In our recent post about becoming an Amazon FBA seller, it was brought to my attention how lucrative selling used books on Amazon – and elsewhere – can be. It's also a great flexible gig for those looking to do something part-time or just on the weekends. Today we are focusing solely on that topic: how to sell used books for extra cash. And, we have two successful sellers stopping by to share their tips.
Meet the Experts
Lori Schafer is an independent author who supplements her income buying and selling used books. She is a part-time seller. Lori provided the following as her motivation to become a bookseller:
“The initial reason was that I owned a lot – and was continually acquiring more. They were all over the house, and I figured it made sense to start unloading some of those I had already read before I had to turn my kitchen into a library, too! I didn't start doing it seriously, however, until I made the leap to full-time author last year. I knew I wasn't going to be making money for a while, and I liked the idea of having a part-time gig I could do on my own schedule.”
Peter Valley, on the other hand, is a professional book flipper. He has written two books on the subject and is also the owner of the popular blog FBA Mastery. Like many of us, it took only one chance encounter with a used book to get Peter hooked:
“In 2007, I picked up a book at a garage sale: O Rio De Janeiro: A Photographic Journal, for $1. I sold it immediately for over $400.
“From there I began seeking books everywhere I could find them – from rummage sales to dumpsters behind university dorms.
“The main appeal was two-fold:
- Books are abundant.
- The profit margins are huge.
“It is not uncommon to find books for 50 cents (or free) that can be flipped for $10+ on Amazon. The margins are addictive. “
What Expertise is Needed to Become a Book Seller?
Peter says, “The good news for new sellers is that no deep knowledge of books is required. A variety of paid apps allow booksellers to scan a barcode (with their phone's camera or a Bluetooth barcode scanner) and get instant results as to the book's value, sales rank, and more. So while it helps to have a knowledge of books, a new seller can defer completely to the data on their scanning app when making a buying decision.
“If I had to give three types of books for beginners to look for, most of the money is in:
- Books published in the last 10 years.
- Very weird, esoteric books.”
Where to Sell Used Books
There are a number of places to sell your books online:
Lori chose eBay as her preferred platform, “Back in the nineties, I was actually a professional eBay seller of rare and out-of-print VHS tapes. I knew eBay well and I had a very high and 100% positive feedback rating. Had I made the switch to Amazon, for example, I would have been starting with no rating and no reputation. I did look into it, though, because creating and managing listings on Amazon is much easier than on eBay, where it's quite time-consuming. But when I examined the Amazon fee schedule, I discovered that their fees were much, much higher, at least if you're not a high-volume seller. Most used books are not worth very much money, and, in many cases, to be competitive on Amazon I would have had to reduce my profit margins to pennies. Maybe I could compensate for that by selling more volume with the time I would save, but then I'd be faced with the problem of storage – not to mention the hassle of locating an individual title once I did sell it.”
Peter, on the other hand, believes Amazon is where the big money is at. He is a high volume seller, however, earning over $130,000 in his first year as an Amazon FBA seller. Peter say’s, Amazon isn't just the biggest bookstore in the world anymore, it's the biggest store – period. The truth is that I have never met anyone selling books online who makes money anywhere except Amazon. It's where the book buyers are, and where the money is.”
How to Sell Books on Amazon and Elsewhere
Most sellers follow a similar procedure when reselling books.
- Find out how much the book in question is selling for – When you come across a potential book to sell, hop over to Amazon and see how much it is currently going for. (BookScouter can help with this process as well and also tell you where you can get the biggest bang for your buck.) Keep in mind, you will need to pay Amazon's fees. That's usually around $2.35 + 15% of the sale price. For that reason, don't sell things that will lose you money.
- List the book for sale – If it looks worth your while to sell the book, head over to your seller account and get it listed. You can do a quick search here by title or ISBN to find the book. You will then be asked about the condition of the book, how many you have available, how you will ship it (Amazon gives you a $3.99 shipping credit for each book) and how much you want to sell it for. You're probably going to want to go with the lowest listed price if you want to sell your item quickly. People wanting to purchase used books want them as cheap as possible.
- Check your account every few days and adjust your prices. Amazon prices and the prices of other sellers can fluctuate a lot.
Where to Buy Used Books to Flip
Both of our sellers were happy to share their favorite places to shop. Lori says, “Library book sales are my number one source. Often the prices are deeply discounted on the last day of the sale, and you can acquire a large number of books for not very much money – plus you can feel good about supporting the library. I also routinely check Craigslist, where people often sell books low-cost or give them away. You have to be careful going that route, though. A few times I've gone out of my way to pick up a free lot, only to find that the books have been stored in the basement and are hopelessly moldy.”
Peter had this to say about his favorite places to shop, “As far as the most fun, I like thrift stores. A good library book sale can be among the most lucrative sources. The best sources are the oddball ones you weren't looking for, like professors leaving thousands of books outside the Engineering building the last day of the semester.”
Beginner Book Seller Tips
When asked to share what new sellers should look for when scouting books. Lori replied, “The most important thing is to look to places where you can acquire books very cheaply. Fancy collector's editions are generally worth the trouble of selling if you pay the right price for them, but most of the time, they aren't worth what you might think. Unless you know for a fact that a book is worth money, be extremely cautious about overpaying. The same thing applies to first editions – I've acquired many firsts that only ended up being worth two or three dollars, so don't let that fool you unless you're familiar with a particular title. Also, it's ironic, but in general, you want to avoid bestsellers. There are so many copies in existence that the used book markets are often flooded with them. I also tend to pick up books I've sold before – first, because I will already have a listing created, which saves me some time, and second, because I know it did sell, and believe me, there are plenty of books that don't. Finally, consider your marketplace and how you will be creating your listings. It takes me less time to list individual books in a series than it does totally separate titles, so I will tend to favor those when I'm buying in bulk.”
I always ask interviewees for their favorite tools necessary for conducting business. You are in luck if interested in starting a book reselling business. Peter says you just need a smartphone and barcode scanner to get started. Lori keeps up to date on scheduled book sales at Booksalefinder.com.
If this all sounds like way too much work to make a few bucks, I personally trade-in a lot of my old books and free books I run into. With the Amazon Trade-In Program, they will give you store credit in exchange for your used books. Who doesn't love Amazon credit? They let you know upfront how much you will receive and they pay for the shipping.
Jessica Larew from The Selling Family also has a great new course on selling niche books for big profits. The course is really inexpensive and easy to implement.