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How to Sell Books Online:The Basics of Online Used Book Selling

Updated on January 8, 2018

Looking for a way to bring in extra income or for a way to work from home? Consider selling used books online. This is a viable business opportunity with low start-up costs and unlimited income potential. For instance, I made $300 in one month selling just 30 books I culled from my home library.

Here's how online book selling works.

Know the ISBN to Sell Books Online

A book's title is almost useless when selling used books online, it's the ISBN that matters. The ISBN number is a 9, 10 or 13 digit code used to look up books online. Often, all three variations are found on the book, in which case, it doesn’t matter which ISBN is used, they should all work equally well. The ISBN can be found by the UPC code or with the copyright information located inside the book.

The ISBN will tell sellers if the book 'exists' in the website database and allow sellers to see current prices for the book. Being able to locate the book in the website's database and finding the price are key points in determining if a book is worth selling. If the book isn’t in the retailer’s database, it can’t be listed on their site. Further, depending on the retailer and their policies, it is not profitable to sell books online if the going rate is $5 or less.

Selling Used Books Online Depends on Book Condition

Don't overrate the condition of books, this is a fast way to garner negative customer feedback. Always err on the side of caution when disclosing book condition and learn how to 'read' the condition of a used book. For example, books that have been remaindered often have a black mark on the side of the book.

Also take some time to learn the lingo. On many online book selling websites, the language used to describe condition is standard and applied universally. Learning all the jargon will save time because sellers can use the same description for each condition (i.e. new, like new, good, fair). Spend some time looking at how other sellers are describing book condition.

Which Used Books Sell

In general the books that are the most valuable are:

  1. Textbooks. New is better, but even older textbooks can be valuable.
  2. Non-fiction.
  3. Recent fiction.
  4. Collectible or vintage books, which can encompass any of the previous three categories.

For the beginning book seller, try to focus on current non-fiction and fiction as those will usually sell. Although beware the bad book. Sometimes, when a book is not as good as advertised, it gets dumped in large quantities by dissatisfied readers and they don't sell well.

Spend time on the retailer websites where you want to sell books and track what is selling at what price. As an experiment, go through your own bookcases and find out what could be sold and what is worthless.

Where to Find Used Books

Finding used books to sell online is the hard part of this business model. Garage sales, estate sales and libraries are the best sources of books, but you won't be alone. There is competition so you have to be fast. Real pros at selling books online have UPC scanners and phone apps that quickly tell them if a book can be resold at a profit or not.

In the beginning, expect to buy some duds and sell a few books at a loss. With time, you'll either get a scanner yourself or know, from experience, which books are a good bet.

Ship Fast to Sell Books Online

Most book retailers require sellers to ship within a certain time frame, usually 48 to 72 hours after the book has been purchased. Because shipping is so time-sensitive and makes for happy customers, it's a good idea to have the shipping details worked out in advance.

  • Buy mailing envelopes in bulk, otherwise, they are so expensive, their cost can erode profit margins. Bulk mailing envelopes can be found on sites like Amazon.com.
  • Consider buying a scale so shipping weights are accurate. Some websites do calculate weight for you, but have been known to be wrong. This can result in smaller shipping reimbursements and reduce overall profit. This is why books less than $5 in resale value are often unprofitable; the selling price needs to be high enough to cover any gaps in shipping reimbursement.
  • Have a way to waterproof the books. Either buy plastic-lined envelopes or put books in plastic bags.
  • Use delivery confirmation to avoid fraud and to improve customer service (which improves your seller rating). Without delivery confirmation, when a customer says they didn't receive the book, you'll lose out because you'll have no proof of shipment. Believe it or not, a lot of people scam the system this way, so protect yourself.
  • Email a shipment notification and the tracking number to the customer as soon as possible.

Where to Sell Used Books Online

There are dozens of websites where sellers can sell books online. Here are three well-known used book retailers as a starting point.

  • Amazon.com is popular and gets a lot of traffic.
  • Half.com, which is operated by eBay.
  • Cash4books buys recently published books including textbooks.

The important thing is to keep buying inventory and listing books. When you stop listing, you stop selling. There will always be books that don't sell or that lose money, that's the nature of the business. Continue to hone your skills, add inventory and liquidate books that aren't selling. With consistent effort, selling used books online can bring in a full-time income.


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    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      6 months ago from Ohio

      Very interesting. I recently came into a large amount of books and I am wondering how to sell some. Thanks for the info.

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