This month’s AE Monthly, the online magazine from Americana Exchange, comments about auctions on Ebay – “a particularly tough marketplace and not one for the faint hearted.” The author, Bruce McKinney, is the founder of AE, a notable collector, and a friend of libraries. A recent auction by the Seattle Friends prompted a few suggestions.
First, McKinney notes that “The material the Seattle Friends posted was 21 items most of which have ISBN numbers and therefore are capital C common. Such items tend to have competing copies for sale on Abe Books, in fact thousands in total for the items listed. eBay auctions, in my experience, tend to be for special, not necessarily valuable, but somewhat uncommon material and with few exceptions this wasn’t what was offered.”
We try recent material at auction sometimes, but it’s rarely successful. Some truly popular titles, e.g. Dummies books, sell reasonably well through the fixed price store.
Second, “The material was eclectic. Okay, it was more random than eclectic and few people in the book business sell that way. They focus and they concentrate because they know browsers, if they see one item they like, may look at other listings from the same seller. When the material is eclectic it is almost always a bad sign.”
This surprised me. I have thought that variety was an asset in an auction and would make it more likely that somethingpn the list would sell.
McKinney says no. “Just like the big guys do each sale should have a focus. If the subject is games it should be all games. It the focus is books signed by their authors every copy should be signed. If the subject is Seattle and local history every book should be relevant. If at some point you offer more valuable material such sales should occur at predictable times and be promoted. To the layman auctions may seem to occur randomly but in fact there are regular and deep patterns.”
I’ve been unenthused about ebay for a while, but have been reconsidering our approach. The fixed price store costs can grow rapidly, so we’ve seriously reduced our inventory. Ebay seems to be trying to revive the auction side of its business, too, with many offers for free listings. We’ve started putting more items up for auction, taking advantage of those offers, with indifferent results to date.
We’ve never done completely themed/focused sales though we’ll often have several related items listed for auction at the same time. I’ve never considered our auction listings as a unit, as “an auction” in the way McKinney suggests we do. It will be interesting to try that approach and see if it affects sales.
I completely agree that Ebay is best suited for the somewhat uncommon material that our libraries and patrons give us to sell. If only we could tell by looking which items among all that stuff are the ones wanted in the marketplace! We’ve had great success recently selling programs for the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts from the ’20’s and ’30’s but had no sales of the Chicago programs for the same period. But who wants boring predictability anyway? Surprises are part of the fun and excitement of bookselling, and auctions in particular.