How I Bought and Sold Books Online as My First Internet Venture

How I Bought and Sold Books Online as My First Internet Venture

Ever since companies started making money online, I was intrigued.  I graduated from high school in 1996, just when the internet was starting to come out of obscurity.  By the time I got into college there were always stories of online companies raising millions in IPOs on the stock market.

This whole frenzy played a huge part in my decision to go into finance and business management.  I was fascinated by the ability of the companies to sell products online.  It was just such a new concept back then.

I just had to have a piece of the action!

It actually wasn’t until about 2001 or 2002 that I finally took leap into selling online.  Of course, the big player in those days (I suppose still is) was eBay.  By this time, it wasn’t quite as big a deal to buy and sell stuff online; however, I had never actually sold anything and I was fascinated with the subject.

I was in college and I was a cheapskate.  So, obviously my investment wasn’t huge, but I decided to sell used books online.  This is how I made my first buck online.

How I Bought and Sold Books Online

Essentially, I would go to thrift stores like Goodwill and others and look through the used book shelves and find book that I could sell on eBay.  However, its slightly more complicated than that (although not much).

The key to success in buying and selling used books is to know how much money you can sell the book for before you buy it.  Even though you could buy books all day long at $1 a pop at most thrift stores; doesn’t mean you should.  You should only purchase a book if you know you can make some money on it.  I usually only bought a book for a $1 if I knew I could sell it for $5 or more.

How to Check Selling Prices on eBay

Most of you may already know how to check completed listings on eBay; however, if not, its pretty simple.  There is an option on the left sidebar that says “Completed Listing”.  Simply check this box, and then only the listings for the particular search topic you have entered that are completed will show.  By doing this kind of research, you can find out pretty quickly how much you can expect to sell a book for.

Chances are that you are not going to find any real “gems” in the used book section.  You probably won’t find any books worth thousands and probably not even hundreds of dollars unless you are really lucky.  However, you can certainly find some books valued in the $10 to $20 range.

What Kind of Books to Look for?

When I first got started, I really didn’t know what kind of books to look for.  So after doing a little bit of research, I discovered that modern day first editions are collectible!  A modern day first edition is simply the first edition of a recent publication (in the past 30 years or so).  First editions for books older than this will typically command even higher prices.

If you don’t know how to tell if a book is a first edition, its not always easy.  But here is a good guide that explains how: http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/collecting/firstedition.html

With my limited knowledge of what books to look out for, I probably missed a few good ones; however, I did find a few decent modern day first editions.  One book that I sold for about $50 was the first edition of The Firm by John Grisham.

I also found a few other books that sold for $20 or $30.  However, the majority of the books that I found sold for around $5 to $7.  Still not too bad for a $1 purchase.

I only kept at it for about 3 or 4 months.  I would go book hunting on the weekends and sell them online and mail them during the week.  Because I was in school and trying to get my future wife interested in me, I didn’t spend too much time or effort on it.  However, I did manage to make a few hundred dollars here and there.

The problem with selling books this way, is that the margins are so low for the amount of time that it takes to find the books, creating the listing, respond to buyers, pack the books, and take them to the post office.  I was probably making way less than minimum wage on my little venture.  However, I think there really is some potential for someone who gets serious about it.

One of those people is   from sellyourbooksonline.com  .  In fact, he rarely sells his books on eBay (only the more valuable ones that people will bid up).  Instead, he focuses on selling used books on Amazon.com.  He claims to have worked out a system where he makes over $5,000 a month just from selling used books on Amazon.

I haven’t personally read his course, but I have been on his email list for a year or so, and he appears to really know his stuff.  He has a forum setup, and is always sharing some great free tidbits on where to find used book deal, where to buy used books in bulk, and other relevant information.

He says he can even make money when his books sell for $.99!  I guess it works out that he can make about $1 on the shipping costs and he is sourcing his books for pennies.  So, his margins may be ultra thin on some books, but he does a huge volume every month.

So, if you are interested in learning more about how to sell used books online, I would recommend trying his course out.  He seems to be pretty legit from what I have seen in his forum and emails.

My Future with Selling Used Books Online

To be honest, every once in a while I still get the itch to go hunting for used books and to start selling them online.  If I had some more time, I would LOVE to do this!  I enjoy the hunt more than anything.  Its kinda fun to find a first edition book selling for $1 at a thrift store.

So, who knows maybe this will become one of my future niche projects that I will document on this website.  I am always looking for new ideas, but I’m certainly willing to revert back to something I have tried before.

Let me know you thoughts below!  This could be one of my Niche Pursuits that I document for 90 days right here on this blog.  So let me know what you think.  Have you sold books online?  Do you think this is a good niche business?


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19 Comments for this entry

  1. Thomas Strock says:

    It sounds interesting, but to be honest, unless you really enjoy it, it doesn’t seem like a very good business model because it is not scalable or passive. Just my thoughts…though I do enjoy going to garage sales to resell undervalued items every once in a while, though I would never consider doing it more than a few times a year.

    • Spencer says:

      Hey Thomas – yeah it is an interesting idea. You are right that its not as passive as other ideas, but that’s okay. Not everything I am considering has to be passive. Perhaps its only feasible for the average person to build this to a $500 to $1000/mth business. However, maybe that is all someone is looking for. Overall, I agree with you though that it would be difficult (although not impossible) to build this into a full time business.

  2. David Miles says:

    I think this strategy would work not only for selling books online… but almost anything : )

  3. Hey Spencer – congrats on the new blog!

    This post brought back a lot of old memories of ebay and half.com. Buying & Selling books is actually a lot of fun and if you are able to find a niche you can make money at it as well. Like anything, you need a good system.

    Thanks again.

  4. Spencer says:

    Yep, good ol’ ebay and half.com – they are still around, and people are still making great money with them! I agree that its all about finding your niche and developing a system.

  5. I live in a town with a major university and have found that students trash their textbooks at the end of the semester. They can be found in various conditions. The university requires you to scan your student ID card to resell texts- mostly to detect any unusual patterns, I guess. I sold most of the books through Half.com. If you keep an eye out, you can also buy your books online and resell them for a profit.

    • Em says:

      I just moved to a small college town, and am looking for books to sell. The local thrift store sells used books at $3 apiece, which I think is too high when you are not sure the book will sell online (sometimes for years). Garage sale season is just about over. Where do the college students trash their textbooks? I want to get to them before they do!

  6. Selling used books is certainly a fun venture. I started selling books a few months ago. My goal was to profit $30 a day right now I am at $23.90 :P I have been blogging about my adventure from the start at AlwaysBooking.com The money is certainly not a huge amount but it helps! I really look up to Adam Bertram at sellyourbooksonline. He started where I was and I hope to surpass him! To anyone that wants to get started buying books look for the obscure titles. If you look at a title and think why would anyone buy that, chances are good that someone on Amazon is looking for it.

    • Spencer says:

      That’s awesome that you are actually doing this. I think lots of people would be happy with $30/day…great job! Also, I agree that Adam Bertram seems to be a good resource; believe it or not I discovered him about a year ago and read his emails faithfully…even checked out his forum as a lurker. I posted this because I really would be interested in giving it a “real” shot…however, thats up to my readers to decide.

      Also, great advice on the obscure titles (I can see from your blog that you do indeed sell some obscure stuff :). It seems to work the same way for niche websites. The more obscure or “odd” the niche, the better my websites tend to do. People with unique interests are willing to pay a little more for the information they want. Thanks for sharing your advice, and if I decide to pursue this, I will let you know!

  7. Philip says:

    I started my online career selling used books and really enjoyed it. I had my own website to start with. Then I sold on eBay, and finally quit there, mainly because of high listing fees at the time.

    It is something I have thought about going back to.

    knknknow what

  8. Sarah says:

    Hey Spencer!

    I found your blog through Pat Flynn’s link! I currently live in Mesa, AZ and started in online business with selling used and collectible used books as well during college. I worked in a local used bookstore so I learned pretty quick which books were excellent to purchase to resell at a markup. I then saved the money I made to pursue a vintage clothing business, then a wool felt business. I quit my horrid job with the government this year in March (the 4th) to work on my online business full time. What a joy! Although my current business isn’t passive, I’m looking to create more passive streams of income. Thanks for all of the information you provide in your blog!

  9. Kyle says:

    I have been doing this over the past few months after not having much success in selling garage sale items on ebay. (although i have been selling on ebay for many years) books have been much easier due to bar-code scanning apps and software.

    The key is using the new scanning technology to find books of value. The equipment can run about $400 and the software and subscriptions for the amazon database updates are $20-50 per month.

    I no longer wait for items to sell then pick pack and ship them myself, instead I send them to Amazon and they do the rest. This way I spend all my time finding inventory. the program is called FBA or fulfilled by amazon and although it costs a little more, if you price your items right, you can sell more, faster, make more money, and do less work. I also can keep my engagement in tact since my fiance was nearly about to leave me when I had 1,000 books over flowing from my office into the halls and kitchen!

    There is a lot of opportunity in the FBA program and I have had great results selling new toys through it. You can find toys all over that are on sale or clearance that sell for 300% more or greater on amazon. It is still hard to beat the margins in books but toys and other retail items can be ‘easier’ to acquire with good margins. (they do require more capital)

    Check out my new blog http://www.BookingForGold.com for information about the business, and check out http://www.fbapower.com and some of the sites attached to them for good information about FBA.

  10. sellusedbooks.com

    Learners can perspective immediate cost quotations for their books. If they are satisfied with the costs that offer best price, Any one can send their books to us. Students can Sell Used Textbooks to sellers in and around area, you can set the cost of your textbook and a large number of books in shops for higher education students.

  11. Frank says:

    I find it interesting how you were always trying to find a lucrative business. That’s why your successful

  12. Great post: I started comparing the book market via ISBN codes using comparison engines like compare book and Google product search. Selling books CDs, and Video Games, they are all easy to post they are good sellers and you can pick job lots up from eBay and re sell on amazon: or just browse charity websites paste the ISBN code from the charity website to amazon and if they are selling it for a lot more you can list it, when the order comes through you can then order is from where you was going to buy it from and then ship it on. There are ways to make money selling books and they still sell really well in the UK despite digital releases of eBooks

  13. Osward says:

    Thanks for the post, I have a book writing by a friend on Wellness and you how do one sell this book online? please advice me, thanks

  14. Bart Raleigh says:

    More thanks in doing this article.
    Publish your books online here : http://www.press2publish.com/

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