Weekend Miscellany

Book questionI’m putting the finishing touches to my fourth (!) Literary Quiznight – which will take place this coming Friday in Abingdon, so not much time for reading this week.

This year the profits will go to a national charity that’s based in Abingdon – The Pelvic Partnership. There are a few spaces available – contact Mostly Books for info and tickets.

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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.





12 thoughts on “Weekend Miscellany

  1. No, you *should* be complaining when a book is misdescribed – I bought an anthology of Russian 20thc lit which turned out to be heavily marked and highlighted and I sent it back because something like that needs to be flagged up. I’ve bought books for reasonable prices that have been like new and other ones that have cost more but have been falling to bits. It makes me *very* cross!

    As for selling, I’ve kind of abandoned anything except those that I think might be particularly valuable (not many!) The hike is postage prices is certainly going to hit, and I think that the fact that a lot of my books no longer count as large letter will have an impact too. This is why I have started listing on Bookmooch and ReadItSwapIt so at least I will get something out of it and at least if I try and operate a one out/one in system the book pile won’t get any larger and I won’t spend too much on books. But it’s frustrating – I agree that the private seller is certainly worse off – I empathise greatly with you on this issue!

    • Thanks Kaggsy – I used to Readitswapit, but I was doing so many swaps that I was running up a big postage bill that way. The cash that comes in from half a dozen sales a month is a nice bonus, but see that I’ll end up giving more away.

      • I haven’t swapped that many so far (and I’m finding it frustrating that people don’t reply very quickly) – but I’m trying to swap books that I want to buy anyway so I’m paying out no more in postage than I would to buy the book (probably less) and also keeping the amount of space in the house devoted to books down a little….. 😉

  2. I’ve had mixed results buying secondhand books on line. I’ve been buying several copies for my local book group and one lot described as ‘new’, or ‘as new’ were just that, although some did have a little browning on some of the pages – some had not been read at all. I was very pleased and they were all 1p. The next lot, however, weren’t as good – some described as ‘good’ were what I would call ‘poor’, tatty, worn and in one case the title unreadable on the spine. This particular book arrived on Saturday and I’m going to contact the seller (not Amazon) tomorrow – hope I get a refund too – it’s just not worth paying to return the book!

    I used to sell some books on Green Metropolis, but the packaging and postal costs made it not worthwhile, if not actually costing me to do it!

    I suppose I’m lucky living quite near Barter Books where I can recycle books – the drawback there is that it doesn’t reduce my stock and I’m rapidly running out of space. So it’s the charity shops and/or giving books to friends.

  3. I buy a lot of second hand books on-line – there are no English libraries in this part of France, and my experiences have been usually pretty good though I did get a book recently which was described as ‘good’ and the end papers had been scribbled over. I don’t bother with re-selling the books, the postage costs make it simply not worth it, instead there’s a huge charity book sale in aid of abandoned animals and I donate all my unwanted books to them – and then buy back a whole lot more.

    • I saw your post about the big sale – it sounds lovely. My problem is generally that having spent too much money buying too many books, it makes sense to try and sell the ones I’m not keeping rather than give them all away. I frequently take bags of books to the charity shop too.

  4. I donate my books or pass them to friends, and for the most part I’m lucky when buying books. I agree though that most sellers don’t describe their books properly but then it they’re selling 1000s a month, they probably become slapdash.

    • Thanks Guy – I donate too, but like to try to sell those I’ve bought new if I can. If the big sellers are not going to take the trouble to describe their books properly, they should default to a lower condition for those people who are less bothered by it – it’s spine creases that particularly irk me!

  5. I rarely buy used fiction online but I have sold quite a few of my academic books through Amazon because I can get a very good price for them there, especially the French ones as they are so hard to get in the US (I usually sell things at $15-20, but it can be up to $50). I wish I had known this before leaving academia and moving to the West Coast (when I gave away about half my books)!

    Like you, I find fiction generally isn’t worth it as online retailers often sell at $.01 or similar. This may be even more prevalent here in the US because we have “media mail” for books, CDs, and DVDs and postage for one book is usually only $2.50-3.00 while Amazon credits sellers with $3.99 so anyone can come out ahead on the shipping. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the time, effort, or packaging so I usually donate fiction and anything else I can’t list for more than $8 or so. But I don’t really begrudge the bulk selling process as a business model.

    I try to be honest in my descriptions, even though shelfware and tanning aren’t really covered by Amazon guidelines. “Like New” mostly means there are no nicks, creasing, or markings. I’ll sometimes list a book as “Very Good” but say it is like new except for yellowing. I figure most people care about 1) the spine and how it looks on the shelf and 2) whether there are notes or highlighting. I try to be very personal in my descriptions because it is usually quite clear that online sellers use generic descriptions and don’t necessarily have the book in hand. I’ve definitely had people buy from me when there was something cheaper and I think it was because they knew exactly what they would be getting.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t feel bad about complaining if it’s not as described or doesn’t match the vendor guidelines. But I would always contact the seller first to discuss the issue. It may have been an honest mistake. Sometimes you cut and paste incorrectly when listing a bunch of items. And I’ve realized after listing that a book had highlighting on a few pages I missed. Never after a sale in my case, but it could have happened. And most people don’t leave feedback at all so one negative rating would weight pretty heavily in my case. The few times I’ve had problems with condition or delivery times, sellers have been great.

    • We have a similar way of listing in our descriptions. 🙂

      I don’t begrudge the bulk sellers at all – I use them to buy from after all. But sadly Amazon is now behind the Royal Mail for P&P, and bulk sellers in the UK have many cheaper options to use other posting options not available to the public thanks to deregulation.- hard to make it pay for selling the odd private item.

  6. I do occasionally buy second hand books on line and only once had a bad experience when the book arrived in very yellow and smelly condition. Odd how no vendor admits that books which have lingered in a damp cellar do have an unpleasant smell. As for selling my books I just found it a pain. The returns were minimal and I just couldn’t be bothered with all the packing up and queuing at the post office just for a measly couple of quid. So I just take them to a charity shop and buy some more from them. Helps keep them viable.

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