What's the best way to sell used books?
June 9, 2004 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Selling used books online. Is amazon (terms of sale) the way to go? Ebay? Am I better off taking books to local used booksellers? No collectibles or rare books, just your standard hodgepodge lit, theory, and what not.
posted by pinto to Work & Money (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've sold some books on Amazon, and my personal opinion is that it's the best way to go. If your stuff is not collectible, then used bookstores either want to pay you next to nothing, or actually nothing. I see most books on ebay going for very little. On Amazon, some books regularly go for a large portion of the retail price. Others, of course (large printings, bargain books), go very cheaply. You can also get lucky and get high prices for surprisingly sought-after books.
posted by goethean at 12:42 PM on June 9, 2004

Half-Priced books is not the way to go for computer books that's for sure. I've tried a few times and have only been offered pennies on the dollar ("will give you 2 bucks for these 6 books about still-not-outdated technolgies").

I listed those same six on amazon, only sold one of them, but got $20 for it.
posted by Mick at 12:43 PM on June 9, 2004

We've had ridiculously good response selling books and CDs on Amazon. I mean, unless you're talking first editions or something (and you're not!), people who want the book are going to hit Amazon first when they're searching, and a lot of times just knocking a dollar or two off the list price will get you the sale. I don't know what used booksellers are like in your area, but small local shops usually won't offer you more than a buck for a book, and places like Strand usually just laugh at you if you try to sell them anything.
posted by bcwinters at 12:47 PM on June 9, 2004

A tip, if you go the Amazon route: Price yourself a few cents lower than the current lowest used price, and your book will sell first. You can pretend you're playing The Price Is Right when you do this, if you get bored.
posted by bcwinters at 12:52 PM on June 9, 2004

EBay is certainly NOT the way to go. I've found that non-rare first editions from well-known authors routinely have 10 people trying to sell them for 99 cents.

You could always try to donate them to a library or school or something.
posted by falconred at 1:01 PM on June 9, 2004

Here's the order I would go.

List it on Amazon first. If the price is less than $3.00, consider carefully whether you really want to sell it, as commission costs will make it almost worthless too you to do.

If Amazon doesn't work there's two routes you could go. You could get a few books that didn't sell on amazon together and list it as a book lot on ebay or you can get together all the books that you didn't sell and take them to half price books. You are essentially running a business with Amazon, you will have to mail packages out, and if you know how to tell what sells and what doesn't you can be left with a lot of cash and very little store. If you don't know what to sell, you will have a house full of books and no money.

With ebay, the advantage is that you can ship them in a big media mail package and might possibly get more than you would from a used bookstore. The disadvantage is the lot might not sell.

With Half Price books, the advantage is they will buy everything and all in one fell swoop. The disadvantage is they will pay you next to nothing for it.

If you list on Amazon, it's ok to equal the lowest price, but DON'T go lower than it. The newest listing will listed at the top, so having the same price as the lowest price you'll be at the top of the list but won't be participating in causing (from a seller's perspective) prices to spiral downward to a point where it's only profitable for big deals.

Also, I'd suggest never offering to ship internationally on books. Most people will only pay for surface shipping (4-6 weeks or more), and then be pissed off when they don't receive their book promptly.
posted by drezdn at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2004

I can give you hints on what type of books make money, but get that impression that's not what you're looking for.
posted by drezdn at 2:01 PM on June 9, 2004

Half-Priced books is not the way to go for computer books that's for sure.

HP Books is not the way to go for any book. They pay extremely low. They claim they pay 1/10th of what they'll price it at, but it's usually lower. If you go there you will most likely be disappointed with what they're offering. Although if this is your only option, then maybe you'll be happy with the $1.75 they offer you.

If you want to sell to a local store, check out some of the used books stores in your area, perhaps ones near a college or university. If it's a decent store, they might pay you 1/4 to a 1/3 of what they'll price it at. And that's for the few books of yours they take.

if you go the Amazon route: Price yourself a few cents lower than the current lowest used price, and your book will sell first.

This is true sometimes. But some sellers (usually high volume sellers) use re-pricing software/services so that book will automatically get re-priced a few cents lower than yours.

And the lowest used price will not always sell first. Don't be afraid to price higher than the lowest. Although some of this depends on how quickly you want to sell. For example, would you rather sell a book for $15 within one day or sell the same item for $25 within a month? Bookselling is often about patience.

EBay is certainly NOT the way to go.

Sometimes ebay is the way to go. I've sold celebrity-related books on there that can be had cheaper elsewhere.

And don't diss your theory books. Those are often in demand, depending on the title of course.

Also, note that June is usually a slow month for bookselling. Keep this in mind when stores don't want to buy your books or when you don't make a ton of quick sales on Amazon.

Amazon does take a chunk of change (15% commission) but the Payments process makes transactions pretty smooth and you can get the cash in your bank account about 5 days after selling an item. Unless you have your shipping methods/processes developed, it's usually not worth it to list stuff under $10.00.

on preview:

I'd suggest never offering to ship internationally on books.

I would disagree. I recommend selling to non-US addresses if it's a decent book. I ship to lots of overseas addresses and don't have that many problems. Offering it may give you an advantage over other sellers.

posted by gluechunk at 2:06 PM on June 9, 2004

Ack, I messed up the quoting. Sorry about that.
posted by gluechunk at 2:07 PM on June 9, 2004

If you're selling academic texts, then Amazon should be your first stop if the prices aren't already rock-bottom. Gluechunk rightly points out that it's not worth selling a book on Amazon unless you can get at least $10 for it; before you price anything, be sure to check the dealers in academic remainders (e.g., Labyrinth Books, Scholars Bookshelf), lest you accidentally charge $$$ for something people can get for $. EBay is pretty useless for anything scholarly, unless it's exceptionally rare (a major scholarly edition might net $$$, but not your average monograph).

I've never had a problem doing international shipping through eBay, but you have to be very clear about how long it might take a book to arrive.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:39 PM on June 9, 2004

Response by poster: drezdn: Hints at which books sell, please! I'm really curious to know how the market works.
posted by pinto at 2:50 PM on June 9, 2004

before you price anything, be sure to check the dealers in academic remainders (e.g., Labyrinth Books, Scholars Bookshelf), lest you accidentally charge $$$ for something people can get for $.

If yours is the only copy on Amazon, your buyer won't necessarily be aware of the bargain price.
posted by goethean at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2004

Also consider listing on half.com (not to be confused with Half Price Books). If you can keep your listings up to date, you can list your books in both places, and when a book sells on one site, just remove it from the other. There's no charge for listing, so you might as well increase your visibility. I believe that half.com listings also show up in normal eBay searches, so that's a plus.
posted by zsazsa at 3:14 PM on June 9, 2004

don't get too comfortable at half.com. it be around as of next month (more info at their transition center). half items will turn into ebay items (ebay bought half a long time ago).
posted by gluechunk at 3:59 PM on June 9, 2004

argh, I meant "it won't be around as of next month.

I'm just going to stop typing for the rest of the day.
posted by gluechunk at 4:01 PM on June 9, 2004

I made a mint selling textbooks and academic books on half.com earlier this year, although it seems that the site is being transitioned into ebay and won't exist much longer.
I was pleased to find that many of the books I had in "like new" condition would sell for 70-80% of their cover price. I also discovered that a lot of students throw away or abandon their heavily-highlighted textbooks at the end of the term. I advertised them as "Judiciously highlighted, but still completely usable" and sold a lot of them for $30 or so each (not a bad deal for a $100 book, and still a lot of money for me for selling one book I didn't even buy in the first place.)

Paperbacks or damaged books aren't worth anything, which on the other hand is nice when I needed novels for classes, I could often find gently-used paperback versions online for under a buck. If you buy 'em used and treat 'em well, you can probably sell them again for the same price.
posted by bonheur at 4:09 PM on June 9, 2004

(sob) To think of all those bags full of pristine hardcovers and textbooks (mine always get treated very well) I gave away to the library last year. And they put each up for sale at a dollar or so. Most originally retailed for $40-100 each.

Ah well. At least they've found homes where they can be used again.

AskMeFi: It's Money In Your Pocket.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:36 PM on June 9, 2004

As to what sells well on Amazon -- in my experience: Textbooks, graphic novels, coffee table books, some hard cover fiction.
posted by o2b at 9:01 PM on June 9, 2004

I used to scour thrift stores for books to sell. In my experience, avoid any bestsellers, or anything from the Oprah bookclub. It is possible to resell textbooks, but if you choose wrong you'll be stuck with very heavy books.

Books that I tended to make money on were business books (there are certain business books that just seem to always sell, say "Getting to Yes" or "Eat that Frog") and non-fad self help books (ie. books that people still buy but have never been incredibly popular- for example "100 secrets of successful people"). Stay away from ost Mass Market Paperbacks (ie. anything you could buy at the supermarket)- the only time i made much money off them is when I found an out of print poetry book (Richard Brautigan- Rommel drives into egypt). Stick with hardcovers and trade paper backs.

Also, pay attention to the condition of the books, a book in great condition can still sell at a reasonable price if someone wants a nice copy even if they can buy lesser versions for $1.00.

One thing that was a big money maker for me was searching the clearance racks at major bookstores (it helped that I worked at one)- sometimes they will sell books that are in great condition, except for the fact that they're missing their cover. The store will charge $1-$5, and sometimes I made up to $40 on a sale like that.

I've never really tried scouring the bargain sections at bookstores, but it might work. The trick would be to go there, check prices, then come home and check what you could resell the books for. Also, sometimes bookstores will have hidden treasures (for example, my store had a stack of remaindered books that were autographed by John Irving, but were unmarked), those would be a good source of money too.

At thrift stores, avoid anything with a black marker dash. This usually means the book was remaindered, and that bookstores are probably selling it for $5 or less.

To learn what not to buy, go to half price books or any other used bookstore and look through their stacks of books marked down to $1, these are books that you'd probably get stuck with if you bought them at a thrift store.

This is a good book on the subject of selling books on Amazon.
posted by drezdn at 2:50 PM on June 12, 2004 [2 favorites]

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