Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Books Sold - The Best Pricing Tool

As I stated in another post, my guestimate is up to 90% of the books online are common. The pricing of these books is pretty straightforward - look at what other copies are selling for and then determine where you want to set your price on that spectrum. This most often done by looking at one of the other major used & rare bookselling sites or one of the two big multi-site search engines.

But the best information you can have is the latest actual selling price for a book. There are not many ways to get it, but it will be an essential tool in improving book sales and bettering the industry.

There are two downsides of using for-sale pricing information to set book prices. The first is that such a comparison leads to a rush to the lowest price. Now, the lowest possible price - a penny, a dollar - is not necessarily the price at which a book will sell steadily. Perhaps that price is 5 dollars, maybe less, maybe more. You need to see the data to determine that. The second is that for books with fewer listings, prices can be set too high. Sure, maybe there are only 3 copies of the book for sale. But if the last 4 sold for half of the current prices, that might tell you something. And if they sold over the space of a couple of years, that would tell you more.

Such sale data is hard to come by - and full tabulated data that will let you do good analysis is harder still to get. Currently only eBay and Alibris allow users to see what books have sold for - and both have a limited window of data, either by account, date or quantity or all three. However, the variety of books they cover makes that information far better than nothing. The best sales data is for more uncommon books, and that is auction records. The best site for such data is, IMHO, Americana Exchange (we'll talk more about them in a later post). You can also get access to cd-rom or paper editions to these records at larger libraries. Auction records have a great history, and one can often track a single copy of a book through over a century of sales. Again, a great variety of books are listed, but most are pretty pricey, and not ones you come across every day and a general bookseller.

The kind of sale data needed should have a number of facets. Date (month, year), of course, title, author, publisher, condition, and price. I'd like to included description as well, but as some online descriptions are like a fingerprint for who sold the book, I might live without that - anonymity of seller and buyer is important. I would also be interested to see the state (i.e. Arkansas, New York, etc.) of the seller and buyer. Again, I could live without it, but it could prove useful. I would like the data to run back as far as it could into the past of a particular site. As noted above, this is a service I would have no trouble paying extra for - but it would have to be as useful as auction records.

I am not entirely sure why sites do not so that now. Perhaps someone in the comments section will suggest something. But if it is just processing power or some other "too much work" related argument, I won't buy it. Site revenues will flatten. There are only so many books and so many people who want to list them and so many sites users are willing to engage. By adding a fee service with tools and depth, It could add an important revenue stream. Even if sellers do not list on a site they might pay for access to the data on that site.

Access to such data improves the entire bookselling industry. If a book would sell just as well at $5 as a penny, that is useful information. More accurate pricing AND more accurate pricing tools are more professional, and lead to more sales, less problems, and more knowledgeable booksellers. It would be an added revenue stream for book sites. And it would help limit (you can't prevent a fool) the confusing, all over the map pricing that seems to be getting worse. If the major bookselling sites don't do it, then the association sites should as a service to their members.

It seems to me deeply silly in a multi-hundreds of million dollar industry to NOT have access to such important data. So pressure your sites - bring it up at roundtables and advisory boards and forums. Accurate sales data is good for any industry, and lack of it seems amateurish and downright counter productive to a healthy market.

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Blogger TC Byrd said...

I agree with all you say in this post and I would be willing to pay for such a service.

I do think that there is an aura of mystery that booksellers like to have, and some may feel that such a system would take some of the fun out of it.

Interestingly for me, in my several months of selling books online, my concept of "value" has been seriously messed with. Books seem to me to be more fluid in value than most commodities out there--more akin to art than cars, for instance. I wish I could express myself more clearly on this.

Enjoying the blog, and I have subscribed to your feed. Please keep it up--most of the sites I have found for considering bookselling have been abandoned in the past year. (Doesn't bode well for my sales aspirations, I suppose.)

7:34 PM  

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