Book triage

With most of the loose paper now in electronic form, I’ve been starting to make slow progress in scanning some of the books. In practice however, I’m not scanning my entire library, and I’m not scanning it right away. As I go through the books, I find they fall into several categories:

Give away

I was surprised by the number of books, when faced with a decision, that were not worth selling because they would fetch too little, and not worth the time to scan. These include a lot of large-publication novels and the like. Somehow, a lot of “beach reads” survived beyond the beach. It also includes some odd copies that, like this one have already been scanned by Google and are available for download.

Sell on Amazon

When I moved from Buffalo to New York, I sold a couple of boxes of books to lighten the load a bit, so I had a rough idea of what sort of things sell well. Generally, these are books that have a timelessness to them, started out expensive, and have a rabid fan base of some sort. Both Code Complete and Mythical Man Month sold within hours of my listing them, for example.

There are a lot of hidden costs to selling books on Amazon. Of course, there is the cost of shipping (which may or may not line up with the shipping fee), and the commission Amazon pulls from the sale. There are also packing supplies needed to make sure that your book gets there in one piece. But the biggest expense is time. Listing the books, packing them up, and carting them off to the post office takes a lot of time. If you have a small bookstore, and already have sunk labor costs in the form of a part-timer from the local high school, packaging up books and prepping them for shipping is no big deal. But particularly when selling one or two books, it’s just not worth it unless they are fairly big-ticket items. At least the trips to the post office scale a bit when you are bringing 8 or 10 books at a time, but it is still a large amount of time, for little financial reward.

In the first week of listing, I’ve sold about three dozen books. If experience is a guide, things tend to sell quickly or not at all. I have a number of books still for sale, and will be adding to this list a little. Generally, I probably will only be adding books that I think I can price at over $10, since the $5 mark just doesn’t make sense for the time I’m spending packaging and such. Those books will either be left down in the lobby of my apartment building for others or scanned.

Destructive Scanning

The majority of books probably fall into this category: those that will be ripped from their spines and run through the page-fed scanner. Generally, these are books that I don’t plan to curl up and read again cover-to-cover, but that I keep around for the sake of reference or inspiration. I actually do not mind reading on the screen, and my hope is that I will be able to eventually read these on an eBook reader (Kindle-kin) at some point, though there are hurdles still before that can happen. By OCRing these books, I have a way of doing an index search across my library, which may prove useful. So far, I’ve only scanned a few dozen books; it’s taking longer than I predicted.

Non-Destructive Scanning

There are a number of books that I am not ready to tear apart, for various reasons. Some of them, for example, contain images that need special scanning attention. Some were gifts or otherwise have sentimental value. A number Some (very few) are “grandfathered” because of their age. Some are too big to scan using the current setup. Some are kids books, and story-time just isn’t the same in front of the monitor. A lot of the poetry and fiction will remain bound for the same reasons.

The Amazon sales have already paid for my duplex, sheet-fed scanner. Putting together a scanner that can handle bound materials is going to take a lot longer and cost a lot more.

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2 Comments

  1. Mary Halavais
    Posted 7/2/2008 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    When I downsized, um, size-wise, I sold most of my not-for-work books, but was left with a couple of boxes. The local library was very very happy to have them donated, not because they were worth including in the library collection, but because the library has book sales to raise money for operating and acquisition. Your neighbors are worthy recipients, but public libraries in many places are an endangered species!

  2. alex
    Posted 7/2/2008 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    But that means walking across the street! Yes, a box or two to the library would be a good idea–if they’ll take them!

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