Profile: An Open Book

Bookseller branches out through eBay's consignment program.

by staff writer
- Dec 08, 2008
Kathrine Cook

Kathrine Cook loves to read. She has closets full of books to prove it. But when parts of her house began to resemble a book shop, Cook realized it was time to begin a new chapter in her life.

"I decided to open an eBay Store, and lo and behold, it turned out pretty good," she laughs.

As a long-time buyer on eBay and founder of a Web development and domain hosting firm, Cook felt familiar enough with e-commerce to try selling some of the books she'd accumulated.

Now as owner of Kat's Corner Bookstore on eBay, Cook offers new and gently used romance fiction novels, spanning historical, futuristic, paranormal and medieval categories. Many are books that Cook has personally read, while plenty of others are brand new book-club copies of titles she already had in her collection.

Over the years, Cook has built a following of repeat buyers on eBay—and while some of her customers are local, about 60 percent of her book buyers are from Australia.

Last year, the store grossed about $36,000 in sales—but it took a lot more than books to bring in that kind of dough.

"I usually sell about one book a day, priced at $4 each, on average," Cook says. "When you subtract eBay and PayPal fees, I only make about $2 to $3 per book. That doesn't add up to a lot. That's one reason I decided to branch out."

Turning the page

Though she still considers herself mainly a bookseller, the bigger opportunity, Cook says, is in consignment. And increasingly, she is expanding her store to new avenues. As an eBay Trading Assistant, she sells a lot of computer components, but will list "anything I think is saleable," she says.

Among her consignment clients is a friend who, like Cook, simply ran out of space to house her prized collection—in this case, of porcelain dolls. "She gave me 12 boxes full of dolls," Cook says. "I didn't realize there was that big of a demand, but I've been doing pretty well selling them on eBay."

But computers are where the real money is, she says. Through the Trading Assistant program, Cook linked up with a few companies that needed to offload excess computer stock on a regular basis. Now she picks up their surplus a few times a year, and lists it in her eBay Store.

I prefer eBay to Amazon, because it seems to have a larger book-buying clientele

"That's when I started seeing a big difference in my revenue," she says. "Under my contracts, I'll list items in my store for up to 60 days. After 60 days, the customer gets the option to either collect the inventory that I haven't sold or sign it over to me. If I end up selling later, I keep 100 percent of the profit."

To say Cook is a busy woman would be an understatement. Besides maintaining her Web firm, Katstorm and Co., she devotes at least 20 hours a week to her eBay business, listing, packing and shipping items and drumming up new business.

Cook also sells books on—though she prefers eBay because it seems to have a larger book-buying clientele. And she says sellers on Amazon are limited in what they can list (only items that are in Amazon's catalog) as well as in the depth of detail they can use to describe an item.

As if all of that wasn't enough, Cook also works full-time for Sears Holdings—a job she approaches as education and training for the eventual expansion of Kat's Corner Bookstore into a brick-and-mortar consignment and used book shop.

"I have local customers that will call me and be interested in putting their stuff up for sale," she explains. "Right now, as an eBay trader, I go to these peoples' houses, inventory their merchandise, take pictures of it, load it into my vehicle and bring it back to my store room, where I catalog it and store it until it's sold. If I actually had my own store, then the customer would be bringing the merchandise to me."

A novel approach

Having a background in Internet technology, Cook admits she loves to experiment with new things and she's always on the lookout for innovative tools that help her work more efficiently. "When I came across Auctiva, I thought, 'This is something I haven't seen before' and I wanted to give it a try."

Previously, Cook had been using eBay's Turbo Lister to create her ads, but the tool lacked many of the conveniences she discovered in Auctiva's free listing management software—such as the automated feedback feature.

"I'm so busy, I don't have time to go in everyday and leave feedback. With Auctiva, it's automatic and instantaneous—as soon as a buyer leaves their positive feedback, it's reciprocated, which I think is great.

In today's economy, you can't limit yourself to just one thing

Cook also likes having a separate storefront on Auctiva. "I own a domain name for my eBay Store that I want to switch to my Auctiva Store. I have a lot of domain placement with search engines like MSN, Google and Yahoo. So whenever a customer is looking for books, they'll go to my Auctiva Store first, and when they click on a listing, it will take them to my eBay site. And on each individual listing, buyers can see a scrolling list of other items I have."

"I think in the long run, having it set up that way will give me a higher visibility," she adds.

Next, Cook is hoping to try Auctiva's Consignment Manager feature to keep track of what she's selling, how much she's selling it for, commissions and other details. "I'm anxious to see how well it works, because right now I have to use a spreadsheet—and it can be agonizing," she says.

Though eBay is the focus of most of her energy, Cook prides herself on having the courage to try new approaches and the flexibility to grow in multiple directions.

"In today's economy, you can't limit yourself to just one thing," Cook concedes. "I've seen so many people who do only one thing, and now the company's closing or they're laid off and they have no income.

"I became a single parent in 1992, raising three children. I wanted to make sure I was never in a position of having to depend on one thing, or one person," she explains. "I saw selling online as a second option that gives me a backup and the additional income to make sure that my kids were receiving a good education, had a nice place to live and had many options available to them."

"I think by them seeing me work so hard and being involved in what was going on throughout their teenage years, it's given them a better appreciation of people and the world around them and it makes them want to be better people," she says.

Browse through Cook's collection at Kat's Corner Bookstore.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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