Disbelief with Amazon Fees.
May 7, 2013 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I have so many used books to sell that I decided to start posting them on Amazon, and much to my amazement, they are selling like hotcakes. In the meantime, I'm having a hard time parsing the unbelievable "fees" Amazon is charging me. Is this for real? Am I doing something wrong? What are my options?

So let me give you an example. I have an individual account with Amazon and I only have a few hundred books to sell. I list a book at $4.00 and I am responsible for shipping - a $3.99 allowance given to me. Luckily, that's a little over what I actually need to spend shipping something via media mail. But let's set that aside.

For the $4.00 item, Amazon charges me "Amazon fees" of $2.94. 73% of the sale goes to Amazon - this seems like a totally ridiculous amount to me. Luckily I gain about a dollar back on shipping costs, but then again I have to pay for the envelopes and spend my time waiting at the post office.

So is this just a total waste of my time? Are there any tricks I should know about? Should I charge more for books at the risk of them not selling, or find a better place to sell? Any insight or experience would be much appreciated.
posted by phaedon to Shopping (22 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Yeah there are three fees really: A per item transaction fee ($.99), a closing fee (varies, but around $1.35), and a percentage of the selling price (15% x $4.00 = $.60); added together that's $2.94.

For $39.99 per month you can join their Professional Selling Plan and waive some fees, if you have enough volume that might make sense. That or try eBay. They just lowered their seller fees.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:49 PM on May 7, 2013

Why not try book sleuth and see what Powells or the other companies will give you?
posted by k8t at 3:53 PM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Maybe it's better to donate them and just get a tax receipt?
posted by bquarters at 3:53 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Or just trade them in directly to Amazon for the store credit.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:54 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am half-hoping that someone will contradict me, but as far as I can tell this is just the reality of selling books on Amazon these days. I'm a dabbler in buying and selling vintage clothing and textiles, and I used to pick up books which I found at estate sales and thrift shops in the course of buying my clothing stock. About two years ago, I stopped, because it just wasn't worth the hassle and time: between listing, packing, and trips to the post office to mail a single book, I was making way less than minimum wage. If I find something which is truly valuable (which is to say worth $30 or more) I still pick it up, but in general fees are through the roof and used book prices have dropped through the floor into the sub-sub-basement, so it just doesn't make economic sense for me to list a relatively small quantity of inexpensive books.

I suspect that most successful high-volume sellers are brick-and-mortar used book shops who have listed a substantial part of their inventory using the Professional Selling Plan and run the online sales as an adjunct to their offline business. This would allow them to take advantage of other economies of scale (packing materials, trips to the post office, etc.) while fitting the listing and packing duties into what would otherwise be an employee's downtime.

I've heard that Half.com can be a better deal, but I haven't investigated it, and I suspect that the tradeoff is less exposure and slower sales. Amazon is the 800 lb. gorilla of online book sales and sets their fees accordingly.
posted by pullayup at 3:55 PM on May 7, 2013

Another way to look at it is that the high fixed fees are a signal from Amazon telling you to go away if you are only charging $4 for an item.
posted by smackfu at 3:55 PM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You're buying shipping materials for $4 books? No no no. Anything legally mailable will do. Fold old paper around it --> tape --> shipping label.

You want to be careful that stuff is protected and that you're not using something with ink that'll rub off on the contents, but other than that, for cheap items, whatever's legally mailable will do fine for an "envelope" here. Shop at a supermarket that still has paper bags and you've got it sorted.

(On preview: I am in pullayup's shoes, on-line seller who doesn't do books save for the odd obviously easily profitable one, also think most book sellers are high-volume dealers. You're competing with people with pretty streamlined systems for listing, inventorying, shipping, etc.)
posted by kmennie at 4:03 PM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

You're buying shipping materials for $4 books? No no no. Anything legally mailable will do. Fold old paper around it --> tape --> shipping label.

Yeah, you need to be doing this. Even if you're selling enough that you can't use 100% reclaimed shipping materials, you can buy a roll of corrugated cardboard (called "b-flute" for the size of corrugation, which is the sweet spot for mailing materials like this) and make a sleeve around the book. There are instructions here. My technique was to pick up free cardboard fruit boxes from the grocery store and cut, staple and tape them into makeshift mailers.
posted by pullayup at 4:08 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use Half.com to sell textbooks (rather than Amazon) because the fees are lower. Sales are slower, but I don't mind holding onto books until they sell. Prices (and demand) skyrocket around August and December/January when students are purchasing books at the last minute, so price accordingly.

As for shipping materials, I once received a used book that I had purchased wrapped in a single Ziploc bag with an address label on it. I wasn't particularly thrilled as a customer, but that's definitely an option if you want to make sure your product will stay dry in transit. You might want to wrap it in some paper first so it doesn't look quite so terrible.
posted by topoisomerase at 4:17 PM on May 7, 2013

I buy lots of Amazon books used, and I think I've bought from an individual once (out of easily two dozen purchases.) I definitely concur that your competitors are taking advantage of economies of scale.

Also, it's very unusual that I can get anything for as low as $4.
posted by SMPA at 4:27 PM on May 7, 2013

I suspect that most successful high-volume sellers are brick-and-mortar used book shops who have listed a substantial part of their inventory using the Professional Selling Plan and run the online sales as an adjunct to their offline business.

Amazon owns abebooks, and many used bookstores have their inventories listed in abebooks, so said inventories are almost certainly cross-listed on Amazon.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:34 PM on May 7, 2013

I'll concur with everyone else. I sell a few books on Amazon - maybe one a month at most - and $4 is about the minimum price I will sell at. If the competition is below that it's just not worth it to sell it on Amazon. I use old paper bags to wrap books. I also just learned that if you purchase and print out the postage online you don't need to go to the post office - you can just drop the book in a mailbox.
posted by pombe at 4:39 PM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Powells lets you enter the ISBNs of your books, tells you what you'll get for them (in cash) and then gives you a free shipping label. No fees.
posted by seemoreglass at 4:54 PM on May 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah I bought some cheap plastic envelopes from Amazon, I mean the irony is ridiculous. I just don't know how to compete with the people that sell books for $0.01, maybe I'm skewing too low because I definitely have a bunch of books up in the $1-2 range.

I'm going to delist them and look at some other options discussed above. Thanks!
posted by phaedon at 5:31 PM on May 7, 2013

just want to also add to please package your books so they don't get beat up in the shipping: use bubble wrap or padded envelopes or lots of old paper grocery bags to protect them. i've bought a number of used books at amazon and just received my first one that was listed as "like new" that only came in a plastic envelope. of course it got beat up in shipping and in no way was "like new". not cool at all. all the other books i've bought have been much better packaged and didn't get beat up.

also, there is no need to wait in line at the P.O. these days. print your postage and use the mail/drop box or have your postal carrier pick them up.
posted by wildflower at 6:00 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't skimp too much on shipping. I don't mind reclaimed materials at all (reuse, recycle, etc.), but I HATE when I receive something that seems like it was carelessly packed. You can wrap a book in a zipper seal freezer bag kind of thing and your packing options get easier.

I have also gotten some pushback from the post office (or maybe FedEx?) about wrapping things in kraft paper. They say it gets caught in their machines. So be careful about that.

As for why Amazon can charge so much, you kind of answered you own question: they have a huge marketplace and your stuff sells quickly. For many people, expediency is worth some money.

The people selling the books for $0.01 are just trying to get rid of them. They probably have access to free-ish shipping or shipping materials, so they make their money on the shipping allowance. Same thing with EBay- shipping varies a lot, and not everyone who charges $4 over freight cost is putting that into bubble wrap and boxes.
posted by gjc at 6:09 PM on May 7, 2013

I made about 50 bucks last time I moved by looking up my books on BookScouter. It tells you which online bookseller will pay you the most for each title by searching ISBNs. I ended up sending out about 5 or 6 shipments of books (all with prepaid labels) for stuff I was just gonna drop off at the Goodwill.
posted by jabes at 6:30 PM on May 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

If you're looking for different books to read, you may want to check out book-swapping sites like Bookmooch, which works on a system of "you pay for shipping books to people + you get books shipped to you for free."

I've had most of my modest bookselling success on Half.com, which usually has the lowest fees for me. But I've sent A LOT of Bookmooch books. Some shipping things I've learned:

- Use the USPS ZIP-4 site (sorry, I'm on my phone) to get the exact postal formatting for your recipient's address, including the 4-digit unique ZIP ID for that address. Correct formatting can make an amazing difference in how quickly a package arrives.
- Put a packing slip / post-it with To/From addresses INSIDE the book, inside the package. Packages get torn & smudged sometimes.
- Stop buying packing supplies! Your ONLY expense should be packing tape, if that. Start a hoard of packing supplies mailed to you. It is perfectly acceptable Bookmooh behavior to slice open a padded envelope, scribble all names/addresses out with sharpie, re-address the envelope, and then cocoon a book inside with fresh packing tape. If you have free bubble wrap, use that. Otherwise wrap the book in *lots* of clean, dry, plastic grocery bags before wrapping it in brown paper/old padded envelopes/etc., for padding and to keep out moisture.
- If sending more than 2 books together, use a box. Get them for free by stalking your own trash or by asking nicely at pretty much any non-food store (not FedEx) that gets regular shipments. Like bookstores!
- You can often save money (especially sending multiple books together) by shipping via Media Mail—though not always; one light mass-market paperback is going to be cheaper via First Class mail.
- Write addresses in ballpoint pen; marker smears. :(
posted by nicebookrack at 7:13 PM on May 7, 2013

People who do well on Amazon don't make high margins but they sell in high volumes. They probably also have good backend systems for shipping (shipping automation software, probably) and buy their shipping supplies in bulk.nThey also are resigned to the fact that they are totally controlled by Amazon's prices and policies. It's unfortunately hard to make money on Amazon with onesie-twosies.
posted by radioamy at 8:28 PM on May 7, 2013

You shouldn't need to regularly go to the post office. My wife sells a bunch of stuff on eBay, and her shipping system entails buying packaging in bulk, paying for postage online, printing shipping labels, and scheduling USPS pickups at home. She never goes to the post office.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:18 AM on May 8, 2013

Just to let you know if you're planning to implement any of this advice, as a purchaser I'd complain heavily to Amazon directly if I bought something and it showed up with just some paper taped around it. It would take me a few minutes because I'd be so flabbergasted that anyone thought this was acceptable.
posted by vsync at 9:58 PM on May 8, 2013

Vsync if your product arrived in as-advertised condition, why would you complain? I ask because I recently got a bad feedback from a buyer who admitted my item arrived in as-advertised condition but they didn't like my homemade packing. I don't think that's ok, and it's pretty much solidified my decision not to sell on Amazon any more.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:47 AM on July 10, 2013

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