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Online Bookselling For General Audiences

Updated on November 17, 2015

When people ask what I do, they really want to know how I get money. My friends have the idea that I don’t work, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I buy used books locally and sell them online.

I’m also a writer, blogger and several other things, but for today, I’ll focus on my online bookselling business. It’s my primary source of income, so for most people, that means it’s what I do.

Buying Books Offline

I buy books from the clearance racks of used bookstores, thrift stores and retail stores around my area. I go out one or two days a week specifically to buy books, but I stop to buy some almost every time I’m out.

Other sellers get books in other ways. Some buy exclusively from book sales held by library groups, PTAs and other non-profit organizations. Some sales offer only a few hundred books, but most have several thousand. In fact, I’ve attended sales where more than 100,000 books were offered. I attend only one or two sales a year, however, because they’re highly-competitive events that often happen at early hours. There’s no point being self-employed, I believe, if you have to keep early appointments.

Still other sellers have other sources. Some buy discounted books, called remainders, directly from publishers. A few have back-door deals with specific organizations to get first pick of books they collect or with thrift stores to get all the books they throw out. (I don’t have any of these deals, and I really don’t like to work this way.) There are other ways to get books, too, but the relatively small number of sellers who have secret sources won’t tell you anything about them.

Selling Books Online

Most online booksellers partner with large, high-profile Internet retailers, called venues. These companies provide the customers and selling mechanisms while sellers list the books, package them and provide service after the sale when necessary.

Amazon has the largest share of the online used book market, and sales through their Marketplace account for about 70 percent of my income. Albris, ABE Books, Barnes and Noble and are smaller players. Fixed-price and store listings on eBay are important to many sellers, but eBay’s fee structure does’t appeal to me. Some sellers also maintain their own websites with either links to the sales venues or their own selling mechanisms.

Before items can be sold they must be cleaned, if necessary, and listed for sale. I use an online inventory management service, but some sellers maintain their own databases or list directly on venues. I carefully grade my books, then price them competitively. Since millions of items are listed by other sellers every day, frequent repricing is crucial, and it can be done by hand or automatically.

Every day or so, I confirm my orders, packaged them and take them to one of several local post offices, depending on where else I’m going that day. Like most sellers, I package almost everything in bubble mailers and use the U.S. Postal Service exclusively. Some sellers use boxes, clear-plastic bags or rolls of flexible cardboard to protect books and ship with UPS or FedEx Ground.

A very small amount of after-the-sale customer service is required. One or two percent of customers want to return their purchase, complain that an item was received damaged or email with other issues. I have no place in my life for problems, so these minor issues are handled and closed as quickly as possible. A kind email goes a long way toward solving a problem; a refund solves the more stubborn ones.

Final Thoughts

Like any small business owner, a tiny percentage of my time is tied up with state sales tax, federal income tax (there’s no state income tax here in Texas) and other paperwork and legalities. Since I don’t enjoy these tasks, I limit them to a very small piece of my life, and I limit my online bookselling business to as small a part of my life as possible, too, so I can focus on having fun and enjoying life.

That’s an explanation of what I do, but it’s really even simpler than that: I rescue books from around my neighborhood and offer them to the world.


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    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      This was a very interesting read, as I think there is a lot of mileage in book sales.

      As the digital onslaught continues and fewer books are actually published in 'book' form. Then prices must rise for those that remain.

      Great hub on a good business model.

      Voted up and interesting. Sharing.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 5 years ago

      I am glad you have found online book selling to work out well for you. I am impressed that you have managed to make it be profitable, because often the online selling fees etc, postage etc, can really add up.

      By that same token, from a buyer's point of view, I have often found it hard to beat local prices when buying a used book (e.g. in a local used bookstore). There are 2 exceptions - one is where I want to buy a bunch of books by one author, and then online can work out cheaply as shipping then works out cheaper on a per book basis. Another is the case of a rare book - which is unlikely to be found locally so in that situation I would look on Amazon or Ebay - plus it is a lot of fun 'hunting down' that rare book on the internet!

      Anyhow, this was a very interesting article for me to read, and I am impressed at your success. I think this article will be a very valuable resource for anyone looking to sell books online.