How To Partner With Book Dealers

By Joe Waynick

It should be obvious that book dealers and used book store owners are natural allies. Then why is it so difficult for these two groups to see eye-to-eye?

I’ve been a full-time book scout since 2006. I pound the pavement every day in search of that elusive literary diamond hidden beneath a pile of cheesy romance novels. Very few of the books I examine pass muster for my Internet bookselling business. That’s because I’m a very picky treasure hunter.

Nevertheless, I pass over dozens, if not hundreds of books every day that would be perfectly acceptable in a brick-and-mortar retail bookstore. But for a long time I didn’t buy them because it was so difficult for me to get a clear sense of what bookstore owners wanted in my area.

Perhaps it was my fault, but it’s certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying. I canvassed owners of local book stores, making sure that I identified myself as a book scouter. I examined their inventory and asked them what type of books they currently needed. I told them I scout every day and that I had a good chance of finding valuable stock they could use in their stores. I even emphasized that I only want to bring them quality books they actually needed and not use them as a dumping ground for the junk I couldn’t sell online.

Still, the barriers were up and tight lipped shop owners merely stared at me as if they were talking to a new form of alien life instead of openly discussing their needs. That’s unfortunate because I could really help them with their business. For eight to ten hours a day I inspect books. It’s a simple matter to broaden my criteria to include titles tailored specifically to niche bookstores.

Why the disconnect?

First, book dealers have to understand that there’s a certain amount of apprehension about disclosing too much information about ones’ business to a total stranger. It takes time to build the trust necessary for a store owner offer somewhat intimate details about their operation.

Earning that trust and never violating the special relationship between retailer and dealer is critical for the mutual benefit of both parties.

The store owner must also do his or her part to nurture and protect the relationship as well. The owner must be willing to talk candidly about store needs and not send dealers on wild goose chases.

If you ask a dealer to find certain types of books, be prepared to buy them when they’re presented. Become known among dealers for acting with honesty and integrity and you’ll find yourself in the position of being flooded with the best quality books that can be found.

Perseverance Pays Off

Today, I enjoy several very strong relationships with local bookstore owners who look forward to my weekly visits to trade, buy, or sell books. I invested years in building those contacts, and I purposely limit the number of stores with which I trade so I don’t dilute my effectiveness. I also make sure each store caters to a different niche so I don’t have to choose which store gets my books because they all have different needs.

That doesn’t mean I ignore all the other stores with which I don’t trade. I buy from them whenever I can and I periodically interact with the owners in a positive way to deepen my relationship. After all, a store will occasionally go out of business and when that happens it’s nice to know there are other owners with whom I can partner.

If you’re a book dealer, join the local independent booksellers association and you’ll go a long way towards establishing yourself as a serious person to work with. If you’re a bookstore owner, be willing to educate dealers about the kinds of books your customers buy so the dealers can bring you titles you might not otherwise find on your own.

An alliance between trustworthy retail store owners and book dealers can be mutually beneficial and financially profitable for both parties for numerous reasons. Cultivate those relationships whenever possible and watch your business grow.

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For more free articles about selling used books online for profit, visit: http://www.internetbookselling.com.

Joe Waynick is author of “Internet Bookselling Made Easy! How to Earn a Living Selling Used Books Online” (ISBN 978-0983129608). You can reach him at: http://www.internetbookselling.com/contact.html.

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  • I’ve have my bookstore for about 10 years now and there is no way that I could tell you what I’m looking for. And if telling you meant I were under some obligation to buy whatever you brought in, then I wouldn’t tell you if I could.

    Apart from the regular – popular, easily saleable books that come in every day, I am looking for the obscure and the unusual – books that most people wouldn’t give a second glance to, but which the right person will consider a treasure. This is a very personal – almost intuitive – decision which would be very difficult for you to guess at. Because there isn’t much demand for many of these books, they aren’t expensive, so that doesn’t leave much room for you to buy them and mark them up to me.

    Book scouting was a viable occupation when most bookstore owners knew little or nothing about what was rare or collectible, and what values were. Now, with the internet, any of us can find out about any book. In my area we had a very knowledgeable scout (no longer with us) who switched from books to art because he just couldn’t make any kind of a living from books any more.

    On top of that, I very rarely pay money for books. There are a few part-time scouts who come around, but I try to discourage them. They have to sell to me at wholesale, and take payment in books at 20% dealer discount. Customers are bringing in more books than I can deal with and people are giving me boxes of books. Two weeks ago I was given 18 boxes of art books all in very good or better condition. Last week’s donations included six mint Franklin Library books.
    It is probably different for some specialist stores, but scouts have no part in my business unless they want to buy books.

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    • I agree Bob, I find it hard to imagine a self proclaimed book scout being anything but an annoying nuisance to staff and owners of brick and mortar stores – we are already on the verge of being overwhelmed by people wanting to sell us books.

      People keep flitting around on the fringes of the books business attempting to discover an easy way to make a living with as little strain as possible on their physical or financial resources. It takes very little time in the books business to start to recognize these are descendants of snake oil salesmen.

      As you said, the most valuable books – the ones that sell day in and day out – come in every day by the hundreds and sometimes by the thousands.

      One of my staff hit the nail on the head one day when a fellow jokingly described himself as a book thief – he rushed across the room and stood with his arms widespread to defend our vast collection of paperback Stephen King novels.

      Yes, we also are always on the lookout for obscure and unusual books – but they don’t pay the rent so they seldom warrant the investment a book scout might require to keep himself coming around.

      During the last 15 years we have often been told our stores are the only ones in town still buying books – so maybe you are onto something and we should start saving the many tens of thousands of dollars a business like ours reinvests in our community of book lovers – hopefully very little of it is being wasted on book scouts.

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      • As for being self-proclaimed, anybody can claim any title they wish. Hell, Napoleon claimed himself to be absolute ruler. After twenty years of dealing books I think, and anyone like me would think the same, that I am a scout and proud of it. No scanners, just years of leg work and keeping an ear to the ground to back up my claims. My local store owner won’t deal with me because he believes much the same as some store owners, that I am there to screw him. Wrong! I offer him the same rare books that I can see on his shelves yet he won’t talk to me! So I go out of town and deal with people who like me still believe that the scout has a traditional role in the used and rare book business. We are trying to be a beneficial part of the trade. Not everyone does what we do. As for being overwhelmed by people bringing in books here’s a solution, don’t buy their books! Buy from the people,Scouts, who know what you need. You are right George, you shouldn’t be bothered by paperback romances but don’t shut out everyone! As Ebooks begin the slow march to kill paper books shouldn’t we all be banding together?

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        • Sean wrote “As for being overwhelmed by people bringing in books here’s a solution, don’t buy their books! Buy from the people,Scouts, who know what you need.”

          Well, actually, I don’t ‘buy’ their books, I give them trade credit. They are my customers. If I don’t take their books, they will go to a store that will. Who, then, will buy the books you bring in?

          If a book scout is willing to take books at my retail, then I will give him the same store credit for the books I want as I would give to anyone else. At that point, he is like any other customer, except that my other customers will usually buy more than their credit so they give me cash as well.

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        • Hi Sean,
          I have no doubt you have seen a lot of books in 20 years but we look at 4-5 million books a year and have bought over 300,000 each year for at least ten years (we processed close to 400,000 books this last year) – and this is just books brought into our stores. They don’t include the collections of books we are invited to view in people’s homes.
          Your hours spent in the book business is unlikely to match ours in hours devoted and couldn’t possibly be more than miniscule to ours in regard to books handled.

          I’m sure there is some niche where you could provide some expertise but would it be of any great value to more than 1 out of 5000 of our customers – (that would amount to less than 20 customers a year) and I doubt it would pay any of us brick and mortar store operators for the time we would be required to spend with you. – Unless you were dealing with a storekeeper whose interests were specific to your expertise.

          With our system we can check any book a customer requests and we have a system that keeps a plumb bob on every title so we know if and when to restock.

          As for trading books with people like yourself – any storekeeper is better off selling the books you might be interested in to their regular customers – they are the ones we have to impress with the diversity of our stock – not you – we identify with our customers and I don’t want you receiving the credit for my hard work – Amazon has already worked that end of the business to (near)death.

          Skirting around on the edges of this business and raping our shelves of any book that is at all unusual is rarely helpful and probably hurts us in the long run.

          Our reputations are built by our customers’ perceptions about the quantity and quality of the books we have on our shelves – having resellers come and pluck the best books in exchange for something less salable is diabolical.

          I hope you can continue to sell the books you scout but only to the end user – that way they will come back to us storekeepers in the normal course of events. Please leave our shelves alone!

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  • Great article and response! I am one of those scouts that was spoken of.
    I actually see a benefit to a continued strong relationship between store and scout. It is true that the internet has changed things but it is also true that the internet has muddled things. Good scouts can save a store owner the trouble of constantly being offered bad books that just sit around. Scouts can do leg work that a store owner might not have time to do. I buy so cheaply that I don’t freak out when I’m offered 50 or 40% of what a book will be sold for. I accept the fact that store owners have overhead. My favorite thing to do is TRADE with store owners rather than take cash. I get more for the books I bring and then I can walk away with some saleable items that the store might have trouble moving because those books lie outside of what their clients typically buy. We scouts figure out what you need and will adjust to you as the needs of your store change. Good luck to everyone in this business!

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  • I have close relationships with the handful of bookstore owners I work with. They’re under no obligation to deal with me but they almost always take what I bring because I’m so finely tuned into what they want.

    I should have been clearer in the article that 99% of our transactions are in trade and not cash. We all prefer trading because I can usually find books I can use in exchange for the ones I bring, and they don’t have to worry about cash flow. I’m usually allowed 50% – 75% in trade credit and I pay the owner the rest in cash.

    Book scouting is still a viable option and I earn a nice living doing it, far in excess of the gross sales of most independent B&M retail operations. That’s a fact. And a significant source of my revenue comes from the mutually beneficial trades I do with my indie partners.

    It’s a shame more indies don’t appreciate the benefits, but I guess the thin competition is what makes it worthwhile for those of us who do.

    Joe Waynick, author
    Internet Bookselling Made Easy! How to Earn a Living Selling Used Books Online
    Bookseller Resources: http://www.InternetBookselling.com
    Follow me on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/joewaynick

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  • Wow, no love for book scouts, I see. I suppose it depends upon the business, as to whether or not a scout can work. A book scout would periodically come to a store I managed and show the owner what he had, sometimes it was worth buying, sometimes not. But the scout knew exactly what he needed to look for–he didn’t bother with anything that wasn’t within the genre and specific condition/rarity.

    Booked To Die romanticized book scouts, and the prevailing response was for readers to think they could BE book scouts. Every one would paw through library sales looking for that elusive first edition of Patricia Cornwell’s Postmortem. Naturally, no one found any. But chances are some book scout knows the right areas to look and may come up with if not that title, some other one that our store could turn around and make a nifty profit.

    My experience with scouts has been mixed. I saw how they could find viable titles, but the scout himself was odd, disheveled, less than a social butterfly, lol. Still, no one is really looking at the person who brings in a first edition Stout in dust jacket–their eyes are on the book.

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  • Okay store owners I get it. You are not too fond of people like me. I ask this honestly and not as a snappy retort, how do you stock your shelves? Do you wait for the tide of people bringing in books to wash ashore what you want? Do you scout or employ people to do that job for you? Do you buy out estates, I assume you do.None of my comments have been to diminish what what bricks and mortar stores do. In my mind you folks are a cornerstone of any thriving community. I feel clean and alive in your stores. But for Pete’s sake, diabolical? “Raping shelves”.
    The owners I deal with never come off as rape victims. If they felt they were being cheated then I would have been shown the door long ago. As for the amount of books seen, how do you know I haven’t touched hundreds of thousands of books in a year(I have!). People who find books and then trade with dealers will always be around. It’s part of the trade’s history. As for raping shelves, how many of you “volunteer” at charity book sales and then take a stack of books before anyone else can see them, the stack being payment for services to the charity? Good Luck again to all and remember that old cliched chestnut about glass houses…

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    • Not all booksellers dislike scouts. From the first bookstore I worked at there have been scouts. Some very bad, some very good. I’m not quite sure what kind of bookstores Bob and George run, I’m sure they are wonderful and they know what’s best for their stores, but that in no way means they know what’s best for all stores. Perhaps because several of the stores I worked were specialties, where one genre was sold, it made it more conducive to a scout being able to provide needed stock.
      I’m not quite sure what the raping is all about, or the idea that somehow scouts are depriving the public by taking books from shelves. If a book is on a shelf in a used bookstore, why can’t a book scout buy it and then resell to someone who may have a very specific clientele for it?

      I once was in a bookstore in Boston with a collector friend ‘scouting’ for books of interest. I came across a book that looked really neat, had a great dust jacket, the synopsis interested me, and the price was swell. If I had been a real scout, I would have known exactly who to turn this book around to. At a very nice profit. Because it turns out the book was from a less than publisher with small print runs and not a very easy book to come by, especially in a decent dust jacket. Since that time I learned a great mystery author and collector coveted my copy, and had I been a scout, I’d have probably know this fact already. It is the scout’s job to know collectors’ entire list of wants.

      Perhaps the two stores in question are just not the type that would benefit from scouting. But there are many others that are.

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    • Sorry Sean – I didn’t mean this a personal attack on decent people – it was meant to show some of the ramifications of resellers using brick and mortar stores as easy pickings.

      My mentor had an antiquarian dealer who would be one of the first ones into his shop every morning to pick off any book that had been bought the day before so he could take it across the street and sell it in his store at a large markup. The fact that he mentioned it to me showed me he was bothered by the mercenary tactics of the other fellow – and yet he never mentioned his concerns to the other dealer and took them to his grave.

      The used books business is a hand to mouth existence for almost all the surviving brick and mortar operators still around and their continuing survival is in doubt. People who wittingly or unwittingly undermine their ability to survive should be “outed”.

      Some store operators may well be unaware of the long term damage resellers can do to them in terms of their reputation for buying and carrying “only so-so stock” – if people stumble upon a gem in their store it enhances the chance it will bring them (and their friends) back time and time again – if they don’t, that store will simply become a less than pleasant memory.

      And yes, we do look forward to the one or two chances a year to glean all the books we can from the charity sales – here in this city we pay the same price for books as the people who have the time to populate those venues (whether we volunteer or not). We each are limited to 10 books each for the hours we donate to their worthwhile causes – causes that prevent great books from being thrown in the garbage because most people are unaware some of us used books stores would gladly buy their books any day of the week.
      Many of our customers tell us they would never get in any of the long lines such sales attract because they have faith if there are any good books there we will do our best to see that they are quickly in alphabetical order in the proper category on our shelves.
      During the 6 weeks such charities are collecting books prior to their sales the books sellers who are aware of used books stores tell us that they stopped to see what books we will buy before they take the remainder to the charity.

      Happy hunting in the thrift stores and yard sales we don’t have time to get to – the gems you are looking for aren’t necessarily that salable in a used books store – but when we do buy a book for decoration, or to supplement our humdrum inventory – please leave it on our shelves if you only see it as a marketable commodity.

      I grant you that all of us live in glass houses in one or many circumstances as we go about our daily lives – but unless resellers leave the used books stores alone in their scavenging they are doing more harm than good.

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    • Hello to Sean and Joe,
      This blog seems to have provoked quite a response. Rethinking it as I read the various responses I have to conclude that my initial reaction/post was a bit knee-jerk. And I’m not sure why.

      I have had a few bookscouts come by my store, mostly on a pretty casual basis. Thinking back on it, the more serious ones I quite enjoyed visiting with, especially Bob MacDonald (who claimed that Dunning interviewed him extensively for his books. Bob is no longer with us). The more amateur ones I didn’t really mind. I didn’t tell them what I wanted – I just looked at whatever they brought around and gave them the same credit I would have given any other customer for the books that I wanted.

      So why my reaction?

      In the case of Joe, it was partly a reaction against his ‘Internet Bookselling made Easy’, with chapters like, ‘What to do when the Orders Start Rolling in’. That’s a whole other can of worms. My reaction was also partly against some of your assumptions – that I can’t get good stock on my own and I need you, that by dealing with you my business will grow, and that I would care at all about organizations you belong to. I would only be interested in your books and your knowledge. If you told me you belonged to – whatever – I would just wonder why you were telling me that.

      And Sean, – well, I repled to you down below. Are you both internet sellers? I get the impression that you don’t really know anything about the B&M side of bookselling.

      I think it isn’t the scouting that got my back up, it was the attitude you both seem to have – that you’re doing me a favour, that I need you, that I shouldn’t be buying the crap my customers bring in when you are prepared to offer me really good stuff.

      That might not have been your intent, but that was what I heard.

      But then, I was never a businessman, just a wannabe bookman, which I enjoy and which I consider almost a calling. I’m not interested in getting so busy that it interferes with my reading. I enjoy my books and my customers. For me, that’s what it’s all about.

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      • Hello Bob;

        I was a little surprised at such a strong reaction, but if the tone of my article contributed to that in any way, please accept my apologies.

        I certainly didn’t want to give the impression that I believe book scouts were doing B&M owners a favor. Instead, my attitude is that store owners and scouts should strive to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

        That comes with responsibilities on both sides, but surly no obligations. When I said store owners should buy what scouts brought it was intended within the context of if a store owner asks for a specific title, and a scout takes the time to locate it and buy it on the assumption that the book is pre-sold, then the requester has a moral duty to complete the purchase.

        That’s not an entitlement, that’s just good business. Nevertheless, of course you can get good stock on your own. But if a book scout can bring you additional stock that is of genuine value, why wouldn’t you cultivate that opportunity?

        I only mentioned the organizations I’ve joined as a means of illustrating that the information I was passing on was based on the real-life experiences of a number of other store owners as well as Internet booksellers, and not just one man’s opinion. In addition, I wanted to assure you that I also operate a physical store.

        However, your correspondence and feedback has provided me valuable insight into how I should frame my arguments in future articles to make them as clear as possible without conveying any unintended agenda.

        I hope we can continue exchanging thoughts and ideas on future articles I write.

        Joe Waynick, author
        Internet Bookselling Made Easy! How to Earn a Living Selling Used Books Online
        Bookseller Resources: http://www.InternetBookselling.com
        Follow me on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/joewaynick

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  • Hi Joe,

    If you came across any books on Australian Unit Histories in your travels, let me know.

    James

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