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Why I’m no longer a second-hand bookseller

The way it began

Seven years ago, whilst stuck at home on maternity leave, I began selling my old chemistry text books online. They sold surprisingly well, so, in an effort to create some space before the baby arrived, I moved onto my fiction collection. I soon realised that having bought the majority of my books in charity shops and at car boot sales I was able to read them and still make a profit selling them on. It wasn’t long before I was buying books specifically to sell and my business ‘Farm Lane Books’ was born.

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In the beginning I trawled charity shops, thrilled that my book browsing was now officially a legitimate business. I made a lot of mistakes, but also learnt about the value of books; quickly discovering what to look out for.

With the birth of my second child it became impossible to physically search for new stock so I moved to sourcing it online; specialising in tracking down copies of rare books in other countries.

I then began this book blog and discovered that there was a conflict of interest. Despite the fact I mainly dealt with rare, out-of-print titles, I still felt guilty for making money from the sale of books. I felt as though I was depriving authors and publishers of the money they deserved. In the beginning I used to post if I found anything interesting in a book (like the time I found £35 of old notes) but over the years I gradually stopped talking about my online business, thinking of it as a dirty little secret. Many of you probably didn’t even know that is what I did as a living.

Shutting Down

This week I turned my online shop off; mainly because selling books just doesn’t excite me anymore. I feel as though my learning curve has flattened out and I’ve become bored. I’m sad to say that I may have overdosed on books. My house is overrun with them and the acquisition of another one, no matter how rare or expensive, now fills me with dread. I need to get rid of them. It is time for me to move onto a new challenge! Don’t worry – I still love reading books. I’ll just be happier with a smaller, more manageable, TBR pile.

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A Rare Glimpse of my Stock

The Deadline

I’m having an extension built on my house in two month’s time. This means we’ll have to move out of our upstairs and live in just three rooms. The time has come for a major clear out! I have 7000 books to sort and remove from my house – I’ll let you know how I progress. Let me know if you have any ideas about the most profitable way to get rid of a large volume of valuable books.

Would you like to know the secrets?

Over the years I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge about the second-hand book market and it would be a shame for it all to go to waste. I’m currently writing a post about what I’ve learnt, but if you’ve got some specific questions, please ask!  

 

46 replies on “Why I’m no longer a second-hand bookseller”

Jackie; my son went though something similar about 3 years ago. His job was buying and selling books on like for about 4 -5 years. He did really well but as the economy worsened the buyers seemed to dry up as well. His house became overrun with books and even had separate storage facilities. He began selling large lots to other dealers and at flea markets. Eventually over a 2-year period he is collection free except for his personal library. He placed ads in papers and contacted other dealers who bought much of his inventory.

Hope this helps. Good luck

Diane, I actually haven’t noticed much decline in the second-hand book market over the years, but I probably started when it was already at a low! Thanks for all the advice. Hopefully I’ll be collection free soon too!

That’s a pretty big change but exciting times ahead, Jackie. Selling books shouldn’t feel like a guilty secret – we all know how much you love reading. But I can understand the feeling of having too many books! I’m looking forward to your post about the secrets of secondhand bookselling.

Jeanne, I do have a list of some of the books I have for sale – I’ll email it to you, but I have such a large number of books to get rid of that I don’t really want to sending individual books around the world – I really need to sell them in bulk lots. If you have an interest in a special subject and would consider buying quite a few then let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Id like to offer a suggestion.. Could you write a list of books that you would like to add to your own personal collection, but haven’t found yet. Anyone who would like to swap you a book on your list for, as you say, a bulk lot, of yours?

Thanks for the suggestion! It is a good one, but as I’m continually getting rid of books/acquiring new ones I feel it might take too much time to update. I have to stick to swapping books with those I know in person.

I heard about this a bit from you before. Interesting that you’ve given it up now. Would love to read your next post about what you’ve learned. I’m not sure what questions I’d like to ask, but maybe start with the basics? Like where do you sell, how to advertise, how to know what books are valuable, etc. I wonder if you could also share about your earnings from the business (just the rough ball park) and what / how much was the most expensive books you’ve ever sold. Just to know if it’s a worthy business to do on the side. Thanks! :)

7,000 books, OMG!!!! Holy moly. Well I did know about your (second? third?) career but I can see how it would be too much. I used to sell a lot of things on Ebay once upon a time, but it just becomes too much of a hassle. Especially if you don’t need the money to put food on the table. I have no idea whatsoever on how to get rid of that many books. You are going to have to sell them in bulk to somebody I guess…a resale shop or something. You won’t get near the amount of money you should, but that is just too many books to move out!

Sandy, I used to sell a lot of things on ebay too. I tend to get obsessed with something for a year or two and then get bored with it. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you exactly how to get rid of lots of books soon. :-)

Stu, Yes. I’m sure bookish people could amuse themselves for days. Shame everyone lives so far away as we could have an interesting get together around the stacks of books.

A second hand book seller!!!! Where was the button / link? Was this a separate site? How could I have missed this. The photos of your storage bins look impressive yet scary. I must say, I only manage to sort out my home of “stuff” when there is an excuse, like free up a room because people are coming for the summer. I always find it very gratifying. An extension is a fantastic reason to get rid of 7000 books but alas… HOW, I have no idea.

Ifi, Sorry – there was never a link as I didn’t want to publicise the fact – especially since my shop was on Amazon, which isn’t exactly well loved at the moment. I am never good at doing things without an excuse either. Hopefully this deadline will encourage me to get my act together. :-)

Jackie you should contact Steerforth at The Age of Uncertainty in case you have any stock he’d be interested in (ditto Juxtabook perhaps) – or they may be able to point you in the direction of where to dispose of them (also The Bookbarn who buy in bulk.

Personally, I don’t see the conflict of interests between bookselling and blogging, as long as you’re not flogging ARCs or publisher freebies. I sell a few books myself, but as I generally refuse to list a book on Am**on unless I can net £1 on it for the effort, I am finding the number of books I can list declining as there are so many listed at 1p + P&P by big vendors who get the pro-merchant cheaper listing rates.

Good luck with the books and the extension. :)

P.S. If you have a catalogue, could you send me a copy!

Annabel, Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll look into them.

I was a pro merchant seller, but it was still hard to make a profit on the cheaper items – you need to have a bulk business account with the post office and post about 30 items of the same type each day. Even then you only make a tiny amount. As you say, it isn’t even worth the effort.

I’ve emailed the list to you :-)

I think all things run their course after awhile and it sounds like the case with you. I wouldn’t have a clue about getting rid of that amount of books but I’m sure you’ll figure it out!! Best of luck … and I do look forward to your post on the topic of selling books.

Wow! I don’t think I’d do well with a job like that because I’m not that organized to know where each book is and I hate errands like going to the post office. So I can understand being ready to stop! Sadly, I have no advice to share, but it sounds like other people might, so good luck! Glad to know you’re not giving up reading and blogging…

Laurie, I also get very frustrated by going to the post office. Things can get really bad here and you can end up queuing for 45 mins+ That is why I bought stamps in advance and then just had to stick the parcels in the post box. I’d have given up far sooner if it weren’t possible to do that.

I knew you had been selling books, but I didn’t realise you were still doing it until recently. I would love a second-hand book shop (a physical one) – or so I think. It would probably not bring in much money, but only lead to a lot of hassle.

I have no idea how online book sales work, especially not the 1p ones – where do you earn the money in that? I know people who have books listed on an online book seller’s website here, but it seems that it’s really hit and miss and you can be stuck with certain books forever.

Anyway, I hope you get rid of your 7K books soon and start to value books again.

Judith, I used to want a second-hand book shop, but I don’t any more. The idea is lovely, but the day-to-day reality would probably drive me nuts!

With 1p book all the money is made on the postage. It is only possible to make money from heavy 1p books if you have a business account with the post office – even then it is only pence and not worth doing.

Yes. It is easy to be stuck with books forever. Hopefully I’ll be able to get rid of all my books soon. :-)

I see! Didn’t realise money was being made on the postage. I thought maybe the books are so cheap because these are beginning book sellers that need the ranking (of being trustworthy) so they give the books away for very little.

I also think the practicalities of a second hand bookshop aren’t all that great. I like the coffee and cake corner, though (the one in my mind). :-)

Judith, I’m sure there are a lot of newbies doing it by accident – I have made one or two mistakes over the years.

I prefer having coffee and cake in someone else’s bookshop ;-)

Hi Jackie, exciting times – what on earth are you going to do with all the free space once you’re collection-less? ;)

If you have any medieval history books or Victorian women authors, I’d love you to fling a catalogue my way.

I tried my hand at the same thing a while back- did it for about a year, selling on Amzn. I was never very successful at it- I think because I didn’t amass enough inventory, and the profit margin was so very small. It was fun, though. When I folded the business I put up my inventory as a bulk item on craigslist and a guy came and bought them all for just enough for me to break even (my guess is he was a used-book dealer himself, but I didn’t ask). Of course I kept about a hundred to go through slowly and read at my leisure- probably not a wise move!

I have a strong interest in books on nature, gardening and animal behavior, especially wildlife. If you have a number in those subjects, I might consider purchasing a boxful from you!

Jeane, It took me about 2 years to amass enough inventory to make a reasonable profit – and to really understand which books were worth buying in the first place! Part of me wants to keep the most valuable ones to sell off at my own pace, but I’m not sure where I’d draw the line. Think I need a clean break otherwise I might be drawn back in again.

When I finished my postgraduate on MBA, I started selling most of my textbooks thinking if I really need them I’ll buy them back one day, because my living space is limited. I have came to a conclusion that selling 2nd hand textbooks can bring some money, but there are no money in selling novels, as people like Amazon would have taken a big chunk for commission, including envelopes and effort, it doesn’t seem worth it.

I would love to be able to sell your books if there is a market for it. If you put out a catalogue, I may purchase some of the 2nd hand novels from you for my own collection. ;)

Jo, It is very hard to make money from ordinary fiction – only rare or collectable fiction is worth the effort. If you have any spare time you are welcome to come over and look at my fiction (most of it isn’t listed in my spreadsheet) I’m sure I’d be able to send you home with a box. :-)

Something strange happened. I replied to your thread and your reply on my initial comment disappeared!

Now I couldn’t be sure if I seen your offer to go home with a box! ha ha :D

Jo, That happens when you land on a specific comment on the blog. Delete the comment number in the url and you’ll see the offer of a box is still there. :-) Just let me know when you’d like to come over.

I do think it’s tough to sell books online these days, no one wants to pay the postage. So if your heart’s not in it, sounds about the right time to leave.

Do you have any second hand bookshops near you that might be interested in buying bulk lots? I know The Book Barn near Bristol will buy large amounts but not sure about the logistics of getting them there.

Ellie, There are a few bookshops around, but I think they are too small to take them all. I need to decide whether to split them or just advertise as a bulk lot (on eBay?) I think The Book Barn is too far (as I’d need to hire a van) but I’d love to go there one day and have a look round.

Agreed – I have got rid of vast quantities of books over the last couple of years and feel very good about it. I read e-books whenever possible and I recycle review copies to Oxfam as soon as I’ve read them. I have about 200 precious books – the rest I can’t be bothered with

I’ll be really interested to know how you get on Jackie. I’m finding it a real struggle continuing with mine now I’m back at work full time. I have 6000 on sale still and all I manage to do is post them when they sell – no active management of them at all. I also still have some boxes that need sorting and listing – only about 500 books probably but I never seem to have the time to look at them.

I never knew! I sold used books for awhile when I was unemployed but ended up donating about 4,000 I had left to my local library. I didn’t make any money (other than my tax deduction) but I did have the pleasure of knowing that my donated books were being sold in the library bookstore and funding the library!

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