Is this a business scam?
June 8, 2006 11:03 PM   Subscribe

The scam (if that's what it is) is as described below and I'd welcome any comments or links to places which discuss such things.

I just met a guy, probably in his late twenties/early thirties who had bought several thousand books and advice on how to set up an Amazon storefront to sell them. The books all came with little four digit number stickers on them and were somehow cataloged electronically. This kind of piqued my interest so I asked him how he was doing and he said he had uploaded 2500 title listings (some kind of bulk uploading software I imagine) and sold eight books the first day.Which sounded good until he revealed that when he went to find the books he sold, he couldn't. He thought that it was because a lot of the books were still in boxes and so he put the business 'on vacation' to try and properly shelve and catalog the books. But I have a horrible suspicion that the uploaded catalog contained a few desirable books and the way the scam works is that the chore of sorting and shelving the books is so huge nobody ever does it. The desirable titles create some action to begin with but the rest of the books are basically filler--and maybe even the catalog file bears a very tenous relationship to the serial numbers on the book spines. Another thing I've heard is that the rap against having a storefront on Amazon is that their commission structure is pretty brutal. When I asked this guy about that he proved not to have a clue and I realized I was perhaps not talking to the sharpest crayon in the set. Has anyone heard of anything like this? Throw together a .csv file generated from who knows what, a few thousand stickers with numbers in ascending but non-sequential order, and a couple forklifts' worth of odd lot books and hey presto! an instant business opportunity.
posted by thayerg to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
sounds like a great idea, go for it!
posted by lbergstr at 11:27 PM on June 8, 2006

b1ltr0t: the cost of formatting and typesetting a thousand Gutenberg Archive texts and having them printed by a just-in-time printer would far exceed the purchase price of a new copy of the books from a mass market printing. Even if everything was properly formatted and ready for print, just in time printing is much more expensive then a large commercial print run when we're talking about commonly purchased classics. Otherwise, why would every book not be printed just in time?
posted by zachlipton at 11:42 PM on June 8, 2006

It doesn't sound like a scam to me. It sounds like the guy is just disorganized. It's not that hard to get sell of 8 out of 2500 books in a single day, certainly nothing remarkable in the least.
posted by evariste at 11:51 PM on June 8, 2006

Errr... this is how a lot of buisnesses get started. You can buy books, or really anything, in huge lots and start selling. Really. It's perfectly normal. He really should be more organized, however.
posted by IronLizard at 12:44 AM on June 9, 2006

Another thing I've heard is that the rap against having a storefront on Amazon is that their commission structure is pretty brutal.

Compared to the cost of setting up your own store (and getting the customers) it's not so bad at all. The "problem" with selling on eBay, Amazon, etc. is that it's so easy that people can start doing it without actually sitting down and doing the math and working out a proper plan first. If someone complains that eBay/PayPal/Amazon/etc. fees are eating up their profits, I'd say the real problem is that they're trying to sell something that isn't worth the effort.

Anyway, where did he buy the books? I'd say that unless he selected them based on his own research of what will and won't sell on Amazon then he's probably got alot of stuff that he can't sell. But that's not the fault of the person who sold him the books, unless they promised him that they would sell on Amazon. And if they did promise this, they haven't yet been proven wrong (perhaps they carefully selected the books for this purpose -- they'd be getting less money by selling them all to him but better dollars-per-hour).
posted by winston at 4:27 AM on June 9, 2006

oops. should be: "but they could be getting better dollars-per-hour"
posted by winston at 4:29 AM on June 9, 2006

b1tr0t - where is the market for expensive bound versions of books available for free on gutenberg, or for 1 cent second hand on amazon?

He does just sound disorganised. When I sold books over eBay I put the remainder of what I couldn't shift there onto Amazon marketplace and was selling around 4-5 a day, and I would not describe these books as desirable. Pricing them correctly is important, and yes Amazon does take a rather large cut. 2500 books would only take a few days to catalogue and amazon make it very easy to list them after that - just input the ISBN number and they do the rest in most cases.

This is actually a great way to supplement your income if you already have a day job. Sticking 10-20 of these books on daily is only an hours work and you can do it sitting at a laptop while browsing the net. You don't make clear the exact setup of this deal, but getting a good idea of the quality of the books would obviously be essential. Having said that, all kinds of books will sell.
posted by fire&wings at 4:35 AM on June 9, 2006

And I don't know why b1trot refers to selling books as illegal.
posted by fire&wings at 4:37 AM on June 9, 2006

Response by poster: I think it's a scam because the guy who bought the business doesn't know the first thing about the market he's in or the cost structure of doing business. Somebody exploited his ignorance--maybe just to unload a business he or she was sick of running or maybe 'cause it's a scam. I tend to think it's the latter because it seems to me that anyone running a real business would have stored the books organized in boxes which have the low and high serial numbers on the outside so finding a book would only be a matter of locating the right box. I also think it's a scam because when I asked the guy how he planned to replenish stock the answer he gave (which I won't repeat because it could be very revealing) was childlike in its simplicity and implausibility. Well he could have been trying to hoodwink me.
posted by thayerg at 9:54 AM on June 9, 2006

It seems like it would be less work, and also less illegal, to pick 1000 titles off the Gutenberg Archive, send them all off to a just-in-time book printer and sell those (along with the list).

You would probably lose alot of money doing this, as there is a reputable company that has been doing it for years at a price you probably couldn't beat (dover thrift editions, I think they're up $1.50 now), then you'd have to fight Barnes and Noble (who publishes the classics at $5 for paperback usually $10 for a hardcover). So unless there's something dramatically different about your versions it's not going to happen with college textbooks.

The only way someone could really pull it off is find important out of print books that aren't being reprinted by anyone (there's a company that already does this called Kensington I think) and sell the books print-on-demand. To pull this off, you'd have to really know what books people would find interesting, plus you'd have to have a source for those books.

I think it's possible to make money by buying a pallet of books and listing on amazon, but it would really help to have book knowledge. Some of the used book business is extremely counterintutive. Books that were top sellers are worthless used, were otherwise obscure books can bring in big money.

I used to make money by buying books that were missing their dust jackets for $1.00 and reselling them on amazon. I occassionally made $20-$30 a book this way.
posted by drezdn at 10:50 AM on June 9, 2006

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