’s the plural of “p”. – Don Lindgren

A. I previously pointed out MS./MSS.; also common is n./nn. for note/notes.

As with p./pp., these abbreviations come from the Latin where there is not a single form of the plural. Latin, of course, used to be the universal scholarly language – and some of us are still hoping for a comeback: http://www.economist.com/diversions/displayStory.cfm?story_id=2281926

The latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed. 2003) indicates that p./pp. are still the standard abbreviations (sect. 17.132). Continuing to use them is also a nod to scholarly universalism. – William M. Klimon

Q. Anyone have any luck with mold and mildew? The live stuff, not the dead stuff. Once it’s dead it’s just a stain and a smell. – Joyce Godsey

A. What seems to work for me in the capitol of Mildewlandia is an application of the purest rubbing alcohol you can buy at the pharmacy (95% or above). Apply liberally with a soft cloth, put clean plastic bags between pages before application. Leave the bags in the book & put a weight on it, leave until dry. The high test alcohol kills ’em dead & with very little water in it doesn’t seem to damage the paper – and dries fast. I would exercise extreme caution with any paper the first time, especially fancy papers that have a bigger chance of waving. Try a teeny bit on an obscure corner. – Lynn

Q. Another question for which I once knew the answer: what is the correct way to catalogue a “junior”?

Specifically Marshall Bond, Jr. – I checked a data base and found: Bond, Marshall, Jr. Bond, Jr., Marshall Bond, Marshall (Jr.) Bond Jr., Marshall Bond, Marshall (not so cleverly avoiding the problem) …and numerous other variations.

What is right and what is your authority for thinking so? – Lynn

A. Chicago Manual of Style, Chapter 18. Subhead 37 (18.37), INDEXES: Persons with same names. Bond, Marshall, Jr. – Joyce Godsey

Q. As a rank amateur am wondering what basis for pricing is used if there are NO copies of a certain volume on any search site , and I have too little experience to hazard what could be a costly guess ?? I suppose I could let eBay set the price , but am trying to do better on my own . Thanks for any input . – Jim Menzel, Second Thoughts Used Books

A. The following answers the above question and elucidates further: As to the poster’s question on NO listings, the first thing would be to double check your typing and spelling. Then maybe search on title but not author; finally try author but not title, to see what the author’s other books are listed at.

Bookfinder.com, on the other hand, seems a bit more useful for the layman, especially if they are not clear on author/title/spelling, etc. It saves you having to scroll through hundreds of responses. But I normally use AddAll.com.

AddAll allows you to pre-set for hb/pb/all bindings. A problem, however, is that their software defaults to whatever your last search specified. So if you search for hardbacks only, your next search will be preset for hardbacks; you have to remember to change the setting on the next search if you want paperbacks or all bindings. An alternative is to group your searches into batches of hb and pb.

I am not up on eBay or Amazon searches. They are a definite part of the market. eBay will search completed auctions.

Using AddAll.com, you get all the listed copies (or at least lots of them) in one list, regardless of catalogers’ variant title entries. AddAll can be set to sort in descending order by price, thus leaving the dreck (and the sleepers) toward the end of the list. If you wish, you can limit the search to hardbacks, etc. (You can also exclude the Alibris listings, which are mostly duplications. Unfortunately, I know of no reliable way to automatically eliminate ex-library, book club, or jacketless books.) At the bottom of the results page, there are options that can eliminate or limit the findings to certain publishers or other words.

Any sample has limited reliability. (Listed books are a sample of the whole world.) If a book is really scarce, you won’t see enough to use. If it’s really common, you may be wasting your time. In the mid range, the AddAll findings can be quite instructive.

The top of the AddAll report will indicate the total number of books found. The first screen will display only the top 50. Let’s say it finds 40. You can find the median price at No. 20, (or just move the scrollbar up to about halfway; with a little practice you can hit No. 20 most of the time.) Then look for No.10 and No. 30, which define the midrange (remember quartiles from Stat class?).

None of this eliminates the need for judgment, but it surely gives a good picture of the competition. You also need to pay attention to condition descriptions, and of course edition. And needless to say, the existing listings can be quite useful in descriptions of points, various editions or bindings, etc. – Don Ramsey, http://www.AllBooksConsidered.com

A. research. research. research. research. research. research. research. research.

Try American Book Prices Current, auction records, BAL (Bibliography of American Literature) , dealer catalogues, ask around…. – Joyce Godsey

A. All good sources and most should be available in the public library. I’d add bibliographies of all kinds. A lot of additional research can be done on line beyond a check of the data bases.

Sometimes I just Google the author & title. You may find someone like myself who puts items on their own web page before putting them on a data base. (My good stock is usually sold long before any data base ever sees it.) You may find that something you never heard of is actually well known or sought after. You might even find a group of people who are fanatics. Or you may find out that you seem to be the only person who has ever hears of the item. Even negative information helps.

I also always check WorldCat.

Editor’s Note: “WorldCat is a worldwide union catalog created and maintained collectively by more than 9,000 member institutions. With millions of online records built from the bibliographic and ownership information of contributing libraries, it is the largest and most comprehensive database of its kind.

WorldCat is the foundation of many OCLC services that let your library process, manage and share information resources and let your users search for and obtain them.” – Lynn

A. If you sell all or most of your books via the internet, you can’t IGNORE the prices there totally – after all, those books are your direct competition – but sometimes if one looks at the pricing trend objectively, booksellers look like a bunch of sheep – If the first bookseller to list a book goes high, then all of the other booksellers will more or less follow that price.

If the first bookseller goes low, ditto – NEVER MIND THE FACT THAT THIS LOW-PRICED BOOK MIGHT BE HARDER TO FIND AND BETTER than the higher priced one! So…..

#1. It never hurts to leave a little on the table (in other words, to price a book so another dealer can make a profit or so a collector will be happy with a bargain) as long as you have made a decent profit. This is what keeps people coming back. I didn’t make this up: it’s something I learned from another bookseller, back when I first started selling books. Don’t be scared about not getting top dollar – that is a moving target and you can’t keep up with it anyhow.

#2. Use some common sense when researching on the Internet – and broaden your search if necessary.

We recently bought a signed F/F 1st of a nice poetry anthology. I look up the book and all copies on line are exlibs $25 and under. I look up the editor who signed it, and more recent and more common anthologies by this same editor are up to $150 (unsigned). I looked at “signed” books by the author/editor and they are not terrible uncommon, with most in the $25-50 range. So $25 for an exlib is too high, $150 (followed by the next sheep who went for $145, etc.) is ridiculous. A reasonable price is probably $30-40 for our signed copy – and that gives us a good profit, etc….. With luck this book will sell reasonably quickly, since our copy is the only “good” one, and I will write a better description than any of the others…..

I never rely on a price when there are only a few copies listed (unless the price really matches my “gut feeling” when I bought it) – I try and look at other books by the same author, or the same publisher, or on the same topic – or whatever it takes.

#3 – if a book is REALLY worth a lot of money there MUST be a good reason for that. “No other copies on line” is not a good reason. Neither is “only one copy listed and it is an exlib for $250.”

Don’t let greed define your pricing. Let your KNOWLEDGE of books determine how you price a book – that is why bookselling has traditionally been considered a profession!

If you have a book that is a first hand account of exploring xxxx and it seems to be earlier than anything else on the same topic, and you find it absolutely fascinating and there are no other copies on line – then go for the moon in pricing it – and say WHY this is such an incredible book in your description. Read it (or parts of it), research it, research the topic – (even if you never buy a book from them, read Forrest’s and Susan’s descriptions of the books they o ffer for sale)

#4. Assume a knowledgeable buyer – don’t try to get every last penny out of an unwary buyer who wants a copy and thinks just because you priced it at $250 it is really worth that!

At the end of the day – or at the end of your career – you want to feel good about yourself, and you are going to feel a lot better if you sold a few bargains and made people happy, than if you overpriced common dreck just because “you can get a lot of money for these books on Amazon”

We all know that most “booksellers” – that is, those who are selling books because they find them fascinating (as opposed to those who are selling them because they are a commodity easy to find cheap/easy to pack and ship, etc.) – are not motivated solely by money (if we were we’d be doing something else and making more money) – so when you look up a book on the internet, don’t be doing it just for the price – do it as part of researching the book. If the book is a common one, that you are pretty familiar with, there is no need to research it (or look up the price), just stick a reasonable price on it, and be done with it…. – Christine Volk

A. Internet prices can still be quite useful if you are willing to accept them for what they are, and not for what they are not.

Using AddAll.com, you get all the listed copies (or at least lots of them) in one list, regardless of catalogers’ variant title entries. AddAll can be set to sort in descending order by price, thus leaving the dreck (and the sleepers) toward the end of the list. If you wish, you can limit the search to hardbacks, etc. (You can also exclude the Alibris listings, which are mostly duplications. Unfortunately, I know of no reliable way to automatically eliminate ex-library, book club, or jacketless books.) At the bottom of the results page, there are options that can eliminate or limit the findings to certain publishers or other words.

Any sample has limited reliability. (Listed books are a sample of the whole world.) If a book is really scarce, you won’t see enough to use. If it’s really common, you may be wasting your time. In the mid range, the AddAll findings can be quite instructive.

The top of the AddAll report will indicate the total number of books found. The first screen will display only the top 50. Let’s say it finds 40. You can find the median price at No. 20, (or just move the scrollbar up to about halfway; with a little practice you can hit No. 20 most of the time.) Then look for No.10 and No. 30, which define the midrange (remember quartiles from Stat class?).

None of this eliminates the need for judgment, but it surely gives a good picture of the competition. You also need to pay attention to condition descriptions, and of course edition.

And needless to say, the existing listings can be quite useful in descriptions of points, various editions or bindings, etc.

As to the poster’s question on NO listings, the first thing would be to double check your typing and spelling. Then maybe search on title but not author; finally try author but not title, to see what the author’s other books are listed at.

Bookfinder.com, on the other hand, seems a bit more useful for the layman, especially if they are not clear on author/title/spelling, etc. It saves you having to scroll through hundreds of responses. But I normally use AddAll.com.

AddAll allows you to pre-set for hb/pb/all bindings. A problem, however, is that their software defaults to whatever your last search specified. So if you search for hardbacks only, your next search will be preset for hardbacks; you have to remember to change the setting on the next search if you want paperbacks or all bindings. An alternative is to group your searches into batches of hb and pb.

I am not up on eBay or Amazon searches. They are a definite part of the market. eBay will search completed auctions. – Don Ramsey, All Books Considered

A. We recently had a very similar experience. We picked up a recently published (within 25 years) ex-library book on Spanish (gilt) leather, primarily because of the unusual topic.

Initially we saw a copy listed on the net for hundreds. I just couldn’t think that the book was that valuable. I used Google and found out the book is the bible for craftsfolk in that area of work. I priced it at less than a 1/3 of the high price found on the net, even then I made sure I cleaned it up a lot before I listed it. It sold within a month to a gilt worker in Europe.

We also regularly check our more expensive items that are over a year old to see if more copies have appeared on the net. In some cases we have had $100.00 books drop to $40.00 but they usually sell in a timely manner after I adjust the price. Good description can be a great help, as Chris Volk mentioned. Definitely true in the cases I mentioned here. – Gene Alloway, Motte & Bailey Booksellers,www.mottebooks.com

Q&A is compiled by Jean S. McKenna, Education Chairwoman for the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA). Questions and comments may be sent to Jean ateducation@ioba.org. As usual, thanks to all of our contributors, especially Lynn and his Bibliophile mailing list at http://bibliophilegroup.com/mailman/listinfo/biblio_bibliophilegroup.com

 

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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