When I see them at the warehouse in all their multitudes, millions of them, in their rows of pallets, arranged in aisles, stretching off into the distance, all surprises waiting to be opened, they are different than what they were when new, better in many ways. I find an intriguing cover, read about the author, or the place where the events in the novel occur, or where the chef has her restaurant, or the scientist first discovered his amazing discovery, and I think of the bookstores in those places. When I connect the book to the bookstore it is a different experience for the buyer than when the book was new. Buyers have another mind set as they consider who their customers are for this book.
While the big discount is the motivating factor in buying bargain books, there is more to the appeal than price. Many of these books were good sellers as new books, many still are. Some have been on backlists for years or decades, never quite selling so few as to be remaindered. Some have been remaindered and are no longer available from the publisher in any format. When they appear in a new space in your bookstore, occupying a corner on a table in a high traffic area, your customers consider them with fresh eyes, most picking them up for the first time. When you shelve a copy or two in your category sections, your customers now find so much more by the authors they were looking for.
Stacks on tables sell more books than shelves, but many backlist titles do not sell enough when stacked to pay for the square foot. This changes when they are bargain books, stacked on tables with other bargain books, as their sales double or triple.
If your bookstore sells both new and bargain, you tend to be biased toward data generated by new book sales. If a book sold great new, you assume it will sell well as a bargain book. You focus on bestsellers and bestselling authors, current and recent (unless you also sell used books, then you might know better). You look at books that did not sell so well when new and you assume it will not sell well in bargain. Frustrating for those of us selling bargain books to booksellers, this effect carries over to buyers who once only bought bargain and now buy new as well, even if those same buyers once poked fun at other buyers for missing this most important point in bargain bookselling. That data is hard to check at the door to the buyer's office.
One of the lists I (and probably a lot of other reps) produce on a regular basis is a "Sellers" list, showing just what has sold at least 10 copies in the last week, or 50 in a month, or some such metric. It is interesting how eclectic and unexpected a lot of these lists are. You never know what's going to sell in bargain until you put a stack in front of your customers and watch it go.
What do other booksellers have to say about bargain books and how to use them to grow your bottom line and customer base? I asked them:
More thoughts about buying and selling bargain books:
More about picking the best of the best... or not:
Hints, tips, advice, and nagging for bargain booksellers: