Don't get hung up on your buying mistakes – sell and move on.

Posted by Tom Nealon of Pazzo Books

Dana’s great story about the Baum that got away reminded me of mistakes in
book selling. I traded stocks for a few years, and the most common mistake
is to get married to your screw-ups. You bought something at 20 that you
were SURE was a winner. It languishes, sits around for a long time, some
bad news comes out, etc., but instead of selling it and moving on with
your life, you get it into your head that you have to make something out
of it. If it just gets back to 20, I’ll sell it and come out even…

It’s easy to let a similar thing happen in book selling – it’s not just
the ones that got away, it’s the dogs you paid too much for and now feel
you have to come out even on. They’re the worst too – they sit in your
inventory mocking you, a constant reminder of your error. But don’t
worry! You’ll make a million more if you’re lucky – book selling is just
like life that way, every day a new opportunity to humiliate yourself.
It’s what you do with those opportunities that matters. Always remember
the opportunity cost of sitting on questionable books – they represent
money you could buy good stock with – stock you wouldn’t be able to buy
otherwise. It easy to figure out the cost of buying books, it’s the ones
you didn’t buy that are more difficult to figure (this is also what Dana’s
post reminded me of. Sell some dead inventory and go on a book buying

So cut ’em loose – drop the price, put them on Ebay – turn them into cash
that you can buy better stock with, and, hopefully, you can learn
something along the way (maybe make a few more, slightly smaller mistakes
– it’s the circle of life.). If you don’t get rid of those dogs – if you
obsess over getting even on bad buys, you’ll end up with an inventory full
of mistakes and who wants to live like that?


9 thoughts on “Don't get hung up on your buying mistakes – sell and move on.”

  1. Hi Tom,
    “My Way” – The song Paul Anka wrote for Frank Sinatra leaps to mind.

    Your advice on this topic is important.

    “Always remember the opportunity cost of sitting on questionable books – they represent money you could buy good stock with – stock you wouldn’t be able to buy

    Our approach is to clear our shelves of our mistakes as quickly as possible to allow space for more saleable books … and to prevent them from infecting the rest of our inventory … smile.

    It is on that basis we would rather donate our mistakes to charity rather than discount them – but we have also learned the cost of a book increases each time we handle it.

    So … categorizing, pricing and shelfing books each compounds the cost. The earlier we interrupt the cycle, the sooner we can start processing the saleable books.

    Generally, in the book business our errors of ommision present more of a hazard to our customers than our errors of commission (unless we flaunt our mistakes by shelfing them).

    The worst of our errors is our inability to recognize, buy and process all the books our customers would purchase if we only provided them the opportunity to do so.

    The sad reality is some of the great books we pass up (most often because of our lack of knowledge rather than carelessness) are headed for the trash heap.

  2. I couldn’t agree more George. We have a system here in Montreal (I think you have it in Calgary as well) called the used book circle where we get emails from prospective buyers looking for a particular book. There are tons of requests for stuff we don’t have and I wonder how many of those I have walked past somewhere.

  3. That’s a good point, George – it’s important to realize that any fiddling with books that aren’t selling just puts more time into the books, and even if time isn’t ALWAYS money, it can usually be better spent.

    For general stock I absolutely agree that donating them is better than putting them on sale.

    I’m a big believer in bookseller mojo (when I have the power – usually when I’m least aware of it – I can go around the store and strategically touch books and make them sell) – and, as you say “and to prevent them from infecting the rest of our inventory” – nothing ruins bookseller mojo like bad stock amidst the good.

  4. Thanks fellows,
    Tom – I don’t know that I would call it a mojo but it is both mystical and magical how reworking a section of books suddenly makes sales in that section come alive.

    My “Open Sesame” has proven itself over and over again. When things slow down or the tides just generally seem to go against us – I have always just told myself – “I have to work harder at this business!” And then I go about doing it.

    I have seen many bookstores come and go during our years in the business (by the end of this year 4-5 reasonably good local operators will have closed their shops) – most of them have complained about the increase in rents caused by the real estate boom these past few years.

    For years I was under the same impression “a used books store needs a location with low rent!”

    I now fully understand the phrases “Location! Location! Location!” and “There is no free lunch!”

    It is possible you fellows can make a case against those two phrases if your online sales numbers work but we gave up on internet sales 1 1/2 years ago because the numbers produced did not justify the inordinate amount of work it took to produce those numbers and the usual suspects holding the hammer required a large part of our inventory to be held in abeyance – or else!

    Our experience with the local market is “If you build it they will come!” – particularly if the thing you are trying to build is somewhere in the realm of “beyond your wildest dreams!” … smile.

    Bruce – thanks for your kind words about our website. We were so discouraged with the internet that we had pretty much abandoned our dotcom but then I started hearing about a new approaches to ebusiness that fired me up again. We just started reworking our internet approach the last week in July and have found a local web designer with a tremendous work ethic and another fellow with a solid background in ebusiness to work alongside the web designer.

    My approach to this business has always been “Thank God most of what is needed in this business is a sense of where you are going and the willingness to do all the work required to get there!”

    What this business needs is more workaholics … lol.

  5. I definitely hear what you’re saying, George. We rely on our internet sales but it can be a self fulfilling prophecy – we spend all our time getting internet stock. listing, shipping, etc. Sometimes I wonder if I doubled my rent if it wouldn’t quadruple my in store sales.

  6. It is a large leap Tom but I would suggest you keep that possibility in mind.
    It took me 17 years before I overcame the mental block about “low rent = possible success over many years” and started to learn “high rent (the rent required to obtain a legitimate retail location) = assured success within 2-3 years leading to continuous growth.”

    The only cautions I would add – be sure you have a broad-based inventory of at least 15-20,000+ books and make sure your store has high visibility (try not to be in the middle of a block – look for a corner location).

    Our latest store (opened June 26th in an extremely busy stripmall) covered its high rent in the first 24 days.
    Now, almost at the 2 month anniversary date, daily average sales are continuing to climb and the enthusiasm of our clientele has been overwhelming – almost stunning … whew.

    So … the 17 year apprenticeship we served is starting to pay dividends … smile.

    Now all we have to do is continue working our asses off for another 50 years … so we can continue to thoroughly enjoy our lives for another 100 years.

    It is amazing and gratifying to be in a business where the harder you work – the more you learn – and the more you learn – the insignificance of the monetary rewards, when compared to the worthiness of the enterprise, becomes more and more clear.

    How much money would it take to balance the scales loaded down by the ooohs and ahhhs of satisfied customers?

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