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There’s something else that’s been bothering me lately – and I wanted to see if you have had similar experiences. I want to talk about buying and selling second-hand books online.
First – Buying: All sites have condition guidelines for vendors. When I’m buying a used book, even if it only costs me 1p + P&P, I expect the item received to match the condition guidelines. An ‘as new’ book should appear unread – if it has more than the smallest amount of shelfwear etc, it can’t be ‘as new’; any amount of spine-creasing over a single slight crease can’t be ‘very good’, likewise tanning from exposure to light, cover creases as opposed to slight scuffing around the edges etc, etc, etc.
I would say that over half of the used paperbacks I buy online (and they’re not all 1p ones!), are under-described.
Once an ‘as new’ book I received which I paid a couple of quid for, was ‘acceptable’ at best – water-damaged, tanned and creased – and although I got a refund the reponse took a few days and I gave neutral feedback. I then got an email from the vendor asking whether I could remove my neutral (not bad, note) feedback. NO!
It’s a tough buyers’ market – accurate listings, and customer service differentiate the good from the not so good. Am I being too picky, complaining over a couple of quid?
Now – Selling. I have long tried to subsidise my book-buying habits by selling back some of the books I read online. I hasten to add, I don’t sell on any review copies – those I give away or take to a charity shop.
Selling your stuff on a certain huge website is really easy, but the odds are stacked against you as a private vendor being able to make a decent amount of money from doing it:
- The Fees: Bulk sellers get discounted fees. Private vendors don’t. There is a set fee per item sold plus a percentage of the closing fee – which adds up to over a £1 for a book listed at £1.
- The P&P: The buyer gets charged a set amount, the vendor nets less than that after VAT on the packaging element. Having to use the Royal Mail is expensive – especially as most books are too fat to go at the large letter rate. First class post is now £3 and £6.85 for parcels up to 1 and 2kg respectively – ie more than you get from the P&P credit. Add in your packaging costs, getting to the post office etc and it costs a fortune, although I’m lucky enough to have a stock of padded envelopes I can re-use. Pro sellers of course can use other cheaper options for posting their packages.
- Descriptions: (see above). I believe in being really honest about the condition of items I am selling – I list any spine-creases, cover scuffing or creases, tanning etc etc.
If I can’t net £1 from the sale of an item, I don’t bother listing it. In general, I now have to be able to sell a paperback for upwards of £3 and a heavier hardback for nearly a tenner to make a quid or two. So, if you can make a couple of quid on listing an item – next you have to see the competition’s prices – and the marketplace is flooded with books being sold by bulk vendors for just 1p plus P&P – and they can obviously still net a small profit from that else they wouldn’t do it. This is great for buyers but the odds are stacked against a private vendor from the off. I’ve consequently delisted many of my hardbacks as too heavy to post, and many lighter books which have to compete against too many 1p ones.
Apologies to anyone reading this that is an online bookseller, but making a few pennies does help me. So – I’ll be having a yard sale soon!
Rant over! Do share your views too.