My Random Job: Used book fair buyer

Book sale
The line wraps around the building…and around again

I’ve worked at a few bookstores, namely Third Place Books, and Barnes & Noble, and always enjoyed being around book-like folk.  One time, while looking for random work, I found an ad on Craigslist looking for people to assist in buying books at a Seattle “Friends of the Library” sale.  I sent in an email stating my experience with book sales and was contacted the next day for the position. What it entailed surprised me.  I would have to get up at some ungodly hour in the morning, wait in line for about two hours before the sale began, and then race hundreds of people with high-tech devices to find the great book deals. Once found, I would hand the books over to my contact who would then buy them. As it turned out he worked for an online bookseller out of Portland, Oregon. He traveled local book fairs, like this one, and bought up a lot of inventory that he would then turn around and sell online at Amazon. Kinda a neat little business, if you ask me.

The book fair experience itself amused me greatly…to the point where I really think that there needs to be a movie about this phenomenon.

The book sale began at 9am, but when I arrived at 7, there was already a line around the hangar. The majority of the people waiting were non-english speaking individuals, who, as I learned, worked for a variety of online book e-tailers.  Everyone there had boxes, carts, and bags for their stash, and they all had these high-tech scanner devices:

Book price scanner
The hand-held book price scanner thingy I used

The scanners we were using were programmed with their inventory, the prices that generally sold on Amazon, and the price that we should buy the book at.  My job was to scan as many book bar codes as possible and then look at the readout, which either said, “Buy” or “Don’t Buy” and put the “buy” ones in my cart.

Fairly easy enough, right?

When the door opened, there was a mad rush of hundreds of people with these little scanners all heading towards various sections: Gardening, Self-Help, Movies, Audio-books, Fiction, Mystery, etc.  There was pushing, shoving, and thieving!

I had set aside a good 3 boxes full of books, went to the washroom, and upon my return: poof!  All gone.

These people were relentless.  Luckily, I was paid by the day, and not by the book or box, and my ‘employer’ understood.  He said that the competition there was fierce and you had to watch over your wares intently, otherwise, they would disappear. At least I was able to score him some good titles during the weekend to make up for my mishap.


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