Slate has a great autobiographical profile of a man who makes a living buying and selling used books. If you’ve ever been a “friends of the library” book sale, you’ve seen him, or his type. They’re the ones who carry electronic bar-code scanners and PDAs.
My scanner lies at the end of a cartridge that is fitted into a Dell PDA—a species of technology now obsolete for nearly every purpose but this one. Anyone with a smartphone can scan barcodes on books, but these people aren’t the competition, exactly. Smartphone scanner applications, which interpret photographic images of barcodes and then look up the corresponding products on the Web, work too slowly to be tools for the professional. With the PDA and laser scanner, I work at the speed of the retail cashier. My PDA shows the range of prices that other Amazon sellers are asking for the book in question. Those listings offer me guidance on what price to set when I post the book myself and how much I’m likely to earn when the sale goes through. The scan happens fast and the prices are stored locally, in a database that I download onto the device from a third-party company. If, according to the settings I’ve plugged in, a book is sufficiently valuable, the program shows me a green “BUY” bar across the top. If it’s a dud, I see a red bar: “REJECT.” Some other good insights from the article: * Only one in thirty books he checks is worth buying, and he lists about 1,000 books at a time on Amazon. * He has to race to out-scan other people in the same line of work when he’s out picking * He ignores old books — no barcode means no scanning means no instant valuation * He works up to 80 hours a week at this
Read the rest. A note from Rich Whittle: In my surfing through cyberspace I happened upon this resource which would be very helpful if you were selling used books. Every year BookFinder.com tracks the most sought-after out-of-print titles in America. But above all they collected the top 100 most sought after out-of print titles in America over the past 12 months, and here they are. You can click on a title and BookFinder.com will tell you if anyone is selling the book and for how much. A great way to get an instant valuation. Photo by greencandy8888.