The Process of Pricing a Book to Sell Online

Buying books to sell online is a very exciting process. I seriously enjoy the buying of books and can wax lyrical for days about the joys of going op shopping or putting together a box or more of books at a book fair, but this is only a part of the process.

Once I have my books it is time for some serious work. The first step is to clean them up by removing pencil marks and stickers, I don’t remove library stickers unless they’re already starting to come off. Then comes the need to remove any sticky left from the stickers and there’s a whole armoury involved in the processes of removing pencil marks and sticky from stickers which I won’t deal with now. This blog will deal with the precise mathematical formula for pricing pre-loved books for selling online.

I’ll do a random book from my pile so you can then look at the listing on my website afterwards. In this case, the book is Catweazle by Richard Carpenter. A lovely little book, it’s the novelisation of the series screened in the UK on ITV in the 1970s and also in Australia. I recall it well from my childhood and so when I saw the book I just had to pick it up to sell, the fact that they had a price of 30c on it and there is very little wear may have had something to do with it. A book like this I will normally google so I can look up the background to get some idea of the popularity of the book, see how many were written, when they were first published and any other related or unrelated information that I can find. So, my google search finds a fan website which indicates a possible fan base looking for Catweazle paraphenalia and also a Wikipedia page. It’s also useful if you’re able to read every scrap of newspaper you can in case there are related articles hanging around. My DD just saw the book and told me about an article she read recently in the Herald Sun Supplement. It’s about fashion and she tells me the way Catweazle was dressed is currently the height of fashion, it probably cost about 11 pounds to dress him in the 1970s and would now cost about 200 pounds. All these things can help or hinder.

The next move is to go to places such as and put the name of the book into the search field. Here is where it gets interesting. For a mass market paperback you’re expecting to see 100s of listings for $US1 before you finally get to a ‘proper’ price. With Catweazle I find 57 listings. Click on the Sort Results By field and choose Lowest Price as that ignores the cost of postage and the cost of postage is really not part of this equation. I run my eye down the listings to get some sort of feel of how the prices are going, in this case the lowest price is $US1.53 and there’s a steady increase up to about $US30. There’s then a fairly big jump to $US60 odd and $US78 but these prices are just silly and can be ignored as there are shops on which put up silly listings like this without actually having the book in stock, when they sell a book they then trawl the listings looking for a copy that matches what they’ve sold in order to buy it and send it on to their buyer having made an exhorbitant profit that doesn’t actually match the value of the book.
Here is where it gets incredibly interesting as I have the original book and all sequels happen to have Catweazle in the title as well, so at this stage I have to look at the titles to make sure I’m looking at the right book and find that there are a number of German editions which have to also be elminated as they have no impact on the price of an English edition. Sometimes I take into account that this volume is not a first edition having been published in 1984 (I’ll just cheat here and put 1984 into the Search Within These Results field which narrows it down to one book at $US7.81. The description of this book is poor and I look at mine again to notice it’s in very good condition. Having looked at all of these things I then have to take the time to recall that I’m selling in Australian Dollars and not US Dollars and I have to do a quick translation to Australian Dollars.
So, compare the condition of the book with the condition of the ones I can find and then get a price with that, look at the fact that it is a novelisation and that there’s a fan base and some of them will be interested in buying novelisations while others won’t. There’s a great deal of something called ‘hunch’ at this point and experience about the market which is difficult to quantify, the fact that I really enjoyed the series when I was young is part of the equation as I’ve found many of the things I enjoyed back then are making a comeback right now. Looking at the spread of prices and number at the low end and then the final thing is to translate the price to Australian Dollars. Now my book being better condition than the only one I could find of the same publishing date would obviously get a better price so I’ll put it at $18, remember this is US Dollars and translate it to Australian Dollars. The exchange rate is pretty awful at the moment so it only takes it up to $AUS19.74 but I’ll round it up to $AUS20.

Now to throw in some other information. The pre-loved book market in the US is totally different to the one here. The pricing differs completely. Let’s take another title for an example. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. If I put this through the same process I find there are 1,241 results and the first 332 of them are all for sale at $US1. It is not economically viable to sell books for this price in Australia, the only places you’ll find books for these prices in Australia are in op shops, at garage sales and book fairs. I’d have to price them fairly low as they’re not good sellers so I won’t bother buying authors such as Robert Ludlum or Dan Brown unless they are first editions and hardcover…unless…I happen to take the ones from my shelf that I read when I was young and sell them, that’s the only way those authors would be economically viable.

There you have it, my precise mathematical formula for pricing pre-loved books in Australia. As you can see it’s very scientificly designed. I found a post written on Bookthink by Karin Bergsage, she attended a Booksellers Boot Camp and one of the sessions she attended was how to price a book. It’s a very informative post and gave me food for thought as well as thoughts for another post I’m in the middle of researching. On page two she discusses the pricing formula given to her by a long-time bookseller “* the selling price of a book is split 3 ways: 1/3 acquisition cost, 1/3 overhead, 1/3 profit. ” Challenging to do when the book costs $3 and it’s only possible to sell it for $4 but that could be the subject of another article.

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  • Wow! That’s a complicated process! How many books can you process in a day doing all that research? I have 50,000 books on the floor, all of them are listed on our website and databased. I can’t imagine doing that much research for all of them!

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  • Very interesting post and helpful- I go through AddAll instead of Abe becuase it covers most of the places where I sell, incl. Amazon and Biblio- and seems to weed out the penny-sellers. Specializing also seems to help, month after month, i’ve gotten more of the hang of “knowing”- but would love to hear about how others manage this part of their business, too!

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  • You don’t have to research every single book. You can lump authors together such as Robert Ludlum and just make all of his the one price except maybe the newest one and the same with Dan Brown. In fact, I’d just make Robert Ludlum and Dan Brown the same price but being able to make that decision without research comes with practice.

    I didn’t mention that I’m not quite that exhaustive with all books, it really depends on the number of books that show on the search, the higher the number then the less research I’ll do. I did more with Catweazle than normal as there were so few books. When there’s only two or three pages on the search I’m likely to check all pages but when it’s like a Ludlum then it’s only a cursory glance. I only went through and found where the price changed for the article.

    I’ll have to have a look at Addall.

    I’m delighted with the photo our editor chose to go with the article. It’s a still from Catweazle showing Geoffrey Bayldon in the lead role. It’s fabulous.

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