Sunday, 14 December 2008


This year I decided to divest some of our book collection. It was a difficult mental undertaking -- even though these are books we for the most part hadn't read, wouldn't read, and didn't care to read, they were still books, after all. Most were in pretty good shape, having been, oftentimes, gifts from well intentioned relatives. Others were the losers in the duplicate-comparison process, and probably should have been released to the wilds when Sarah and I first merged our libraries more than a decade ago. But these things take time, particularly when you're as lethargic and neurotic as I am.

We took a few passes through the shelves and came up with about 180 titles (out of 2000 or so) that, in our most somber reflection, we could potentially, possibly see ourselves living without, though the sacrifice might be great. "MS-DOS Advanced Programming", "Scentsational Weight Loss (A New, Easy, Natural Way to Control Your Appetite)", two extra copies of "Corduroy" -- apparently whenever my mother-in-law saw a copy of this, she had to buy it for us -- they all went on the list.

I considered giving these all away to charity immediately, but had several conflicting thoughts. First of all, most of these titles were for a fairly niche audience, and I just couldn't see them flying off the shelves at the local Oxfam. Some were actually valuable enough that it seemed worth looking for a buyer. And finally, if I dumped them all off at a shop, what would they think of me, looking through the titles? All told, this seemed like a dangerous idea.

So I decided to list them on Amazon. This was a tedious process that took an hour or two over several days and weeks. A friend who sells used books professionally gave me his estimate: provided you list your books for the lowest price or something similar, one quarter will go within three months, one quarter will go within six months, one quarter will go within a year, and the last quarter is unlikely to sell at all.

So far, that has been roughly the case. I first listed items in May, and at the moment I've sold 71 books, have 92 for sale, and gave up on about a dozen that had a glut of one-cent copies on the market ("Mars and Venus in the Bedroom", I'm looking at you) -- those ones did make it to the charity shop. Amazon forces you to re-list after three months, so I think I'll give them all two listings apiece (I've been lazy about relisting a few), and then cart off the remaining turkeys.

Through the process I've become pretty good at being able to tell from the size and weight of a book how much it will cost to ship. Under a certain size they qualify for "small packet" rate here in the UK, which is about half the price as a larger package. Amazon pays a flat fee toward shipping, regardless of the size, so judging this right is the key to knowing when you can price something at 50p versus £2.00 in order to not lose money.

The main investment has been our time -- ordering packing materials, keeping track of orders, printing online postage, and so on. Every book sold takes about 30 minutes to process, package and ship, typically, so you could make a good case that it's not worth my time for the miniscule profits I make from each sale (there have been a few that have netted more than £10, but the average is probably about a pound in profit after accounting for Amazon's fees, postage and packaging). On the other hand, there's a certain satisfaction, not just in slowly paring down the boxes of books set aside for sale, but also in knowing that someone is getting the book they wanted. It's like knowing your litter of kittens is going to good homes.

The other good news? Since May, when I started selling these, we've only added 60 or so new books to our shelves. A small achievement, some might say, but for us an impressive one: a net reduction in books. All of which is, of course, a great excuse to build up my wish list for Christmas at Amazon.


At 14 December 2008 23:44 , Blogger Beth said...

I've done my fair share of listing books for sale on Amazon, when it didn't matter to me how long it was before I got rid of something (and I did have some items of actual saleable value). My rule was: if it's selling for less than $2 from other sellers, I'll just donate it to charity, otherwise it's worth selling. Still, the actual sales are incredibly tedious, as you found out.

If you haven't already (I know, I know, another book), read Anne Fadiman's "Ex Libris." It's a wonderful collection of essays for book-lovers that includes one on the process she and her husband went through to merge their books. Devin and I still haven't done this. I can't bear the thought. But we have almost zero duplicates, so that counts for something.

At 17 December 2008 00:18 , Anonymous Harry said...

You sold books? Is "book" a britishism for something other than actual, honest-to-goodness books?

If not, this is shocking. I am not sure we can still be friends.


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