Practical Ecommerce

Quick Query: Used Bookseller Makes a Tidy Income

Used books are big business. Adam Bertram is a part-time seller of used books, under the name of Books by Bertram. The business sold around 3,400 titles in 2009, grossing around $57,000, all without a website of its own. Bertram tells us about it in this “Quick Query.”

PeC: How did you get involved in selling used books?

Adam Bertram

Adam Bertram

Adam Bertram: “A little less than two years ago, I had a bunch of books laying on my shelf at home and decided that I wanted to sell them. I didn’t think a yard sale or garage sale was the best place to sell because they would just go for way too cheap. I’m a big tech guy so I decided to pursue Amazon and at the time, I was learning how to get them listed online. They started selling while I was actually listing them. I was getting 20 to 30 bucks a pop for some of them, and it kind of sparked an interest in me. Ever since then, I’ve grown every month, and I’ve been buying books for resell on many different places and just made a small part-time business for myself. I sell pretty much any kind of book that I can get my hands on.”

PeC: Approximately how many titles will you have up on Amazon at any one time?

Bertram: “Right now, I have a little over 4,800 books up on Amazon. I also utilize the Fulfillment by Amazon service and I have about 700 books there to where I send a bunch of books. They do the order fulfillment and the customer service for me.”

PeC: Why don’t you use Fulfillment by Amazon for all of your books?

Bertram: “Number one, it’s costing money to send them to Amazon, and number two is if the books don’t have a high demand, they sit at Amazon’s warehouse for any number of months to any number of years. They are just stagnating and I get charged a storage fee, and if it’s a low demand book that sits there for a year, I’m just paying for nothing.”

PeC: Are you happy with Fulfillment by Amazon?

Bertram: “Yes. So far, it’s really increased my sales quite a bit, and since I’m a one-person operation, I hadn’t had to do anything except get them together and send them over there.”

PeC: How has Fulfillment by Amazon increased your sales?

Bertram: “Well, I found that with Fulfillment by Amazon, buyers get free shipping on any Fulfillment by Amazon purchase so it qualifies for the Amazon Prime program [a discount-shipping service offered by Amazon] at the same time. It also qualifies for the Amazon Super Saver Shipping that people can get and also the Amazon name is behind it. They treat my books just like they treat their own, so I believe it’s really increased sales ever since I started doing that.”

PeC: In addition to Amazon, do you use other sites now to sell your books?

Bertram: “Yes. I have books on Amazon, Alibris, AbeBooks, Half.com, eBay, and some smaller sites, such as ValoreBooks, eCampus, and some other more niche book sites.

PeC: Do you put your entire inventory on all of those sites?

Bertram: “Yes.”

PeC: So if another channel sells a title that is at Amazon’s warehouse, will Amazon fulfill the sale?

Bertram: “Yes. They call it Basic Fulfillment Service [FBA]. They charge you a little bit extra for that, but for the books that are with the FBA program, they will send them to whoever you want.”

PeC: How do you keep track of that entire inventory?

Bertram: “I subscribe to a service called Fillz. It’s one of many multi-marketplace sites for media sellers. I can upload the books directly to the Fillz site and then once Fillz gets it, I set up connections to all the other marketplaces and they kind of act as a middleman between marketplaces. So, if a book sells on Amazon, I pull the order down, process it, then send a request to all the other ones, and document the quantity of that book that they want.”

PeC: Why doesn’t Books by Bertram have its own website?

Bertram: “Well, I don’t have time and I don’t have the knowledge and the know-how to market people to my site. If somebody thinks of a book, they’re going to think of Amazon. They’re not going to think of BooksbyBertram.com. Amazon, eBay and the other book sites simply have the traffic, and they’ve got the track record. They’ve done the marketing. They’ve got the lion’s share of the market and I have managed to take advantage of that.”

PeC: So, a book sells on one of these sites, how do you get your money?

Bertram: “Well, it’s very dependent on the site that I’m selling on, but take Amazon for example; whenever a customer buys the book there, they get their credit card processed directly through Amazon. Once the credit card is approved and authorized, I get it in my order key on Amazon, and then Fillz grabs that order from the site and then I get notified of it. Now, after it sells and the credit card is authorized, I have a payment account at Amazon that accumulates, and every two weeks I get an automatic ACH disbursement to my checking account. All of the larger sites work the same. Some of the smaller sites just send you a check every two weeks.”

PeC: What is the process for titles that you fulfill yourself?

Bertram: “I will go out to the shelf with the locator code, pull the book and clean it thoroughly. I subscribe to an online postal service called Endicia and then I will weigh it and then put that weight in Endicia and its software will generate the United States Postal Service label. I slap on the label, send a confirmation to Amazon, for example, and then the customer will be notified that the book will ship. Almost everything is [sent via] Media Mail, unless it’s 7 ounces or less, then it’s cheaper to send it first class.”

PeC: You also have a site that offers help to others who want to learn the used book business. Tell us about it.

Bertram: “I started a blog at Sellyourbooksonline.com about 10 months ago because I am constantly getting questions about how did you get started, how do you do that. It sounds interesting for anyone who kind of wants to work from home or just have a side business. I decided to start this blog and every once in a while, I’ll just write a post about what I’m running into, how I started, the ins and out and what to do, and that sort of thing.”

PeC: Anything else on your mind for our readers?

Bertram: “Well, for somebody that’s interested in starting a business, ecommerce is definitely the easiest way to go. You don’t have to open up a brick-and-mortar store or pay for a lease. Take it from me. I’m a one-man business and I made $57,000 in one year just on the side as a part-time job. So don’t let anything get in your way and give it a shot.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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