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Survival Kit for Booksellers, sort of

What a strange morning. I went to Simi Valley to visit the new location of one of my favorite bookstores, $5 or Less Books aka The Open Book. I also planned to drop off a UPS package and go to 24 Hour Fitness to do my twice-weekly workout.

Knowing it was going to be a busy morning, I hustled myself out of the house an hour earlier than usual; dropped off my package at the UPS Store; and enjoyed, as always, the long, winding drive on the old Santa Susana Pass road, bypassing the 118 Freeway as all screamsensible people should do.

Now imagine my surprise when I got to the gym at @ 9 a.m., only to realize I HAD FORGOTTEN MY CELL PHONE AUUUGHHHH!!!

Actually, my reaction wasn’t quite that drastic. For a few seconds I debated whether to go home, get it and come back but nawwww – going back I’d be fighting rush hour on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, and that didn’t really appeal to me.

Plus, the survivalist in me, who occasionally pops up, piped in: “I love a challenge!” as it always does, when it isn’t something drastic, like forgetting my clothing. 

Which actually wouldn’t be so awful, for a booksellernaked (“Readers’ Oasis”).

But I digress.

Anyway, bottom line (get it? hee hee!) is that I did manage to make through a full FOUR HOURS without my smartphone, and I didn’t go nuts or scream or hit anyone with my car. So it is possible. But every few minutes, I found myself thinking, “I should post about this on Facebook!” only to realize, duh, I couldn’t because I don’t have my stupid SMARTPHONE idiot!!

Which got me thinking about the whole topic of “survival”. Surviing without a cell phone isn’t that hard. But if you’re regularly out on the road looking high and low, hither and yon, for unusual and/or saleable books, you probably drive to some fairly isolated areas. Next week I’m driving to Arizona to visit family, and there are a few small-town thrift stores I’m looking forward to visiting on the way.

And I always wonder: what if I break down? Which hasn’t happened yet, thank God. But of course, it could. Happens all the time, to lots of people.

Now normally, at this point in my thoughts, I’d have whipped out the ol’ smartphone and ordered several hundred dollars’ worth of survival kits from Amazon, rationalizing that it was worth the expense to “get it fast”. But now I had to actually use my brain, and I realized that maybe I should stop at an actual (gasp!)parissports brick and mortar STORE, like Sports Chalet (hey, if it’s good enough for Paris Hilton it’s good enough for me!!), and see if they had any actual useful survival gear, reasonably close to Amazon’s prices, and which I could actually SEE in person before buying.

I know, right? But it actually turned out to be a good idea. I picked up an already-packed survival kit with a firestarter, whistle, first aid kit, and a few other odds and ends, plus a tarp (good emergency tent) and a few other impulse items. And was pleasantly surprised to find that when I actually had everything in my hot little hands, I didn’t feel compelled to spend as much as I would have through Amazon.

Of course, I couldn’t check the Amazon prices to see if I was getting the lowest possible price. Oh well, so what? Now I have several useful safety items in my trunk, using one of the many handy-dandy cloth tote bags I’ve acquired since the L.A. City Council outlawed plastic grocery bags. So if (knock on wood!) I do break down in the desert, I’ll at least be able to manage for a few hours before falling to my knees, sobbing and bargaining with any Divinity who happens to be listening.

OH – and while shopping, smartphone-less, at one of the two Simi Valley Goodwill stores, I found this EXCELLENT book:

The Desert Survival Handbook, by Charles A. Lehman. (No relation, but boy, I’d sure be proud if he was!)

I’d highly recommend getting a copy of this book and keeping it in your car or backpack. It’s chock-full of basic survival techniques and instructions for all sorts of situations you might find yourself in.

It’s not just for booksellers – but it couldn’t hurt!

Why Amazon Prime shipping is NOT unfair to customers!

This morning I woke up to this story on the news:

“Amazon Accused of Cheating on Shipping

Apparently the crack legal team of “Dewey, Cheatem and Howe” has taken on the case of a buyer who complains that Amazon third-party sellers are “cheating” because they charge more for items with Prime shipping than those without.

“For example, if the price of an item is advertised for $10 with $3.99 shipping and the [vendor] wishes to match or top their price, the [vendor] would charge $13.99 or higher.”

Yes, that’s the gist of this lawsuit: that some vendors price their items higher than other vendors, and that’s unfair.

SIGH. OK, I’ve been an Amazon third-party seller for several years now – both with and without the Prime Shipping options. So let me explain how this works in real life, using an example similar to the one this customer is so upset about.

1. I buy a book at Goodwill for $1.99, with the intention of selling it on Amazon with the Prime Shipping option, also called FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon).

3. In order to sell with FBA, I must ship the book to the Amazon FBA Warehouse, at my own expense. Usually I will wait till I have enough books to fill a box, but sometimes, if it’s a fairly valuable book, I will ship it by itself. So I decide to go ahead and ship it to the warehouse by itself. Figure @ $3.00 for the shipping, so now my  cost for this book is $4.99 – SO FAR!

4. For the privilege of having Amazon ship this book for me when it sells, I must pay a hefty chunk of the sale price back to them in fees. These fees average about 25-30% of the price I charge. So out of the $13.99 I charge for this book (using the lawsuit’s example), I may pay Amazon as much as $5.00.

5. So $13.99 – $5.00 in fees = $8.99 – $4.99 for my initial purchase price + shipping = $4.00 that I will actually get to keep. My profit as an FBA seller: $4.00.

6. Now if you said, “hey, that’s a great return, you cheater you!”, you’re right, it is a great return! BUT let’s say I decided not to use FBA and instead just charged you, the buyer, directly for the shipping – which this lawsuit seems to think is better for the buyer. So now: my price is $10.00, plus $3.99 for shipping.

7. First, I wouldn’t have to send it to the warehouse or pay any fees. I would simply put up the listing and pay Amazon a Final Value Fee of $0.99 (let’s round it out to a dollar).

8. Amazon will make you, the buyer, pay the shipping costs – $3.99 for Standard Shipping, $6.99 for Priority, etc. But I, the seller, do not have to pay any of this (unless I decide, as a courtesy, to provide more shipping than you pay for – which I am NOT obligated to do).  So no shipping costs for me.

9. So here’s that same book, which I purchased for $2.00. I listed it for $10.00. You buy it, and pay $13.99. I receive $12.99, because Amazon takes out their $0.99. Then I ship it to you myself. Even if I use the entire $3.99 for the postage (which most non-FBA sellers do NOT), that’s $12.99 less $3.99.  That’s right: my profit as a NON-FBA seller is $9.00 – a whopping $5.00 MORE than the FBA seller who has it listed for the exact same price including free Prime shipping!

10. Also – since you paid for Standard Shipping, unless this book weighs less than 13 ounces, I will probably have to use good old pokey slow US Media Mail, which can can take anywhere from 4 to 14 days. You see, I can’t afford to ship it to you by the same methods Amazon Prime uses.  Amazon actually has their own delivery fleets, stationed all over the country, so they can get those items to you FAST – often within 24 hours!

I know there’s been a lot of math and head-scratching thinking involved in this post and I apologize. (I also apologize if I’m off by a penny here and there. Hey, it’s early and I haven’t finished my coffee, plus I’m not much of a mathematician myself!)

But I do know that, as a BUYER as well as a SELLER, Amazon Prime is a HUGE bargain – and people who complain about it just don’t seem to understand it.

Also, the complaining party in the lawsuit says she bought “18 items” during the year she had her Prime membership. Excuse me, but I BUY from Amazon as well as sell there, and I have bought WAY more than 18 items in the past year. And a lot of them I bought specifically because the Prime shipping was cheaper AND faster!

Plus – Prime not only includes shipping on stuff you buy, but also a ton of free streaming movies and TV shows! Come on, how is that not a great bargain??

So don’t listen to Dewey, Cheatem and Howe – do your own research and figure it out for yourself!dewey

Don’t overlook boxed sets!

boxedcartoonHey everyone! Sorry for the long delay between posts. What can I say – I’m a very, very bad blogger. No excuses!

However, today I’ll try to make up for it by offering some real, practical advice for those of you that, like me, sell books on Amazon and/or eBay: BOXED SETS!

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about – this boxed set of Harry Potter paperbacks at Amazon:

Harry Potter Box Set 1-4harryboxed

Now what’s interesting about this set is that it isn’t what you might think of as “valuable”, for several reasons:

1. They’re paperbacks.
2. They’re not first editions.
3. They’re not the complete Harry Potter series, just the first four.

Yet check it out – even if you’re not selling through Amazon FBA, you could still charge $20 or more with a reasonable expectation of getting it. For an investment of about $5.00 at at your local Goodwill store, that’s not too shabby!

Also, take a look at the seller listings for these paperbacks. Notice how many of them say “No Slipcase” or “No Box”? Amazingly, a lot of your competitors don’t seem to feel any compunctions about offering a “boxed set” without a box!

So think about it: if you’re a buyer, and you want to buy a BOXED SET, wouldn’t you be more likely to buy from a seller who says, “BOX INCLUDED!” and posts photos to prove it? I would!

Another issue with boxed sets is that more than once, I’ve found one in a thrift store where one of the books was missing or in bad condition. Here’s an example that I just sold:

The Second Chsecondchronboxronicle of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson

I purchased this boxed set from a local Goodwill store for $5.99. When I got it home, I found that one of the books had sustained some serious damage and brought down the condition of the entire set from “Very Good” to “Acceptable”. So I purchased another copy of it, the cheapest one I could find on Amazon ($3.99) and replaced it in the set. It sold for $25.00 – not a huge profit, but a decent enough return.

So don’t overlook boxed sets – if it has a good sales rank on Amazon, and you can get it for less than $10.00, it’s worth your attention!

Thanks for reading! Tune in next time when I’ll have some tips about Book Club Editions that can be surprisingly valuable!

Goodwill Book Stores – a welcome bright spot on the dying used bookstore landscape

Sorry, folks! I know I’m way overdue for a post here.

My only excuse is – life happens! And that’s all I’m going to say!

Anyway, today I’m on my way to visit a Goodwill Bookstore in Agoura Hills, California today.

Goodwill Bookstores are a relatively new phenomena. Of course Goodwill Thrift Shops have been around for a long time, and they usually have books, on one or two shelves back in the corner behind the kids’ toys and snowsuits.

However, a few years ago, someone at Goodwill looked around, saw how many used bookstores were closing, saw how many tons of books were subsequently being dumped in the Goodwill collection boxes, and got the bright idea to move their books OUT of the kids’-toys-and-snowsuits corner, and INTO something that looks like this:

Image

Nice! Clean, well-lit, carpeted, chairs to sit in, tables to dump books on – and not a snowsuit in sight!

Whoever had that bright idea at Goodwill ought to be promoted, or at least get a raise (what do they pay now, five bucks an hour?).

Right now there only seem to be a few locations in Southern California, but I predict this trend will grow and sweep the country! Or at least the rest of California!

BOOKSTORE UPDATES: Renewal in Santa Paula; continued slow death in Pasadena

This is going to be a quickie “placeholder” post as my computer’s been acting up today, so just wanted to get this in before everything comes crashing down and life as we know it ends in a flaming ball of hellfire, or my computer dies, whichever comes first.

1. There’s a GREAT new used bookstore (is that an oxymoron? “new used”? whatever) in Santa Paula, California called GO GETTER BOOKS. I paid them a visit last week and was VERY impressed! It’s a fairly small store right now but obviously a lot of room to expand. They’re still putting things together but what’s there so far is great!

With a few exceptions, all hardbacks are $2.00 and all paperbacks are $1.00. I left with an armful and a half and would have loved to get more, but no shopping baskets – yet! They’re coming, I’m sure.

Oh and also, they weren’t set up to take credit cards yet so be sure you bring cash.

Here’s a nice article from a local paper about their grand opening: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2013/jul/29/go-getter-books-opens-store-in-santa-paula/ (and whoops! you may have to subscribe to read the full article – sorry about that!).

And hi to “Rome”, the nice young gentleman behind the counter (well, actually more like a card table, but like everything else, I’m sure that’ll be upgraded in time!).

Anyway, Main Street in Santa Paula, California is a GREAT place for a bookstore, and I hope they’ll really become a part of that lovely community for many years to come!

2. Cliff’s Books in Pasadena is still open, on a month-to-month basis, and still selling off their stock at 50% of the marked prices. I’m really sorry to have to say this, because I have enjoyed shopping there for almost all of the 25 years they’ve been in business, but – even at 50% off, their prices are still way too high. If I were them I would take a page from Go-Getter’s book and just offer everything for $1/$2 – seriously, I know they think they have a lot of valuable collectibles, but at this point, taking into account how much it’s going to cost them to move and/or store what they’ve got in there, how valuable can they really be if they haven’t sold by now?

Sorry for the rant, I feel sad that they’re on their way out. But ya know, there’s a lesson to be learned here – if nothing else, a used bookstore today MUST be at least partly online. Cliff’s never did get a website. They do have a rudimentary Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cliffs-Books/111761895526776) but as you can see they haven’t spent a whole lot of time interacting with their customers.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about the great “new used” bookstores that have opened up in the last few years, and why they’re thriving while so many others have died.

Another reason bookselling beats cubicle hell

barts

Today I drove up to Bart’s Books in Ojai, one of my favorite bookstores.

In fact, it’s the location of the big globe in the photo at the top of this blog, with me holding that lovely copy of “Last Flight” by Amelia Earhart, which I bought there several months ago, fully intending to resell, but then at the last minute couldn’t bring myself to do it because it just looks soooo cool, so decided to keep it on my personal bookshelf for now, at least till taxes come due next year, and what with Obamacare it may have to go but still …

Anyway, I always find killer books there! And even when on occasion I don’t – how can you resist a bookstore that looks like this?

barts2

But it’s not just Bart’s that I love, it’s the entire drive from Reseda to Ojai that just makes me … happy. Because I stay off the freeways and main roads as much as possible – so wind up driving through areas that look like this:

simi

and sharing the road with traffic like this:

cow

during the height of rush hour.

So you can see why I say – bookselling beats this:

cubicle

any day of the week!!

For Matt and Tony – an appreciation of Kindle eBooks

Ok, yes, I know that as a bookseller, I am supposed to hate the Kindle and everything it stands for.

But not only do I NOT hate the Kindle, I own at least 3. The Kindle Fire, the Kindle 3 and the little one with no keyboard and the ads on the screensavers.

Plus I have the Kindle apps downloaded on my Droid and my PC – so actually, 5! That’s right, 5 Kindles!

Before that I had the late and not too lamented “Fictionwise eReader”, which was pretty big but served its purpose.

Anyway, even though I still love physical, print books (and make a decent amount of extra cash trafficking in them on eBay and Amazon), I absolutely love the convenience of the ereaders. (No more carpal tunnel syndrome from toting around the latest hardcover Stephen King book, yayyy!!)

But even more, I love the fact that so many great writers are publishing books, on their own, via Kindle!

Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there – but then, let’s be honest, there’ve always been a lot of crappy books out there. I come across tons of self-published crapola in the thrift stores every day. Poetry, too. Most poetry books are self-published and really, really bad.

But I digress.

What I wanted to say is that I’ve discovered some writers working ONLY on the Kindle right now who are easily as good as any of their print counterparts. And I’d like to highlight two of them in this post: Matt “Wiggy” Wiggins and Tony Rabig.

Matt is a fitness expert – really! And what I love about his eBooks is that they’re short, focused and to the point – and cut through a LOT of the hype about fitness machines, techniques and diets.

For example, his book ““Working Class Weight Loss“.

working
Yeah, that’s right, stick up your nose and say, “Humph, just another crappy diet book!”

But no, it’s not! Believe me – I’ve READ enough crappy diet books to know the difference!

It’s actually got very detailed information about setting goals; why just “wanting to losing weight” may not be enough; how to figure out what it is you want; and once you have, how to get there.

For example: Is your goal to be more flexible and healthier overall? Meet the weight requirements of your job? Or just fit into a special outfit long enough to have your picture taken? Those are very different goals and there’s no “one size fits all” plan that will automatically take you to each of them.

So you really do have to sit down and think about what it is you REALLY want. A challenging task no matter what the goal!

And while not sure if it’s in this book or one of his others, I LOVE the term he uses: “BSO” – Bright Shiny Object – about how too many people pick a weight loss/fitness plan, but don’t stick with it because they get distracted by some other weight loss/fitness plan they read about online, switch to that; do that again and again; and thus set themselves up for failure.

Pick ONE sensible plan and stick with it for several months before even THINKING about switching. That’s good advice, and it motivated me to activate my long-dormant “My Fitness Pal” account and start counting calories again.

Thanks, Matt!

The second author I’d like to focus on is a gentleman named Tony Rabig.

Tony Rabig is a retired former bookseller, librarian, computer programmer and teacher. So far, he’s only published short stories on the Kindle. But WHAT short stories!

Easily the equal of Ray Bradbury (the subject of one of his stories), Richard Matheson and Jack Finney, and in the same vein,

The first story I read was his “The Other Iron River“, and here’s the description from Amazon:

“The town of Iron River is slowly fading away, declining as its younger people move away and the older ones die. But there is another Iron River — the town as it was a century ago. And if you’re the right kind, you can step back into yesterday, and stay. Paul and Beth are the right kind, but is leaving their own time really what they want?”

I found this while searching to see if anything by Jack Finney (“Time and Again”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, etc.) had made it to the Kindle yet. They hadn’t. But – another Rabig fan had tagged his stories with “Jack Finney”, so “The Other Iron River” popped up.

iron

For 99 cents, I gave it a try – and was flabbergasted. Mr. Rabig (whose blog is also worth reading, as he sometimes posts excerpts from stories he’s working on!) is easily the best fantasy/horror short story writer I’ve read in a long, long time – and as I said, definitely playing in the same ballpark as Finney, Matheson and Bradbury.

So readers, book lovers, don’t write off the Kindle, or consider it your enemy. Instead, treat it as the convenience it is – a way to carry your library with you when you’re traveling, without having to haul twenty extra suitcases; and more importantly, a way to discover the writers who’ll be inspiring and entertaining people for years to come.

Good News, Everyone!

goodnews

 

 

 

 

In my last post, I lamented that Cliff’s Books of Pasadena was going to close its doors forever on December 31, 2012.

Well, according to Jerry, jerrythe nice guy you’ll usually see working the front counter, apparently there’s a little bit more time than that – maybe as late as February 2013!

 

It’s still sad news that they’re closing but among other things, that’s good news because:

1. They’re still selling everything for 50% off, and

b. it gives me a little extra time to do a more complete blog post, which I intended to do but kept putting off due to Christmas-related issues.

So hang in there! I WILL be doing a more complete “Cliff’s Books of Pasadena” post in January.

Meantime, keep watching the bookshelves …

cliffs2

KEEP WATCHING THE BOOKSHELVES!!!

Bookstores Across Pennsylvania, Part III, the lame finish!

I had it all planned.

I was going to finish off my Bookstores Across Pennsylvania “series” (or whatever) with an amusing Part 3, about this really bizarre store we stopped in, more like a junk store with pretensions to antiquing, where they had mostly DVDs piled high to the ceiling, and a few books in the basement that were mildewing, and when I finally dug out a first edition Horatio Alger book and took it to the front to ask the price, and they asked “How much do you think it’s worth?” and I said, “Two bucks,” and they laughed and said “Seriously?” and I said, “Okay, one buck,” and finally we negotiated up to ten bucks, which frankly turned out to be way optimistic on my part because I still haven’t been able to sell it anywhere, because the frontispiece is missing and it doesn’t have a dust jacket, and …

Well, the main reason I haven’t done that post, is because I’ve been so happy and relaxed since our trip ended, that I just don’t have it in me to summon up the necessarily irritation to make that an interesting post!

So let’s just finifallco1sh “Bookstores Across Pennsylvania” by saying it was a wonderful journey, full of beautiful blue skies and fall colors, and on our way back to the train station on Highway 30 from Lancaster to Pittsburgh, we saw a whole lot of really interesting looking antique stores and thrift stores that we didn’t have time to visit, so we’re going back.

Someday.

Of course, we’ll probably avoid THIS place …

fallco3

 

 

 

 

Next post: Cliff’s Books of Pasadena to close doors after 25 years! Noooo!!! (but they are having a cool 50% off EVERYTHING sale. Yayyy?)

Bookstores Across Pennsylvania, Part II

djernst

Another Pennsylvania bookseller we visited was a wonderful seller from what I’d call the “old school” – DJ Ernst of downtown Selinsgrove.

His description on AbeBooks is as follows:

Established in 1975, DJ Ernst-Books is a small clean orderly book shop located in downtown Selinsgrove, a college town along the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania. My emphasis is on quality of content and condition. Dust jackets and general appearance and condition are important to me. Because the space here is limited, I focus on quality rather than quantity. My store is open six days a week. I personally respond promptly to all inquiries.

I can certainly vouch for the “quality of content and condition”! This was the kind of store that almost made me forget I was a book SELLER, looking for books to RESELL! Shelf after shelf of beautiful, well-cared-for OLD hardcover books in dust jackets protected in plastic, clean and inviting.

I wanted them all – for ME!!!

My husband and I were really charmed and spent at least an hour wandering around, slowly savoring each shelf, picking up book after book just for the sheer pleasure of touching them. It’s THAT kind of bookstore!

I was a bit surprised when it came time to pay for my purchases – Mr. Ernst said he doesn’t take credit  cards. Yet he was willing to take my check – even though I was a total stranger from clear across the country! That’s one of the reasons I call him a bookseller of the old school – and actually, I would say that makes him a merchant of the old school. (Though it’s worth noting he does list books on AbeBooks, so he’s not completely out of the Internet loop!)

All in all, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this lovely bookstore in the beautiful town of Selinsgrove, and highly recommend you visit it yourself, if you’re ever in the area!

And you know – so many bookstores like this are closing, partly due to the economy and partly due to the Kindle, and it’s really sad because they are such a treasure! I hope anyone who reads my blog will make an effort to find and support your own local used-and-rare bookstore – while you still have it!

(In fact, later in December, I’ll be profiling one of those bookstores in Southern California: Cliff’s Books, a fixture of downtown Pasadena, California for over 25 years, which will be closing its doors forever at the end of 2012. Watch this space!)

C. Lehman, Bookseller

One woman's adventures in online bookselling - and buying

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