The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 4, January 23, 2011, Article 18


Thanks to Tony Hine for forwarding these follow-ups to an earlier item from a book scout's blog about using scanners to look up book values. -Editor

Confessions of a Used Booksalesman Despite the previous post, some things haven't changed much in the book industry. Chief among these is the never-ending exchange of books between local shops and scouts (or runners as they're called in the UK). We're not talking Kelmscott Chaucers here, we're talking solid, reliable trade paperback fiction and nonfiction. The stuff of everyday book trade. You see, many of the used books picked up on a Sunday afternoon jaunt to the local used bookstore did not come from members of the book-reading public like yourselves. Rather they are schlepped all over town by bus, granny cart or beater, passed across the buy counter by the nearly invisible network of scouts operating in any given region. The most successful of these scouts (i.e., the ones who pay most of their bills on time) share common traits, and it's worthwhile to take a look at a few of them.

The good scout knows authors, titles and publishers. S/he knows what books sell and what don't. They have quick hands and minds, and even better luck. They know the local shops, their specialties and weaknesses, even the strengths and ignorance of individual buyers at specific shops. They know every thrift store in a fifty mile radius, which ones are hot and when, and they just happen to be there when the fresh donations are put out for sale. They're able to turn up good, valuable books in the most unlikely of places, pulling hundreds of dollars worth of books out of trash heaps, storage lockers and boxes of abandoned household wares left on the street after a move. They just know where to find good titles, you know? Always on the trail of a valuable book, probably most important to the successful scout is that they never stop working their typically hand-to-mouth existence.

To read the complete article, see: The Modern Bookscout, Part 2: Local Scouts, Local Booksellers (

The modern bookscout has a number of tools at his/her disposal, with the essential armament in the arsenal being the brain, shortly followed by the handheld scanner, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices. From the hideously cumbersome to the nearly invisible and wireless, there is no guaranteed method for successful usage, but one encounters all kinds of tactics out in the wild.

I know one suspicious-eyed 50-something chap who entirely forgoes the handheld device in lieu of (likely as a means of saving money) toting around a battered and somewhat crippled Apple Powerbook, forlornly hoping for a wireless signal. I also know more than a few "secret scouts" who keep their scanners hidden until the last minute, on the low down so to speak, thinking nobody will know what they're up to if only they keep that little toy in their pants, as if it were a crime or something only they know about. Fact is that TONS of people know about scanning, but not everyone is into it.

I personally use a hybrid method as do most of the other successful dealers I know, but the fact remains that there is a lot of competition and one has to know books (in general) and bookselling (in general) in order to survive. Moreover, one has to be pretty tough and hard nosed to hang with the best, as the good scouts and dealers move fast and can be really, really aggressive. I know because I'm one of them, but at the same time, I stay courteous and polite. There are a lot of books out there, and sometimes taking one's time and having a method can prove quite valuable indeed.

Many dealers simply eschew any sort of high-tech information, to which I say they are foolish, usually because they'll take their little treasures back to the office (more often some kind of storage shed or dingy apartment) and look them all up anyway. "I have everything I need up here," pointing to their crusty old noggins, but really, that's just a foolish way of looking at modern-day bookselling. Sure, go ahead and just buy whatever suits your fancy or previous experience, but the fact remains that this sort of dealer will make a comparatively huge number of mistakes. And that's really the key to using a scanner--it doesn't magically "find" the good books, it is simply a tool, an informational tool that keeps one from making costly errors.

To read the complete article, see: The Modern Bookscout, Part 3: Isn't Technology Grand? (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: CONFESSIONS OF A USED-BOOK SALESMAN (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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