If I said that you can switch on your PC now and almost immediately grab a share of a five billion dollar business with over 35 million active customers – that’s also one of the world’s best- known brands, would you believe me? Probably not. But I have to tell you – with a bit of work and effort – you can.
Amazon’s bookselling site is one of the world’s most successful e-commerce businesses, accounting for over 5% of all online sales. And the staggering truth is that Amazon will gladly let you share in their success story. Are they crazy? No. It’s a testament to founder Jeff Bezos’s mission to be ‘the most customer-focussed business ever’. Are there any catches? Not really. Of course, nothing is ever that easy but if you know how and are determined it is an opportunity worth your serious consideration.
In this article you will discover how Amazon will help you set up your own Internet business. A business that will sell for you worldwide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with virtually no overheads and none of the risks or hassles normally associated with e-commerce.
Why on earth should I sell books?
Well, you don’t have to sell books. You can sell all sorts of other goods on Amazon today – including electronics and photographic equipment, music, DVD’s, videos, software, PC and video games, home and garden items and toys and games.
But books satisfy almost every requirement of the ideal mail order product. They’re compact, light and easy to ship, easy to describe, enjoy a high profit margin and a high selling price relative to their size – they have a worldwide market and are something that almost everyone buys at some time. Books are still Amazon’s core business, their biggest seller and, to cap it all, there is no better known global market for books than Amazon.
But doesn’t eBay do it better? I’m sometimes asked why anyone would prefer to sell books (or anything else) on Amazon rather than on that monster of e-commerce eBay. The answer is simple: Amazon has certain unique advantages over eBay, and for certain products it knocks its bigger brother into a cocked hat. First of all, selling on Amazon isn’t (usually) an auction. You get the selling price you want, and you don’t have to wait seven days to get it. It’s simpler and faster to list products for sale on Amazon and you don’t have keep relisting, so you can sell much more (some sellers have over a thousand product lines). Most times, it’s much cheaper to sell goods so you can sell for less yet make more. Lastly, unlike eBay Amazon’s administrative and payment systems are a breeze – when you sell a book all you need to do is post it to the buyer.
OK, there are a few snags: Amazon’s procedures and rules are a bit daunting at first. But stick with it. It all slots into place once you’re up and running. There can also be a fair bit of competition in some subject areas (more about how to outdo your competitors later).
How Amazon lets you share their success
There are actually quite a few ways you can join in Amazon’s success story. Amazon Auctions is much the same as eBay. Amazon Advantage is for authors and publishers. Amazon Alliances are special working relationships with large companies. But if you’re a private-seller-cum-small-trader or a small-mediumish sized business I think you’ll find Amazon’s Marketplace and zShops are the best ways to get involved.
Marketplace: Marketplace offers you an opportunity to sell books on the exact same page on Amazon’s website where Amazon sell the book themselves. So you get to compete with them head-on, and even get to undercut them on price (in fact you’re expected to!). Marketplace is for any new or used books, but not really rare or collectable ones. Selling prices are fixed – Marketplace isn’t an auction. You can list an unlimited number of items for free. A closing fee of 86p (on Amazon.co.uk) per item plus 17.25% of your sale price is charged on each sale but you don’t pay anything if your books don’t sell.
Marketplace is suitable whether you just want to make some spare cash, but also if you want to start a ‘proper’ small business.
zShops: zShops is an area of the Amazon website that enables you to sell books that are not currently being sold by Amazon. You can sell new and used books but it’s especially suitable for selling anything unusual, different, rare, collectable or valuable that might appeal to Amazon’s millions of customers. Again, zShops are not an auction and prices are fixed.
zShops is most suitable for higher-volume sellers. To sell most items at zShops you must have what is called a ‘Pro-merchant Subscription’ – more about that later. Because of it’s different charging structure zShops works out much cheaper than Marketplace for volume sellers – there’s a £28.75 monthly sub. to become a Pro-merchant but closing fees start at only 2.875% per item. (Check with Amazon for exact details as these fees are a bit complicated!)
You can operate both Marketplace and zShops, but experts I’ve talked to suggest it is better to start with Marketplace and think about getting involved in zShops later. (Although when you list items on Marketplace Amazon’s software will automatically list anything that isn’t already sold by Amazon on zShops.)
So now you’re a bookseller – what types of books sell best? You don’t really need to be interested in books to sell them successfully. Although you can sell almost any books on Amazon experienced sellers have found that certain books sell much better than others. They tell us that they have a lot of success selling books that don’t sell well on eBay. eBay is good for collectibles and very specialist or unusual books. Amazon is good for new and newish popular and other mainstream books. Many experienced sellers use both Amazon and eBay on the basis that what sells badly on one will sell well on the other!
Amazon is great for selling cheaper books – in the £7 to £20 price range. (As any eBayer will tell you, it’s tricky to make money selling cheap books there.)
Another good thing about Amazon is that the strong sellers there are books that are strong sellers everywhere else, so you don’t need to do lots of research to find good ideas. Look at Amazon’s ‘100 Hot Books’ section to find current bestsellers. You can also search for ‘Hot Books’ by subject. One slight disadvantage of using this method is that every seller wants to sell these books. You might be able to find some little-known ‘hot subjects’ by asking in bookshops and libraries as to what books are becoming popular, and then trying to second-guess the demand on Amazon.
I asked some Amazonians what sells best for them. Here’s what they said: ‘Classic fiction’, ‘famous authors’, ‘children’s books’, ‘heavily illustrated/coffee table books that are too expensive brand new’, ‘books that make good gifts’, ‘ text, academic and reference books’ and ‘books connected to TV/film’. Several also told us that hardback editions seem to sell particularly well, although most books produced today are paperback.
Good Tip: Test the market to find your own personal successes. You can afford to do this on Marketplace because no sale = no pay.
What you can’t sell? You can’t sell anything that is a copy, a free promotional version, a foreign product not licensed for sale in the UK or anything that is unsafe (unlikely to apply to books).
Finding books to resell at a profit: Once you’ve decided what sort of books to sell you’ll need to find sources of them. There are many different sources, and it’s a good idea to try them all to maximise the quantity and range of your stock.
Good Tip: Try to use sources that both are regular and repeatable, so that once you find a book that sells well you can go back and restock. You can make money selling one-time-only books but it’s far better to find a book that will sell and keep selling. Here are some sources to try:
– Trade Sources. You can buy all the new books you need in the book trade either from the publishers themselves, their distributors or their wholesalers. If you want just a small number of books it’s best to go to a wholesaler as you can mix books from different publishers. A wholesaler will give you a trade discount if you tell them that you are ‘in the trade’ (which you are) – expect 30% up to 50% or more if you place a large order.
– Auctions. Keep an eye out for any auctions where books make up all or part of the stock. Auction stocks can include bankrupt stocks, salvage books (not all necessarily damaged), remainder books, shop-soiled and ex-library stocks. (Check what type of books are being sold before attending an auction.) Auctions are a good source if you want to sell valuable and collectable books,
– Book fairs, jumble sales, charity shops etc. These are good if you are starting in a small way, and a good source of very cheap books. (But be careful, some of the big name charity shops tend to overprice used books.) Only buy books in good condition, unless they’re unusual in some way.
– Private individuals. Look in the small ads. for ‘Books for Sale’ or place a ‘Books Wanted’ ad. The main advantage of this source is that because there isn’t much of a local market for used books you can pick up books for pennies.
– Remainder books. Remainder books are new books which publishers have published and which have failed to sell. So, they’re withdrawn and sold off very cheaply – often at 90% or more discount. The advantage of remainder books is that you can get job lots of hundreds or thousands. The easiest way to buy remainder books is from a specialist remainder supplier.
The disadvantage with remainder books is that if they didn’t sell well in the shops they might not sell well on Amazon either, so it’s a good idea to test them before buying a large stock. (But: Remainder books which were overpriced when new often sell very well at lower prices on Amazon.)
Lastly, don’t forget that you can also buy books for your stock on Amazon, as well as sell them there, and turn them round quickly for a profit. A word of warning though: This isn’t really for mainstream books that lots of Marketplace sellers have. It can, however, work well for rare, valuable and collectable books where another seller has priced them too cheaply and which you’re pretty sure someone else will pay a lot more for.