What do we do with used books in a town that doesn't want 'em?
September 2, 2013 2:45 PM   Subscribe

After the Great Book Cull, we have 400+ books to get rid of. Unfortunately, we're anglophones in a town with about 5% English speakers, most of them senior and conservative, and our tastes in books are rather... eclectic. What to do?

So we've gotten rid of about 50% of the volume of books that we own. Unfortunately, after a lifetime of being book people, we've accumulated a massive quantity of books to unload; double unfortunately, we live in Sherbrooke, Quebec, a town where there aren't very many English-speakers. Those that do live here tend to be older and not so much into our shared literary tendencies -- horror, SF, graphic novels and offbeat nonfiction.

The one used bookstore closed to us is stuffed to the gills and not super interested in trading. Our books are for the most part not very valuable... we're readers, not collectors, so even the more rare things in our collection are pretty shelfworn.

Our options *seem* to be:

1. Go through everything and try to find things of value and put them up on eBay. Obstacles: lots and lots of research and guesswork, and eBay is kind of a pain to deal with when what you really want is to just... unload.

2. Make a list of everything and e-mail bookstores within a four-hour drive (Montreal, Burlington and Montpelier, VT, possibly Ottawa) to see if they want to give us a cherry-pick of books they want to see. For those that remain, see (3). Obstacles: building the list, making the trip.

3. Dump 'em on a local charity. There are five or six "Big Used Book Sales" a year here, which pull people from a 200-kilometre radius. I don't know if our stuff would be much use to these sales, though. Obstacles: not a lot

4. Whatever you propose.

I'm a bit chafed by the fact that a lot of these books feel valuable, and would probably sell well for a pretty penny in a city like Toronto, but here, nobody is really into early editions of Ken Wilber theory books or offbeat comics. I think that's just my problem, though: I need to accept that the books have to go, and that the effort to try to organize and sell them for maximum profit is far more work than I'm willing to engage in right now.
posted by Shepherd to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do anything that helps you avoid shipping them one by one to flakes from eBay.

A list would be good. I've never done this, but you should be able to get an ISBN reader app onto your phone and use that to speed up the cataloguing process. Then you won't waste time hauling books to Vermont or Montreal that nobody will buy.
posted by zadcat at 2:49 PM on September 2, 2013

Paperbackswap! That was how I got rid of 15 boxes of books an old roommate abandoned me with when she moved to Australia. The rarer stuff will also move pretty fast because there's bound to be someone out in the world who's looking for it and has added it to their wish list and is waiting for someone to post it.

You wouldn't get any money, and in fact would have to pay a bit (for books you are listing, you have to mail it to any takers, but you can use media rate so it's only a couple bucks); but, you WOULD get credits, one per book you mail out, that you can later on use to request other books from OTHER people. And those credits don't expire - you know that 15 boxes of books I got rid of? I used the credits to get myself a complete set of this popular-science library my family had when I was a kid, and also tracked down a couple of kids' books I'd loved as a child and hadn't seen in years. I also use a lot of credits to track down books I'd always wanted to read, I read them, and then I just put them back up on the market again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:50 PM on September 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

I have a relative that has started her own Amazon store and is doing well at getting rid of a large number of music texts that way. (Albeit slowly.) While your books may be less rare than hers, it might be worth a try.
posted by jferg at 2:51 PM on September 2, 2013

Build an igloo.
posted by .kobayashi. at 2:54 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is no media rate or book rate postage in Canada, so book swaps are less useful here than in the U.S.

I used to do Bookmooch but stopped because it was costing me a packet in postage. And often U.S. swappers will only send to other U.S. addresses, so you get minimal benefit back.
posted by zadcat at 2:55 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is an iPhone app called Library which will make making a list so, so easy. I would make a list and consider selling it altogether (eBay, used bookstores) as a lot. Recently got rid of several hundred DVDs this way and it was very satisfying.
posted by bimbam at 3:00 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Build a Little Free Library in front of your residence, and keep it stocked?
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:01 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Along with no cheap shipping, Amazon.ca is a very different racket from Amazon.com. EBay etc will not be as viable an option here because everything would have to be discounted to be competitive with USA sellers...

Take lots of photographs and upload these somewhere, and post on Montreal's CL offering them at an enticing flat rate for the whole lot. Somebody will make the drive if it's cheap enough, I bet.

Do let go of the "but this is probably worth a lot" fantasy. With books a terrific amount of the value is in the labour -- the book in your hand is not worth the book that has been photographed and described and listed on a site I can quickly log in to and find it on and be sure it will be delivered to me after I make a few clicks, etc. Also, the bottom has kinda fallen out of the comix market, compared to the late 90s.
posted by kmennie at 3:03 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have contradictory goals: a. get rid of the books with minimum effort and expense and b. get back something of what they are worth.

My suggestions is to go through the books and sort them by type. Put them together into lots, with more valuable or interesting or possibly collectible books into smaller lots, more generic books into larger lots. You are going to end up with maybe 20-50 lots. At this point, you might decide that it isn't worth the effort and the less valuable lots all go straight to charity. THe other lots get listed on ebay as you have time to put them up. For larger lots, you don't need to list every title, just make sure the description you is accurate. If they don't sell , they get added to the charity stacks. By selling in lots, you should make enough money to cover to your time and postage plus a small profit (or potentially medium profit.) Either it will turn out to be easier than you expected to sell it on ebay (yay) or you will decide that it isn't worth it and give most of the them away without feeling guilty about it (yay)
posted by metahawk at 3:04 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's a 4 hour drive, but Green Hand Books in Portland Maine is (from what I hear) known for their scifi / fantasy / odd selection and their website states "We specialize in finding good new homes for books, involuntarily orphaned and otherwise!" Might be worth a call.
posted by beyond_pink at 3:08 PM on September 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a bit chafed by the fact that a lot of these books feel valuable, and would probably sell well for a pretty penny in a city like Toronto...

Disabuse yourself of that notion right away. I recently unloaded 1000 (no joke) books around Brisbane, over the course of about 3-4 months. Pretty much all of them were objectively "good" and "desirable" volumes, all in perfect nick, and even with cherry-picking, eBay, Gumtree, Reddit, secondhand bookstores, etc., I think it worked out to about $300 (and obviously the vast majority of them, as well as 3 longboxes of comics, simply went directly to RSPCA/Animal Welfare League QLD op shops). It was way too much mucking around for the return.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:18 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

What I'm saying is don't waste your time on this. If you're super-enthused, book a hotel for a night in Montreal and take them there and shop them around to maybe the top 3 secondhand bookstores. Dump them at the first one that shows any interest.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:19 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in NYC and have the same population of books. I think you would be unpleasantly surprised if you did live in Toronto and could easily shop them around. Give them to the charity sale, get a nice donation receipt (I don't know if this is helpful for taxes in Canada), and don't look back.
posted by skbw at 3:21 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kijiji ? Yes, it is primarily French ads but you might get local interest. For rare(r) books, I'd post it on Montreal's kijiji.
posted by aroberge at 3:26 PM on September 2, 2013

I have sold a lot of books on Amazon in the past six years as a part of my own library purge. It is rarely worth the effort unless you are dealing with older classic textbooks which do not have newer editions, or your books are essentially brand new, and even then it can take a while to move them. eBay is even more annoying, and both ways you'll be looking at quite a bit of time and money in shipping and packaging. Unless we're talking about special limited edition books complete with author signature, I would unload your books in bulk and get it over with.

Another possibility -- are you near any universities who might appreciate the donation more than public libraries? Even if the school libraries don't want your books, there may be some student equivalent of freecycle/reuse with members willing to drive over and pick up your books. You probably wouldn't get much money back that way, but at least you would know they are going to someone who wants to read them.
posted by angst at 3:30 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you surrender the idea of getting cash for them and just want to find a new home for the books, consider Better World Books. They do good work and they would pay for shipping.
posted by teleri025 at 3:33 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

AbeBooks will buy books from Canadians online (and give you a shipping label to send the books they want to them), so it may be worth entering ISBNs if you get a list together. Powells.com will buy books from you as well, but you would have to pay for the shipping (or drive the boxes down across the border to VT to drop them off in the US mail). Might be worth checking in case you have anything they consider valuable.

For assembling the ISBN list, last time around I used the bar code scanner in the Goodreads iphone app (useful because then you also have a list of the books in case in the future you're trying to remember the name of that one you read but then sold...).
posted by unsub at 3:35 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you don't care about making money, you could probably give them to local bed and breakfast type places. I stayed in lots of B&Bs in rural Quebec and quite a few had English language books on hand for guests.
posted by something something at 3:39 PM on September 2, 2013

College towns always have used bookstores that will buy in batches, in my experience. Find your closest college town, acquire transportation for your and all your books, and call ahead. Make a day trip of it.

Your books are not actually worth very much. Imagine the hours you'd spend going through things bit by bit to sell them one at a time, and imagine that instead you could be getting paid doing your normal jobs during those hours. Or cooking a delicious meal, or going on a nice trip, or cuddling, whatever - ALL of that is worth more than the small amount of cash you'd get in return for the books. What you want really is the value of the real estate you'll reveal upon lightening your home.

Find the place that will buy books in boxes. They will still go through them, sorting quickly into piles of purchase from you, donate to other charities, recycle. Often, depending on the store/employee, they'll catch things that might be worth more and ask if you really want to sell them. Unless it's a book you can get a hundred dollars for, you want to sell it. Then, spend the rest of your day being a tourist in the college town. Eat ice cream, do a museum, go home, admire your shelves.
posted by Mizu at 3:39 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Give them to the charity sale, get a nice donation receipt (I don't know if this is helpful for taxes in Canada), and don't look back.

That's what I'm doing with my unneeded books. Salvation Army or Goodwill. After the small tax deduction, any "loss" I might incur I will just write off to good karma. The second hand stores will sell them for 75 cents and hopefully someone will read the books one more time before they turn to dust.
posted by gjc at 3:44 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sherbrooke is a college town. But the demand there is mostly for books in French. This is also why the little free library idea, while fine in some places, is less effective in this situation.

Also, Montreal's used bookstores are fairly picky. It's not a big market – they have to be, to stay afloat. They won't thank you for dumping unsaleable boxes of books on them.
posted by zadcat at 3:46 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are any of them textbooks? The Word (on Milton near McGill University in Montreal) just posted the list of used textbooks it's buying this year (sorry for the Facebook link).
posted by zadcat at 4:12 PM on September 2, 2013

You're in Sherbrooke and you can't find someone to take your English-language books? I find that hard to believe, but perhaps it's more trouble than it's worth.

Your best and easiest bet is to drive to Montreal (only 1.5 hrs away, not 4) and drop them off at The Word on Milton St. very close to McGill's eastmost gate on University. They are happy to take estates, especially ones with good finds.

Plus, you'll be in Montreal! Go out for dinner! Drink some beer! See a show!
posted by Catchfire at 4:21 PM on September 2, 2013

Dump them at some charity.

Or, throw them away or throw them into paper recycling. I know a lot of people think it is a sin to throw away a book, but unless it's some rare edition where there are only three known on the planet, I don't see the big deal. I guarantee the shops where you bought the great majority of these books routinely ripped off book covers and mailed them back to publishers.
posted by Tanizaki at 4:50 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can sell them in lots on ebay. My husband does this all the time with his many hundreds of philosophy books. He lumps like books together into lots of maybe 8-10 so it's likelier another person would want at least some of the one similar to the one they actually searched for. He's very successful at it. Certain lots fetch around $80, and these are not valuable editions we're talking about.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:53 PM on September 2, 2013

Should you decide to go the VT route, Burlington will probably be a better choice than Montpelier - it's a big college town with lots of offbeat used book stores, and it sounds like what you have will sell really well to a VT-style college town. At about 2.5 hours, it sounds like a doable drive, and you'll have a lovely trip to a great spot.
posted by AthenaPolias at 4:53 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're in Sherbrooke and you can't find someone to take your English-language books? I find that hard to believe, but perhaps it's more trouble than it's worth.

We can't--Shepherd's wife here--because what we have is pretty offbeat and strange in terms of titles and this is the Townships, not an actual metropolitan area. There is ONE English language bookstore that deals in new and used English books, The Black Cat in Lennoxville, and we've missed the season for the many many used book sales that occur here during the summer. (In the end, we may just contact people we know involved in those things and ask them to definitely keep us in mind for next summer when we will be happy to drop them off by the cartload.) Bishop's may be able to take some off our hands, but we've just done as one poster suggested and scanned 114 alone in the past hour using an ISBN scanner. And we're not even close to done. So yeah, finding someone here willing to take what may end up being 300+ English language books in a primarily Francophone area will be harder than it looks.
posted by Kitteh at 5:09 PM on September 2, 2013

The public library would probably be happy to have them. Or a english language school library.
posted by srboisvert at 6:00 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's your main goal: just to get rid of the books, or to make a profit?

If you just want to get rid of them, and you're going to be in Montreal any time in the next little while (eg. for a meetup...) try posting them on Freecycle. You can demand that people take them in large lots. Or you could surely find an anglo charity that would take them in Montreal.

If you want to sell them, you will definitely need a complete list, and getting rid of them all to individuals is likely to be a lot of work. Taking a trip to a used book shop would be more efficient even considering travel time, but they do not usually pay well.

If selling smaller lots of books to individuals in Montreal is something you might do, I would probably be interested in some of your SF and offbeat nonfiction.
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:13 PM on September 2, 2013

You won't get any money for them. Most of us are going digital. So, donate them. Our library was happy with our donation. Easy to do, plus we can visit them whenever we want.

Just because you schlepped them around for years, it doesn't mean that they have value. They just don't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 PM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you donate them to a prison? I know prisons are kind of picky about what kind of books get in so they don't upset the natives, but it might be worth a try, especially if prisoners are interested in learning another language (since you know English isn't the majority language where you live).
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:17 PM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you are like many readers and book buyers, you value the books for the love of reading them, the art and the knowledge they contain. Some people do still buy books.
Have a book sale at home, advertise it on Craigslist and with signs around the neighborhood. Sell them cheap, and get them to new homes.
Catalog them, send the list to several used booksellers, see who'll take them; maybe for a bit more than the cost of shipping or gas to drive them to a bookstore.
Catalog them and list them on big bad Amazon; you'll make a little bit.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coming in to give the nth reminder that they are probably not worth what you think they are worth. Over the past 5 years I have 'gotten rid of' about 1500 books through various methods - the really good stuff went to a used bookstore in Australia, then the rest have been either sold on Amazon in the UK (a prospect that is becoming less and less worth it as Amazon changes its policies) or given to charity. Most of it goes to charity because as others have said the ROI on listing and then posting stuff is usually just not worth it if you don't live in the US.

As a fellow book lover who has carried books from one hemisphere to another (and then back again sometimes) I get how you understand these books are worth something, but I assure you that almost everyone else does not.
posted by Megami at 11:23 PM on September 2, 2013

You know the standard size rectangular plastic storage tubs you get at Costco and office supply stores? During my own Great Book Cull I did an experiment. I took the choicest hardcovers and paperbacks and brought them to the used book store near my home. They only wanted half the books and their offer was a take it or leave it $10.

My takeaway from this experiment is that used books are, on average, worth nothing, and that, much as I love them, recycling them is sometimes the most economical option.
posted by zippy at 11:44 PM on September 2, 2013

Make a list and send it across to your local Anglo high school (and possibly the Franco schools as well, if they have decent English teachers). I would have loved some extra reading material as an Anglo kid in Joliette who couldn't make it to Montreal for trips to the bookstore.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:23 AM on September 3, 2013

Drive them to Montreal and locate this organization that will send them to prisoners. They will be happy with anything because usually they have nothing. Try to include dictionaries, too.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:43 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The public library would probably be happy to have them. Or a english language school library.

People always think that, but it's less true than you imagine. Often the public library (at least in the U.S.; I am less familiar with the Canada system) sells used books in their own book sales because there is no use/room for worn used books in their collections, and those that don't sell are sent to the prison programs or recycled.
posted by carolinecrane at 7:32 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Either way, the books are being used. Who cares if they go to prisoners or if they sit on someone else's shelves?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2013

Can you donate them to a prison or a charity that goes into prisons to provide education? Nobody has more time and want to read than prisoners (in the US at least).
posted by WeekendJen at 8:53 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coming in late, maybe you've found a solution, but if it's just moving the books out, S.W. Welch is having one of his dollar book sales this weekend on St-Viateur in Montreal. That means he probably wouldn't pay more than 25 to 50 cents each for your books and I don't know if that matters, or if you'd bother to lug them here to town. The store number is 514-848-9358, in case that's helpful.
posted by zadcat at 7:40 PM on September 5, 2013

Welch has delayed his sale for a week (he holds it outside so if rain's in the forecast he reschedules). So it will be held on the weekend of the 14th and 15th instead. Just in case this is useful to you.
posted by zadcat at 9:38 AM on September 6, 2013

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