Describe and Price Pt. 2

Setting the “right” price for your book – is it an art, a science, a game? Yes. Welcome to the mysterious realm of the marketplace.

There is no absolute right price, no Platonic ideal price for your book. The right price of an item is what a buyer is willing to give you today, or, if not today, in a reasonable period of time. A high price is great but our first priority is to make the sale. It’s good to remember, too, that there are other factors in a purchase decision. Some customers want a nearby seller for faster delivery. Some customers will choose to support a Library when given the opportunity.

In some ways the electronic marketplace is easy to work in. All the competing copies of a book are displayed so you can see the range of prices. Scroll through the listings and look at copies in similar condition to yours. There’s usually a very wide price range; ignore the ridiculously high end and look for a cluster around the same price. It’s important to use reputable sellers for your comparisons. Look for sellers with a very high feedback rating over time to be your best guides.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to see how this process works. Take two copies of a current textbook, one is in excellent condition while the other has lots of issues. Look up the ISBN on Amazon; the page will show the book and give links to the marketplace copies. Always confirm that the book you have is exactly the same as the one displayed. Identify the Amazon price. To me, that defines the upper limit of price (only on items which are in stock for immediate delivery). I don’t think the average customer will buy my used copy if she can get it new for less. But plenty of sellers do list above that price – one of those mysteries of the marketplace.

Our better copy can be priced close to the new price (again, that’s Amazon’s price not publisher’s retail). The copy with issues should be set low enough to attract a budget conscious student. Discounting around 50% is usually a good point to start; a “Good” copy a little above, an “Acceptable” copy a little below. If Amazon is selling for $95, the “Like New” could be priced at $90, the “Very Good” at $85, the “Good” at $60, and the “Acceptable” at $45.

Now let’s consider two copies of a book – one a donation, the other a library discard. All other points being equal, the discard should be priced about 30% lower than the gift copy. My usual practice is to evaluate the condition, then lower one grade level for exlibrary. 99.9% of the time, the exlibrary copy will be graded as “Good” or “Acceptable; the rare uncirculated copy with an unmarked dust jacket could be graded “Very Good” and identified as exlibrary in the description.

You might well be puzzled by the amazing range of prices displayed for many titles. Keep your sanity, don’t try to figure them out. The marketplace is dominated/overrun by volume sellers (commonly called megalisters) who set their prices by algorithms and automated software. Some of them don’t even own any books; when a book is sold, they buy from a real bookseller and have it sent to the customer. Some get their inventory for free and squeeze the shipping fee for a penny or two profit on each sale; those are the sellers with books priced as low as one cent. The software will automatically move prices higher or lower in reaction to new listings posted by other sellers. It can be entertaining to watch two duel it out for the low price on an obscure title. One computer will drop a few cents below the other copy, then the other acts, the first again and so on; I’ve seen the asking price drop by a hundred dollars over a few days.

Don’t worry about competing with them. A Library store will have a different business model and a different pricing policy. Of course, if there are a hundred copies available for less than a dollar you should pass on that title. But let the “penny sellers” have the low end of the market. We can’t be volume sellers and must make some reasonable profit with each sale. Decide what that minimum is for your group. In my store, we have a minimum listing price of $6 for paperbacks and $8 for small hardcover. Once fees and expenses are taken out that should clear $4/5, more or less, on the sale.

Feel free to experiment with your pricing strategy. It can be helpful when starting out to price some things a little low to attract buyers. Some quick sales generating positive feedback on the site are important for establishing your store as reliable. Once established, you can set prices higher. Remember, there is no one right price for a used item. Be competitive in your pricing and give good service, and you’ll have sales.

One thought on “Describe and Price Pt. 2

  1. Pingback: Pricing Tools and Tips, Pt. 1: Books with ISBNs | Bookselling for Libraries

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