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Selling "Hurt Books" on Ebay

We sell our "hurt books" on Ebay. This not only gets rid of our few hurt copies, but is cheap advertising to hundreds of people who may then buy one of our non-hurt books from our web site or Ebay is the auction site with the most traffic and always does best. From watching other sellers, selling books one copy at a time works better than Dutch auctions (several of the same item advertised at a time). People respond much better to auctions with pictures and long descriptions than to auctions with no pictures and/or short descriptions; so we use our standard color cover image for the web, and the full back cover copy. We include a link to our web site in the auction listing (and we also include a web site link if we sell any personal, non-book items on ebay).

We set a (hidden) reserve for our usual price for a hurt copy (40% off) and the starting bid at about half that. This works better than setting the starting bid at the price we want. Some people will pay more for a hurt copy than we charge for a perfect copy, even though the book's flaws are clearly described and the price of a perfect copy is readily available on our web site and elsewhere. (Lately I'm bemused at watching someone consistently sell new copies of a small and widely available Dover paperback for around $25, when the cover price is $15 and you can get it for less on When I buy books on Ebay, I search and Bookfinder for the going prices first.)

We explicitly say we don't allow returns and that we are not responsible for books lost or damaged in the mail, so the bidder should pay for insurance. Ebay has many categories, including ones for "books." Again, from watching other sellers, if your book is about a hobby or special interest, it will sell much better in those categories than in "books." We use the categories "antique textiles," "vintage textiles," "vintage sewing," "vintage clothing," and sometimes "dolls." At any given time each category has a number of habitual browsers/bidders. If you sell the same book more than once or twice in the same category in a short time frame, those people will already have seen it and the book will not sell as well. If we have several copies of the same book we cycle through all the categories we use one at a time. Usually we then wait several months before trying Ebay again, but then again we have few hurt copies.

A ten-day auction (the maximum allowed length) gives maximum exposure. The auction ends at the same hour of the day you placed your listing. Many bidders only place "snipe" bids--bids during the last minute of the auction. To get their bids you have to list at an hour when people on both coasts of the US are likely to be awake and at their computers.

You can email back bidders directly to try and sell them another copy of the same book, and/or your other books. You can also do this if someone else is selling a used or new copy of your book, or a similar book. However, such emails have to be done after the auction ends, because Ebay's rules don't allow actions that could tamper with bid prices.

Having said this, I should add that Ebay seems to be going through a slow period right now in the categories I browse (fewer listings and lower prices). Usually the weeks before and after a long weekend (such as 4th of July) are slow, but it looks like people are still in vacation mode. However, auction prices are variable anyway; and if your main idea is to advertise to several hundred people for a couple of dollars, you could always try listing now.

Hope this information is of use to someone.

Fran Lavolta
Lavolta Press

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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