Selling my own books through amazon
December 8, 2011 11:51 PM   Subscribe

Tactics for selling books online? Since I've pretty much adopted ebooks, I've begun to liquidate my dust-collecting dead-tree library. Rather than just donating them to a charity or dumping them on the local county library, I've started listing the more valuable books (more than a dollar) on Amazon. I've had some immediate successes, enough to prompt me to keep entering in the ISBN numbers. So now I have a few questions...

  • I usually match the best price for books of the same quality, but I've noticed that every 12 hours or so, other sellers lower their prices by a penny. Is it worth it to chase them to the bottom?
  • I sold a book this morning and had the 'expedited shipping' option available. Amazon gave me $6.99 to cover the shipping, but the actual shipping ended up being about $3.50 more than that. Which shipping options does it pay to check off, and which ones should I stay away from?
  • Why would anyone ever sell a book for .01? The way I figure it, after you give Amazon its cut, and you pay for media mail, you're in the hole. At what price-point is it worth it to sell a book and what price is too cheap to make any money?
Any other helpful advice you can give would be really appreciated. Thanks!
posted by crunchland to Work & Money (18 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
1) Not worth it. I find that as long as you have a reasonable price the book will usually sell eventually. I know that as a buyer, I don't buy the lowest priced book necessarily. I usually look for one that is low-priced and close to me, because if it's Media Mail, a book in my part of the country will get here just as fast as First Class/Priority, but if it's on the other side of the country, it could take weeks.

Just a couple of weeks ago I put a book up and a couple of pro-sellers immediately undercut me. Then two days later, the book sold anyway. I was surprised it sold so quickly! There wasn't that much demand, I would think, but I got $11 for the book so that was a nice one.

2) I don't usually think expedited is worth it. Unless you can be certain to make a profit on it, because the book is light weight. (Some books aren't worth selling on Amazon at all, because they are heavy, and the combination of the going price and Amazon's reimbursement isn't enough.)

3) If your shipping cost is low enough, you can still make a profit on a penny book. You're basically making all your money from Amazon's shipping payments, but if it works...

I'm just an occasional seller, but Amazon's worked pretty well for me when I decide I need to clear out some books. I don't usually do the penny books, though. I don't really have enough time to make it worth it to pack/ship books that are only going to net me a couple of bucks or less.
posted by litlnemo at 12:14 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

(1) Almost definitely not worth it. I don't know if this is true on Amazon, but other online sellers of used books can actually have automated systems to adjust prices based on other sales/other items for sale. This would be a never-ending battle.

(2) Beyond the realm of my experience.

(3) If you're selling in serious bulk, and able to make even a few cents, that'll add up. For you, though, it probably wouldn't mean enough to be worth the effort.
posted by divisjm at 4:53 AM on December 9, 2011

For (3) the other reason that so many books are a penny is that automated pricing algorithms can quickly become a race to the bottom, as you have noticed. Prices can also become a race to the top, such as this $23,698,655.93 book about flies

FWIW, One of my labmates digitized all of his textbooks books and sold the dead-tree versions- and made a good amount of money off of it.
posted by rockindata at 5:10 AM on December 9, 2011

Another option for less valuable paperbacks is to make a bundle or lot. So for instance I sold 5 Anne Rice books together, and 5 screenwriting books together. This was on Ebay. I don't think you can do it on Amazon (but I haven't tried). I have purchased books in lots, even if it's a couple extra bucks, for the combined shipping and also because it's convenient to get several at once if I am interested in most/all of them.
posted by Glinn at 5:13 AM on December 9, 2011

I'm a regular buyer of (kids) used books on eBay, and while I do look at price, the thing that I'm really looking for is some kind of realistic description of the condition. I automatically skip over anything that seems like boilerplate copy. Also, if you said something like "from my personal library" in the description I would be more likely to buy.
posted by anastasiav at 5:51 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Amazon Sellers forum is a great resource for book sellers, though the threads are often contentious and for someone used to great moderation, can be painfully juvenile.

If you can look past those issues, you will find the answers to all of your questions (and more!) in great detail there.

Also, you can Memail me for any personal support you might want.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:12 AM on December 9, 2011

Seconding anastasiav. You don't need to race to the lowest price if you have an accurate and personal description of each book- I'm always willing to pay a bit more for a thoroughly-described item.
posted by farishta at 7:28 AM on December 9, 2011

Back when I was selling a bunch on Amazon, I paid the $40/mo or whatever it was at the time to get the professional seller status -- the big deal was no listing fees. That saved me a buck per sale, which meant that selling books at a penny became profitable -- media mail and envelopes bought in bulk didn't eat up the whole shipping allowance.
posted by katemonster at 7:44 AM on December 9, 2011

I've thought about switching to the pro account, but it only makes sense if you sell more than 40 items a month, and though I'm really surprised with my success so far (sold 4 books just this AM!), I'm still not sure if it makes sense to make that leap yet.
posted by crunchland at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2011

Definitely give a thorough description in your listings -- that has always helped me, and it's a good strategy if the buyers come back to you later and complain that it wasn't quite as described.

If I'm selling a slightly fancy coffee-table book, I'll mention that the spine is uncracked and that it came from a smoke-free home. If I'm selling a textbook, I note that there's no highlighting or writing in the book. If it's a new book that I've read once, I say that it had one previous owner and had been very lightly read and enjoyed!

Another good thing to mention is that it has no remainder marks or stickers -- sometimes books have a Sharpie mark on the bottom to denote this.
posted by vickyverky at 10:13 AM on December 9, 2011

Do you ship media mail with tracking number? If you have Paypal it's $0.19 extra for the tracking num. Factor that in with your cost then mention on the description that the order will come with 'FREE TRACKING'. Some people dig the tracking number.
posted by jyorraku at 12:00 PM on December 9, 2011

Yes, I do. I've already learned that it's much cheaper to buy the tracking through Amazon's interface (or directly from than it is to buy it at the post office. I've also learned that since I have to stand in line and hand the books over to a teller anyway (13oz. Rule), I can have them scan the tracking for each packaged book and it'll show up that I've actually mailed the book off, plus I get a printed receipt that I've done so.

I've been packing the books in plastic grocery bags surrounded by a layer of paper grocery bags, sealed up with a good amount of shipping tape, and then I print out the mailing label on a half-sheet label designed specifically for mailing stuff like this, so I'm not spending much on shipping supplies, to keep my costs down.

I'd almost be willing to turn this into a part time business, but it seems like it can get all consuming.
posted by crunchland at 2:07 PM on December 9, 2011

I've also figured out that the lowest you can make money on a book, without having a pro account, is $1.32, assuming it's lightweight (one pound or less), and you include tracking on the order. Any less than that, and after Amazon takes their cut, and you pay for postage, you're losing money. If you forego the delivery confirmation, you can sell your book for $1.12, and still make one whole cent on the deal.
posted by crunchland at 11:50 PM on December 10, 2011

I've been packing the books in plastic grocery bags surrounded by a layer of paper grocery bags, sealed up with a good amount of shipping tape

You'll stop avoiding a box when you get your first return of a book damaged in shipping. Seriously, if you sent me a book wrapped in paper grocery bags I'd never order from you again.
posted by mediareport at 5:12 PM on December 11, 2011

Boxes at the liquor store are free where I live; you should always box a book before sending it through the mail.
posted by mediareport at 5:13 PM on December 11, 2011

Well, for what it's worth, I have sent over 100 books in the last three weeks, all shipped the way I described. I haven't received a single complaint.
posted by crunchland at 10:00 AM on December 26, 2011

Well, now that I'm a month on, I did get a little negative feedback on my packing decision. One person said that the "like new" book I sent her didn't arrive that way thanks to rough handling from the post office. So, since then, I've switched to padded envelopes. Instead of spending nothing on packaging, I now spend about .50 per package. And it's sincerely less of a hassle. Instead of dealing with packing tape, I now have a variety of sizes of self-sealing padded envelopes.

I've also started selling off my CDs and DVDs, though that's slower going. A larger percentage of my CDs and almost all of the DVDs aren't worth the time and effort to sell them, compared to books. Curse of the digital age, I guess. It's really been eye opening, though. I'm lucky if I can sell and earn back 5% of the money I actually spent on the books. DVDs just aren't worth anything at all anymore, at least selling them this way.
posted by crunchland at 12:26 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Three months on, and I just learned a lesson about Amazon. Apparently, they will usually side with the buyer in any refund dispute, regardless of the status of the item. I had a buyer want a refund on a book, and I told them I'd grant it once I got the book back. Several weeks pass, and I never received the returned book. Buyer nevertheless complained to Amazon, and Amazon grants the refund, deducting the amount from my current sales balance.
"Failure to manage the return may result in a debit to your Marketplace Payments account if Amazon refunds the buyer pursuant to an A-to-z Guarantee claim, even if the item is not returned to you."
So I'm out the book, and I'm out the money.
posted by crunchland at 5:48 PM on February 17, 2012

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