Selling to Collectors, not Readers, is the Biggest Mistake Booksellers Make

The most costly mistake most online booksellers, and many online resellers in general, make is to sell to collectors rather than consumers. The saddest part of this mistake is that a lot of people do not even realize that they are making it.

This mistake begins early when people go to the thrift store, the garage sale, or whatever and start looking for books. They start by only searching for books that meet the criteria of collector’s items; i.e., that first edition Hemingway novel. Then they compound the mistake by rejecting any book with a minor flaw, such as a discount sticker or rip, and only buy stuff in pristine condition.

For example, many sellers refuse to touch former library books. I just sold a former library book called Small Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon for $15. Some former library books, especially non-fiction books about weird, specialized, or arcane subjects, can sell very well.

Small Scale Grain Raising

One way people do this is to use the criteria set by so-called guidebooks to evaluate what they buy. That’s a terrible error because the pricing in such guidebooks is often unrealistic and a majority of potential consumers do not care about such criteria in the first case. Those guidebooks are written by collectors, not for resellers, so ignore them.

Such nitpicking is a mistake because you probably leave lots of books you could sell for money on the table. It is the equivalent of sorting through a stack of $1 or $5 or $10 bills in the hopes you might find a $100 bill among them, but leaving the smaller bills on the table when you are done. A smarter strategy would be to take all the money and sort it out later at home. A $1 bill is not as good as a $100 bill, but two or three of them will still get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

When you search for collector’s items, you are depending on luck. You are hoping that you will find a very valuable book and a person willing to buy it. If those circumstances do not come together, you have nothing.

When you buy books for the widest audience possible, you are creating a revenue stream because at least a few of them will sell. Remember, a few bucks in your pocket today is better than a million dollars somebody might pay you at some point in the future.

Are You Limiting Your Customer Base?

The mistake continues when these people list online because they only list items that appeal to a tiny minority of the population – collectors. They ignore the vast majority of buyers in the market, the readers or the consumers. By concentrating on the collectors’ market, they limit what they sell and their potential market.

Buy Now!

Selling only to collectors severely limits your profits because the number of collectors is severely limited. Maybe one to five percent of the people shopping for books online are collectors. Most of them are consumers, people searching for books to use them for what they were designed for, namely reading.

Get the picture? By tailoring your sales to collectors, you are effectively shutting out 95% to 99% of the potential buyers. Giant retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger make vast profits because they sell to the widest market possible, and you need to learn to do the same thing.

I’m not telling you to buy or list every book – there are a lot of books out there that belong in the dumpster – I’m telling you to list a lot of books. If you want to make a steady income that’s worth your time, you will need to list a lot of books. Listing a lot of books means that you can generate a steady cashflow and cover your expenses. Having a lot of listings will also drive traffic to your listings and increase your sales.

Listing a lot of books can also be psychologically important because it boosts your ego. When you see sales getting made and money coming in, you feel good, even if the amounts are small. When you see a lot of expensive items sitting online and not selling, you get discouraged.

When you list those books, you must list for the average consumer, the reader. That means when you go out and buy books you need to ask an important question: “Would an actual human being actually read this?” If the answer is no, then you should pass on the book.

If the answer is yes and you think you can sell the book for a few bucks, you should seriously consider picking it up. Remember, if somebody will read the book, they will pay money for it.

Sell to the Reader, not the Collector

The vast majority of people that buy books are readers, not collectors. Readers buy books for one of two broad reasons: entertainment or information. Generally, most people buy fiction for entertainment and non-fiction for information.

Readers do not care about the things collectors value; for example, they tend to overlook minor and even major defects. A person who buys an auto manual in order to see how to repair his truck does not care about the discount sticker on the front or the grease on the back. Somebody who just wants to read Gone with the Wind probably will not care about the small rip in the front cover.

The Far Side Gallery 3

I learned that collections of classic strips sell very well at my eBay Store.


Keep these criteria in mind when you buy books. Obviously, you should pay attention to the flaws and avoid really dirty books or those falling apart, but you should remember that not every reader cares about such defects. If a book is fairly rare or old, they may ignore them completely.

The rules are different for really old books, though somebody recently offered me $25 for an old copy of The Radio Amateur’s Handbook that had no cover. That person was willing to pay that because he or she wanted the information in the book and didn’t care about the condition. If a book is intact and contains obscure information, consider listing it.

The Radioactive Camel Affair

One of the many vintage paperbacks that can be found at my eBay store the Book and Comic Picker.


Ignore stickers completely if you’re shipping to Fulfillment by Amazon because Amazon will slap a sticker on the book when it reaches the warehouse. If you simply mention the flaws when you list the item and post a good clear picture of it, then you should be fine.

Something to remember is that consumers are generally looking for the lowest price. They will gladly put up with a few flaws if they can pay less. For example, they will overlook a rip in the cover if the book costs $2 less than your competition’s.

Collectors are looking for pristine books and truly rare stuff like first editions. The vast majority of buyers are not. Make sure you are selling to the consumer and not the collector, because selling to the consumer means you will at least make some money at the end of the day. Some money is always better than no money, which what usually happens when you sell to collectors. That way, if you do find a collector’s item, it’ll be icing on the cake, rather than the focus of your business.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *