Thursday, October 07, 2010

diary of a madman

or how to make a living digging for trash

"I make a living buying and selling used books. I browse the racks of thrift stores and library book sales using an electronic bar-code scanner. I push the button, a red laser hops about, and an LCD screen lights up with the resale values. It feels like being God in his own tiny recreational casino; my judgments are sure and simple, and I always win because I have foreknowledge of all bad bets. The software I use tells me the going price, on Amazon Marketplace, of the title I just scanned, along with the all-important sales rank, so I know the book's prospects immediately. I turn a profit every time."

I guess I'm getting old, but I remember an earlier time when guile played a part in all this. You just had to know a thing or two.
The author, Michael Saviz laments that while he works eighty hours a week at his "job" he gets righteous attitude from book lovers who populate library sales, garage sales or whatever and aren't there to make money on the dross in all those boxes.

"If it's possible to make a decent living selling books online, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work? I'm not the only one who feels this way; I see it in the mien of my fellow scanners as they whip out their PDAs next to the politely browsing normal customers."

Time was the first edition game could yield a good buck doing this, but the Internet made availability of all but the bluest of blue chips a farce, so there was no longer money to be made over the long term.
Even if you allow that this guy doesn't care a whit about his inventory (and that's kinda greasy) he's just doing what a lot of people who read Booked to Die did for awhile.
And for a few years it was the most fun I've ever had in the book trade.

Scurrying around with scanners to discern the value of a chemistry textbook just doesn't have any romance or adventure in it. It begins and ends with the dollar sign rush and any addict will tell you that the first high is always the best one. Diminishing returns are part of this guy's business plan whether he cops to it or not.
The first edition game was different because most of the earlier versions of this guy worked a little purer.
We knew and read this stuff (mostly) and an emotional connection to what was, to be fair, still inventory-was part of the mix. Of course, if such a scanner were available in the late eighties/early nineties it would have been well used, but dealer catalogs and the Antiquarian Bookman worked just as well.
But first hand knowledge separated the fed from the hungry.

There's no reason to feel bad for your lot sir, because it can be a lot of fun.
But although the scanner is necessary, it marks you as a scavenger.

Alas, it was better in the old days, but then most everything was.


Scott at Old Goat Books said...

... experience can trump scanner... especially when dealing with books from before the advent of the barcode... and just because a book is a certain price online doesn't mean it will sell at that price... still, use all the tools at your disposal... the fun is in the hunt... any book person can tell you that if you want to make real money sell cell phones or real estate... you only deal in books because you can't help yourself... like me...

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