Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

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What do these 4 photos have in common & WHY does it only matter on eBay?

I was out trolling the books at our local thrift store about a month ago.  I have been SO busy, that I FINALLY got a chance to look up some of my “gut feeling” purchases.  I am one of those people who should follow my OWN ADVICE and stick with what I know, but I always get enticed into the cool and interesting looking stuff. And hey, I NEVER spend more than a BUCK or TWO on my “interesting” purchases.  Of course I have a 3 car, 2 story garage FILLED with “interesting” purchases that I have NO CLUE what to do with!

So I purchased this book (actually, TWO copies of this book, “Cabinetmaking and Millwork” by John Fierer) and started researching it on eBay.  To my dismay, there were no really amazing sales for this book, and in fact, one auction went UNSOLD at 99 cents, with “Economy” shipping at just over $4.00.

The first auction I found WAS successful, although the “Buy It Now” that the seller used was HARDLY worth their time, effort or insertion fees.  The Seller dutifully used the Book’s ACTUAL Title and Author’s name in their auction title.  This book, without a dust jacket, (but pictured with a tape measure for reference – perhaps they figured the buyer would be using the book for INTERIOR DESIGN???) sold as a Buy It Now for $4.99 along with a reduced Economy Shipping price of $3.95.  Of course, there is also a caveat by the seller in the auction description about how costly gas is so their customer service is now cut in half… but that’s a WHOLE other story I’M not going to go into here.

In the next auction, the seller used the eBay Catalog “Default Title” and went so far as to PAY for a Subtitle to boot.  This large, 900+ page tome is HEAVY, so the shipping price of $4.33 is VERY reasonable (although a bit higher than the first successful auction).  The book even has the original dust jacket, although it appears a bit ratty in the photo.  This auction ended, unsold with the starting price of just 99 cents.

Obviously, the seller lost their insertion fees and still has the book!  Clearly, this auction was NOT a successful use of their time!

So we have TWO separate auctions, for the same book.  There are literally DOZENS of these books on eBay RIGHT NOW with the same auction titles (basically) and the same price range.  When I checked on, and, the results were just as underwhelming and discouraging.  Then I checked out the completed listings on eBay, and MOST of the auctions looked the EXACT SAME way, with the EXACT same titles and the EXACT same auction results – PATHETIC.

BUT, there was ONE auction that had SOLD for almost $25.00 for THE SAME BOOK!!!  PLUS their Economy Shipping was just shy of $5.00.  THIS seller got almost $30.00 for this seemingly UNWANTED book.

HOW could that be?

THIS seller is SMART.  This seller understands the eBay marketplace, what sells, what sells WELL and HOW to sell it.  The two main keywords in the book TITLE are in the auction title as well.  The author’s last name is in the auction too.  The auction GALLERY photo features NOT the book, but a very interesting color photo from INSIDE the book.  This seller GETS how to really sell the book.  NOT the book itself.  After all, unless there is some sort of collectibility to a book based on its author or the age or number of books printed, an old book is just another old book…. UNLESS you sell the CONTENT.

Just take a look-see at the beginning auction description that this seller put together.  Not only did the seller highlight WHY the book is PERFECT for anyone wishing to build mid century modern projects, they listed every section of the book and slanted it as much as possible to delivering on the auction title’s premise and PROMISE — to teach the lucky buyer HOW TO Build Mid Century Modern woodworking projects.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, people spend their discretionary income on their CHILDHOOD.  The people who have discretionary income right now grew up in the late fifties, sixies and early seventies.  Mid century modern, Eames era, atomic, Danish/Scandinavian design  – however you describe it – these are HOT, HOT, HOT!!!

The photo bar along the LEFT hand side of this post comes from the auction featured above.  AND these are the photos that are the hidden jewels in this HUGE old book!  Just by adding the keywords “Build Mid Century Modern”, the seller INCREASED the value of the book by over $20.00.

Okay, so what about the FOURTH photo in the opening quiz?  That is yet another attempt by a fourth seller to sell the EXACT same book.  Oddly enough, THIS seller is trying to get almost $40.00 for the book (but they are ALSO offering FREE shipping).  They chose to feature a very typical piece from thet era (that is of course in the book as one of the projects) as their Gallery photo.



The most interesting thing to note about this auction (the seller has attempted to sell this same book for $79.98, $50.00+ and this additonal unsuccessful auction for $39.94) is that the auction TITLE has NONE of this book’s actual title, keywords OR author.   I only found it because I did a search for “Build Mid Century Modern” just to see what I might find… and I found their (unsuccessful) auctions.  

If you thought you knew all the ins and outs of reselling USED books, magazines & catalogs; take a closer look at the opportunities that eBay gives you as a creative seller. 

I will leave you with this one final thought.  The method of selling the CONTENT rather than the actual BOOK works very nicely within the confines of an eBay auction (or Etsy store item).  Creative sellers who understand how to sell AND market their items can find unique and enterprising ways to increase the perceived value of any item (including old, used books) by highlighting how the item for sale either solves a problem or fills a need for the buyer. 

In the book selling world of amazon, alibris, abebooks, or wherever else old, used books are sold, a seller would NOT be at liberty to add to or completely REMOVE (as the last seller did), a book’s title.  In the book business, the author, title, ISBN and publication dates are key.  The creative spin available to you as an eBay (OR Etsy!) seller simply is not an option. 

So now that you are motivated and your creative juices are flowing, I challenge you to go back to those old used book “duds’ and put them OUTSIDE your “not worth my time” box and see if you can finally make some decent sales…  Happy eBaying!

Best ~Deb



2 comments to Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

  • CamelotShelinda

    Hey Deb, As usual this is an awesome post. But, I couldn't help but wonder and thought I'd throw this out there just to see what you thought. I can totally see your points as to how and why that listing sold while the others did not. What I do not understand is why someone would find that listing and then not look for it for less. And, wouldn't the less expensive listings come up in the search? (if in fact they were searching). For example; they would see a snap-shot of what the book offered from the better listing. I just know that if it was me, I would have looked for the same item for less. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that people actually don't look for the less expensive exact same item? Or, does the layout of the listing just appeal to them so much that they are wiling to spend more? It really baffles me. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for the compliment! Actually, I too would go in search of a cheaper copy of the book. But there is more at play here than just us "bargain hunters." As eBay sellers we ALL need to keep several things in mind: MOST eBay buyers are inherently lazy. Most times when a person finds something that interests them they rarely go to the trouble of trying to find ANOTHER one.. even if they could find one cheaper, closer, in better condition, sold by a "better" seller, etc. MOST eBay buyers are into instant gratification. If the listing was a "Buy It Now" (which I believe it was), and the buyer wants the book, they are not going to risk it "disappearing" while they try to find the same book elsewhere. If the buyer has made their decision, they are NOT going to waste time dawdling around to find a "better one.". It is a well known FACT in retail marketing & merchandising that people tend to buy the first thing they "touch." That said, if the eBay buyer goes to THIS auction first, it is literally THEIR first touch. By keeping that single detail in mind when creating YOUR auctions, you can see why it is SO important to get the eBay buyer to click on your auction/listing FIRST. That is why using a unique and unusual photo, with a REALLY good title (and if appropriate a GREAT supporting sub-title) is KEY to higher auction completion rates!Hope this sheds a bit more light on the subject for you! Best ~Deb