If you’re in the used book business you shelves pretty quickly end up groaning under the sheer number of volumes you have available.  But sometimes the sheer volume can become an impediment to selling, especially with a physical store.  If you’re online only, the only person that has to deal with the piles is you.  In a store, if they piles get too large they can become difficult for customers to find what they want.  Sales slow because there’s too much clutter and too many choices.  There’s so many choices, people can’t decide what they want! and even if they did, they may be loathe to pull it out of the stack because they’re afraid it may fall!

So eventually, it comes times to prune down the piles.  But you don’t want to go about pruning them willynilly.  How do you pick what books to get rid of?

This becomes extra difficult if you listen to other booksellers.  What works for them may not work for you, even if they’re in the same town!  Great, their customers love this author…. you can’t give them away.  (though trading it to them for something you need may work…) You need DATA.  About YOU.

This requires keeping records of what you sold.  I can pull up data of every book I sold, what type it is, what authors, for how much, etc.  If you don’t have a computerized system, this becomes a lot harder to deal with that much data and you may want to simply keep a daily checklist of how many books you sold from each category.  More mystery than history? Or vice versa? What you THINK is selling may not actually be what’s bringing you the most profit.

If the entire store is overflowing, you may need to trim EVERYTHING.  If it’s a few sections, you may either want to trim that section OR trim an underperforming adjacent section and reassign the space to the overflowing one.

To actually generate the data of good, average, and poor performance I slice and dice my data on a spread sheet to determine how many books I sold from a section during X period, the total dollar value, the average cover, and how that compares to the space occupied. The quick way to determine turnover is volume sold divided by number in stock. It’ll give you a good estimate of overall turnover volume. (or you can do the same with dollar value sold vs in stock dollar value)

Sections I determine are underperforming for the volume occupied I then cull. I normally start by culling anything I’ve had for more than 2 years. I’ll quickly look at them and determine if there’s any that should be sent to online only stock (usually maybe 1% of the cull) instead of being in store or should be moved. Sometimes things ended up miscategorized. I’ll just move those to the new location and redate it six months later than it actually arrived.

The rest then gets liquidated someone.  Some I bundle and sell on ebay, some gets given away, some goes in the pile to go to Operation Paperback, some I bundle into grab bag bundles. You could even put them in storage for a little bit and then refill your shelves from that backstock for a bit. It really boils down to whether or not its cost effective to try and get SOME money out of them or if the labor, time, and storage costs make it more cost effective to just let them go.   They clearly aren’t selling at the original price and they likely didn’t even sell at a reduced price.  Trying to sell them at even a few pennies a volume may work out as a loss for you if it eats up storage space or labor that could be put to higher value items.

After round one of culling, I then recheck the ratio. Would the volume out I had in the last period divided by the NEW number of volumes left be a reasonable turnover? Yes, I’m done culling. No, time to cull some more. Then I’ll usually cull out thing I have spare copies of… and don’t restock the shelves with it for a month or two so it’ll look “new” when I do finally refill.

Or I may trim it down to a 18 months.  Some sections I may also cull out based entirely on condition. Parenting I find nobody likes anything but the most pristine books, so if its gotten a bit beat up from shelf wear, out it goes.

Sometimes I’ll trim it out by making an ebay lot of an author occupying a lot of shelf space with poor sales numbers or lots of duplicates that IS selling on ebay in lots.   (search completed items on ebay to see who is selling)

However you decide to trim it, the point is to give it a fresh look so customers look at it and it looks entirely new to them.  Even though its all the SAME books you had, they look new and different because the junk has been trimmed out.  This is often all it takes to boost sales in a flagging section!

All this of course requires you A) know what you have B) know when it arrived.

If you don’t want to inventory the whole store but still want to know the date it arrived, you can pencil it on first page. But that’s obvious and alerts people to the fact it has been here awhile which CAN put some people off. also some people have been known to mistake the date for the price.

The TRICKY method is put a pencil mark on the numbered pages. Top is the month, bottom is the year. (or reverse) So book with a mark on both top and bottom of page 10 arrived 10/10.  Or if its marked on top of page 5, bottom of page 8 it arrived in May 2008. Your customers will be none the wiser and a pencil dot is easy to remove. It’s a bit more tedious if you need to cull to open the book to find the code, but its also easy enough to tell an employee or intern to do based on “pull all the books with a pencil mark on the bottom of page 8”. It also conveniently lets you know if the book is returned to you it IS yours.  A date on first page might get erased, dots probably won’t.

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2 thoughts on “Picking which books to downsize”

  1. I’m awestruck. You are organized down to the last detail. I go much more by feel. After realizing that traditional psychology books, even classics in the field, were going nowhere, I cleared those shelves to make room for more self-help and spirituality, which does move. On the other hand, old books on farming may be slow movers and have a limited audience, but they are part of what I want my store to be, so they stay.

    Here’s an idea for a bookstore name: HISTORY AND MYSTERY. You’d have the majority of casual, walk-in-the-store buyers salivating before they reached your door. I offer this name to anyone who wants it!

    1. I have much the same experience with psychology. I got rid of most, stuffed a few of the classics over in Philosophy and the rest were mixed in with self help. Oddly I find Philosophy sells really well.

      Amusingly enough, I’m two blocks from a dealer that does nothing but history and military… and yet they’re still some of my most productive sections. Go fig. It seems to create demand for them rather than damping it down.

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