by Mark Misiak
December 29th, 2015. A couple things happened that day in my life, the most important one being my decision to stop applying to post-graduate school jobs. Half a year earlier I
returned home from France where I spent over 3 years getting my Business School degree, consequently working in Investment Banking in Paris. After blowing over $1,000 on a job interview trip to London, I still had a final round for a Management position with none other than Amazon, and a 3-hour written test waiting for me in Poland (where I’m from) for the United Nations Young Professional Program. I ended up cancelling both and now sell used books for a living (for now). Nothing out of the ordinary, unless you ask my Mother. You know that face someone makes when they have a terrible flashback and they freeze up – that’s what happens when someone asks her what she thinks of my decision.
If you’re a Canada-based FBA bookseller, outside of cursing out Value Village every time you step into one, you’ve probably started out slow, sending in a couple dozen books, probably to the Canadian marketplace. Just to get your feet wet. Maybe you’ve been laid off and you’ve been hearing how everyone and their 2-legged rescue dog is becoming rich overnight by doing that “Amazon FBA thing”. Or maybe you saw an ad for the inventory of a closed bookstore and thought to yourself: you know what would make the most sense right now in your life? Getting a rental cube van, driving down to the next town, and “decorating” your house with 45,000 books. Personally, I like to keep things exciting and that’s how I got started. I won’t get into details, but needless to say I learned more since that day than in all of my post-secondary years of education.
To wrap things up and get to the good stuff: I did the .CA side of things until April of 2016, and decided to switch over to .COM for various reasons, not just sales velocity. If volume is how you win in online bookselling in the USA, VOLUME is how you win on the Canadian marketplace. As of this writing, it’s been 10 months since my first shipment across the border. For the sake of transparency, my sales numbers are included and are well on their way of breaking the $100,000 USD mark by March 31st – January sales were over $18,500 USD. Have to love that exchange rate boost!
Here are the 3 most challenging problems for Canadian FBA booksellers that send books across the border to improve literacy rates among our southern neighbours – and how I overcome them:
Inventory Sources & Cost
How about that pricing structure at Value Village? Straight robbery, I do declare! Thrift stores in Canada don’t have the same makeup of books as their counterparts in USA and they are more expensive. Large book sales aren’t as common and sometimes their prices can be out there as well. In my experience, and according to my criteria, between 2% – 7% of scanned books will be winners, probably on the lower end of that range with the new changes.
Solution: Get creative, think outside the Buy Box (pun intended – I need more friends). But Sensei Mark, how does one “get creative”? Make a list of all the places where you can get books. Libraries, auctions, Kijiji, garages (don’t break in – wait for the weekend sale), churches, universities, bookstores, seminaries, private libraries, independent thrift stores. There are way more than that, but I’m keeping those for myself (or for a limited one-time fee of $99.99?) This is the difference between finding and selling a couple hundred books a month and selling thousands. The next part of this business isn’t even as important as looking for books EVERYWHERE and for as little as possible.
Hint: coupons and talking to people helps. Anything short of begging and even then…
I wish I could trust Canada Post as much as Lady Gaga trusted those suspension cables during her Superbowl performance, but if you’re Canadian you know the state of our mail delivery system. Just as competitive as our telecom industry! Selling on Amazon Canada is easy-breezy. Sending stuff across the border is a different story and I can’t even count the number of hours I wasted initially taking books out of my shipments one by one to play around with the warehouse destinations algorithm.
Solution: If you’re serious about books, find a used box broker (real job, I swear) and buy them in bulk. They will normally sell tape in bulk as well. Organize your book SKUs in the order they are scanned into SellerCentral – having them piled up in some type of organized fashion will help you find them when split shipments happen. And they will. Find a cross-border delivery company if you’re sending out less than 1,000 books per 14 days, or even a month. There is enough information out there on this already. Once you get to that level you’ll have enough knowledge to know what to do next
I lied. This is the most important aspect of running this business. Any for that matter. There are tools out there to address tracking sales data, listing, accounting, and other parts of this business. I won’t recommend one over the other, but it’s imperative to your sanity, your marriage, and probably the survival of the whole world that you can answer such basic questions as “Am I even making any money?” I use ScanLister for listing (not sure how people function without it), Caleb Roth’s Excel Tracker (all the data you want), and RepriceIt for repricing (only decent game in town for booksellers) Books are a one-off, meaning you’re going to have hundreds, if not thousands of SKUs. At some point something as simple as repricing is going to make you think of ripping your hair out. That’s just the software part. If you’re not using a Bluetooth scanner, you might as well be that kid in high school that always eats by himself (that might or might not have been me). Not to mention proper supplies for sourcing and attending any public elbow-throwing events (aka: book sales).
Solution: Keepa track of everything. Eh? No one? I’ll be here all night guys. In all seriousness, I’m a numbers guy by nature and there are no original problems here. Someone out there already had the same
challenge. Read blogs, forums, and search Facebook groups. In the end you have to know your numbers down the smallest detail. I keep track of everything, including creating Google maps and Excel sheets for projection, thrift stores, and book sales data (how much did I buy, how often should I come, who is that creepy guy breathing over my shoulder).
Hint: Figure out what you want out of this business and work your way backwards. Do you want to make $4,000CAD a month? How many sales is that? At what cost can you get that? Where? Who? Why?….There was one more, I swear. Also, read and continually educate yourself.
Finding books by yourself and earning an average salary off of it is pretty hard. I see it more of a hustle. Nothing wrong with that and I don’t mean to discourage you, but if you haven’t found that out by now, it’s just a matter of time. If you’re sourcing the conventional way, of course. This is the most difficult form of an Amazon business, relatively speaking. Maybe next to trying to sell body parts in the Health & Beauty category and listing them as Used – Like New.
Want to learn how to get started selling used books on Amazon? Check out my eBook, The Beginners Guide to Bookselling on Amazon.
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