If you’re a new online bookseller or have been selling books on the Internet for any amount of time, you may have heard of a book scouting service. The purpose of a book scouting service is to let the bookseller look up prices on the fly from Amazon by looking up the ISBN number of the book while you’re either out in the field at a book sale, thrift store, yard sale for example or if you simply need a streamlined webpage to look up some book prices. With this pricing information, the online bookseller can make more educated decisions on purchasing inventory or simply to use as a research tool for future purchases. It’s a very useful service but it can have a significant expense. I’m going to try to answer the question of if it’s worth it or not.
To start off, I need to explain the different types of book scouting services; offline and online. The offline book scouting service is a service that will work when you have no Internet connection whereas the online service will ONLY work when there is an Internet connection of some type available. Each type of service has it’s advantages and disadvantages and will be most appropriate in different scenarios. Also, each service can require different types of hardware to work and thus has different kinds of expenses that go along with each. I’m going to explain what you will need if you decide to use a service such as this and offer some advice so you can answer the question of if the expense and trouble is actually worth it.
Offline book scouting – I call this type of book scouting service offline because while you have to have an Internet connection initially to get it setup, you don’t need one when you’re actually looking up prices. This type of service allows you to download a copy of most or all of Amazon’s pricing information for their millions of books onto a device such as a cell phone or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). This can be done via a memory card that is inserted into the computer, the pricing information downloaded to it and then inserted into the PDA or cell phone or, in some cases, downloaded directly to the cell phone or PDA. The whole premise is to get a copy of Amazon’s usual pricing information onto a device that you can take with you in the field to go scouting for books.
- Hardware required - The upfront cost to offline book scouting can be very pricey. At a minimum, you will need a device to download the pricing information to. This is typically a PDA running the Windows Mobile operating system. Brands such as Dell Axims, Palm Treos or HP iPAQs are popular choices. Once you have the handheld device you then have to purchase the storage card to insert into the device to get the pricing data onto it. This is the very minimum but some booksellers choose to purchase a barcode scanner to complement this. A scanner gives you the ability to scan the barcode on the newer books without have to manually input the ISBN number. There are a number of different barcode scanners such as ones that are inserted into the device itself or wireless scanners that utilize a technology called Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to the device. A minimum expense you’d expect to pay for the device itself is $200 and if you decide to get a top of the line device plus a nice Bluetooth scanner, you can pay upwards of $1000.
- Advantages – The biggest advantage to using the offline method is being able to look up a book’s going price from anywhere. There is no dependency on the Internet. This allows the bookseller to go anywhere and either manual input ISBNs or scan barcodes on the book. It’s also a lot quicker to look up the price because the information is stored on the device itself instead of having to go out to the Internet to find the price.
- Disadvantages – The only big disadvantage to using this is price descrepency between what your device tells you and what’s actually on Amazon’s site at the time. Since you download a copy of Amazon’s pricing information, it is not the true, real-time information directly from Amazon. Prices on books change every second on Amazon and anything more than a few seconds old could be considered out of date. You also depend on the book scouting service that you connect to also for up to date pricing information. You may download the information right before you go to a book sale but if the service doesn’t only gets the information from Amazon once a week, the information may be a week old. However, even if the service can continually keep the information up to date (I’m not familiar with any service that can do this now) it would still be a little outdated when you go the sale.
Online book scouting – I call this type of book scouting service online because you ALWAYS have to have an Internet connection every time you use it. An Internet connection is required any time you want to use it and it will not work at all if you want to use it. This service is best used at your home or as a backup to the offline method if you’re at a book sale. An online service gives you a streamlined web page to go to that is dedicated to displaying just the pricing information you’re looking for. It is designed to be very minimal for the quikest load times but is always slower than the offline method.
- Hardware required – There is a very minimal upfront cost to this service. It requires no PDAs, no cell phones or anything to use it. All this requires is an Internet connection. If you have a computer, you can simply use your computer’s Internet connection to use this service. You can still use this service on the go on a cell phone, for example or a PDA with a WiFi connection and available WiFi, but this service does not require any of that. I use an online book scouting service strictly at home to price large lots of books that I purchase or as an impromptu method in the field if I don’t have my offline software or scanner with me.
- Advantages – The sole advantage to using this method is up to the date pricing information. The information is never outdated because you are getting it directly from Amazon at all times.
- Disadvantages – As I alluded to previously, you have to have an Internet connection at all times. If you’re out in an area with no cell phone reception or with no WiFi connectivity to the Internet it will not work at all.
Now that you have a good understanding of what makes up a book scouting service, what do you think? Is it worth it? Obviously, this service will help someone that goes through a ton of different books or goes to many different book sales. An online bookseller would have to decide how often they are planning on going out scouting vs. bringing back loads of books and then looking them up there. I hope that you have enjoyed this brief description of book scouting services and that you have a more thorough understanding of if they are worth it or not.
If you need any help choosing what book scouting service to go with or what kind of hardware to buy feel free to send me an email at adam@sellyourbooksonline or come visit me at sellyourbooksonline.com where I discuss book scouting as well as many other topics related to online book selling.
To your success,