There are good books in every subject matter and some books are valuable in any condition, but let’s leave the exceptional for another discussion. Our purpose is to find the books most likely to sell at a price above what you can realize in your general public sale. If your donations and discards are anything like ours, only a small percentage will be worth your time and effort to sell online. The treasures in those overflowing boxes and bags aren’t quite hidden, but won’t all be obvious either.
Books are commonly divided into two groups, “in” or “out” of print. A more useful division for our purpose is “pre” and “post” ISBN. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) came into general use after 1970. This unique identifier makes it easy to find and compare other copies online. Other code numbers are used for other products. ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) is used for periodicals. The UPC (Universal Product Code) is the 12 digit number found with a scannable barcode. It’s used on other media, such as dvds and cds.
Most of an active online inventory will come from this relatively modern post-1970 stock. Older books are well worth considering, but have some challenges that the beginner should defer. Much of the discussion of subject categories and condition will apply to both.
You will have observed that some sections at a sale are more popular than others. People will crowd around tables with books on history, hobbies, current science and the like. Fewer people will browse the old self-help titles. The internet marketplace is the same. You can’t tell just by looking whether a book has high resale value, so the smart screener plays the percentages. Pick a book in a popular subject area, like Collectables, then ask a few questions. Is it current – a 2013 price guide or a 1989 edition? Is it specific – a guide to a 1920’s art pottery or a general guide to antiques? Is it in good useable condition? Who is the publisher – a specialty house like Schiffer or a book club reprint? These are some characteristics that increase the likelihood that you have a good candidate for online sale.
Make the best use of your time by concentrating on current non-fiction. Crafts, cooking, history, textbooks and related college readings, technology, and art books are some of the most reliable subjects. Become familiar with the small specialty publishers, e.g. MacFarland for media studies, Arno scholarly reprints, the university presses and others for good prospects. Condition is important but more variable than you might first think. A crumpled cover and some oil smudges might not matter in a car repair manual. The customer looking for a gift copy of a novel will want something close to perfect.
The last step is to look up the book and see what it’s selling for. If you have a scanning device, it’s a quick pass across the bar code. It’s only slightly more difficult without one. Enter the ISBN number in the search box on Amazon or Bookfinder (an aggregator site) to see the range of prices and number of copies. If it meets or exceeds the minimum price you’ve set for your inventory, you have a book ready for the next step. If it doesn’t sell for enough to be worth your time, back it goes into the general sale collection.