Buying and Selling at Half.com

May 2002

There comes s time in a man's life when he realizes he will not ever read all the books on his bookshelf. I look at my shelf with longing, seeing titles that hold the promise of endless fascination: The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Ancient World, Hierarchy in the Forest, The History of Money . . .

Each year I add more, some optimistic impulse saying inside, "How can you not buy this book? It's precisely what you want to know. Maybe you'll find the time to read it."

But I never do, unless it's during my annual vacation, which I usually spend reading.

When I was a boy and boredom weighed heavily, when I could barely endure excruciating hours with nothing to fill them, I didn't imagine adulthood would be like this. Time is still the enemy, but now instead of boredom it is the endless fascination of so many fascinating things. It is the tasks of adult life that fill all the little slots that come marching along. It is the work we do to sustain ourselves.

So what do you do? When these books began to weigh as heavily as boredom once did, I courageously spent a half hour culling them, putting them into a box, and sending an e-mail offering to donate them to a library.

A library--the irony of it all. So many unread books on the shelves. The librarian didn't reply. Perhaps he too feels the weight and doesn't want to add more.

So what do you do? Ta daa! You sell them on Half.com. I knew we'd get to the Internet sooner or later in this wistful soliloquy. The books sat there in the box for two months, and then I thought of selling them.

Why not turn melancholy into money? With excitement I spent a few minutes listing them.

Half.com is one of those universes you come across on occasion on the Internet--a huge marketplace with a culture all its own, with thousands and thousands of buyers and sellers. The site began with the notion that people had unused books, videos, and CDs and that there needed to be a place to exchange them. As the name implies, the original concept was that every item would be at least half off the original price.

Half.com is now part of eBay (yet another one of the Internet universes), and prices are not necessarily half but are whatever the market will bear. First you need to set up a free account, which just takes minutes. And they like to have your bank account information so they can deposit the money directly.

Once you have that set up, listing your items for sale couldn't be easier. For books, you simply type in the ISBN number. The site then gives full bibliographical information and offers suggestions regarding the selling price. It gives an average sale price for that particular item, the current highest and lowest prices, the most recent sale price, and a recommended price.

Selling videos, CDs, and computer games is similar, except that you type in the Universal Product Code. You can list hundreds of items if you like, and the site makes it very easy to manage your inventory.

When someone buys your item, Half.com sends you an e-mail. You then simply package your item and send it off.

Half.com likes to pay via direct deposit but will also cut you a check. They subtract a 15 percent commission, though they do pay a fixed shipping reimbursement. A lot of other items are exchanged on Half.com, such as computers and software, but the service began with books, videos, and CDs, and the process of selling seems simplest with these items.

Buying from Half.com is similar to buying from other sites, expect that the prices are often lower. If you were to buy the hardcover edition of Robert Wright's The Moral Animal on Amazon, you'd be paying $27 plus shipping. On Half.com, you can get the hardcover edition in like-new condition for $12.

They also have DVDs, with a large selection of items for $7.99 or less. They also have a selection of VHS videos for $3.99 or less. Shipping is typically $$2-3 and for books, CDs, DVDs, and videos.

So did my books sell? No. Still have them on my shelf. But I did find some great buys on books that I'd been wanting . . . .

© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen