Smooth Sailing on the big River or Selling books on Amazon


selling on amazonI am often surprised hearing from other booksellers who sell on the Internet and do not sell on Amazon. Selling books on Amazon can be a daunting task, but my own experience shows that it can be worthwhile. I started selling books on ABE in 2005. I chose ABE because I knew ABE and had bought books on ABE. I later added Alibris, Biblio and finally Amazon. I have never regretted my decision to sell books on Amazon, but I have had many more “interesting” experiences on Amazon than on any other book selling site.

ABE , Biblio and Alibris seem to attract a different type of book buyer than Amazon. You are more likely to find people on those sites who are looking for less common books and also who are looking to buy from professional booksellers. Amazon is much more likely to be home to sellers who are selling books for a penny and making a very small profit on the allowance given for shipping a book. Amazon is also much more likely to be home to sellers are NOT “booksellers” per se, but who have a few books that they want sell. You are much more likely to find an expensive first edition book on ABE, Biblio or Alibris than you are to find that same book on Amazon. You are also more likely to find people who are members of professional book selling associations selling on ABE, Biblio and Alibris than on Amazon. What makes Amazon a site to my liking? Amazon is the biggest bookseller on the Internet.

Here are some of the things that I have learned during my time selling books on Amazon.

It is worth the expense to pay for a dedicated mailing solution that provides a convenient way for you to print postage and track the status of your book shipments.

When I first started selling books on Amazon I got a few e-mails from customers stating that they had not received books that I knew had been shipped. These were often books that sold for $40 and up. I started using and purchasing delivery confirmation for all the books that I ship. Today I rarely get e-mail about non-delivery. On numerous instances where I have shipped books to college libraries and corporate mailrooms the fact that I had delivery confirmation was enough to prove to customers that their book had been shipped. Of importance to note is that while Amazon will consider delivery tracking and confirmation information provided by the USPS, UPS or some other shipper as proof of delivery, it is prudent to get signature confirmation when you ship expensive items.

Be careful when you are shipping items to a corporate mail drop, a library or some large institution. I received an order a few years ago for a 1911 set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. An assistant and I put the 30 volumes into 75-pound test boxes from Staples. Each book was individually wrapped. The void spaces in the boxes were filled with packing material and the boxes were very securely taped. I was not aware from the shipping information provided that this set of books was being shipped to the mailroom of a US embassy building on the Texas / Mexico border. The books were shipped with delivery confirmation. About 2 week after the books were shipped I received e-mail from the customer stating that he had received a box with 2 books in the box and an empty box. I had the customer take pictures of the boxes received. NONE of the pictures showed any stamps from the USPS, which indicated any damage to the box or the contents. The delivery confirmation information showed that the boxes arrived at this post office and were immediately (within 5 minutes) shown as having been delivered to the customer. From calling the post office involved I learned that the boxes arrived and were promptly placed into large hoppers provided by the embassy. Several days later he received damaged empty boxes. I was out $300.00. I could have saved myself the expense if I had gotten signature confirmation or if I had advised the customer that I was reluctant to ship the books to an embassy. In the future I will refuse to ship such large parcels to embassies, corporate mailrooms or the like. I have shipped a number of books to libraries and received an e mail about non delivery only to be told, when I provide proof of delivery, “Who knows what happened to that book”. Having a dedicated mailing solution such as Stamps or Endicia allows you to keep track of your book shipments and to easily prepare reports of your expenses. I pay less than $20.00 a month for my subscription and believe that it is worth every penny.

Use a ready made book database to store your inventory . Yes – you can reinvent the wheel, but why do so? You can fire up your favorite database creation program and create your very own book database. Excel works great for this purpose! You can also download for free a fairly capable program provided by ABE called Homebase. Homebase is NOT the 500-pound gorilla of the book database world, but it is (as they say) “good enough for government work”. I use Homebase and have used it since I started listing books. I now have about 4500 books on the Internet and still find that Homebase is serving me just fine. There are other programs that have many more bells and whistles, but if you are just starting out Homebase is a great program. When you list on Amazon you have to pay particular attention to insuring that all the books you list using Homebase are correctly formatted. You have to insure that a book has information in the Homebase fields for author, title, publisher, and place of publication, date of publication, book condition, dust jacket condition, size, place of location and a price. If the books you list have ISBN numbers you should insure that the ISBN number is in the ISBN field. When you upload your books to Amazon you will have access to a report that shows the result of your upload. It is worth taking the time to examine the report to insure that your books uploaded correctly and if they did not upload correctly it is worth using the report to determine why they did not upload correctly. Shortly after uploading books to Amazon the books you uploaded should be reflected in your current inventory. If they are not, you should look at your listings and determine if you have failed to include information that would have been necessary for your listing to be accepted by Amazon. You should also be aware of the fact that Amazon’s book catalog has been created by thousands of users over a long period of time and that Amazon does not do a very good job of insuring that it’s book catalog is accurate. I have uploaded books with ISBN numbers only to have the books be associated on Amazon a completely different book. You need accurate and complete titles, authors and other data along with a good ISBN number to insure that your books are listed correctly.

Take the time to provide detailed accurate descriptions of your books.

If you visit Amazon you will find many examples of how NOT to describe books.

“Great shape”, “Our rating says it all”, “USED”, and the like are not very good book descriptions. One of the best ways to produce good book descriptions is to visit . The IOBA book site. On the home page under resources you will find IOBA’s book condition definitions. These definitions are a valuable guideline for determining the condition of your books and can be a valuable guide to writing good book definitions. A good book definition should accurately describe the book and any dust jacket protecting a book. A good book description should clearly advise the customer of any defects in the book. Writing, highlighting, bookplates, remainder marks, etc are all defects, which should be listed in the book description. A good book description should advise the buyer if the book being sold is an ex library book. Good book descriptions result in the seller selling more books and having customers being satisfied with the books bought. One thing to keep in mind when selling books on Amazon – Amazon customers are NOT obligated to read your book descriptions. I know that sounds counter productive, but those are Amazon’s policies. Even though Amazon customers are not obligated to read your book descriptions, I have gotten book orders from customers who later emailed me to say that they bought my particular book (not always the lowest priced book) because of my detailed description of the book. It’s worth taking time to product accurate and meaningful book descriptions. I will end this part of this topic with this. When I pick up this topic again I will examine in more depth what constitutes a good book description, how your book descriptions might change depending on the types of books you list and how Amazon’s buyers might differ from buyers on other sites. I will also discuss linking images to your listings. I will continue the discussion with other topics that are relative to book selling in general, but somewhat specific to Amazon.

I will continue this discussion!

Part 2 of this series

If you have read my other posts you might have believed that the only things I care about are philosophy and poetry! (Actually that is true)

I am

John Pollard
Brick and Mortar and on the NET
Perpetual dreamer of dreams, hopeless romantic, writer of poetry and probably related to Don Quixote as I am constantly tilting at windmills

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