Books might not seem glamorous compared to hot toys, wholesale deals, or trendy electronics, but you can make a lot of money selling used books on Amazon.
For established Amazon sellers, adding books to your business model can be a profitable way to stock your inventory with high ROI items.
And for newbie sellers, you can buy a whole lot of books for not a lot of bucks.
Let’s face it, most established booksellers on Amazon can barely stand the thought of spending more than $3 per book!
And even though you can score books for low prices, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be selling books on Amazon for pennies!
Even used copies of books can really hold their value (or even go up in price over the years!).
If you or one of your kids have ever forked over $300+ for a single college textbook, you may have wondered about the lucrative textbook industry. And if you've already dabbled in FBA, you may be curious about how to sell books on Amazon.
A lot of potential booksellers are more than a little bit skeptical. They message me questions like:
❓ Are there really used books selling on Amazon for more than $10?
❓ Don't books lose their value after a few years?
❓ Why would someone pay for a book with highlighting and underlining?
❓ Aren't textbooks the only books that make any money?
There is no reason to be skeptical about selling used books! Because there is truly no shortage of used books that you can buy for just a few dollars and then resell for $20, $50, or, yes, even $300+ online.
And what better place to sell used books than Amazon – a company that got its start as an online bookstore?
So, let’s go ahead and find out what it takes to source, prep, pack, and price your used books on Amazon.
General Guidelines for Selling Used Books on Amazon
Before taking a closer look at the specifics of how to sell used books on Amazon, I want to go over what we're really looking for (and why) when we're talking about Used Books.
What Types of Books are Profitable on Amazon?
Broadly speaking, when you're looking for books to sell on Amazon, you're focusing on non-fiction books.
I'm sure there are some hidden treasures buried among the stacks of fiction books, but scanning all of them wouldn't be a very good use of your time.
Even though some of those fiction books are bestsellers, selling hundreds of copies on Amazon each day, the prices are simply too low for third-party sellers to profit on.
When I'm sourcing books, I'm generally looking for books that I can sell used for more than $25. You can set a lower limit, it's up to you. But remember that you can actually lose money by selling low priced books (let's say books under $12).
Just because you're ruling out low priced books doesn't mean there's not much left to source!
Even if you limit yourself to non-fiction, that's still a huge variety of books. We're talking not just textbooks, but also books on history, parenting, psychology, self-help, sports, religion….. The list goes on and on, really!
And when it comes to non-fiction titles, you want to really dig down into the specific, niche topics. Booksellers often refer to these as “long tail books”.
Take this example. There are probably thousands of books on Amazon about home improvement. There may even be quite a few books about the hand scraping technique.
But check out this book specifically about the reconditioning of tools used for advanced hand scraping techniques.
To be honest, I have no idea what this book is really about. I had to read reviews to figure it out. And that's a GREAT sign that this is a niche, long tail book.
And as you can see in the screenshot, used copies of this book are currently listed for $168.
So, when you see that there are books like this out there, you'll understand why you don't need to waste your time competing with Amazon for $7.99 bestselling fiction books.
Merchant Fulfilled Books vs Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)
I believe that books, like most other products sourced via retail arbitrage or online arbitrage, are best suited for the Amazon FBA program.
When you start browsing books on Amazon, you're going to notice a lot of Merchant Fulfilled (MF) offers. You may even see some selling books for just $2 or $3 (plus $3.99 shipping).
This is not who you want to compete against!
These sellers make their money by selling huge quantities of books. They're getting thousands of used books in bulk from recycling companies, donation bins, or even dumpsters. They use their volume to negotiate great shipping rates with USPS and they actually make their money on the $3.99 shipping.
I admire their dedication, but this is a LOT of work. And it requires a full warehouse to store thousands of books at a time.
Using the FBA business model for used books is a lot easier. You simply wait until you've bought enough books and ship them all off to Amazon at once.
There are a few other reasons why FBA specifically benefits booksellers:
#1. Books are heavy! Shipping 3-6lb textbooks can really cost you a lot at the post office. Let Amazon deal with getting heavy textbooks to customers across the country in 2 days!
#2. MF Booksellers are SLOW! Because Amazon allows MF booksellers to ship with USPS Media Mail, MF book deliveries often take 1-2 weeks to arrive. Many buyers simply don't want to risk waiting 14 days for a book.
#3. Prime Student. Amazon has a special Prime membership just for students. College students get 6 months of Prime Student for free and then pay a reduced rate of only $59/year. This means that there are tons of college students ready to buy textbooks with Prime benefits. And when they've waited until the night before class starts, they're ready to pay extra to get that free 2-day shipping!
New vs Used
By now, you might be thinking, “If Used books are so great, couldn't I sell New books for even more money?”
I actually prefer to sell Used books. I find that they sell just as quickly as New copies.
Amazon has pretty strict guidelines for New condition books (more on that later!), so it's just more likely that you'll have a happy customer by selling a Used book.
Book Sales Ranks: Which Books Will Actually Sell?
Understanding Sales Rank for books is unlike any other category. Can you imagine buying a grocery item ranked 600,000?! That's actually not a bad rank for a book!
That's because rank is relative to the number of items in each category. And Amazon has millions of book listings. I think the highest ranked book I ever scanned was 15,000,000 (and that means that there are more unranked books worse than that!!)!
Because of this, it's really important to understand Keepa charts for books. A Keepa chart or at least the 90-day average rank will tell you a lot more about a book than its current rank.
Here's a book where if I had scanned it on September 7, I would have been pretty excited about its 126,367 sales rank.
But if I only saw that number (and not the Keepa chart), I would have missed that this book was ranked over 1,500,000 just one day earlier.
Again, because there are so many books, book ranks can be really volatile. The book in the screenshot likely sold 1 copy and jumped from a 1.5 million rank all the way down to 126,000. You can actually see that after just 3 more days without sales, it's on its way back to 1,000,000+ again.
Just remember that this is something to keep in mind if you're scanning books in stores. It might be worth the click through to Keepa on your scanning app before you get too excited about a seemingly low ranked book.
Where to Buy Used Books
Once you start looking, you'll notice used books everywhere. You can easily buy used books for low prices both in person and online.
Before you head out on your first scanning trip, be sure that you have your favorite scanning app ready. If you want to make quick work of an entire bookstore, you'll probably also want to have a bluetooth scanner paired with your phone and scanning app.
Of course, if your book doesn't have a barcode, you'll have to scan the front of the book (this is a little risky) or manually type in the ISBN (this number is on the copyright page of most books).
Sourcing Books Locally
There are so many places where you can find cheap books locally. I want to go over a few reliable options and explain the differences.
Stores like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and Savers usually have multiple shelves full of donated used books. These books usually sell for anywhere between $0.50 and $5.00.
The biggest pro is that books are cheap, but one downside is that the books are not usually organized in any way. You may see a $100 textbook right next to an old copy of a romance novel. This is why you need to have either a good, efficient scanning set up or an eye for good niche topics.
Used bookstores also receive donations but are usually more organized. Because these stores don't also have old clothes and housewares to sort through, the books are often arranged by category.
Books at used bookstores aren't usually quite as cheap as the ones at thrifts. Expect to pay between $1 and $20 for used books.
Last August I decided to take a quick scan through a used bookstore in August to take advantage of the start of the Fall semester. I quickly identified this textbook somewhat out of place in the “Family” self-help section.
I paid $8.50 for it and it sold for $149.99 just a few days after hitting an FBA warehouse.
Remember, many booksellers are reluctant to pay more than $1 or $2 for a book because they focus on selling a high volume of cheap books. But this is a good example of when spending a little more money can lead to big profits!
Retail and Discount Stores
You can usually find cheap books at stores like Ollie's and Big Lots. These books often appear to be new, but are actually overstock or remainder copies.
Not sure how to identify a remainder copy? Look for a dot or mark in sharpie on the top, bottom, or side of the book.
These stores aren't as consistent as thrifts and bookstores, but if you're already there doing retail arbitrage, it's worth a scan! That's what happened to me when I came upon this book.
The dust cover was in rough shape, but my scanning app showed that it was selling for over $190! Sure enough, this book (that cost me $9) sold on Amazon for a whopping $249.99 about a month after I sent it in!
Library sales can be a goldmine for booksellers. In fact, some full-time sellers will drive hundreds of miles to hit a big library sale, even camping out overnight to secure a good place in line!
You don't have to be that dedicated to load up on deals at library sales! Here are some library sale tips:
- Search Google for “friends of the library” or “library sale” plus the name of your county or city. Then do the same search for nearby counties and cities.
- Some library sales advertise on the website booksalefinder.com.
- For the best deals, try to show up to the “Members Only” or “Preview” night. This is generally the night before the doors open to the public. You may have to pay a flat fee or join the library “Friends” group, but then you can scan unscanned territory!
- Most library sales have a discount day or bag day on the last day of the sale. They want to get rid of their books, not haul them back home! Expect deals like $5 grocery sacks or $10 boxes of books.
Library sales can be pretty competitive but I think they're fun to go to at least once!
Yard Sales, Garage Sales, and Rummage Sales
Like thrift stores, you can find dirt cheap books at local yard sales. Of course, some garage sales will just have children's books while others might be the collection of a retired professor!
If you're already scanning at yard sales, you may as well check the books!
If digging through dusty thrift stores and crowded library sales sounds like too much hassle, then there's always online arbitrage methods for books!
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace
You can approach these local sites two ways:
- Check the listings frequently to see if any students are selling textbooks. Many will often list the ISBN so that you can check the item on Amazon before you buy. Just know that some students expect to sell their books for very high prices.
- Post your own listing saying that you buy back used books and see what offers come your way!
The absolute best spot to find used books to sell on Amazon….is Amazon! This works especially well with textbooks where you can buy a cheap MF offer and then resell it for a higher price to Prime students.
This strategy requires deeper pockets than local book sourcing. While you can occasionally snag a $6 MF book and sell it for $20+ FBA, that's just not that common.
But if you're willing to spend $20-$50 on a merchant fulfilled textbook, you can often sell it for 2-3x as much with FBA. Expect 40%-200% ROI using this technique.
You can browse for these deals on Amazon (it helps to set Keepa alerts) or you can use a book flipping software tool to speed up your sourcing.
Although it's not as common, some sellers source books just to collect their Trade-In value from Amazon.
Amazon offers a Trade-In program where you can send in (certain) used items and Amazon will send you a digital Amazon Gift Card in exchange. They even offer free shipping to cover the cost of shipping the book to Amazon.
Here's a textbook with a generous trade-in offer.
I could probably make more money selling it FBA, but some sellers like that they don't have to deal with prepping/shipping and that they get the gift card really quickly.
Personally, I think that FBA still makes more sense in the end, but if you see the “Sell yours for a Gift Card” offer on a book listing, it's something you can consider!
Amazon's Condition Guidelines
Once you've bought some used books, you'll need to know how to list them properly. Amazon has very specific guidelines on how to grade New and Used books.
If you follow these guidelines (or even “undergrade” to be conservative), you'll be following the rules and you'll have happy customers!
When you list Used books, you have the option to add a specific condition note with more information. I find that adding just a few details can help you with both sales and feedback.
For example, if I were selling an Acceptable textbook, I would want to let the buyer know why. I might say, “Book has highlighting in the first 4 chapters. Cover shows signs of wear and has several Used stickers.”
Also, think about the target buyer when you're grading and describing your books. Most college students don't really care about highlighting (as long as you let them know it's there!) in a textbook. But someone buying a collectible photography book would probably be unhappy and surprised to find underlining or notes on the pages.
How to Prep Used Books
This step goes along with following the condition guidelines. You will have to flip through each used book you have to check for notes, highlighting, and tears.
So while you're listing your books, you can also prep them.
Most books don't need that much work. For textbooks, I leave on all of the typical used bookstore stickers (unless they show the price I paid). Just make sure to cover up any barcodes or UPCs with your own FNSKU sticker (or blank stickers).
If I am selling a nice hardcover book, I would remove any stickers and wipe down the cover to make it look cleaner.
A lot of people think that you have to polybag books, but that is not a requirement. I think it's overkill for most books and they pack just fine without a bag. I only polybag a few kinds of books:
- Spiral-bound books that I think might snag in a warehouse
- Photography or other collectible coffee table style books
- Books that I'm listing for over $150 (although, honestly, still not textbooks! Just older out of print books usually.)
How to Pack Books for Amazon FBA
Packing up a box of used books is a lot like a game of Tetris! You can neatly fill a box with snugly packed books.
The less room you leave for books to move around, the safer they'll be in transit. I have found that 40 pounds is a sweet spot for books. This amount fits pretty nicely in a standard Small Box(12x12x16″).
Of course, if you're doing a mix of used books and regular RA, you can use books to add weight to light but Large boxes.
If I have a shipment with a lot of bulky, lightweight items (like boxes of cereal or plush toys), it's nice to add a few heavy books to the bottom of the box.
Pricing Your Used Books
Sourcing good books and shipping them off to Amazon is only part of the sales formula. To actually get sales, you've got to price your books right.
With used books, it's not quite as straightforward as matching the Buy Box price. Let's take a look at some book pricing variables.
The Used Buy Box
When you first load a product detail page for a book on Amazon, it might look a little unusual to you. That's because Amazon has multiple buy boxes for books.
I'm going to list the different types of Buy Boxes that you might see on a book listing:
- No Buy Box (Suppressed)
- Just a New Buy Box
- Just a Used Buy Box
- New Buy Box + Rental Buy Box
- New Buy Box + Used Buy Box
- Rental Buy Box + Used Buy Box
- Rental Buy Box + Used Buy Box + New Buy Box
Here's what that last one (three separate Buy Boxes) looks like when someone has clicked on the “Buy Used” radio button:
Of course, there's also the button at the bottom where you can view all buying options.
So, your pricing options as a Used bookseller are:
- Match the Used Buy Box price
- Match the lowest FBA price (even if that offer is not in the Buy Box)
I do not recommend matching (or concerning yourself with) the Rental price! You should really only be seeing a rental buy box on textbook listings. Students have to return their rentals after one semester, so it's naturally cheaper than buying (and owning) a Used copy.
Competing with Amazon
The New Buy Box often belongs to Amazon. Although as of 2017, they do share the Buy Box with third-party sellers.
If you only sell Used books, you don't have to worry about competing directly with Amazon for the New Buy Box. But that doesn't mean that you can ignore Amazon's price when they're on a listing!
If Amazon is selling a book in New condition, then their price is essentially the “ceiling” price. So, if Amazon is selling a New textbook for $79.99, then your Used offer should be less than that.
No one is going to pay more for your Used book than Amazon's New copy as long as Amazon is in stock as a seller.
Of course, there are many books that Amazon (as a seller) has never sold or is no longer selling. On those, you're really just competing with other third-party offers.
Pricing Based on Condition
Some booksellers spend a lot of time worrying about the subcondition of their used books when pricing. Subcondition refers to the condition after the word Used (Acceptable, Good, Very Good, Like New).
I find that buyers (especially textbook buyers) aren't really willing to pay a lot more for a Very Good book than a Good book. When pricing your offer, I would just focus on matching the lowest FBA offer (even if that offer is a different condition than your book).
If in doubt, just use your best judgment. For example, if the lowest FBA offer is an Acceptable book and the seller has mentioned that the book has water damage, I might price my “Good” book higher.
In general, I find that subcondition is important for following Amazon's TOS and having happy customers, but it isn't something I spend a lot of time on when I'm pricing.
Book Fees and Pricing Minimums
As I touched on earlier, I recommend focusing on books that you can expect to sell for $25+ on Amazon. This leaves room for profit even if prices drop over time.
Books (especially thrift store finds) are rarely replenishable. That means it takes a fair amount of work to find, prep, and sell just one book. So I think you should make enough profit to justify the time you spent!
I always teach this to my RA students, but it's true for books too: make sure you know the fees for books before you buy. Any scanning app will show you the total fees so that you can make sure your book is profitable.
A lot of sellers don't know that books are assessed an additional flat fee on top of the regular fees.
Books (and other media items like DVDs) are charged a “Variable Closing Fee” of $1.80. So if you're selling a cheap $9 book, that $1.80 is going to come out of the selling price (that's 20% of the selling price!). And that's in addition to the FBA fees and Selling on Amazon Fees.
In this screenshot from the Amazon Revenue Calculator, I've highlighted the Variable Closing Fee.
If you look below that, you'll see that the Seller Proceeds on this $20 textbook are only $8.83. That's the payment you would get from Amazon, but it does not include the cost of your book.
If I had paid $5 for this at a used bookstore and sold it for $20, my profit would only be $3.83. So you can see how selling books for less than $20 puts you at risk of losing money.
And at 2.75 pounds, this isn't even that heavy for a textbook. On a 5-pound book, the FBA fees (which you can't see in this screenshot) would be even higher.
Takeaway: don't assume that you can buy a book for a few bucks and that it will be profitable at $10-$15. Always check your app and know your profit!
Less Scanning, More Selling
To become an efficient, profitable bookseller, you really have to learn to identify profitable books quickly.
If you spend all day scanning bestselling fiction or old business books that are no longer relevant, your hourly sourcing rate is going to be pretty bad.
And hey, didn't you start selling on Amazon so that you could make more money in less time?
Let's face it, the vast majority of thrift store books are not worth selling on Amazon. If you want to quickly find the winners, you need a system that will help you navigate shelf after shelf of books.
In my guide Niche Book Profits, I show you exactly that!
This guide will help you improve your efficiency and profit by teaching you:
- The exact niches that have the highest priced books
- TONS of examples of strangely profitable niche books (this will get the wheels spinning)
- How much you should expect to pay for certain types of books
- The tools that will improve your sourcing and prepping sessions
And because the guide is only $47, you could easily make your money back with just one niche book buy!
Grab your copy of Niche Book Profits today and start sourcing profitable books tomorrow!
I hope you're excited about the opportunity of adding niche books to your business model! If you're already an Amazon FBA seller, it's so easy to cheaply add books to your inventory.
So are you in? Let me know your experience (or questions about) selling used books on Amazon in the comments below!