Creative Sourcing Part 1: Tapping into your virtual neighborhood

One of my favorite parts of the book business is sourcing books.  It’s like mining for gold – you never really know what you will discover on any given day!  Sourcing is also the part of the business that both allows for and rewards you for creativity. Sure, you can stick to the classic sources of thrift stores, garage/estate sales, and library sales (we’ll talk about these sources in future posts), but with a little outside-the-box-store thinking you can tap into some sources where there is very little competition.

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An example:  This past weekend I saw an ad on TV for, which is basically an extremely local version of Craigslist with a much better user interface.  While checking out the site, I noticed they had a Classifieds section.  I posted a quick ad that said “I buy books” and offered to pay cash for a single book or an entire collection.  Within two hours I already had three replies with people looking to sell me their books!  One of them offered to sell me “about 40 romance novels” (i.e. completely worthless), so that lead didn’t pan out.  Another had “a lot of self help and diet books”, so I am setting up a time to go look at that collection, as there may be some quality books on those shelves.

The best lead of the day was a simple email from a lady who said she had “a TON of books to sell.  Cookbooks, paperbacks, more.”  When I prodded her for more information, she replied that she had a bunch of fairly new Paleo cookbooks, and she was having a garage sale today to sell them.  I jumped in my car and drove the three blocks to her house and found about three boxes of books scattered around her small sale.  Paleo books are quite popular right now, and roughly 90% of her books were worth selling on Amazon (this is a rather large percentage of winners!).  Before I started scanning, I inquired how much she was asking per book.  She replied that they were 50 cents for softcover books and one dollar for hardcover books, and she would give me a discount if I purchased a lot of them.  (Note:  It’s important to ask for prices up front, BEFORE you bust out your scanner.  If there are no prices listed and the person in charge sees you scanning the books, they will often charge you higher prices because they know that you are making money off of their books.  Once you get them to agree to a price, scan away!) I pulled 22 books from her collection and paid her $12.  I even got her contact information to set up time next week to go back and look at other science and engineering books that her husband wants to get rid of.  Not a bad lead off of a simple Classifieds posting!

The results:

Total time invested in scouting: <10 minutes

Cost per book:  $0.55 (cheaper than most thrift stores)

Total list price:  $409.72

Average list price:  $18.62

Average sales rank:  517,007

Estimated profit:  $233.83 (I use the “60% rule” based off the total list price… basically, roughly 60% of your total list price will eventually be realized as profit)

Future collections to analyze:  2, and hopefully more to come!

Key takeaways:

  • Always be on the lookout for creative new ways to source books – both online and offline.
  • Local websites ensure that you won’t have to travel far to find inventory.
  • If prices aren’t listed at a sale, ask for a price up front BEFORE you start scanning.
  • Using creative sourcing techniques means that you get first access to books before they wind up at a local thrift store and potentially end up in the hands of your competitors.  A little strategy can help you beat your competition to the best books and also pay significantly less for the books than you would at Goodwill or Salvation Army.

Happy flipping!

P.S. A modified 100 book weekly challenge:  A few people have mentioned that 100 books a week sounds like too much of a commitment given their current time constraints.  If you can’t commit to 100 books, why not scale it back slightly to 50 books, or even 25 books a week?  The important thing isn’t so much the number of books as it is the habit and discipline of building your business a little bit at a time.  Using the same figures as last week’s blog post, here are year one projections if you sourced and listed 25 books or 50 books a week:

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(Disclaimer:  Everyone’s individual results may vary.  These are not guarantees of your financial success, only estimates of what could be possible based on some average metrics from other booksellers.  If you would like to play around with the numbers yourself, contact me at and I’d be happy to send you my spreadsheet.)

How much time should you set aside each week to source and list 25, 50, or 100 books?  Once you get through the initial learning curve, it should take you roughly 2-3 hours for 25 books, 4-6 hours for 50 books, and 8-10 hours for 100 books.  Take a look at your current schedule and figure out how much time you can commit on a regular basis to build your business.

Comment below to let me know how many books you are committing to process every week.  Also, comment if you have any creative book sources you’d like to share with The Book Flipper Community.  We’re all in this together!

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