scanner people

All posts tagged scanner people

Frankly, if you’re not a book collector, you will find this post boring

Published August 4, 2017 by The Merida Review

There is nothing more exciting than a new empty bookshelf. You can just look at it and imagine all the great books you’re going to fill it with. Right?

Well, it’s raining bookshelves around here!

I have both my personal book collection which are mostly downstairs, and the books I sell, those live upstairs in one of the (former) bedrooms. (I hate to think if I ever move!). My personal books have been out of space for a while, I have piles on the floor. The books for sale I have shelved, in alphabetical order by author, cause I have to be able to find them asap if someone has a question or if one sells, and I was nearly out of space so I was on the lookout for cheap shelves. I’ve been buying the old metal shelves people keep in their garages or workshops, cause they go really cheap and – if you get the old ones – they’re really sturdy and can handle books.

I usually wait till I need one before I buy one, one usually turns up when needed, or maybe I’m just not paying attention and miss them when I’m not looking to buy them. Maybe they are always there! Whatever. I was helping my kids sort out stuff for an auction (a relative’s estate auction) and spotted some shelves in the garage and promised them they’d be coming home with me, but only if they could look tired and rusty and sell for cheap. I was only going to buy one, but ended up with 3. I had to rearrange the book room to fit them in and it’s looking quite impressive, or at least I think so. I showed my son and he seemed to think my motley collection of shelves looked rather pathetic, but he wasn’t imagining them with books on them. I’ve been on a buying streak lately, I think I’ve already got enough to fill one. They just need to be typed into the database, which is rather slow going.

Then I was walking dogs and someone had tossed an old wood shelf in the trash. Really. I mean oak. Gees. I hollered over and asked if it was ok if I took it and they said sure, so I hustled home and got the car. You can’t get cheaper than free! And then my son showed up with one of those pressboard Ameriwood shelves that someone had abandoned at the auction (you know, you buy a whole row of stuff to get one thing and just take the one thing and leave the rest for vultures….).

So, five. I have five empty bookshelves scattered around my house right now. Whatever shall I do? Heh, heh.

* * *

The other night I was at a library book sale at a small town library, and the only scanner people there was an older couple, quite old – I think they were new at it, cause they were discreetly carrying a few books at a time over to the corner where the Mr would scan them. I could’ve offered them some ideas as to technique (from observation, not personal experience), but that didn’t occur to me till later. I was really struck by the idea of this older couple getting into the book scanning business. It seemed all wrong. I wondered if they were taken in by one of the “You can make XXX dollars a week!” ads, and invested big bucks into a class and the scanner and the service that does pricing. I wonder what future they have. I mean, if nothing else, carrying books! The scanner people I’ve rubbed up against do huge amounts of traveling to go to various charity sales. They’re aggressive! And this was a polite quiet older couple. When I left, the Mrs was standing by the curb with a couple cloth shopping bags of books while the Mr went to fetch the car. My heart went out to them.

I will probably never see them again. I don’t know exactly how the scanner business works, it’s supposed to be way easier than what I do, and faster returns. I spent some time investigating it when I moved back to the states and decided to get back into bookselling. In the end, I realized that you couldn’t do both, deal in antiquarian and first edition books AND run your little scanner thing. They are two different mindsets. Plus it’s expensive to get started because you need the equipment and the subscription to the pricing program. I couldn’t picture me driving all over Ohio to go to library sales, really. I go to a few. My kind of bookselling takes a lot of knowledge, experience; you gradually get a feel for books. And I’m slowly building up for the future. The more books I get now, the better off I’ll be then. That couple didn’t have the time to wait. They’ll be lucky to have 10 more healthy years (call me cynical). Say five. That’s not much time to learn the ropes. I just don’t know.

But oh well. They’re total strangers. What can I do?

Meanwhile, I’ve been going up and sitting in the bookroom – it looks amazing with stuff rearranged and one new wall of shelves waiting to be filled. It cheers me up. I’m tired of being broke, but eventually I’ll be really glad I stuck it out. This starting a business thing can be a bit tedious sometimes. I have a really long list of things I’m going to buy whenever it is that I start taking more in than I’m spending. When I sit in there, it reminds me that I did it before, I can do it again, I just have to be patient. Books are out there waiting for me. This will work!

Then again, there are probably people looking at me and thinking how old I am and wondering why the heck I am trying to get a new business going and thinking I don’t have enough time left in me to reap the benefits.

Gosh, that’s a rather sobering thought. I guess I should take back everything I said about that older couple and just wish them the best.

You go, guys! I hope you find lots of books!!! I hope you make lots of money! I hope you show all those skeptics what’s what.



Yes, the used book business is different, but it’s kinda fun because of it: or me vs the scanner people

Published February 5, 2017 by The Merida Review

When I moved back to the states, people kept asking me if I was going to get back into bookselling, I had had a used and rare bookshop before I moved away, and I kept adamantly saying NO, though I had no clue how I was going to support myself. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so dead set against it. Maybe I just wanted to look forward and not muck about in the past? Don’t know. At any rate, I found myself looking for books, buying books, telling myself I would be a collector and build up this fabulous collection, but when I found myself buying books I had absolutely no interest in, just because they were obviously worth way more than they were priced, the writing was kind of on the wall and I bowed to the inevitable and began searching for books seriously, with the intent of building up enough business to allow me to eat and sleep and feed my dogs so I could continue to write books that – well, they sell some.

I was something of an expert at the point when I moved away, but with a 10 year gap and a big recession in between my leaving off and starting again, I wasn’t sure what my old knowledge was worth, how much was different. So I bought rather hesitantly. And I don’t have a vast amount of money to invest, so I’m nickel and diming it, buying at the low end of the spectrum. I think the most I’ve paid for any single book so far is $15, and that was for a 1820s farrier’s guide at a country auction. Which will be a hard sell! but a delight to be the custodian of in the meantime. I love old books.

I have been officially in the book business for 10 months now, and am more confident – yes, the business has changed and a new generation of collectors have entered the field, and I don’t yet know everything, but I’m getting a feel for it.

When I left the business in 2007, we were starting to see people with scanners show up at charity book sales, but no one took them seriously.  And here, I think, is the biggest change in the business. I would say that nowdays, anyone who enters the used book business does it with a scanner in hand. They scan ISBN codes and their machines tell them what books to buy. The dealers set the parameters, and the machines tell them which books are worth X or above, and what the sell rate is. These dealers are only interested in books with ISBN codes, so only in books printed after 1966.

There are now hoards of book dealers with scanners at any sales with a lot of books. I went to a tiny library sale in a tiny town nearby last week, and there were 3 of them. The entire sale consisted of maybe 6 card tables worth of books, on the surface of the tables and also on the floors beneath. 2 card tables’ worth was the entire nonfiction section, which is where the scanner people were huddled. There was no room for anyone else to get in while they were there. They were shoulder to shoulder. What they do is go down the rows and hold their scanners up to each ISBN number and buy the books that get a positive response. So they don’t move till they’ve scanned every book. And then they just move a couple of inches. I looked between shoulders, reached over and plucked a few books over their heads and was pretty disgruntled with the whole experience. I’m in the starting phases of my book business and I’m pretty desperate for books at this point, but I don’t think library sales (now that the scanner people have invaded) are going to be very helpful to me. They never were, actually. Library sales tend to have newer books, and I’m interested in older books, but I would go anywhere that had books because you never know where you’ll find the next great book and I have found a few amazing things at library book sales over the years. But few and far between.

Estate auctions, on the other hand, where every book dealer worth his stuff would have been found in the past, are now pretty deserted. Auctioneers don’t even bother to advertise when they have books half the time. I asked a scanner guy about this when I was standing in line at the Fremont library sale last fall, and he said he’d tried auctions but he just didn’t find enough to make it worth his while. When I picked my jaw up off the floor and thought about it, I realized he is in a totally different business than I am. He’s making a living going around with his scanner and buying and selling books via ISBN numbers. I am building up a business to support myself based on authors and titles and content (and edition).

I come home with my piles of books and sit and look them up on the internet, to see how similar copies are priced, how common or scarce they might be. I carefully judge and describe the condition, I type my books by hand into a database one by one with a photo of each. Scanner people don’t do it that way.

I’m not judging what they do. I think they probably make more money and faster than I do. They don’t even have to house their own books, they can ship them off to Amazon, or other book brokers who will sell them for the scanner book dealer and send money when the books sell. I looked into this scanner stuff for awhile, thinking that maybe I could do it in addition to what I already do. Since I was already at book sales, maybe I could double my productivity. But I don’t think they’re compatible. We do things in a totally different way with a totally different mindset. And when I considered my future both ways, I’d rather be an old school used and rare dealer, it’s gentler and slower and would allow me time to write. I get to savor my books a little more, I think, which is important to me.

So as I soldier on, I am discovering odd little holes where the scanner people have left opportunities. Obviously books before 1966. But also with book club editions. They don’t have ISBN numbers, and old school book dealers won’t touch them (who wants a book club edition?) so there’s a (false) scarcity. Titless that weren’t reprinted (much) whose first editions are scarce and pricey, there’s a market for book clubs, because people who want to actually READ them want to buy them for $5 to $10. I am just starting to find this out, I am an old school book dealer who was trained not to touch a book club edition with a 10 foot pole, so this is an alien concept for me, and it’s only a select type of book that this theory is valid for. But it’s there and it’s explorable and it’s an avenue I can easily and cheaply pursue.

It’s having these little secrets that other book dealers don’t know that help you survive. I can’t think book club books are going to do much for me, really, but when you get into the book buying thing, you start finding fields that are starting to be collectible that other people haven’t caught on to yet, and you can go wild with it. (For a while. Other people will catch on.) Things like this make the used book business exciting. I don’t know if scanner people have that. I don’t know enough about what they do.

Listen to me. I remember myself a year or so ago, telling people that no way was I going to start selling books again. Ha. Silly me.

Anyways. Here I am. Book dealer. Old school vs the scanner people. Well, I don’t know if it’s versus as much as me discovering the opportunities they’ve opened up with their dependence on ISBN numbers. Oh man, I have learned to love ISBN numbers, or rather the lack of them. I mean, look how many books have been printed since ISBN numbers came along, and just look at how many there were printed before. The odds are in my favor.