top of page


The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


So you want to be a bookseller?

There are two areas of focus when you’ve made that plunge into the life of bookseller; one is “How do I source my stock” and the other is “How can I determine how much of that stock I will sell”.

The first area, “How do I source my stock” is the focus for this article, because without having a grasp on what will sell, there is NO way to determine how much of that will actually sell!

But before we get to that point, I’d like to start off by imploring you to buy research materials. You don’t have to spend a fortune to do so, but spend a little bit! BuyBook Collecting – A Comprehensive Guide and Collected Books – The Guide To Values by Allen and Patricia Ahern; ABC For Book-Collectors by John Carter; Old copies of “Firsts” magazine; the list goes on! Don’t worry about having the latest and greatest version; the timeless information inside the book is what’s really worthwhile, and whatever is time-sensitive (such as pricing and whatnot) can usually be extrapolated to fit today’s time.

While you are focused on doing this research, join some book discussion groups for both collectors and sellers. These are invaluable, as they provide you with a wide range of perspectives. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help.

GOOGLE! I cannot stress this enough, this is the most comprehensive search engine around and before you decide to ask ANY question, make sure you’ve searched Google first!

Now that we have those points out of the way, we’ll concentrate on the matter at hand.

What should you look for when sourcing stock?

First is stock quality. For this part, I will not focus on authors, or mass market paperbacks. The only focus is regarding the physical shape of a book.

As booksellers, when we search for books, we carry with us certain criteria that define what it is we want to buy. For some of us it is a specific author or a publishing company, some focus on specifically hardcovers and some on paperbacks. We all have something we look for and base our purchases on. But the problem is that some of us focus too much on this and not enough on whether the book has been attacked by the previous owner’s rottweiler! Condition, more than almost any other factor, will take a $10,000 book and crush it into something that’s not worth 1/10th of 1%. Try to stay away from books that look as though they’ve been put through a meat grinder, or those that look like they’ve not only been read in the bathtub, but have also joined the owner alongside IN the bath. Here are a few tips to keep your eye out for:

  1. Missing or loose pages. You can figure this one out quickly and easily by just flipping through the book. Often, in these cases, you’ll make more money by tossing the book aside than trying to list it. Unless it is a very special find such as a first edition/first printing of The Wizard of Oz, chances are the book is worthless.

  2. Books without dust jackets. Having a first edition hardcover of a desirable book with a dust jacket is great, but you lose that dust jacket and you can usually kiss a large portion of the proceeds goodbye. Generally the value for a collector is in the “entire package,” and they’ll pass by a book without a jacket. However, a $80 or $90 book in a full jacket can still be worth $10 – $20 without IF the book is in pristine condition, so judge on a per item basis.

  3. Book club editions. Although it is difficult to judge sometimes the difference between a trade and book club edition, learn! Learn the tell-tale signs (blind stamps on back cover, cheaper paper, no numbering/lettering on the copyright page, etc.) and keep a wary eye open for that Steinbeck first edition that you think could be horribly valuable and turns out to be nothing but junk.

  4. Ex-Library books. Now, I’ve had luck selling some ex-library books for a nice price, however I’ll tell you right now that I’ve bought a LOT more than I could ever have sold. For the most part, collectors want unmarred editions. They don’t want something with stamps all over it, and strapping tape stains on the endpapers, etc. Again, unless the book is in otherwise impeccable condition, and at an unbelievable price – you would be better off passing. Note that illustrated children’s books that are Ex-Libraries are far more valuable than books that are not illustrated.

  5. “Old” books that are priced like antiques and are worth less than the cost of paper they were printed on. I am guilty of looking at certain old books and thinking “Wow, I bet that one is worth a mint!” only to find out that it’s listed for less than what I paid for it. Any new bookseller will make this mistake, it’s easy to do. You have to be very careful on what you purchase, and how much you spend on it. Remember, just because a book is from the early 1900’s doesn’t mean it wasn’t mass-produced and stuffed down the throat of every book buyer alive. Again, BE WARY!

  6. Smell. Smell that book! That “old book smell” you think is so great might actually be mold! The last thing you want is to bring a book into your inventory that stinks of or has mold. I’ve had new books get infested with mold after just a few days of associating with these culprits. It’s not an easy culprit to get rid of, either. If you want to rid the item of the smell (note – NOT kill the stuff) you may want to contact Madame J. Godsey via her website for the wonderful Book Deodorizer ( Again, note that this doesn’t kill the mold or mildew, not much does. For more information on how to kill these little buggers, see, a great article on the subject.

Second is stock pricing, and is almost as important as stock quality. If you pay $10 for a book and can only sell it for $15 – you have to ask yourself if you’ve really made money, or lost it on that book. Don’t get suckered in by those people who take a book that is 100 years old and put a price tag of $20 on it. Often people at sales do this because they think “Well, it’s old – I bet it’s worth SOMETHING!” Trust me, often it is worth nothing. If I could count the number of books that I overpaid for when I started out that were “old and valuable looking”… well, I’d just rather not do that.

Third is demand for the book. This one is very difficult to teach, and often just comes along with experience. When you first start out, I’m sure you’ll see a copy of a book that you think is going to be the “cats meow” and worth $200 – you’ll pay $20 for it and get home only to realize there are 348 other copies of the book listed online for $6.99. You have to look at what you’re trying to sell, and there HAS to be a demand for those customers to purchase YOUR book over and above those of the other 348 book dealers. What makes YOU special? Why is YOUR book worth “more”?

Just remember the tried and tested marking mantra:

  1. Recognize the need

  2. Tune into the benefit

  3. Focus on the features for the benefit

  4. Why customers should trust the benefit or features

  5. The close!

Need, Benefit, Feature, Testimonial, AND THE CLOSE!

Remember, if you don’t ask them to buy, they won’t!

If you follow what I’ve stated above, you’ll have a much better chance at actually succeeding in this chancy, cut-throat business.

Next article will focus on how you can use this technique to base “the numbers”

Until then – Good book hunting!! Nick Papageorge




bottom of page