It was only about a year ago that online booksellers had but one high-tech solution to look up book values; they could subscribe to wireless lookup services to gain a competitive advantage using an Internet enabled cellular phone. Recently some creative third-party service providers figured out how to put everything into a database so that there was no reliance on an Internet connection. Now online booksellers that are just getting started in the business face deciding on which type of service is best for them to use.
There are definite advantages to both systems. An Internet connection and cell phone will assure you of having the latest and greatest information available for a specific title, but you have that cell phone connection leash to deal with. If you plan to attend a large book sale and do not have the experience to be comfortable with choosing the gems to buy, you probably want some sort of service to help you. However, if you intend to use a cell phone service you will be left in the dust by others that use a database service to look book values up at a rate of ten or more times faster than you.
The database services require a PDA (or possibly a radically enhanced cell phone) with sufficient memory to store a database of book values, usually on the order of 200MB or less. With one of these devices, you can enter an ISBN (either via a keyboard or laser scanner) and get an almost immediate display of the book's value and its sales rank. Some of the services even have other features that allow you to set threshold values for the books you are scouting so that you can wear an earphone to hear a cash register ring for the books you want to buy and some other not so cheerful tone for the firewood you want to pass on. The biggest disadvantage to the PDA and database system is convenience. Book values change dynamically and this means you must regularly update your database by downloading a new database from the service provider. There is also the issue with respect to books that do not have an ISBN because this is the means of lookup for the PDA and database system. This means you have to pass on all books without an ISBN, take your chances and buy some, or have an Internet lookup service too.
The cell phone lookup system, using a third-party lookup service is much slower, but if you have the Internet service on your cell phone, you can go to multitudes of other websites to look up books that do not have an ISBN.
From my perspective, if you are looking to get into online bookselling as a prime source of income or just to remain competitive and make efficient use of your scouting time, it is probably best to have both. On the other hand, if you just want to be an online bookseller for a supplemental income, or if you just want to try online bookselling without making the investment in a PDA/scanner combination, the Internet enabled cellular phone lookup service will suffice for most book scouting adventures.
The questions you really need to ask yourself as an online bookseller are:
Do I want this business to grow into a full-time source of income?
Do I have the time to spend scouting and waiting for an Internet enabled cellular phone lookup service?
Can my online bookselling business justify the expense of a PDA and possibly a scanner, as well as a database lookup service?
Do I really want to jump in with both feet and make an investment in the best tools for my online bookselling business, or should I start on a shoestring until I know whether this business is for me.
There is a lot to be said for having all the right tools for success, but you do not need to own a hospital to dress a scraped knee.