Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sell textbooks on Amazon: How it works

I've gotten a few questions from classmates who want to know how to sell textbooks on For years, I've been using a pretty helpful feature which lets customers sell used books and CDs (and sometimes new items, such as unwanted gifts) on Amazon. I found this feature especially useful for unloading expensive MBA texts in finance, accounting, and economics. Here's how to do it.

First, find the profile page for the book you want to sell (such as this one, for a Biology textbook) and you will see a link that says "Sell yours here" (see inset photo). Click it. At that point you'll be walked through the process of listing the book and its condition and price (see the information below about the best price to use), and then giving your credit card number, billing address, phone number and checking account information.

There's another way to get started, which is useful if you have more than one book to list:
  1. Set up the Amazon seller account or go to this page
  2. List the books you want to sell, by searching on the ISBN number or title
  3. Choose the condition. It's subjective, but try to put yourself in the shoes of the buyer. Would he or she really consider it to be "very good" if it's filled with dogears, highlighted sections, and marginalia?
  4. Set the price and shipping options you'll provide (see note below)
  5. If someone else sees your used listing and wants to buy it, you will be notified of the sale by email.
  6. Once you are notified, log in to your Amazon seller account and print out the packing slip.
  7. Mail it using USPS or some other service within two days of being notified of the sale (see note about shipping, below)
  8. Notify Amazon that you have shipped it. You must do this in order to be paid!
  9. Payment will be deposited in your checking account, usually within two or three weeks.
A few additional issues to keep in mind before you make a listing:

Used textbooks sell well near the beginning of the semester. Not as many people will be buying in the middle of the semester. In This means in October or March, low demand will depress prices and increase the time until the sale is completed. For instance, I sold my used copy of Financial Accounting for $140 in early September, within one day of listing it. I see the same book is now for sale in the middle of the semester for $109 used, and $138 new.

Even though you may want to sell your used textbook at a price that's 20% what you paid for it, you will sell your textbook far more quickly if it's the cheapest or 2nd cheapest, which puts it at the top of the list of the list of Amazon's secondhand sellers (see arrows on the left side of the screenshot, below). This is important -- many buyers either want the cheapest price or don't bother scrolling down to see the other items, even if it's just a few cents more. In the screenshot, there are 164 offers but only the cheapest 4 are visible, and even those four are only one cent apart. Moreover, there's a strong chance that a few of the other 160 sellers (many of them bookshops or pros who do this for a living) will attempt to get to the top of the queue by listing the cheapest price by the end of the day.

At the basic ground rate, Amazon only reimburses you $3 for anything you ship, regardless of how heavy it is -- doesn't matter if it's a CD or five-pound math textbook. Even if you ship USPS Media Mail (usually the cheapest option), it won't be enough to cover the cost of shipping a standard hardcover textbook. This means you have to eat the shipping cost. For sending textbooks, I usually
opted for 1st class parcel or priority mail. The flat-rate box that costs $10.70 can hold books up to 5 pounds in weight. I also opted for "delivery confirmation", which costs $0.70 extra. This is a small price to pay, in case someone claims you didn't send a $80 order.

"Seller ratings" are important. The lower it is, the less likely it will be selected. High 90s is good, but anything below 95% is rare and will be treated more carefully (see the arrows on the right side of the screenshot, above). While new sellers don't have any rating, don't let that stop you from starting to sell books -- there may be some other buyers who are willing to take a chance, or who will pick someone who ships from a nearby city.

Lastly, is not your only option for selling used texts. There are a bunch of startup companies that offer similar marketplaces, and every college bookstore I've ever visited buys back used titles if they are going to be in the syllabus of a future class. My university bookstore has a two-week window every semester in which to sell back used books for at least 50% of the price, but if you missed the buy-back period or want more, Amazon may be your best option.

Disclosure: Besides selling books and CDs on Amazon, I also use Amazon's affiliate program.

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