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How to Make Money Selling Used Books Online

Yes! I Love to Learn

Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?

How to Make Money Selling Used Books Online

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.  At the time, I had no idea that learning how to make money selling used books online would be one of my first interests

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 to Make Money Selling Used Books Online

Essentially, I would go to thrift stores like Goodwill and others and look through the used book shelves and find books that I could sell on eBay.  This was my process back then in a nutshell.  However, I'm going to share a few ways you can improve your chances of success selling books online.

The key to success in buying and selling used books online 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.

4 Types of Used Books to Sell

In general, there are 4 types of books that you should look for when trying to sell used books online.

1. Textbooks

The used textbook market is between $5.5 billion and $8 billion according to a recent article.  That means there is A LOT of money to be made in this disjointed market place.

Sure a great deal of used text books sales happen on college campuses.  However, a quick perusal of Amazon and eBay listings will show you that plenty of people are still buying and selling used textbooks online.

Where to find used textbooks to sell?

If you are selling your own textbooks, that's one thing.  But what if you want to become a text book flipper where you buy and sell for profit?

I would start by looking in these places:

  • Second hand or thrift stores, like Goodwill
  • Garage sales…you never know!
  • eBay.com.  You might be able to pick up a cheap book and then turn around and sell it on Amazon or somewhere else for a higher price.
  • Craigslist.  Especially if you are near a college town, your chances might be better for scoring some cheap textbooks.
  • Ask friends and family.  You might be surprised what they have lying around!
  • Amazon.com.  The chances are likely smaller to find anything really low priced here, but it's still possible to stumble on the right opportunity.

Where to sell used textbooks online?

Texbooks in particular have lots of places where you can sell.  You can use Ebay.com and Amazon.com as a great way to list and sell your inventory online.

However, there are also plenty of other textbook specific marketplaces that are worth taking a look at.  Here's a few of the textbook marketplaces where you can sell:

2. Modern First Edition Books

Modern first edition books are essentially books published in the last 30 or 40 years.  For some people these are collectible for their favorite authors or books.  For others they are just willing to pay a little higher price for something that might become collectible someday.

These first editions are not hard to find for books that are current or recent best sellers.  However, they do tend to get a bit more difficult they further back in time you go.

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 to determine if the book is a first edition.

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.

Where to buy modern first edition books?

  • Second hand or thrift stores, like Goodwill
  • Garage sales
  • Craigslist.  
  • Ask friends and family. 

Where to Sell Modern First Edition Books?

I would stick to eBay most of the time for selling these types of books.  People know that they can go to eBay to find rare and collectible items, including modern first edition books.

Amazon is probably not the best place to sell these types of books (however, you can also check for your particular books).

3. Out of Print Used Books

Out of print books are just your standard used books that you might find at any old bookstore or thrift store.  There is typically not a lot of money to be made in these “run of the mill” type books.

Especially with the competition and fees that Amazon will charge, it's harder and harder to make much money on a book that costs you $1 to buy and you sell for $5.  After you pay your packaging and shipping costs, there just isn't much profit left.

However, there are indeed still lots of used books sellers on Amazon selling these types of books.  So, you can make it work…but it's not easy.  

These are the kind of books that are considered the “long tail”.  Many of these books will only sell a few copies a month total, and if there are 50 sellers all trying to sell a used copy of the same book, well you do the math.  You might have to wait a year or longer before the book will sell.

4. Collectibles and Antique Books

How to Check Selling Prices Before You Buy

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.

 

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.

 

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?

Yes! I Love to Learn

Want to learn step-by-step how I built my Niche Site Empire up to a full-time income?

22 Comments for this Post

  1. Thomas Strock

    Thomas Strock

    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.

    Reply
    • Spencer

      Spencer

      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.

      Reply
  2. David Miles

    David Miles

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

    Reply
    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Very true! In fact, I have one future post that discusses a very similar idea of reselling a used item other than books.

      Reply
  3. The Kindle Method

    The Kindle Method

    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.

    Reply
  4. Spencer

    Spencer

    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.

    Reply
  5. Passive Income Dorm

    Passive Income Dorm

    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.

    Reply
    • Em

      Em

      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!

      Reply
  6. Can I Make Money with Storage Unit Auctions? | Niche Pursuits

    Can I Make Money with Storage Unit Auctions? | Niche Pursuits

    […] auctions for about 8 or 9 years now.  Back when I first got married was when I really started to get into selling books and used clothing on eBay.  As I was learning how to sell on eBay, I bought a infomercial product […]

    Reply
  7. AlwaysBooking.com

    AlwaysBooking.com

    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 😛 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.

    Reply
    • Spencer

      Spencer

      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!

      Reply
  8. Philip

    Philip

    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

    Reply
  9. Vote for Your Favorite Niche Pusuit! | Niche Pursuits

    Vote for Your Favorite Niche Pusuit! | Niche Pursuits

    […] 1. Selling Used Books Online. I like this idea okay.  I know lots of people think its too much work and not passive enough, but I don’t care.  I have done this in the past and have heard of people building up quite a decent business doing this.  I personally enjoy going to thrift stores and garage sales scrounging around for hidden gems.  Essentially I would buy lots of old books for cheap and then sell them on Amazon.com or eBay.com.  I would utilize Amazon fulfillment as much as possible to make it more passive. […]

    Reply
  10. Vote for Your Favorite Niche Pursuit! | Niche Pursuits

    Vote for Your Favorite Niche Pursuit! | Niche Pursuits

    […] 1. Selling Used Books Online. I like this idea okay.  I know lots of people think its too much work and not passive enough, but I don’t care.  I have done this in the past and have heard of people building up quite a decent business doing this.  I personally enjoy going to thrift stores and garage sales scrounging around for hidden gems.  Essentially I would buy lots of old books for cheap and then sell them on Amazon.com or eBay.com.  I would utilize Amazon fulfillment as much as possible to make it more passive. […]

    Reply
  11. Sarah

    Sarah

    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!

    Reply
  12. Kyle

    Kyle

    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.

    Reply
    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Thanks for the great input on the subject! Best of luck with your business…

      Reply
  13. Chrisia Noulas

    Chrisia Noulas

    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.

    Reply
  14. Frank

    Frank

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

    Reply
  15. Chris Hills SEO

    Chris Hills SEO

    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

    Reply
  16. Osward

    Osward

    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

    Reply
  17. Bart Raleigh

    Bart Raleigh

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

    Reply

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