Senior Daniel Rognlie and Evan Gage ’14 spent their summer journeying into “book mines,” dumpsters behind retail bookstores filled with cast-off books. They dug into the stacks of books and filled their milk crates with volumes waiting to be valued and resold for a profit.
“The best places to get books are the places you can get them for free,” said Rognlie. That includes dumpster-diving behind bookstores, where Rognlie found a British children’s pop-up book he later sold for $80.
When Hillsdale College shut down in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rognlie lost his on-campus source of income. Hoping to pick up some tips about flipping books, Rognlie called Gage, who runs the book resale business Gage Goods.
“An hour later, we had concocted this scheme to drive around the country in the summer, buying books,” Rognlie said.
Rognlie and Joshua Pautz ’20 spent the summer as interns for Gage. They spent two weeks in Kansas, where they bought a personal library and an entire bookstore, processing 10,000 books in a week. Used book stores and thrift shops were also popular spots for them to scout for books.
“The internship was a sample of the long-term,” Gage said. “The idea of, if I can do this for two months and if it works well, I can go forward and try to push this project. I was a little tentative, but the summer was awesome.”
Sophomore Alaura Gage also helped with her brother’s business when quarantine began. Because she hadn’t seen her friends since before the pandemic began, she said working with the business reminded her of the solace of Hillsdale community amid the chaos of quarantine. Searching for books took her to locations varying from an elderly woman’s mansion, to bookstores, to random garage sales.
“It takes you to all these weird places you would never imagine going to. You get to see a lot of places you’ve never seen before,” Alaura said. “Even if you’re not reading the books, you’re still learning a lot from the covers and the titles. And then you’ll run into gems.”
When hunting for valuable books in various locations, Rognlie scans the book and uses an app to assess its potential value based on how popular it is on Amazon. He conditions the book between poor and new, prints a sticker with its information, and uploads its details online. Finally, he ships the books to an Amazon holding facility, where they are mailed out to online purchasers. Rognlie paid only $30 for his first 130-pound shipment of books to Amazon, and his books have traveled to multiple locations including Maryland, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Florida.
“My favorite book is the one that sells for the most money,” said Rognlie, laughing. “But it’s a very fun thing because somebody wants a book, and the rarer the book is, the more the person wants it, typically. So I’m finding this book in this dusty antique store, where nobody who wants it is ever going to find it, and I’m making it available.”
During his time interning for Gage, Rognlie learned how to literally judge a book by its cover. Clues such as the print quality, publisher, print run, and even the paper and font all point to the worth of a book.
“What made working with Evan so invaluable is that I basically got all the cheat codes,” Rognlie said. “I can go to antique and thrift stores, which I like doing. But I can also work completely irregular hours.”
When the fall semester resumed, Rognlie continued his own book resale business. His posters scattered across campus simply tell students, in six enthusiastically capitalized words, “WANT CASH FOR BOOKS? TEXT DANNY.”
“I can be doing absolutely anything, check this app on my phone, and see that I made $70,” Rognlie said. “The work doesn’t take away from time that I want to spend with my friends, or time I need to spend doing my homework. There’s time put into finding the books, scanning the books, and doing the millions of steps. But once that’s done, that’s basically it.”
Rognlie said he learned he doesn’t think he could work or live somewhere lacking good community, good conversation, and good food, which are all gifts he found through his summer experience.
“I would have never been able to start doing this if I didn’t have the relationships I have with my friends,” Rognlie said. “I learned on a deeper-than-surface level something that is completely vital to me in my future now.”