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A different kind of bookseller:

Tim Fout's used book business started from a box in his home;

now he sells as many as a third of his books online

 by Rebecca L. Martin

Tim Fout's little bookstore, hidden on a side street in St. Matthews, doesn't look like a hot spot of worldwide book sales.

But within the cozy walls of A Reader's Corner on Wiltshire Avenue is a daily sales operation reaching to countries as far away as Japan and Malaysia.

Fout makes about one-third of his money selling books through the Internet...

Fout was working as a general manager for ECT Services Ltd., a company that designs environmental control units, and selling common used books from his home.

He bought the books from thrift stores and auctions and sold them casually through a trade magazine called AB Bookman's Weekly.

But in December 1995, Fout realized he could take what had been his spare-time bookselling hobby to a whole new level.

During a visit with relatives in Indianapolis for the holidays, Fout was taking his annual tour of use-book stores the day after Christmas while his wife, Judy, and family shopped.

It was then that he first heard of Internet book listings...

In about a month, he made his first sale...

Fout liked selling on the Internet, but he wasn't pleased with how slowly the books sold...

Researching for the future

For the next year, Fout didn't do much with the site other than update it and manage the few sales he received. He spent most of his time working at ECT and teaching part-time for local universities and colleges...

In May 1997, after living among boxes of books for two years, the Fouts began looking for space to lease for a store.

In October 1997 they leased the Wiltshire location. Fout ordered 6,500 books from an advertisement in a trade magazine and, in November, had shelves built and coated for the store...

Fout did not disclose sales from the store, but he said he broke even within the first six months of being open. He said costs reached about $15,000 to lease the space, buy shelves and stock the store.

Most of Fout's books sell for between $5 and $20...

Prices for the listing services vary between $25 and $40 a month, depending on how many books he lists on each site, Fout said.

He said he sells enough books to pay for the cost of the services in the first three days of each month.

Internet sales are becoming "necessity..."

"One can argue that e-commerce for book selling has moved from a leading-edge business tool to a business necessity," he wrote. "Independent book selling will have great difficulty surviving without a competitive, customer-oriented e-commerce service..."

Regardless of opinions against his style of business, Fout has been so pleased with the store and the Internet sales that he left his job with ECT this summer to work at the book business full time...

If he goes beyond 15,000 listings, he will need to buy a warehouse. "It's kind of a hard thing to decide," he said.

Fout said he has goals he hopes to achieve in sales, but that they are always "in development." He declined to elaborate on them.

Overall, Fout said, he's pleased with his decision to be a full-time bookseller.

"I think it's very enjoyable, and I think it has a lot of potential," he said. "So far, it's lived up to all my expectations."

October 15, 1999 Print Edition

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