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

By Spencer Haws |

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!

How to Make Money Selling Used Books Online

Today, flipping textbooks for profit is much easier than it was back then, thanks to tools like TexTrader that do all the work for you.

But when I got started, the process was much more manual. 

It actually wasn’t until about 2001 or 2002 that I finally took the leap into selling online.  Of course, the big player in those days was eBay. Now the giant is Amazon. But 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.

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 or Amazon. 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, that 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.

Basics of Selling Used Books: 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. Most books you can sell for any amount of decent cash will fall into one of these four categories.

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:

Where to sell used textbooks online?

Textbooks 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.

These are sites that every college student will check for a cheaper version of their required textbooks. This was true in the early 2000s and the only change is that MORE students are looking online to buy used text books.

Because the ridiculous markups at the college bookstore haven’t changed, either. That means there’s a big market for old textbooks.

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.

Profitable book selling right away

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.

If you get a high enough volume of book sales that can be a pretty tidy profit!

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?
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).

If you are looking at this as a long-term project and are willing to keep a large inventory of old books on hand to get the best price for each then you might want to consider an online bookstore.

Abebooks.com is a great option for this, though you will have a monthly fee in addition to the percentage taken from each book sold.

That means you need to have enough antique books and used first edition books on hand to justify those monthly fees. However, if you have rooms full of used books, this can be a great way to get the best price from book buyers for your first editions.

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.

Most people making decent money at non-collectible secondhand books are either large used bookstores with huge stock at a good physical location or individual book sellers who serve a really specific niche.

4. Collectibles and Antique Books

Many people are surprised by just how much of a market there are for collectible and antique books out there. Selling antique books online, limited first edition books, or even specialty collectible books is a huge market!

Getting good at this takes a willingness to learn some new skills and invest time, but the pay-off potential is huge!

One of our writers on this site, Shane, has bought and sold antique books on the side for over 15 years. He jokes about being able to “smell” the money on any old book at the flea market, garage sale, or even used book store.

While a truly rare book is an uncommon find, it does happen. He recalls buying a 1919 first edition for $55 off eBay, and flipping it four months later on Abebooks for $775.

Five minutes of research before buying, fifteen minutes putting up the listing, and five minutes packaging and shipping later and $720 is a great payout for a half hour of actual work!

Most profitable second hand books aren’t going to return that level of profit.

As a rough rule of thumb Shane says for every $10 he spent on an old book he expects about $40-50 back. That’s still pretty good money selling books as a side gig.

That’s not figuring in the major money makers like the previous story. This is the profit margin on the average old book he may find at a flea market, an estate sale, underpriced online, or even the very occasional garage sale.

Specialized Book Selling Vs. General Book Flipping

There are good arguments that can be made for both these methods of selling used books online. Finding popular secondhand books you can pick up for nickels and dimes on the cover price that you then sell can produce some very good return on investment.

Then again, while you may have to keep old collectible books or antique first editions longer before selling them online, they often go for much higher prices, as well.

In other words, both of these methods of selling old books online are a great way to make some serious money if you know what you’re doing. So is one method better than the other?

Flipping books can make a great side hustle, or even a full-time job, in a variety of ways. The key is to get into the game of selling used books and see what you enjoy most about it, what you can consistently find in the area, and use that to keep moving forward.

Tips from a Book Hound

Shane was kind enough to bring some of his 15 years of first hand knowledge on how to make money selling used books to this post. He specialized mostly in first edition antique books and collectible older books.

If you tend to like to study things in-depth before jumping in, the ideas of learning to locate, identify, and buy used books before flipping them for a profit can be overwhelming. There’s a LOT of information involved in becoming a book hound (slang for someone who does this, especially with antique or collectible first editions).

Enough it can quickly overwhelm you.

But don’t worry. If you’re excited about the potential profit in that yard sale, garage sale, or library sale, if you love the feel of a physical book in the hands, and then the large number after a $ that shows up after you sell it, then don’t let the world of flipping books intimidate you.

Follow these tips, think of it as an adventure, and there’s a good chance you’ll catch the bug, too! And make a tidy profit along the way.

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Be Honest About Condition

You should never lie about the condition of the used book. Being honest is just a good policy, period. But this also applies to gray areas.

What if the book falls in that gray area between “very good” and “good?” Or “fine” and “very good?”

While there are strong guidelines for judging the condition of an old book, it’s not set in stone. There are times where a rare book’s condition is balancing right between two conditions. In that situation, I ALWAYS label it as the worst of the two.

Why?

Because I would rather be known as the guy who sold a very good book at a good price than a scam artist who overcharged and underdelivered.

Reputation matters, especially if you end up going heavy into the rare book or antique book route.

Plus, in the description mentioning that it’s really straddling those two conditions but you listed it as worse to be on the safe side…it’s one heck of a closing tactic for selling collectible books. Those almost always sold quickly for me.

Every collector likes a good deal. Worst case scenario, they know they’re getting a book that is at least in the best range of the lower condition. Best case, they get a great deal. And will come back searching my online store for more great deals on future old book finds!

Unwanted Bulk Books Hide Treasures

Don’t underestimate the potential in picking up unwanted books. While these are often picked through more often than not, it’s easy to miss some valuable old ones.

Even if there aren’t any valuable first editions or textbooks, many times you can still make a profit selling groups of books on eBay. It won’t be a huge amount, but profit is profit.

Get creative if you find yourself with too many books that are hard to move.

Donate to a local library or school library. Create those little street library houses to make books available to neighbors and kids. Donate to prisons. If you have a blog or website, call local news sites or local bloggers and get some good PR and some backlinks from this.

There are plenty of ways that buying and selling used books can profit you even beyond the direct sale.

Nothing Beats Hard-Earned Knowledge

Many of the most valuable old books are ones that aren’t obviously valuable, but they fall into a specific field a collector might like (example: old medical books or 1930s school lesson books) or are ghost written by authors who later became famous under another name.

In this case having that knowledge will let you see valuable books that even the best apps or AI might not see. 

If you want to get even more out of selling books online, buy a few books on being a book hound or identifying valuable first editions.

This will teach you helpful skills like:

The number of times I felt a “ping” in my head like I knew that title from somewhere, bought the book, and then found out it was in one of the many books on valuable first editions I had is pretty substantial.

Trusting that gut instinct, because I knew it came from study and knowledge, has led to some great profits I otherwise would have missed.

Pay Attention to Shipping Cost

If you’ve done any buying or selling on Amazon, eBay, or anywhere else then you know that what you pay for shipping is often a set cost that is more than the actual postal fees. This not only covers envelopes, stamps/postage, insurance or delivery tracking, but it’s also accepted the seller takes a little for their time/trouble.

Keep an eye on what seems like an “acceptable” shipping and handling charge. If it’s $5 and you’re only charging $3 that’s $2 a package you’re leaving on the table. If you end up selling 1,000 books in a year, that really adds up.

Be Wary of Library Sales

Library sales can be a great place to find used books you can flip for a profit. Especially in bulk. However, if you are focusing mostly on valuable first edition collectible books, keep in mind that an ink stamp with the library’s name is a value killer, even if the rest of the book is in surprisingly good shape.

“Library copy” is often a cuss word when it comes to antique fiction book hounds.

Steps to Get Started as a Beginning Book Seller

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.

How to Sell books Online (and make more money than I did)

While there are a couple of different approaches to take, the one I like best is buying used books on Amazon and then right back on Amazon and pocketing the difference. If I were to start up reselling today, this is the avenue I would take.

Reselling textbooks has gotten very powerful. If I were to do everything over, I wouldn’t even bother with low priced books. Fiction, nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. Textbooks cost an astronomical amount and there’s a huge opportunity.

Sound too good to be true? 

There are actually more deals out there like this than you’d believe. Thanks to the fact that sellers list used textbooks for low prices on Amazon all the time, not realizing they could trade that book into Amazon for more money.

For example, you might see a Biology 101 textbook that has a used price of $45 and the average used selling price is $70. Meaning you could buy it at the current low price and potentially sell it right back for about a $25 profit. 

There are tons of opportunities like this. Students get new textbooks every year. And plenty of savvy students don’t want the 4th edition that just came out. They are more than happy with the 3rd edition that’s less than half the price.

This opens up a massive opportunity for you to buy the “old” textbook when new editions come out. Wait a little bit and there will be more than enough buyers for what you’re offering.

You can start searching for deals manually or use TexTrader to speed up the process significantly.

Where Should I Sell Used Books?

This can be a crucial decision that really affects your profits. You don’t want to make a bad choice. Don’t forget on the other side of Shane’s story of selling a book for $775 was a person who was happy to get $50 for it.

In that case Abebooks was clearly the right call over eBay for bottom line profit margin. This won’t always be the case.

The good news is that there are more places than ever where you can sell used books. There are also more used books sold in a year than ever before – so there are plenty of opportunities.

The following is a list of several of the best places to go online to sell used books. Keep in mind that depending on what type of old books you’re selling or used books you’re flipping, some of these sites will work better than others.

We’ll give you the basic guidelines of good places to sell used books online. Keep in mind that nothing beats good old trial and error testing.

Amazon

They’re the largest seller of, well pretty much everything, in the world. Selling used books on Amazon can be a good option, especially if you get a very popular modern book cheap.

Amazon is never going to be the best place for antique books or rare first editions. But for modern books and some popular books it’s a great place to checkout. Download the Scout IQ app to know what a book is currently selling for on Amazon.

This is an app for retail arbitrage that shows you what an item is selling for right now specifically on Amazon. That makes it a great tool for book hounds looking to supplement that occasional big dollar treasure with profitable smaller sales on the way.

eBay

Most of the time you won’t get premium prices from your used books on eBay. But you can get a lot of sales off this platform. If you are running out of space, or received many relatively collectible first editions that aren’t super rare, eBay can be a great way to create cash flow from unwanted books.

Many times eBay is on the short list of places to look for a good deal as opposed to selling books for profit. But if you received a lot of books for a dime each, you might be happy with $10 and let someone else do the legwork to flip it again for more.

Abebooks

Abebooks earned a reputation early on as the place to go for rare books, antique first editions, and valuable collectible books. This reputation remains. If you’re looking for a very specific old book, fiction books many decades out of print, then you go to Abebooks.

Which makes this a fantastic place for sellers who have a collection of first edition fiction books, collectible old non-fiction books, or those unconventional books that sell for more but which you also might need time to get the best price for.

If you are more for the “burn and churn” style of flipping books then you can skip this, but Abebooks is a great spot where major money can be made from sales.

Flipsy.com

Flipsy is an interesting site made for flipping a little bit of everything, but their book section is particularly active. This can be a great place for selling popular books. They have even started to give Abebooks a run for their money when it comes to collectible books.

If you already have sold with Flipsy, then you should check out its book section, as well. This is a place where you can sell antique and collectible books. In addition to more modern popular titles, as well.

Bookscouter

Used mostly for looking at used textbooks, this is a favorite if you can find college students who don’t want to spend $350 for a new textbook that then gets used only once.

Which will be most of them.

Local Used Bookstores

This is last on the list because while I’m all about supporting local used bookstores. From a pure making money selling books standpoint it’s almost never going to be your best option. You will rarely get cash.

That said, if you need space or have a lot of books that you just can’t sell quickly, the store credit or gift cards you get are great for filling out your own reading list or shopping for the bookworms in the family. 

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.

If you’re looking to start flipping textbooks, I highly recommend checking out TexTrader which will save you a TON of time and hassle. 

try textrader to start a book selling income stream with ease



Niche Business Ideas | 19 comments

By Spencer Haws

Spencer Haws is the founder of NichePursuits.com. After getting a degree in Business Finance from BYU (2002) and an MBA from ASU (2007) he worked for 8 years in Business Banking and Finance at both Merril Lynch and Wells Fargo Bank.

While consulting with other small business owners as a business banker, Spencer finally had the desire to start his own business. He successfully built a portfolio of niche sites using SEO and online marketing that allowed him to quit his job in 2011. Since then he's been involved in dozens of online business ventures including: creating and exiting Long Tail Pro, running an Amazon FBA business for over 3 years and selling that business, founding LinkWhisper.com, and co-founding MotionInvest.com. You can learn more about Spencer here.

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

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19 Comments

Conversation

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.

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.

David Miles

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

Spencer

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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

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!

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.

Spencer

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

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.

Frank

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

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

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

Bart Raleigh

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

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